Podcast Episode July 3, 2023

Episode 84 | Satellite Messaging (ZOLEO)

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In this episode of the Backpacking Light Podcast, we interview Morris Shawn, President of Roadpost and Zoleo, about satellite messaging and the evolution of the Zoleo Satellite Communicator.
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Home Forums Episode 84 | Satellite Messaging (ZOLEO)

Viewing 24 posts - 1 through 24 (of 24 total)
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  • #3784557
    Backpacking Light


    Locale: Rocky Mountains

    Companion forum thread to: Episode 84 | Satellite Messaging (ZOLEO)

    In this episode of the Backpacking Light Podcast, we interview Morris Shawn, President of Roadpost and Zoleo, about satellite messaging and the evolution of the Zoleo Satellite Communicator.

    Terran Terran
    BPL Member


    The Motorola is cheaper. The plans are cheaper and you get more texts.

    Zoleo [is] economically obsolete. [edited – MK]

    Who buys one?

    Alex Wallace
    BPL Member


    Locale: Sierra Nevada North

    I bought a Zoleo a few months ago. It was on sale for $150 + 1-year Gaia GPS subscription and at the time the Motorola Defy wasn’t available. It fits my needs, but I’d much rather have the weight and size of the Defy. One thing that’s unclear to me is if location check-ins count against your message allotment on the Defy? They don’t on the Zoleo. Also, it sounds like 2-way communication with the Defy requires the other user to use the app.

    Terran Terran
    BPL Member


    Not to be overly harsh, the Gaia app is a nice incentive. It may become a tight market with even the Defy becoming obsolete. They have to bring their pricing down for their plans. License out their technology.

    Having an app for return texts would hopefully weed out unwanted messages.

    W I S N E R !


    I bought a Zoleo a little over a year ago. $150 and $20/month.

    My needs are simple and it’s a simple device. Works fine for me. I have messaged friends in the backcountry Zoleo > InReach and vice versa and have never had trouble communicating two ways with the outside world when necessary.  It has features I prefer over the competition, namely simplicity. Maybe that’s changed already, I’m not paying attention to the market and I don’t really care for incessant upgrade culture. I hope to keep using it but if the company disappeared tomorrow, I figure I got my money’s worth.



    LOL…so I just looked up the Motorola Defy and I’m now seriously wondering what I’m getting for $20 a month with the Zoleo that I can’t get for $4.99 a month with the Defy. Am I being forced into an upgrade? Motorola is advertising a year of service for free to boot. That alone covers the cost of my Zoleo being relegated to collecting dust in a drawer. It’s too bad the world works like this; so much waste. But I don’t like wasting money on nothing either…

    Given the Defy wasn’t available at the time, I’m not bitter. But with a little more digging, it appears Terran Terran is right…So I’d like to know: What’s the Zoleo got going for it if the Motorola is (at minimum) functionally the same?




    Matthew / BPL


    Zoleo’s medical assist seems like a useful service. I can think of two times when I had a partner who I thought was experiencing AMS and would have liked to be able to talk with someone about our decision to bail.

    I would think that service might help SAR avoid some unneeded calls and perhaps get them involved earlier when appropriate in other situations.

    Good stuff.

    Alex Wallace
    BPL Member


    Locale: Sierra Nevada North

    Wisner’s edit is exactly where I’m at. It’s especially frustrating because I just bought a Zoleo. However, I really don’t like that location check-ins count against your message allotment with the Defy. On a recent 3-day solo trip I sent my wife and kids at least a dozen (mornings, nights, and peaks) of those with the Zoleo and they really appreciated them. I guess I could go for the bigger “Everyday” plan with the Defy for $10 per month (on sale for $5 per month for a year), which gives you 80 messages for the month. It would still be cheaper than Zoleo’s cheapest plan at $20 per month.



