Additional demands for risk assessment and safeguarding concerns, as well as for improved expedition efficiency, have resulted in schools, colleges and Scouts towards using GPS Trackers for Duke of Edinburgh Expeditions (D of E). There are three main types of GPS tracker; Iridium, SPOT and GSM. Each have different capabilities, and costs of ownership vary considerably.
Iridium Trackers have become more affordable in recent years, with manufacturers like Yellow Brick and Delorme blazing a trail. Delorme sold out to GPS-leader Garmin, who have improved and expanded on the Delorme models to offer more affordable and technically more sophisticated tracking devices than any of the other manufacturer.
Trackers which use the Iridium Satellite network benefit from a key feature than no other GPS tracking network can boast; 100% global coverage. Iridium work at the Poles, The Equator and even at Sea, all over the globe in places where SPOT and other trackers just cannot reach. Iridium trackers transmit direct to Iridium satellites, and so require a clear view of the sky to transmit.
Garmin InReach Explorer+ Iridium trackers combine the power of a global GPS tracker with other features. They have the capability to provide weather reports and two-way communication via SMS, as well as optional navigation and mapping features. Iridium trackers are the most expensive type of tracker to initially purchase, but if your life depends on it, then there really is no other choice.
Garmin’s Iridium trackers are powered by inbuilt lithium batteries. The life of the battery depends entirely on how often the device is used and in what capacity. If the tracker is used only for infrequent updates of location with the screen turned off, then the units can last well beyond a week. However, if the screen is used for constant navigation then you can expect to get only a couple of days use. More typically, setting the device to update once every 10 minutes with occasional use of the screen, a life of 4-5 days can be expected between charging. The device can be charged from a supplied USB cable, attached to mains power, car-port lighter, power bank or solar charger.
As well as the global coverage, the capability for two-way communication is what makes the Garmin InReach devices stand apart from the competition. While SPOT Gen 3 has the capability to send only OK or Help pre-set messages to website or fixed contact list, with Inreach there is no limitation to the messaging capability, or who messages can be sent to. Like the SPOT, the SOS capability can call in help from international rescue service GEOS.
Iridium offer two subscription models; yearly and monthly on demand, so you can cancel the subscription and reactivate it whenever you like. SPOT is a yearly contract only, and cannot be switched on and off monthly, on demand. The Garmin pay-monthly subscriptions are more expensive than the pay-yearly, but overall the costs of ownership is less than a SPOT, in a common scenario where you perhaps use a tracker for several months of the year, during expedition season.
The standard InReach subscription will allow the device to transmit one location message every 10 minutes. This can be set lower, ultimately changed to once every 2 minutes for an additional annual premium fee.
Iridium trackers natively display their location on Topographical maps, which are far from ideal for D of E Expeditions. D of E expeditions are almost always planned on Ordnance Survey maps, and the students will carry and navigate from those too. As a result, it makes sense to want to see the tracker location on an Ordnance Survey (OS) map. In order to show the Iridium tracker location on OS maps, Iridium subscribers must seek use a third-party expedition-tracking platform who take the data from the manufacturer website and present it on a different GPS tracking portal which shows all the Ordnance Survey maps, in all ratios. This service will carry an additional monthly fee.
InReach trackers are highly reliable, there is none better for coverage. They must be carefully positioned on top of a bag. They are the most expensive trackers to buy, but they are cheaper than SPOT to operate for Duke of Edinburgh use, because the contract can hibernate when not in use. However, because of the high cost of Iridium Trackers, they are rarely used for UK D of E expeditions, and usually only reserved for Gold expeditions abroad. GSM trackers are the favoured choice for UK expeditions. GSM tracker use will be discussed in a later article. Hopefully this article has helped in your decision-making process when hiring or buying a tracker for use of a D of E Expedition.