When you head out into the back country, whether hiking, horseback riding, on an ATV or snowmobile, one of the most important things to consider is safety. Preparing for injury or technical problems (engine trouble, bad ATV shocks, etc) can make a huge difference. While it's important to be as prepared as possible to handle anything, it's also important to have an escape plan. That often means having some way to contact someone in case of an emergency.
If you aren't going to far, your cell phone may do the job. The problem is that the farther from populated areas you are, the less dependable cell phones become. If you don't already know your phone works in the area you'll be in, it's not wise to rely on it in an emergency.
You might ask what other forms of communication you can have out in the wilderness. That's a good question, and there are several different options. Here are a few suggestions.
Satellite phones are an excellent choice, because they offer service virtually everywhere in the world. There are several satellite companies out there, each offering pros and cons. One thing that is consistent across all satphones, however, is high cost. The price of the handset and the cost of service are quite high. Still, if it's an emergency, it can be worth paying the price of the call.
Personal Location Beacons, or PLB's, are small devices, usually about the size of a remote control, that send a distress signal to a network of military satellites. They can send a GPS signal or wait for the satellites to track their position. When a PLB is purchased it has to be registered and assigned a unique identification number. This number tells emergency response who they are looking for and allows them to contact family if necessary. It's very important the PLB only be used as a last resort in an emergency.
SPOT Satellite Personal Tracker is sort of a combination of the satellite phone and PLB. A SPOT has the ability to contact emergency services, send a non-emergency help signal to pre-determined contacts, or send “I'm OK” or custom messages. With a SPOT you can even update your progress so your friends and family can track you on Google Earth. The downside is that it's slightly less reliable unless in an open clear sky.
Regardless of what device you prefer, or can afford, emergency communication is a huge asset when heading into the wild. While you should still set up check in points and contacts, it's nice to know that if you blow an ATV shock or tire or are caught in an avalanche, you can alert someone of your predicament.