    Locale: The Cascades

    Isn’t the biggest (or at least one of the biggest) differences the satellites they use? I’m not educated enough to opine on what those differences are, but I did find these comments in the Ars story interesting (no idea if these comments are correct, perhaps someone else who knows this stuff could comment):

    “Keep in mind Garmin InReach or any iridium based service will eventually have a sat overhead. You may need to wait a bit to get a message out but you can usually get a message out even without moving. This service uses a GSO sat so you need a view of the low southern sky (in northern hemisphere). Depending on hills and other terrain that may not be possible.”

    “I live in west NC and hike the AT quite a bit. As this uses GEO, there
    are lots of locations where this will not work (think Nantahala Gorge,etc)
    I’ll stick with my In-Reach.(LEO)”

    Matthew / BPL


    That sounds like a dealbreaker. If I’m hurt in a canyon I’d rather know that a satellite will go overhead at some point rather than staying behind the mountain to my south.

    W I S N E R !


    Yeah Doug, that’s sort of what I’m hearing regarding satellites. No idea how much this would affect me in my location. I can handle $20 for the Zoleo, it’s not a dealbreaker. It hasn’t let me down yet. But if it proves that the Defy has the same functionality…well. I’m not running out to upgrade immediately, I’ll look around for some reviews first. Sounds like an article that a backpacking site might want to jump on ASAP…. ; )

    Terran Terran
    BPL Member


    New tech will always have nah sayers. I’m sure they’ve tested it and know the limitations. If it doesn’t work in a ditch, they’ll be sued with no limits. It seems these devices serve to raise our fear levels.

    Ken Larson
    BPL Member


    Locale: Western Michigan

    “It seems these devices serve to raise our fear levels.”

    …..Totally agree for some,  but as the Boy Scout slogan goes BE PREPARED if there is a need.

    Nicholas P
    BPL Member


    Locale: Acadia National Park

    From what I have gleaned from reviews the Defy uses both Geostationary (Inmarsat) and Geosynchronous(Echostar) satellite services.

    Terran Terran
    BPL Member


    Being prepared isn’t about what you carry. It’s knowing how not to get into a situation as well as how to get out of one. These devices are a last resort. Mainly they’re used for communication.
    Solo hikers who put themselves into situations which may lead them to immobilization in the bottom of a canyon are making unwise choices with the thought that one of these devices might work.

    The satellites are orbiting for one network, they come into range. They don’t go over your head . You may have a 30* angle with hills and trees blocking the signal. . They’re 485 miles up.
    The other network has satellites 22,000 miles up. While they’re stationary, they have a much better view.
    Either way, you may have to crawl a ways.  To be prepared, you might carry both. IDK It’s only a tool.

    W I S N E R !


    What’s the concern?

    I’ve been putting myself into remote canyon bottoms and risky solo outdoor scenarios long before PLBs and sat messengers appeared.

    Now that they exist and I have the means to purchase one, why wouldn’t I? It’s a beautiful little piece of insurance and convenience…that could *possibly* fail me when I need it the most. So it goes. Plan accordingly. Cross your fingers. Etc.

    My young adult son might say differently…but I have found my messenger super useful in contacting him at 2AM to pick me up at a trailhead because I bailed on a planned route. I’ve done this on multiple occasions now. Dropping what he’s doing and driving into the mountains with a friend to pick up dad in the middle of the night has become legend. They know there’s late night dinner in it for them. ; )

    If we’re not supposed to burden our children, I’m not sure what we had them for….


    Terran Terran
    BPL Member


    No concern. You go into the canyons at your own risk. I know my gps would often loose signal. Both of these devices have their inherent weaknesses. They do have their value.
    I don’t think that’s a deal breaker for either one. They’re both valuable communication devices with multiple uses. I saw where a girl was getting off of the mountain yesterday. She had a hurt friend. She was able to get directions to a side trail down to the road, and contact a shuttle.

    You should have had him bring a pizza.

    I want one. I don’t feel that I really need it. I didn’t want to pay $240 a year in service fees.

    I see Unefone has it built into their flagship model. Also branded Cat phone. It’s not available here. Yet.

    David D
    BPL Member


    >I didn’t want to pay $240 a year in service fees

    Garmin nav support is pretty expensive, so I just use SoS, weather, messaging on my Garmin Messenger (Zoleo like use case) and it costs a bit more than half, Canuck equivalent to ~ $130US for 6 months (~ same as Zoleo)

    W I S N E R !


