Released Garmin Data Shows Where, and Why, People Request Emergency Aid in the Outdoors

Accidents happen. Garmin recently released info on where, and why, people need help in the backcountry. Photo: Greg Rosenke//Unsplash

The Inertia

Some 12 years ago I had an accident out of cell range in a Mexican jungle. I slipped down some rocks and hit my head/knee, opening up two gashes that would require stitches. This was still in the infancy of the smartphone, before I ever had one, but damn would it have been nice to have had a satellite communication device to send for help. Instead, I had to limp out of the trail with the help of my friends, dazed and confused, until I crossed paths with a man who let me borrow his donkey for a ride. I rode to the hospital, got my stitches, and everything worked out. But I was lucky.

There are a million ways to find yourself in similar, or worse, peril in the backcountry. And now, new light has been shed on the various predicaments people find themselves in after Garmin released its 2023 inReach (satellite communication device) SOS data. 

The data reveals, unsurprisingly, that hikers and backpackers are the outdoor recreationists that trigger their emergency devices most frequently – accounting for roughly a third of all cases. The next most common emergencies are from driving-related situations, which Garmin says was the biggest year-over-year increase, then from motorcycling, boating, climbing/mountaineering, camping, snowmobiling, and hunting. 

The most common reasons for triggering the emergency device were due to injuries, followed by vehicle accidents/issues, medical issues, being stranded/stuck, and being lost. 

Interestingly, the majority of cases were not calls to directly aid the owner of the device. More than half of the cases were due to the owner’s group as a whole, members of the owner’s group, or third parties. In other words, your emergency device is more likely to save someone else than just yourself. 

And finally, the most common response to the emergencies was a helicopter, accounting for roughly a third of all cases. Ambulances and search and rescue teams were also frequently used. (Donkey rides didn’t make the list.)

When owners of a Garmin inReach, or a similar satellite communication device, experience an emergency, they can send interactive SOS messages to a response center. The response center staff then coordinates with and dispatches local emergency services, as well as tracking the device, to aid the individuals in need.

I researched a story a few months ago about the pros and cons of using the iPhone’s satellite emergency response feature versus a dedicated satellite emergency device, like Garmin’s inReach. Long story short, the iPhone’s emergency feature can be super useful and is rapidly improving, but it still isn’t at the point where it can replace the durability and reliability of the dedicated satellite communication devices.

For those who like to recreate far from cell towers, these devices can be paramount, not only for yourself, but even more so, for others around you. I stubbornly (or perhaps idiotically?) still don’t have one of these devices despite spending quite a bit of time in the backcountry. But I can assure you, with the evidence overwhelmingly piling up, I’ll get one ASAP, or at least put it on the Christmas wish list, so I don’t have to be extricated via borrowed donkey next time I find myself in a pickle.


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