This Satellite Communicator Turns a Phone Into a Global Rescue Device
What It Is:
The Bivy Stick Blue is a svelte two-way global satellite communicator with a few features on the actual device, like an SOS button and a check-in button. But it is much more than that. When paired with the Bivy app, the device unlocks many other features like two-way text communication, maps, tracking and trail info. You can also “pay as you go,” because this Bivy has no activation fees and no annual contracts, making it an affordable option ($350) for those who use satellite communicators intermittently. Speaking of “intermittently,” the Bivy uses the Iridium Network, which to anyone in my area, the Canadian Rockies, will tell you is the difference between “maybe having a location sent” and “almost always having your correct location sent.” (More on that later.)
First off, the Bivy Stick Blue weighs only 3.35 ounces, making it the lightest device of its classification. It can be submerged in water up to over three feet deep for half an hour, and has a lithium-ion polymer battery. The device is small (4.3 x 1.8 x 0.8 inches) and fairly straightforward. First, you must download the app to your smartphone and create an account. Link the account to your device and pair with your phone. It is strongly recommended to do a test run before you actually get out to where it counts, with your contacts already synched with the app. Make sure you can see the sky, get a signal from the device, and you are ready to go.
Why We Like It:
The Bivy Stick Blue, like many great gadgets, was created out of necessity. Founder Vance Cook began his quest to make the device after he was on Mount Everest/Sagarmatha during 2015’s devastating Gorkha earthquake. Unable to let his wife know that he was OK, she thought he had perished. He was fine, but felt horrible about the inability to connect. There are far worse scenarios than Cook’s, though I’m grateful for his reaction and foresight, because the device he produced now helps not only friends and family stay connected while in the backcountry, but also helps rescuers do their job more efficiently.
With the device set up, another cool feature is allowing your friends to use it too. The credits and costs are tied to the actual “stick” and the account of whoever set it up. So, if it’s set up with your billing info, a friend can still use it to text a number or email address (even using his/her own phone with the Bivy app), though the account tied to the stick itself would be charged any overage if you don’t opt for the unlimited plan. The stick also uses the same assigned number for two-way text communication even when a new phone connects via Bluetooth.
Ideally, every member of your travel group should have a personal location beacon/satellite device—and especially one that uses the Iridium Network. (I’ve known local incidents where a PLB using U.S. satellites initially triangulated the wrong the location, sending rescuers on a wild goose chase of a Spot device that never went off). The Bivy Stick Blue’s SOS button (which is red and has a safety flap) will work if it has a signal no matter if you have credits on the account—just be warned you will be charged $.50 cents extra for each credit. Which seems like pennies compared to having contracts that add up month after month.
If you accidentally set the SOS off and you have your app open and paired, it will ask you to confirm that you have an emergency; if you don’t reply it will still send the SOS, which goes to one of the new Global Rescue call centers. This is a new dispatching system, where most devices have used IERCC based in Texas.
With friends in the mountain rescue community, I have heard numerous anecdotes of rescues gone wrong, so my initial reaction to Global Rescue taking the SOS calls made me a bit nervous. However, it has an excellent track record in extraction, travel risk and crisis management, so I am hopeful. In addition, the service said we could test its SOS here in Canada with the local dispatch centers.
Back to the Bivy, it is a solid device. It gave accurate information at check-ins, and weighed practically nothing in my pack. The flexibility of payment is huge and will likely change the market. I look forward to getting into the community aspect of the Bivy, although my main use will always be for that “just in case.”
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