The one device that we never leave home without is our GPS tracker. For us, the Garmin Alpha 200i Dog Tracker and Satellite Communicator serves three purposes: (1) our GPS fingerprint when venturing into the backcountry with an online MapShare for our family to view in near real-time, (2) keeping tabs on the shorthair (dog) with built-in connectivity to the TT15 Mini Garmin dog collar, and (3) Text Communications and SOS Emergency capability.
The way that we think about it is … when traveling into the backcountry, it’s important to consider how you’re mitigating the risk. Yes, that sounds melodramatic, but the reality is that there is no controlling what you’ll run into or experience when outdoors.
And when you travel to areas where cell coverage is non-existent or spotty, consider how you plan around that. My father-in-law said it best, “people think nothing bad will happen to them because nothing bad has happened to them yet” [paraphrased]. We feel that being prepared is important. And while these are great tools to be prepared, they do come with a cost (subscription service). For us, the benefit is much like an insurance policy, and we’ve accepted the monthly fee given that we’re oftentimes well off-the-grid for adventures every weekend.
Our View on Satellite Communicators
There are a few different types of satellite communications platforms for off the grid — Garmin InReach, Spot, Zoleo. All are similar, all are slightly different. For us, when looking at them side by side it was pretty easy for us to see which met our lifestyle. For you that might be different, but mainly our decision was based on:
Separate Handheld: We did not want to rely on our phones to power the communications. We wanted a separate device with a separate battery, that was also rugged. The good news with the Garmin is it can be paired with your smartphone through an app.
Ability to Share Location with Family: The MapShare functionality allows our family and friends to get a notification when we start our hike and view a near real-time track of where we are and going.
Dog Training: Ability to see where the dog is at and call her back with a tone beep on the collar or vibration if she is out of range and can’t hear the whistle or our voice (wind is a bear, so are steep cliffs).
So let us talk a little about the Garmin InReach and these features with why they are important to us.
The InReach product has a few options ranging from handheld to device paired with a smartphone. It’s hard to compete with this product for safety, communications, and ease of use.
inReach Mini - leverages your cell phone for functionality with limited capability from the small device. The benefit of this device is just that, it’s a small form factor. But it relies on your cell phone (and battery of your cell phone to gain the most benefit).
inReach Explorer+ - much like the other form factors are handheld and you can do most of the heavy lifting from that device. It’s not reliant on your cell phone. However, you can pair with your cell phone to use much of its capability. Same for the GPSMAP 66 and other versions.
And the device that we use, is the Alpha 200i with TT15 Mini bundle. This device has a number of great features that I think are worthy to call out specific to hiking, adventures with your dog, and outdoor activities in general.
Common Uses of the Garmin Alpha 200i and GPS Communicator
We find that there are a few reasons that this is attached to our bag on the trail and in the field. These are even some best practices when traveling in the backcountry. You can see on the map a few spots where we have hiked in 2021 and the tracks that have been sent to the MapShare platform.
Notification to Friends and Family: When we hit the trail, the first thing that we do is send a message with the MapShare tracking map to a friend to let them know we’re off the grid and they can follow us. Garmin has a map that your GPS communicator pings to on a regular interval (10 minutes) with where you are. With a simple setup on the inreach.garmin.com website, you can share maps when you start and stop tracking when finished.
Tracking the Dog: While the Shorthair (dog) is 100% trustworthy with zero issues with recall, even when she’s in the middle of chasing a deer, we still like to have this as a plan B. It also gives us a sense of understanding of where she is roaming when out of sight. Yes, when we’re bound by leash laws it’s a separate story, but oftentimes were in hunting areas where she is permitted to be off leash. It’s important to note that the following views are available on the device:
Distance from your car and distance from the dog with a compass
Map of dog plotted tracks (see below)
Distance traveled with statistics for both the handheld and dog collar
Text Message and SOS Emergency Capability: The device allows you to send text messages (for a fee) both pre-defined which are unlimited and custom messages which cost or are limited depending on your subscription plan.
And of course, the SOS Emergency notification function that is available.
These are the main function of the Garmin that we use. There are loads of other functions that are available including:
Pre-mapping your treks on the Garmin website to load on the device for turn-by-turn assistance
GPS assistance with finding your way when lost
Waypoint marking and navigation points of interest, etc.
For us, the GPS fingerprint with MapShare, dog tracking, and SOS capabilities make this device worth the $35 per month subscription cost. We hope this helps. Happy hiking!