Around six years ago, Globalstar’s SPOT one-way satellite device helped launch the possibility of a reliable, affordable and simple piece of technology to keep in contact with others back home, let them know you’re safe and send an alert or call for help to Search and Rescue. It also dropped digital breadcrumbs so others can track your adventure and give you that information when you return. It was a pretty cool step in camp gear!

I’ve been a SPOT user since its inception. It’s worked perfectly for me. Thankfully, I’ve never had to push the SOS or Help buttons during my travels. There have been a couple close calls, though. It was reassuring to have it just in case. Plus, it’s kept family and loved ones at home less anxious by me simply pushing the “I’m here and I’m okay” button each night while I pitch my tent and light the evening campfire. To me, that’s always been a top reason for me to pack it along.

A couple of months ago, Globalstar released an upgrade: SPOT Gen4. It claimed it’s a more capable, robust SPOT device. Sure, it doesn’t offer text messaging capability like their SPOT X, but rather builds on the foundation of the original SPOT device… with bonuses. So, I picked one up and packed it along on my latest backcountry trips to give it a solid review.

photoKevin Callan

At first glance there’s a lot that hasn’t changed between the Gen3 and Gen4. The fourth-generation device remains a one-way messenger. The hardware has been upgraded but it still does the same emergency functions. It sends outgoing messages: SOS, Help, Check-in/OKAY, and Custom, which is pre-programmed in the user’s online account. The Gen4 is also still capable of location tracking.

There are some notable changes. It’s built more robustly, gained more protection from dust and dirt and has an increased water resistance (it can withstand water submersion more than one metre deep for more than 30 minutes). Battery life has increased as well (up to 1,250 check-in and custom messages on 4 AAA lithium batteries and up to 52 days of tracking 24 hours per day). Location tracking can be motion-activated (instead of just running continuously), saving battery life. And no longer must the tracking be reset after 24 hours. I like that!

photoGlobalstar SPOT Gen4

There’s also a more detailed, layered mapping system that allows multiple viewing layers for people watching your progress from home and you when you get back from your trip. The tracking functions also allow you to build a “digital fence” so if you happen to wander out of a designated zone, an alert is triggered. It’s labelled a motion-activated tracking; now your SPOT knows when you're moving and when you stop to make camp. When SPOT Gen4 senses you've stopped for an extended period it will stop sending track messages until you start moving again. That’s a cool function.

I only have two negative points of the upgrade. I don’t understand the change from the overall colour going from bright orange to mostly black. Orange seems easier to find (unless you’re wandering in the woods during autumn foliage). And the four screws on the back you have to loosen to remove the back panel so you can change the batteries—it no longer has those mini-metal half loop grips to help you loosen the screws. Now you have to search for a mini screwdriver, use the tip of your knife or pack a ten cent coin.


Specs and service

5 oz with lithium batteries

3.48” x 2.66” x .93

Cost: $150 - 190

Service plans start at $12 per month (with annual contract) or at $15 per month (on a month-to-month plan)