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Coolest Products - 1

What’s the coolest thing you saw?

 That’s the ubiquitous question we hear when we return from the Outdoor Retailer Winter Show in Salt Lake City each January. At the show, over 2,000 skiing, climbing, hiking, snowshoeing, and clothing manufacturers arrive to display their goods and gadgets to thousands of  attendees representing retail shops and media outlets.

With so much brainpower exhibiting and attending the show, you’d think there’d frequently be products that floor you with their innovation and their bold leaps into uncharted terrain. In truth, the progress is incremental and rarely leaves you light headed with its dizzying leaps.

 Several products did catch our attention on Day 1 of the show, however, with the most techie of the lot being the SPOT Satellite Messenger. By carrying a GPS-sized transmitter ($150), you can relay your exact field position along with one of three standardized email messages to a friend or family member monitoring your progress. One of the standardized messages you can send says something similar to, “Help. Rescue needed at this waypoint. Get someone here super pronto.” A second standardized message says something akin to: “I’m at this waypoint and all is good. No need to worry…unless you’ve already spent the life insurance money figuring I’d never return.” A third standardized message says something like, “We don’t need a rescue but we’re having trouble. Send help to XYZ.” You get to craft these email messages before you head out on any particular trip, but once in the field your choices are limited to Button Number 1, Button 2, or Button 3, each with its respective message.

In theory this is quite handy. As long as your nook of the wilderness has enough sky overhead to access satellites, SPOT gives you options if your trip starts to unravel and you need to call in the cavalry. Equally important, SPOT keeps the crew back home from worrying if you send the ‘All’s well’ message each day.

Unfortunately the cost of the transmitter is only a fraction of the money you will spend owning SPOT because there is also a $100/year subscription fee to belong to the satellite/email service capturing your location and relaying your email messages onto your contact. The backcountry emergency service that this product offers is reasonable next to other options (satellite phones, rescue beacons), and the product may make particularly good sense if you take long, remote journeys or take a lot of solo trips. But for weekend and weeklong trips taken in the local mountains many people may find the cost of constant contact a bit steep. There’s also an experiential cost: The wilds may not seem quite so wild when SPOT is keeping you company.


(Note: We can’t yet report how well this satellite messenger performs the tasks it promises. Over the course of the year, we’ll request a test unit and will update you with postcards from the field.)