Do I Need a Satellite Communication Device for Hiking?

Do I Need a Satellite Communication Device for Hiking?

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There are several important reasons why it is a good idea to carry a satellite communication device while hiking or backpacking. First, a device like this can be extremely helpful in the event that you get lost while out on the trail. It can also be useful in the case of a medical emergency, allowing you to call for help and get the assistance you need. 

Additionally, a communication device can be a great way to stay in touch with family and loved ones, especially if you are planning to be out on the trail for an extended period. Finally, if you have work or other responsibilities that you need to stay connected to, a satellite communication device can allow you to do so even when you are out in the wilderness.

 Here are the top four reasons to carry a communications device when hiking.

  • Getting lost
  • Medical emergencies
  • Contacting family
  • Work requirements  


Getting Lost

It is not uncommon for hikers to become lost, despite the availability of trail mapping software and other electronic devices. These tools can be unreliable due to factors such as device failure, battery death, or lack of cell service. In these situations, it is important to have a backup plan and be prepared to rely on a paper map or other navigation techniques to find your way. It is also essential to be proactive in preventing getting lost by telling someone your hike route and expected return time, and by carrying a map and compass.

It is easy to become disoriented and take a wrong turn while hiking, leading to the possibility of getting lost. The Geez experienced this firsthand while hiking in the Grand Canyon. They followed what they thought was the correct trail, but it turned out to be a dead-end and they had to backtrack a half-mile.

Even with the use of GPS mapping software and a paper map, it is still possible to take the wrong trail. This highlights the importance of being prepared for the possibility of getting lost and having a backup plan in place.


Medical Emergencies

Hiking can involve a range of potential injuries and ailments, such as twisted ankles, cuts, bruises, mosquito bites, and poison oak or poison ivy rashes. It is also important to be aware of the potential dangers that may be present on a hike, such as encountering wild animals, snakes, fast-moving streams, loose boulders, and cliffs. Hikers need to be prepared and take necessary precautions to ensure their safety while on the trails.

While hiking, it is important to be prepared for the potential for injuries and medical emergencies. These can range from minor issues such as cuts and bruises to more serious conditions like broken bones, dehydration, hypothermia, heart attacks, COPD, and asthma. It is especially important for senior hikers to be aware of these risks and to have a plan in place for dealing with medical emergencies. Minor problems can often be addressed immediately, but more serious issues may require medical intervention.

It is important to be prepared and take necessary precautions to ensure the safety of all hikers on the trails. In the event of a medical emergency, while hiking, it is important to have a reliable means of communication to seek help. 



A cell phone may not work if you are out of the range of a cell tower, so it is advisable to have a device that can connect to satellite signals. This can be a crucial resource for contacting medical assistance or alerting others in case of an emergency.


For instance, three types connect to overhead satellites.

  • There are several options available for hikers to communicate in case of an emergency. One option is a Personal Locator Beacon (PLB), such as the ACR ResQLink, which sends out an emergency SOS beacon that is monitored worldwide and can result in emergency personnel being dispatched to your location. However, a PLB does not have the capability for two-way communication.
  • Another option is a satellite messenger, such as the Garmin InReach Mini, which allows you to send emails or SMS text messages to others and also receive messages in return. This can be helpful in an emergency as it allows for two-way communication with medical personnel or others and allows you to provide important information about your situation and receive suggestions for what to do until help arrives. 

Additionally, an emergency SOS beacon sent via a satellite messenger can be canceled if necessary.

  • A satellite phone is a more comprehensive communication device that allows you to place direct calls worldwide, similar to a cell phone. This can be particularly useful in an emergency as it allows for immediate and direct communication with medical personnel or others and provides the ability to quickly convey important information about the situation.

It is important to be aware that devices that rely on satellite communication, such as satellite phones and satellite messengers, often come with associated costs. For example, satellite phone fees can be expensive and may require you to purchase minutes from the service provider in advance. 

