Stellar Equipment Stellar Equipment
The idea
5 min

Out of Service, Within Reach

The modern adventurer's key device for communication
Words by
Matthew Tufts
Photo by
Mattias Fredriksson
January 26, 2023

From top tier professional athletes to ambitious amateurs, the remote alpine has long represented the pinnacle arena of mountain sports and outdoor recreation. Whether for adventure or leisure, there’s an intrinsic pull to unplug and disconnect, far from calls, texts, Zoom meetings, and corporate emails. These are the places we dream about, but what happens in the event of an emergency when the disconnected dream becomes a nightmare?

In 2011, DeLorme (later acquired by Garmin) debuted the inReach as the first two-way satellite messaging device. Previous SOS devices could only emit one-way signals; meanwhile, satellite phones lacked basic functionality (texting and GPS mapping, prominently) that could facilitate quick, clear communication in an emergency, and simply owning one was relatively uncommon among all but the most cutting-edge adventurers. The inReach enabled anyone — from the boldest high-altitude adventurer to your grandmother on a hike in the local park — to connect with a professionally staffed 24/7 emergency response center to coordinate rescues and other emergency services from anywhere on the planet.

More important than ever, two-way communication during an SOS allows users to communicate the nature of the emergency or if needed, cancel the call to prevent a false alarm. Today, with the option to pair with your phone for texting and opportunities to obtain up-to-the-hour weather forecasts for your specific coordinates, the inReach is not simply a last resort Hail Mary but a vital tool in the arsenal of the modern-day adventurer.

Christina Lustenberger is at the vanguard of steep technical first descents, opening lines around the world from her home in British Columbia’s Purcell Mountains to Baffin Island’s splitter couloirs. She started using one of the first (large and clunky) iterations of inReach more than a decade ago — now she uses an inReach Mini (weighing in at only 99 grams) that pairs with her phone and lives on her bag.

Lusti, as she’s known in the ski world, used her inReach to coordinate a helicopter pick up a couple of seasons ago when a friend was injured while filming deep in Pemberton’s remote backcountry. After initiating the rescue via inReach, the crew could contact and communicate directly with the helicopter in the air using VHF radios. After that experience, she never travels without the device.

Beyond its emergency usage, Lusti appreciates the regular communication inReach facilitates when she’s in the high country. The device’s forecasting feature “takes the guessing out of the game,” according to Lusti, allowing her to thread narrow weather windows in the mercurial alpine. She can message her husband when she’s safely on the way out after dark on a big mission, and maintain communication with friends and family on month-long expeditions off the grid in places like Alaska and Baffin Island.

“When things go sideways, you can feel pretty helpless without communication with the outside world,” says Lusti. “Whether you need help or not, it’s always nice to be able to solve a problem with communication.”

Stellar Equipment
Matthew Tufts is a journalist and photographer focused on the intersection of outdoor recreation, environmental conservation, and rural communities. He’s a born n’ raised Vermonter (the “t” is silent), and skis uphill more than down.
Out of Service, Within Reach
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