As everyone goes out adventuring during the summer months, it’s possible a few of you are going to get separated from your friends at some point. Not a good experience, especially when you’re in areas that don’t have network coverage! That’s why we have walkie talkies, but walkie talkies are another bulky item to pack, and if it was possible to just use your smartphone for communication, that would probably be a lot more convenient.
That’s where GoTenna comes in. GoTenna had been under development since 2012, when co-founders Daniela and Jorge Perdomo saw the communications problems caused by cell towers failing during Hurricane Sandy. They launched a crowdfunding campaign for GoTenna, a short-range antenna for texting and sharing location that could work with smartphones and independently of cell towers, in 2014. They finally launched late last year, and it’s looking like a must-have for the summer.
GoTenna is a slim, lightweight short-range antenna that works like a walkie talkie — messages can be sent to one other unit or broadcast to any units within range. Instead of using GoTenna itself, the antenna connects to a smartphone using a Bluetooth connection. Using an app, texts can be sent and received and, more importantly, location can be shared using GPS and pre-downloaded maps. It’s not possible to communicate using voice like with a walkie talkie, but for people more used to texting anyway, having a lightweight device that works with a smartphone might be preferable.
Using the app, texts can be sent to a specific person or group, or shouted out — broadcast to anyone else in range that has a GoTenna. You’re unlikely to randomly run into someone else with a GoTenna, but for a group of friends going on an extended hiking or camping trip, it could be a huge help if someone were to get lost. If you want to keep things private, GoTenna has end-to-end encryption on all messages sent. Being able to share your location on a map is probably the most compelling advantage over walkie talkies, making it much easier for friends to track each other down out in the wilderness. A single GoTenna has 24 hours of standby battery life, which declines as more messages are sent.
GoTenna is pretty pricey, though. They cost $200 for a pair, which is a pretty high price for an emergency device. But, then again, it’s hard to put a price on being prepared for emergencies, and the GoTenna seems like it could come up huge, especially for groups of adventurers who like to pack light. They’re available now at REI, in stores and online.