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When going into remote areas, it would be great to be able to communicate with the outside world, for emergency purposes or just to be able to call home on long trips. Is it practical for an average person to obtain and use a satellite phone? In other words, roughly what do they cost to buy or rent, how large are they, and what is the cost to use them to place calls? On what kind of trips would it make sense to consider this option?

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up vote 10 down vote accepted

What is practical is up to you, but I can give you some information to help you make up your mind.

Typical rental prices for a satellite phone are $15-$30 a week (According to this site). The cost per minute is in addition to this cost, and is around $0.50-$3 USD a minute. Weight is usually around 400 grams, or just under a pound. Battery life is pretty much comparable to a smart phone, 3 hours talking and 24 on standby.

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More reasonable than I would have thought. –  Timothy Strimple Jan 27 '12 at 2:01
    
The new InmarSat iSatPhone Pro claims the battery life is 100 hours standby and 8 hours talking. Calls cost about $1/min to landlines. –  Simon Hodgson Jan 28 '12 at 14:17
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In addition to @Pearsonartphoto's technical specs, it is important to remember that a Sat Phone is one tool at your disposal, and not a replacement for smart decision making, or proper planning. I have seen them provide people with a false sense of security thinking it gives added insurance against making bad decisions.

Like any electronic equipment, sat phones depend on batteries (which don't last all that long), must be kept dry, and can not be depended upon. (Ie, assume it will be broken / dead when you need it.)

I have been required to use sat phones extensively in the back-country as part of my work responsibilities - in both the mountains and canyon country - and they have proved extremely useful, if frustrating. Getting a signal can be challenging and talk time is short (as satellites whizz by above) possibly to the point of miscommunication: ("Hi honey - I'm ....." "Oh my! what's wrong? Did she break her leg? Why was she cut off?!? Panic!")

All that being said, having a sat phone saved at least one life I was responsible for.

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