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  • Writer's pictureRichard Weremiuk

Trackers for Duke of Edinburgh's Expedition ( DofE ®) - everything you need to know

This post will be useful to those who have not used trackers before, and those who want to understand more about how the technology can add value to expeditions.

Let us first dispel a couple of common myths.

1.     Trackers do not aid navigation. They are essentially a 'black box'; most tracker do not even have a screen. The participants will still always navigate from map or compass, well they should do at least. It's difficult to stop use of personal mobile phones to aid navigation, but that is not something we will address here.


2.     Trackers do not replace people / supervisors. Trackers add an additional layer of safeguarding. The expedition should still be fully staffed to best practice guidelines defined by the DofE Awards.

Now those myths are busted, let's get into some interesting details. For both staff and students embarking on a Duke of Edinburgh’s Award expedition is an adventure that requires careful planning and reliable equipment. Once you have the expedition in operation, it becomes an exercise of supervision and safety. Historically, locating the exact position of groups was a dark art. A combination or guesswork and some speed/distance/time maths, trying to factor in the group personalities, strengths, and weaknesses to try and divine how many breaks they might have before they arrive at meeting point one. Invariably not all those guesses were right, and this made for lengthy waits in a lay-by, or concerned searches for temporarily lost groups. Fortunately, technology has evolved to remove the doubt and add peace of mind.

For expeditions taking place today, one of the most crucial tools for ensuring safety and coordination of people/resource during these expeditions has become use of GPS tracking technology. These devices not only provide peace of mind for the supervisors, assessors, participants and their families but also enhance the overall experience by ensuring that the adventurers meet their aims. If a group goes "off-piste", after giving them plenty of time to correct their navigation, knowing exactly where they are means you can step in to correct them, and a potential failed expedition, becomes a a successful, if not slightly longer day . In this blog post, we’ll explore some of the best GPS tracking devices suitable for DofE expeditions.

1. TrackTrail® GPS Trackers TrackTrail® is a premier system for DofE expeditions, offering a user-friendly and reliable tracking solution. With features like live location updates on OS maps, SMS location backup, and an SOS function, it’s a comprehensive system that enhances safety and provides peace of mind. The often purchased or hired device is the LTE tracker, which uses the latest satellite technologies, such as GNSS, and the latest IoT, Cat M1 bands. The device has SOS capabilities, updates every 2 minutes and still boasts a 6-day battery life, making it ideal for even the longest expeditions. TrackTrail® LTE devices are the next-generation of trackers, replacing the GSM units that were common a few years ago. If you are going on expedition now, LTE are the primary choice because of their cost/value and that they are use modern technology. GSM devices which operate on 2G are no longer recommended, because the most global network providers have ether removed 2G, or are in the process of doing so. These devices work all over the world, in places you would not expect. To illustrate this, I am recentley returned from an Arctic expedition, where the LTE trackers I carried and provided to other members of the team, performed better than the two satellite transmitting devices I also carried. Our latest LTEs are very good indeed.

2. SPOT Satellite GPS Tracker For expeditions venturing into areas with limited mobile coverage, the SPOT Satellite GPS Tracker is potentia choice. SPOT have additional capabilities in that they can send an OK, Custom of HELP message to preset destinations. There are a few caveats to their use. Providing the device is kep horizontal to the sky, mounted on the shoulder, used away from steep terrain and not used under tree cover, a SPOT can provide location updates every 5 minutes ,and can ensure connectivity even in isolated locations. Although it’s a bit larger and heavier than an LTE devices, its robustness made it a favourite among adventurers. We would like to see any 5th generation device improve on their technologies, and reliability to make it compete better with Iridium trackers like the inReach

3. Garmin InReach The Garmin InReach is the premier satellite tracker suited to the most remote expeditions. These are rarely used in the UK due to their higher cost of hire and purchase, but they are without doubt the best devices money can buy Every model of inReach offers two-way messaging to any mobile or email (this uses credits). It has an SOS capability as you would expect. The devices update every 10 minutes as standard. What makes inReach better than SPOT? It is because their satellite constellation (Iridium) has three times more satellites in orbit than SPOT (Globalstar) do. As a result, the likelihood of a satellite being overhead when it tries to send a location update is three times better. The InReach devices are known for their reliability and are a bit more expensive, but they’re worth the investment for the features they offer

4. Zoleo Trackers. Zoleo is an exciting new device which is a little larger than a SPOT but smaller than one of the larger inReach models. They have a unique proposition. They use both LTE and Iridium. They will attempt to send their location using LTE (mobile coverage, but should that not be possible it will send via the Iridium satellite constellation (the same as the inReach) instead. The net result is a device which is the best of both worlds. Great news is that the Zoleo costs less to hire, or buy and operate than any inReach device. It sits just above the SPOT in terms of cost of ownership, but is significantly more reliable than a SPOT.

