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This year I want to hike some more remote areas. There is an issue of safety. The areas will be 10 - 50 km away from civilization, lots of bears(0,5 bear/km2),.. The cell phone towers will be up till 10 - 50 km away. It is a little remote but nothing like Alaska or parts of Canada,...

Satellite phone is heavy and not cheap so I am considering spare outdoor antenna for my android phone. I would connect outdoor antenna to my android phone and make a call if necessary. Do you have some experiences with using them, do they boost the signal enough to make emergency call or not? I could use the antenna in mountains as well.

I guess something like up till 100 grams and 5 - 10 dBi gain?

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    InReach Mini (2) is 100g. Will give you sat messaging and SOS features. So doesn't solve your cost issue, but just want to put it out there as an option for future people looking for a lightweight easy solution if cost isn't a priority.
    – noah
    Apr 19 at 21:02
  • So you have a phone with an external antenna jack and are looking for product recommendations? Or are you asking about one of the (powered) signal boosters? Are there ham radio repeaters in the area you are going?
    – Jon Custer
    Apr 19 at 22:01
  • No. I don't need product recommendations. I know I have the jack, but I don't know if external antenna would make any significant gain, difference or not. I don't want to buy if it doesn't work well on the field. I want to know if someone has experience with that, since it seems interesting that external antenna could prove a cheap and good way to boost signal. I don't have a clue if there are ham repeaters. Probably are.
    – Alex J.
    Apr 20 at 0:08
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    I'd consider a PLB. These are not cheap (from around $600) but cause no additional costs and work from anywhere in the world. Can't be used to call your GF, though.
    – PMF
    Apr 20 at 7:03
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    @PMF 1.2 kg (2.6 lb) for the SSB ones here. No generator required; battery or for some a built-in generator (hand-crank). Antennae are just some wires you string in trees or off rocks. You do need someone listening and battery life is pretty short IIRC, but you only need them on a few min each day.
    – bob1
    Apr 20 at 8:31

3 Answers 3

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If you are mainly concerned about emergencies I would seriously consider a Personal Locator Beacon (PLB) as a substitute.

PLBs do not depend on the cellphone system. They talk directly to satellites, and work wherever you are (they can be blocked, but it's extremely unlikely and distance from 'civilization' isn't a factor). If they come with a GPS they allow rescuers to locate you extremely quickly and accurately. A cellphone antenna may or may not allow you to make an emergency call, depending on a lot of factors which you probably can't check out ahead of time. The disadvantage of a PLB is that you can't use it for regular cellphone things.

PLBs can be had for $300-$500 (US) and can sometimes be rented. No subscription is required to keep them connected. Some wilderness areas in Australia will loan them out for free.

You might also checkout this question about cheap emergency satellite phone plans.

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  • Totally agree. British Columbia has rugged terrain and a lot of incidents involving hiking or other outdoor activities gone bad. Cell phones frequently figure in the list of things that didn't work well. PLBs on the 406Mhz network, without subscriptions, are a high initial cost but last for 6-8 years. Apr 20 at 21:53
  • Good answer. I'd add that if the OP wants communication ability a Garmin InReach (or InReach mini) with satellite subscription is a good option - costs about US$ 15 for monthly (for occasional use) or $12/mo for an annual in the USA or about 20/15 Euro for their "Safety" plan, with additional costs for some services and limited numbers of texts. There are other, more expensive, plans too.
    – bob1
    Apr 20 at 22:32
  • @ItalianPhilosophers4Monica "...without subscriptions.."? What do you mean by that? PLBs must be registered, so the rescuers have contact data (e.g. to call somebody to confirm that you might be in trouble on the slopes of Mt Doom). It's free, but it must be done properly.
    – PMF
    Apr 21 at 10:50
  • "Without subscriptions" means you don't have to pay an ongoing fee to keep it connected, like you do with a cellphone or satellite phone. Apr 21 at 12:58
  • @PMF you have 2 types of PLB. Spot, for example, sells ones that allow basic messaging and have subscriptions @ 50$+/yr. They are typically a bit cheaper up front. The ones I prefer are on the military rescue channel 406MHz. They don't support anything besides one time emergency use (the only thing I buy a PLB for). But they are also supposedly more reliable and cost nothing past the initial purchase. Registration is not a pay-for subscription. I'd never buy a messaging PLB myself. Apr 21 at 16:03
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Consider a Garmin InReach https://discover.garmin.com/en-US/inreach/personal/

It is essentially a two-way satellite phone, except that it only allows text messages and not live voice conversations. It works everywhere where you have a clear view of the sky (e.g. not in a deep canyon). You don't need to be an area that has cell phone coverage. You can communicate with emergency services and with anyone who has a cell phone number (SMS) and anyone who has an e-mail address. The recipient receives a message shows your exact location from where you sent the message and a URL that allows them to send a response message. You can also get on-demand weather forecasts for your location.

It is quite affordable (compared to a full satellite phone) and very reliable. There is the cost of the device itself and the cost of a subscription. There are different levels of subscription, trading off fixed cost per month versus variable cost per message.

I take it with me on every hike, even simple day hikes.

The problem with old-fashioned PLBs is that it is one-way communication. You can send a message, but you will not be able to tell whether anyone received it, nor will you be able to have a 2-way conversation to explain the emergency. With an InReach you can.

There are two versions. A tiny version that requires a bluetooth paired cell phone to type messages. And a slightly bigger version that is completely standalone. I would STRONGLY recommend the stand-alone version because cell phone batteries last MUCH shorter than the InReach battery. I turn my InReach on only once per day to check for incoming messages (or when I want to send a message); that way the battery lasts as long as a month or more.

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I frequently hike in remote areas. Rare is the situation where I have line of sight on a tower but no signal. Loss of signal is almost always due to terrain shadows, not power levels. Thus I would expect basically zero benefit from an external antenna.

I paid $250 for a PLB a few years back, then upgraded to an inReach with the pandemic because I was deliberately seeking out empty places rather than just sometimes being alone. I pay the $25/month for unlimited pings on a 10 minute interval--even if for some reason I couldn't push the button that would still almost certainly guide search and rescue to eyeball range.

The PLB is just a generic "Help!" carrying no information beyond your location and identity. The device needs refurbishment (~$100) every 5 years but has no subscription. The inReach has a monthly subscription or it's useless, but it does text messages, you can communicate what the issue is and therefore what sort of response is appropriate. (Companion had a heart attack is different than broke bone, need extraction which is different than fire on the mountain--for the latter you don't even want them coming to you, but going to the fire.)

Personally, I consider satellite comms of some type to be required safety gear for any trip where you can't count on others coming along and finding you.

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