These minutes may expire if not used within a certain timeframe. However, in an emergency, the cost may be worth it for the peace of mind and ability to quickly and directly communicate with medical personnel or others. 

It is always a good idea to be prepared and have a plan in place for dealing with emergencies while hiking, such as carrying a satellite phone or satellite messenger. This can be especially important for those who engage in backcountry adventures, where access to medical assistance may be more limited.


Satellite Communication Devices

Contacting Family

It is understandable that family and friends, especially a significant other, may worry about your safety while hiking, especially if you are older or have had previous medical emergencies while on the trails. A satellite messenger device can be a useful tool for maintaining contact with loved ones and providing reassurance that you are safe. 

This can be especially helpful for those who are no longer able to hike alone and may have a spouse or partner who is particularly concerned about their well-being. It is always a good idea to have a reliable means of communication with you while on a hike, whether it is a satellite phone or satellite messenger, and to share your plans with others in case of an emergency.

Work Requirements

Many hikers and backpackers enjoy the opportunity to disconnect from their everyday lives and the demands of work or other responsibilities while enjoying the peace and solitude of the outdoors. However, for some individuals, it may be necessary to maintain some level of connectivity in order to be available for work or other responsibilities. 

For example, if you are a business owner, it may be important to be able to receive and respond to emails while on a hike to manage your business effectively. In this case, a satellite communication device that allows for email communication can be a valuable tool. Similarly, if you are still working and your employer requires you to be available for communication, a satellite phone or satellite messenger may be necessary to ensure that you can be reached while on the trails.


  • Cell Tower
  • Inmarsat
  • Iridium
  • Globalstar
  • Thuraya

How Do Satellites Work

There are two main types of networks that can provide connectivity for telephone and internet communications: cellular and satellite. The first step in choosing a satellite communications device for hiking is deciding which type of connection is best for your needs.

Cellular networks are typically more widely available and offer faster data speeds than satellite networks, but they require a physical connection to a cell tower to work. This means that they may not be reliable in areas where cell towers are not present, such as in remote or rural areas.



Satellite networks, on the other hand, use satellites orbiting the earth to provide connectivity. This allows them to work in areas where cellular networks are not available, but they may not offer the same data speeds and can be more expensive to use.

When deciding which type of network to use, it is important to consider your specific needs and the type of coverage that is available in the areas where you will be hiking. This will help you determine which type of satellite communications device is the best fit for your needs.

Connectivity is a crucial consideration when choosing a satellite communications device for hiking. Without a connection, even the most expensive device is essentially worthless. Several factors can impact connectivity, including network proximity and line-of-sight signal transmission.

The Types of Satellite Communication Connectivity 


Cell phones are a widely used form of communication that is capable of making phone calls and accessing the internet. They work by connecting to the nearest cell tower, which allows them to transmit and receive signals and data.

One of the main limitations of using a cell phone for communication while hiking is the issue of coverage. Depending on the distance to the nearest cell tower and the strength of the signal, it may be difficult or impossible to get reliable cell service in certain areas. This can be especially true in remote or rural areas, or in locations where the terrain or other factors interfere with the signal.

Without a reliable connection to a cell tower, a cell phone will not be able to make phone calls or access the internet. This is why it is important to consider the availability of cell service in the areas where you will be hiking and to have a backup plan in case you are unable to connect to a cell tower.


Personal Locator Beacons (PLBs) are satellite-based communication devices that are designed specifically for rescue purposes. They use their satellite system, known as the COSPAS-SARSAT system, which uses both low Earth orbit (LEO) and high Earth orbit (GEO) satellites to transmit and receive signals.

PLBs can be activated by pressing the SOS button on a GPS-enabled device, which will transmit the user’s exact location to rescue teams. However, it does not transmit information about the nature of the emergency, and the distress call cannot be canceled once it has been activated.