    @terran terran, I was thinking about your comment that they make us more fearful. I don’t feel that way, but I started my outdoor career before they existed. I do wonder though: Are sat messaging devices about to become one of the “essentials”, so to speak? I can easily see them working their way into the “necessities” for all outdoor activities, heavily pushed in REI catalogues/clinics and the likes (if this hasn’t already happened). If that’s the case, I’m concerned it will be another barrier for many people, creating the perception amongst beginners that you’re not being “safe” without one.

    I work with teenagers. I’m often approached with curiosity and interest about getting into backpacking. And when they see the gearlists and price tags, even the ultra budget versions, those backpacking dreams quickly wither. And I know for a fact that the mere existence of sat messengers would make many parents feel their kids shouldn’t do these activities without one. One of my son’s friends hiked the PCT two years ago and his family said they wouldn’t support it without him purchasing a messenger.

    Convenience/safety aside, with sat messengers, we’re essentially adding monthly subscription plans to the list of burdens that come with “the simplicity of backpacking”. In this regard I understand the hesitation. Seems harder and harder to get away from always “needing” new stuff. Of course, this is by design.


    Bill Budney
    BPL Member


    Locale: Central NYS

    In a year or two Starlink will begin to work with ordinary cell phones, so the  cost is a short-term problem.

    It can be a fun exercise to build a functional gear list using budget gear; no doubt you do that. A couple of hundred dollars is all it takes; less if you MYOG.

    Terran Terran
    BPL Member


    Garmin is popular with the influencers. It’s the must have product. That’s why I wondered who buys Zoleo. They don’t seem to be getting much of the market.

    Chris Chandler
    BPL Member


    Locale: lost angeles

    I’m surprised I’m not seeing more chatter about the inreach messenger here, especially compared to the zoleo. I’m currently in the market and have been comparing the inreach mini 2, inreach messenger, zoleo, and defy. Yes, the inreach messenger is 4 oz, but I’m leaning heavily towards it because of the battery life, and the ability to reverse charge.

    I can get a lot of life out of my phone battery only using it as a secondary point-and-shoot camera and minimal GPS backup w/ caltopo, and on bigger trips I like to take my sony RX100 for better photos. Usually, I end up carrying a 2.4 oz or 4.8 oz Anker battery with me for my phone and camera. Since I won’t be using the inreach for active navigation or constant tracking, it will have a ton of juice left in it even on a 10-day trip w/o resupply. It becomes a multi-use item, allowing me to leave extra spare battery weight at home

    The reverse charging does not work if the inreach’s battery drops below 25%. And it will only run for 20 minutes at a time. Even with those limitations, I could see it extending the battery life of my phone long enough to not need to take an Anker battery pack with me

    Matthew / BPL


    Speculating here but I think many people here are long term InReach users.

    I have a first gen InReach Mini and the size and battery life are great but I find the user interface and their software to be frustrating at times. If I was going to replace my Mini and stay in the InReach ecosystem I would pick up a Mini 2. The killer app here is the failsafe of (tediously) entering a message without a paired phone. If I decided I was willing to let go of that ability I would jump to a different platform just to escape Garmin’s website and apps (also saving money would be nice). My point here is that while the InReach Messenger has some advantages it comes with disadvantages too and means staying with a suboptimal (at least to me) platform and user experience.

    Despite my frustrations, I’ll probably avoid an upgrade in anticipation of the future Bill speaks of where I can directly message from my phone to a satellite.

    Terran Terran
    BPL Member


    Here’s one .

    I wonder if  having a separate unit on your shoulder might keep better contact then trying to hold your phone up.


    Charlie Brenneman
    BPL Member


    Locale: Primarily Desolation Wilderness, Yosemite, and SEKI

    It doesn’t sound like you can get a SAR Insurance Plan coverage with Zoleo. Does anyone know what’s the best route to take for this if one were to move on from Garmin?

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