I’m a big fan of the SPOT beacons. Despite their recent branding as “yuppie 911” units, when used responsibly by hikers, they’re an effective and reasonably-priced way to get peace of mind when you’re solo-hiking. However, one of the main drawbacks of the Spot so far was it’s communications options. You can send an OK message, a HELP message, or alert the search and rescue squads — but HELP could mean anything from “My car has a flat tire” to “I think my leg might be broken.”

At CES, SPOT announced they’d be teaming up with DeLorme to fix that problem, with the new PN-60w + SPOT Communicator.

This is actually two devices – a new mapping GPS receiver that features a dual-core processor, 32-channel GPS chipset, and the ability to load DeLorme’s high-res aerial imagery maps along with standard topos – and the SPOT communicator.

The communicator here is an even slimmer, smaller version of their beacon (which just trimmed its figure down recently, too). It’s a very small wafer that communicates wirelessly with the DeLorme, allowing you to include text messages along with the standard SPOT “OK” or “HELP.”

The PN-60w and SPOT are powered by separate sources, so if your GPS batteries croak on the trail, you’ll still be able to check in and call for help with the SPOT if you need it (lithium batteries in the SPOTs last a really, really long time).

In non-emergency situations, you can also use the text messaging capabilities of this combo to update a track in real-time on Google Maps, providing a story for anyone who wants to e-stalk your hike online.

This is a device that’s been a long time coming, and from the look and feel of it at CES, the guys at DeLorme and SPOT did a great job answering the needs of hikers. The devices themselves are very light and feel solid enough to take the beatings equipment gets on the trail. I’ll try to get a review unit closer to their release date to put it through the rungs.

The DeLorme PN-60w + SPOT Communicator is expected to hit store shelves in Spring 2010. Pricing hasn’t been announced yet.

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