When the SOS button is pressed on a PLB, the device sends a digital signal at 406 MHz to the SARSAT Search and Rescuer satellite system. In the United States, this signal is intercepted by the U.S. Military, which then forwards the information to the relevant Search and Rescue (SAR) teams. When SAR teams get closer, they can pick up on a homing signal at 121.5 MHz that helps them locate the user even if they do not have an exact GPS location.

When activated, they transmit the user’s location to rescue teams via the COSPAS-SARSAT satellite system. When rescue teams can get close to the user’s location, they can pick up a homing signal at 121.5 MHz that helps them locate the user even if they do not have an exact GPS location. 

This can be particularly useful in situations where the user’s exact location is unknown or the GPS signal is weak or unavailable.


Inmarsat is a satellite communication company that operates four geosynchronous satellites in orbit around the earth. These satellites appear stationary in the sky and are located about 32,000 miles above the equator, allowing them to provide coverage to 90% of the earth’s surface, except for the polar regions. The Inmarsat IsatPhone2 utilizes this satellite network to offer reliable voice communication services, particularly for hikers and backpackers, at a reasonable cost. However, due to the distance, the signal has to travel to and from the satellite, there may be a slight delay in the conversation



Iridium is a satellite communication company that operates a network of 66 low Earth orbit (LEO) satellites, which provide coverage to every location on the globe. These satellites are positioned at a distance of only 1,200 miles above the earth, resulting in a shorter distance for the signal to travel to and from the satellite. 

As a result, users of the Iridium network typically experience clear voice communication. However, the Iridium service tends to be more expensive than some other options and can be prone to line-of-sight issues, which can make it difficult to get a reliable connection in valleys or canyons or result in dropped calls.



Globalstar is a satellite communication company that operates a network of 48 low Earth orbit (LEO) satellites. In the past, the coverage provided by this network was known to be patchy, but it has significantly improved in recent years. 

However, there are still some areas of the world that are not covered by Globalstar’s network, so it is important to check the coverage map before purchasing a device that relies on this network. If the areas you plan to hike or travel in are covered by the Globalstar network, then it may be a good choice for you. A satellite messenger like the SPOT-Gen3 could be a useful option in these areas.



Thuraya is a satellite communication company that operates two geosynchronous satellites, which provide telecommunications coverage to more than 161 countries in Europe, Asia, the Middle East, Africa, and Australia. However, this coverage does not extend to North and South America, so if you plan to travel in these regions, you may need to consider using a different satellite communication network.



Communication devices fall into three main categories: voice, messaging, and emergency beacons. Many are a combination of these categories. The communication devices available are:


Smartphones are popular electronic devices that offer a range of communication and entertainment features. They allow users to make and receive phone calls, send and receive text messages and emails, access the internet, and use GPS navigation. 

Many smartphones also have high-quality cameras and allow users to play music and watch videos. According to the Pew Research Center, 81% of Americans now own a smartphone, and this number is expected to increase to over 285 million by 2023, with particularly high ownership rates among those aged 18-29. 

Network providers are constantly building new cell towers to increase network coverage, and many remote areas now have cell phone coverage. This means that hikers and backpackers can take their smartphones with them on their adventures and use them for communication, as well as for entertainment purposes. 

Although smartphones do not have built-in emergency beacon functionality, they can be used to make 911 calls in an emergency and transmit GPS coordinates to aid in rescue efforts. There are many software apps available for smartphones that can provide additional functionality and enhance your outdoor adventures. 

AllTrails and Gaia GPS are popular apps that provide trail mapping and topographical maps, which can be useful for navigation and planning your route. Seek by iNaturalist is an app that uses image recognition technology to help you identify plants and animals you encounter in the wild. PeakVisor is an app that uses your phone’s camera and 3D technology to show you the names and elevations of peaks around the world. 

Star Walk 2 is an app that allows you to identify constellations in the night sky. These are just a few examples of the many apps that are available for smartphones and can help you make the most of your outdoor experiences.


