Reliable Backcountry Communications

The Importance of Reliable Backcountry Communications

Reliable communications with civilization while you’re camping seems like the last thing that you would want to do. After all, we’ve left technology behind to embrace the wilderness. There’s no better feeling than being “off the grid”, disconnected from the outside world. However, there are exceptions to this; you may have health problems, family that needs checking on, or you may need up to date information for the trip home.

“While in the Pasayten wilderness, along the Canadian border, where cell coverage is just a dream we noticed a thick smoke plume, and haze started filling the basin we were camped in. The plume was to the southeast which was also the direction of our only route back to civilization. If the road were closed our weeklong trip might turn into something much longer. We needed wildfire info ASAP in order to make an informed decision on the safest option.”

Information Is Power

In these circumstances, having access to reliable communications while camping in remote locations is not only a good idea, but a necessity.

“I sent a message to our emergency contact at home to see if they could find any wildfire info. Within minutes we had a situation report on the fire and where it was heading (across the only road into the trailhead).  With that info we were able to make a plan – break camp at first light and head for the trailhead and immediately depart for home.  After receiving the fire info I was able to share that data with some hikers camped nearby so that they could make informed decisions for themselves.”

Backcountry communicators are, at their best, lifesaving devices that allow you to check in with friends and family back home and reach emergency services in a pinch, even when you’re far off the grid. Here’s a breakdown of the devices we’ve used with success.

“By the time we made it to the trailhead the next afternoon the smoke was getting thicker. A quick set of messages on the SatPaq let us know that the road out was still clear but the wind forecast had the fire line heading across it. We needed to leave ASAP. And we did!”

SatPaq – So good that the US military is using them.

Reliable Backcountry CommunicationsThe SatPaq has become my go to communicator because of its small size, light weight, and its ability to point to a specific satellite. It’s never failed me and messages are sent and received fast.

The SatPaq from Higher Ground is a lightweight device that easily clips to your smartphone and connects wirelessly using Bluetooth to communicate through satellites when there is no cell coverage. SatPaq’s SpaceLinq app is free and allows you to send and receive messages, get instant weather forecasts, share your location, and get help in emergencies – all without having to pay monthly service fees.


“By the time we got to the bottom of the mountain and back onto paved roads the impact of the fire was clear. The mountainsides that were green a few days before were blackened and still smoking.”

Garmin inReach – Reliably rugged GPS tracking and much more.

Reliable Backcountry CommunicationsThe InReach is built to take abuse. Add that to the easy to use operating system and you’ve got a reliable tool that doesn’t require a smart phone to operate.

A smartphone isn’t required, although for a much larger and easier to use screen you can still pair the device to your phone.  The free Earthmate app is easy to use.

Being essentially a GPS unit that does more, you can use the inReach to record all of the statistics that we love such as tracks, average speed and other similar data.


“The fire line was a half mile away from a critical intersection that we turned at. Aerial fire retardant drops had crisscrossed the area with red streaks.“

Spot X – Self contained communications

Reliable Backcountry CommunicationsThe Spot X is its own self-contained unit, and doesn’t need to piggyback off your phones Bluetooth. It will track your route, send your location and text updates. The Spot X also features a full keyboard and a cursor button for navigating the screen. No endless scrolling to find a letter on a display screen.

A note of those buttons. They may prove too small to type with when wearing gloves.


“We were never in immediate danger, but had the wind shifted it could have become interesting in short order. With the SatPaq we had access to the data that allowed us to make informed decisions.”

Staying in communication while visiting remote parts of the world is never easy.  There is seldom reliable cell phone coverage in the backcountry. Thankfully with these powerful and effective devices those in need of communications have several very good tools at their disposal.

Tip: Be sure to educate all involved on what to expect when tracking your progress with these devices. “If they don’t know what to expect, they may alert rescue teams when they are not needed.”

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