We just returned from a big summer trip, which I'll write up at some point. In the mean time, here are some first impressions on what I now feel is the best navigation and communications set up available for backcountry adventures.
Along for the ride was our Ipad (1st gen wifi only), Delorme Inreach, Dual Bluetooth GPS, my trusty Delorme PN30, and our usual collection of Benchmark Gazateers. We did not need the Dual Bluetooth GPS since the Inreach serves location services to the Ipad. However, it is wise to carry a backup device and the Delorme runs on lithium AAs vs the rechargeable Dual GPS.
The Ipad was mounted using RAM components consisting of a seat bolt mount, the rigid aluminum rod which you bend to suit, and a EZ Roller ipad mount. Power was provided by a Belkin usb adapter that fits in the cig lighter port. After 30 days of constant offroad travel, I will say that this mount provided an outstanding bang for the buck, costing me $70 total. Previously, I tried the Joy Factory carbon fiber mount, which failed on our first trail run and cost twice as much. Eventually, I plan on making a rigid mount that is a little easier to remove, but I was unable to source the parts in time for our departure.
In order to use the Ipad as a field computer, we added a zaggmate bluetooth keyboard that serves as a protective case as well. This was very helpful when typing in the truck, as demonstrated by my lovely assistant
This keyboard was used several times per day for a month and never required recharging. Whenever we passed thru a town, it was easy to get some internet access from a cafe or hotel to check our email and such. Failing to find some free wifi in Cuba, NM I just walked up to the front counter of a hotel and asked if I could purchase some wifi access. The friendly lady just gave me the code for free
The Inreach allows you to send and recieve messages via the iridium satalite network. Since we travel alone in remote locations, this seemed like a wise investment in the event of emergency. Fortunately, all I used it for was to send some messages to my friends supporting us back home, trying out the facebook posting capability, and testing the tracking a few times.
Sending a message is pretty simple. It uses you addressbook in the ipad, so you can quickly add recipients to the message, mixing email and cell phone numbers easily.
I'm not a big facebook user, but here's what it looks like when you post up.
the link in your message presents a nice map that your friends can zoom in on and switch between topo, aerial, and road maps for thier viewing pleasure.
Messages send quickly, and give you confirmation on screen and on the device once they are sent. I fired off my first message late at night, turning the system off when I went to bed. In the morning, I turned it back on and saw the message light flashing. I then turned the ipad on and launched the Inreach app. A friend had sent us a response after I had gone to bed, the Inreach system stored the message in a que until I turned everything back on, automatically sending the message to my ipad to read. Pretty sweet. The device is able to send a message while sitting in the map pocket behind the front seat of my tacoma, so a clear view of the sky is not necessary in most cases.
The only complaints I have are with the tracking feature and billing. Being a cheap bastard, I opted for the plan that does not include unlimited tracking, figuring I would just send 1 track point and pay the 25 cents for each one as needed. Well, that works, but each time you turn tracking on and off, it sends two track points, billing you for both, effectively making sending a single track point a 50 cent affair On the billing side, the device was advertised as having a $9 one time activation fee, when setting it up, the fee was actually $19. On top of that, our federal and state government hit us with communication taxes since this is a 2 way communication device, adding a few bucks to the montly fee, something I did not expect compared to the SPOT service I used to have. That being said, it's still worth it to me.
On the Nav side of things, we used MotionX GPS, the InReach app, and a digital version of Benchmark's New Mexico Atlas.
The recently released Benchmark App was free and proved to be one of the most useful things in our navigation kit. In addition to being a beautiful digital version of their printed map, the app allows you to download NEXRAD radar, which overlays ontop of the map you are viewing.
here is the app with our paper version for comparison.
Surrounded by questionable weather, the radar overlay helped us find a destination that would be free of rain for the evening.
and here's what that scary red storm cell looked like from the ground.
more to come....