A personal locator beacon (PLB) is a device that is used to send out a distress signal in case of an emergency. When the SOS button is activated, the PLB sends a signal to search and rescue personnel worldwide to alert them of your location and need for assistance.

 PLBs do not provide two-way communication and do not give any details about the nature of the emergency. However, they can be a valuable tool for ensuring that you can get help in the event of an emergency, especially if you are in a remote location where it might be difficult to call for help using other means. 

The ACR ResQLink+ and the ARTEX rescueME PLB1 are two examples of PLBs that are available on the market. Some satellite messengers also include an SOS function as part of their emergency beacon capabilities.

Satellite phones are specialized devices that allow users to make and receive phone calls using a satellite communication network. Different satellite phones are designed to work with specific satellite networks, so it is important to choose a phone that is compatible with the network that you plan to use. For example, the Iridium 9555 phone operates on the Iridium satellite network, the IsatPhone-2 connects to the Inmarsat satellite network, the GSP-1700 uses the Globalstar network, and the X5-TOUCH works on the Thuraya network.



If you are planning to use a satellite phone for communication, it is important to consider which network will provide the best coverage in the areas you plan to travel to, and choose a phone that is compatible with that network.


Satellite messengers are electronic devices that use a satellite communication network to send and receive messages, including emails and SMS texts. They also typically have an SOS emergency button that can be used to send a distress signal to a search and rescue monitoring station in case of an emergency. 

Satellite messengers offer many advantages over personal locator beacons (PLBs), including the ability to send and receive detailed messages about the nature of an emergency and the option to track and share your location with family and friends. 

Garmin is a leading provider of satellite messengers, with a range of InReach devices that offer additional features such as the ability to connect wirelessly to smartphones and access a variety of mapping and navigation tools through the free Earthmate app. Some InReach devices also offer an optional weather forecast feature.


Voice communication is generally considered the most effective and efficient means of communication, especially in an emergency where instant feedback and clarity are important. 

Email and SMS text messages can be useful for conveying basic information, but they cannot capture the subtleties of tone and emotion that are conveyed through the human voice.

 Emergency responders may be able to better assess the severity of an emergency and provide appropriate assistance if they can hear the distress in a person’s voice or other cues such as labored breathing.

Satellite phones operate in a similar way to cell phones, in that you enter a phone number and wait for the call to be answered. However, you must first establish a connection to the satellite network before you can enter the phone number and make a call. 

This can take a few extra seconds compared to using a cell phone, but it is still a relatively quick and easy process. Satellite phones are specialized devices that allow users to make and receive phone calls using a satellite communication network, which can be especially useful in areas where there is no cellular coverage. 


Iridium 9555


Satellite phones can be purchased outright or rented on a short-term basis. The cost of purchasing or renting a satellite phone is not the only expense to consider. Each satellite network charges a fee for the minutes of airtime that you use, and these fees can vary significantly depending on the network and the specific plan that you choose. 

Some networks, such as Iridium, offer 100% worldwide coverage and are known for their excellent voice clarity, but they may not be the most cost-effective option. It is important to consider the costs and coverage of different satellite networks before deciding which one to use.


Deciding whether or not to carry a hiking communication device is a personal decision that depends on a variety of factors, including your risk tolerance and the type of hiking or outdoor activities that you engage in. 

Some hikers and backpackers, particularly ultralight backpackers and those who seek out high-adrenaline activities, may choose to forego carrying electronic devices to minimize the weight and bulk of their gear. 

They may feel comfortable relying on the occasional encounters with other hikers if something unforeseen happens. Others may decide not to carry a personal locator beacon (PLB) or other emergency beacon device due to concerns about the cost or the potential for false alarms. However, it is important to consider the potential risks and benefits of carrying a hiking communication device and make a decision that is appropriate for your individual needs and circumstances.

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