Spending a year ‘off the grid,’ Amy and Dave Freeman use high-tech devices to keep in touch with the real world.
Communication from remote corners of the globe is easier than ever. With a smartphone and portable satellite terminal that only weigh a pound or two, you can check email on a sailboat in the middle of the South Pacific, post photos to Facebook from the middle of the Sahara Desert, tweet from the top of Mount Everest, or update your blog hundreds of miles from the nearest road.
In fact, my wife Amy and I have done all of these things and more while exploring the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness for the last 350 days. We have used satellite technology to communicate from some of the world’s wildest places for more than 15 years.
The equipment and communication strategies we used during A Year in the Wilderness can help you access current weather reports, conduct interviews, or coordinate an evacuation on your next trip.
Wideye iSavi Satellite Terminal: No Cell Service Communication
Our main satellite terminal is a Wideye iSavi, which connects to our smartphone using Wi-Fi. The iSavi can be used to make phone calls, but we use it almost exclusively to send and receive emails, post photos, update social media, and publish blog posts (like this one).
The main limitation with using the iSavi or other satellite internet connections is the cost of service. For perspective, cell phone data costs $10 for 1,000 MB; data for the iSavi costs $4 to $6 for a single MB!
Effective communication requires one to carefully monitor data usage or risk breaking the bank.
We use roughly 3 MB of data per week, about $60 per month. This allows us to send and receive email a couple times a day and upload five to 10 optimized images each week for social media and email logs.
Data Control: RedPort Optimizer & XGate
To help control our data usage we use a RedPort Optimizer and XGate, an email service by Global Marine Networks. This is designed specifically for satellite communications. The iSavi has a built in firewall, but the RedPort Optimizer’s firewall is better and basically eliminates all extraneous data usage.
The email service costs $30 per month and the RedPort Optimizer costs $150. These easily pay for themselves by drastically reduce the amount of data we use.
Both iSavi and XGate have phone and tablet apps that facilitate communication. The XGate email app uses a basic email program, photo compression, and other features designed for satellite communication. The XGate app allows us to download detailed weather forecasts specific to our current location.
Delorme InReach Explorer: In Contact Off-Grid
The InReach connects to our smartphone, and allows us to send and receive text messages easily. It also provides basic weather forecasts and allows people to track our progress on an interactive map.
InReach messages can only be 160 characters long, but are can include location, and post to Facebook and Twitter. This makes it easy for us coordinate with volunteers bringing in resupplies, and meet up with media and friends.
FInally, though I hope we never need it, the InReach Explorer has an SOS button in case of an emergency. Service ranges in price from $25 to $75 a month.
Remote Sharing: ‘Save The Boundary Waters’ Effort
These tools allow us to connect with a wide audience while we bear witness to this amazing Wilderness.
As we work to protect the BWCAW from a series of sulfide-ore copper mines being proposed along its edge. We can communicate with thousands of elementary and middle school children through the Wilderness Classroom, helping to get our message out.
We venture into remote regions for many reasons. Sometimes it is great to unplug and leave the phone at the trailhead. In other instances, these tools can play a critical role in a safe adventure. We hope this information is helpful the next time you venture out of cell range and want to stay connected.
—Dave Freeman and his wife Amy are currently spending a year in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness in an effort to protect the Boundary Waters from a series of sulfide-ore copper mines that are proposed along the edge of our nation’s most popular Wilderness. Throughout their Year in the Wilderness, they are sharing regular reviews on GearJunkie.com. Amy and Dave were named National Geographic Adventurers of the Year in 2014.