If you followed our coverage of the Durango to Moab hut-to-hut trip this summer you know we used a SPOT GPS transmitter to plot our position along the route. The SPOT was great – easy to use, reliable, and only sipped battery juice – but it was just one part of the GPS puzzle. Since the SPOT doesn’t include a display screen, we needed another unit on the trail for actual navigation.
Enter the Delorme Earthmate PN-60w handheld GPS. A friend actually mentioned this unit before we left for the trip but at first glance I wasn’t impressed – from the ads it just looks like a SPOT transmitter plus a regular handheld GPS which is exactly what I ended up bringing anyway. But here’s the difference: a standalone SPOT transmitter allows you to send ‘OK’ and ‘Help’ messages with canned responses set up before the trip but the PN-60w allows you to customize each message you send via satellite. It’s like one-way text messaging without cell coverage!
So, instead of the seeing the same OK message I sent each morning (Biking trip is going well, having a blast!), the PN-60w could send a message like “We saw a bear yesterday. Cloudy skies today, hope the rain holds out.” To the wives and girlfriends (and singletracks members) who were glued to the coverage, that makes things much more interesting and helpful.
Help messages work the same way. The SPOT has two levels of help messages – those that are sent to a pre-selected list of recipients and those that are sent to emergency personnel (these are called “911″ messages). With the PN-60w you can use the handheld unit to type out details about your emergency and send them through the SPOT.
The handheld also addresses one of my initial gripes about the SPOT – it’s not always obvious what “mode” you’re in. It took me a lot of trial and error at home before I was confident that the unit was transmitting track points and OK messages. By pairing the SPOT with a handheld GPS you can actually control the SPOT graphically using menus and see detailed feedback right on the device.
Of course one of the only drawbacks at this point is that you’re still stuck carrying around two units but I imagine it’s only a matter of time before they integrate the two into a single unit. Now if they could just add an XM radio and Dish Network into one of these things I’d probably never get off the trail. More info at delorme.com.