Smart Wilderness: the Case for GPS Backup

By Kevin Callan.

Welcome to the new world of smart wilderness camping. Yes, the days are over when you would head out into the woods, while friends and family hope and pray you come back alive. The time has come to listen to the old adage: If you stand in the way of progress you’ll just get run over. With the affordable satellite communications options that are available today to outdoor adventurers and those that venture beyond the reach of cellular, we can now lessen our anxiety of getting lost, injured or worse. At the push of a button, a call for help along your GPS location coordinates transmitted to co-workers, family or emergency responders.


SPOT Gen3 - Backpack
Photo courtesy SPOT.

It’s a difficult transition for some; the concept of having a piece of camp technology keep you in touch while you’re trying to escape a workforce that insists we stay connected 24/7. It’s a bit of a double-edged sword, really. I definitely avoid traveling in the interior with others who insist on listening to Lady Gaga on their iPod rather than the call of the loon. But I also believe the fire pit should no longer be the only hot spot out there. It’s absolutely ludicrous to believe that communications technology – which can be a life line should an emergency situation occur in the woods – represents some form of evil witchery. I believe that if there’s a reliable and affordable way to stay connected to the civilized world, you’d be foolish not to pack it along with your safety gear.

article continues below

My personal choice of satellite communication devices to take to the wilderness are:

SPOT Global Phone


A satellite phone may not be for everyone, especially if you’re doing only weekend outings in semi-wilderness parks. For me it’s perfect. It’s an affordable, lightweight handheld device that allows me to call worldwide, connect with 911 emergency services, receive text messages, check voicemail and email. I even do the odd radio interview with phone as the voice clarity is great.

SPOTGen3 GPS Satellite Messenger


SPOT Gen3 provides a critical, life-saving line of communication technology using 100% satellite technology. It provides five key benefits for outdoor adventurers:

Safety: It’s as simple as pushing the SOS button for emergency help when needed. SPOT Gen3 grabs your GPS location coordinates and transmits them to 24/7 emergency responders.

Reliability: The Gen3 uses reliable, 100% satellite technology which means that if your adventures take you beyond the reach of cellular networks, you can still communicate with friends, family and emergency responders if needed. 

SMS Texts and Emails: SPOT Gen3 allows you to keep in touch with friends and family back home. A pre-set text or email message can be easily sent to convey that you’re safe but going to be delayed on your trip.

Security: SPOT tracks your progress so friends and family can follow you in near real time along your route plan. The device captures a trail of GPS coordinates along your route of travel and plots your track on a Google Map – which you can make public or private. It will automatically track your GPS coordinates every 10 minutes; a huge bonus in case a search and rescue has to be undertaken. You can also send a note to others back home by way of email, Facebook or Twitter that shows them where you are on a Google Map and a message that you’re “okay.”

Peace of Mind: Perhaps one of the biggest benefits of the new-age communication devices, is peace of mind, not only for yourself but for your friends and family back home. That might seem counter-productive to some, having such devices may take away some of the sense of adventure or challenge of wilderness travel. It’s a moot point in my mind, however. To me this is an essential piece of camp safety gear that simply allows you the opportunity to reduce your anxiety level so you can enjoy yourself more while you’re out there.

For more information on SPOT products and services visit

kevin pic happy camper canoe

Kevin Callan is a SPOT Ambassador and author of 15 books, including the best-selling The Happy Camper and his popular series of paddling guides. He’s a notable public speaker and frequent guest on radio and television. Kevin is also a regular contributor, blogger and columnist for explore magazine and has won several National Magazine Awards. Canadian Geographic has named Kevin one of Canada’s greatest explorers, and one of the nation’s top 100 modern-day trailblazers. He was made Patron Paddler for Paddle Canada and has recently won several filmmaking awards.