5. Pet trackers and mobile phone apps. Whilst these devices are sold cheaply on the internet, you do get what you pay for. They will typically feature a SIM which works on one mobile network, and thus will suffer from blank/no-spots in coverage when in typical expedition areas. The devices typically send data back via SMS, on demand in repsonse to an SMS, or they present data on Google Maps which makes it dificult to determine exact location. They do not use OS maps, which further limits their use. While some expedition leaders persist in using them, because they are cheap, their limitations attract questions around their safety. Where is the data sent to? Many low-cost pet trackers operate through servers hosted outside the EU, in almost all cases, they are based in China. That means your data is routed through and potentially stored in servers in China. For your data protection officer this will raise a red flag against organisational policy on data protection and privacy concerns. They do not have the comprehensive safety, SOS, messaging and tracking capabilities offered by other models and features offered by providers like Expedition-Tracking.

Choosing the Right GPS Tracker 

When selecting a GPS tracker for a DofE expedition, there are several factors to consider:

  • Battery Life: Ensure the device has enough battery life to last the entire expedition without needing a recharge.

  • Coverage: Choose a satellite tracker (SPOT, inReach or Zoleo) if you’re going to remote valleys that have no mobile coverage, or an LTE tracker for everywhere else. Remember a SPOT will not work under tree cover, so do not take one to the New Forest, for example!

  • Ease of Use: The device should be user-friendly, especially for young adventurers who may not have much experience with GPS technology. The tracking system website and interface should be easy and intuitive, not rely on pre-installed (and expensive licensed maps).

  • Durability: Look for a rugged device that can withstand the elements and the rigors of outdoor activities. Most devices have some waterproofing or water resistance, but almost all would require storage in a dry bag when used on open water.

  • Additional Features: Consider trackers with extra features like SOS buttons, two-way messaging. Consider the features of the tracking website. How live is the tracking? How reliable is the provider. Read reviews and ask for recommendations on the Dofe Leaders Facebook page

Benefits of Using GPS Trackers. Using a GPS tracker during a DofE expedition has numerous benefits:

  • Enhanced Safety: Trackers provide a safety net by allowing expedition supervisors to monitor the group’s live location.

  • Independence: While trackers ensure safety, they also allow participants to experience a sense of independence and self-reliance.

  • Emergency Preparedness: With features like SOS buttons, help can be summoned quickly in case of an emergency.

  • Peace of Mind: For parents and guardians, knowing the location of the participants provides immense peace of mind.

Hire or buy?

To decide if hire or purchase is right for you, generally speaking if you will operate more than 4 expeditions per year, it will cost you less in under 2 years to buy trackers from / TrackTrail, than it will to hire them, when factoring in the hire and postage charges each way. A typical LTE tracker used for an average of 5 months per year (average customer use) will cost £63.50 per year in annual running costs.

To get a quote to buy trackers, click here

To get a quote to hire trackers, click here

Conclusion A GPS tracker has become an indispensable tool for every DofE expedition. When you are writing your risk assessments, if you can cite use of trackers for safeguarding then your organisation can evidence a key safety net. trackers ensure safety, and allows for a more enjoyable and worry-free expedition for all involved. Whether you choose an LTE, Zoleo, SPOT or Garmin InReach, make sure it meets the needs of your expedition and provides the necessary features to keep the adventurers safe and connected. Always ask us for a recommendation. We will impact your expedition location and recommend the right device.

Remember, the DofE emphasises that trackers should be considered additional safety equipment rather than a replacement for people on the ground. Through use of the right GPS tracker, supervisors can more efficiently operate, and participants can confidently embark on their DofE journey, ready to explore and discover the great outdoors.

Happy trails!

Richard @ TrackTrail® / Expedition-Tracking

DofE is a trademark of the Duke of Edinburgh's Award

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