British Columbia

GPS trackers needn't be mandatory in the backcountry, says Alpine Club of Canada

While GPS trackers are useful, the Alpine Club of Canada doesn't advise making them mandatory in the backcountry. Vice president Michael Kennedy explains why.

Trackers are expensive, aren't always reliable and give people a false sense of security, spokesperson says

The Alpine Club of Canada cautions against backcountry users relying on GPS trackers which may not always work as reliably as people hope. (Garmin)

GPS trackers can very useful to assist search and rescue efforts, but the Alpine Club of Canada says it would not want to see them become mandatory for backcountry users.

Michael Kennedy, vice-chair of the Alpine Club of Canada's Vancouver chapter, told CBC's The Early Edition focusing on trackers gives people a "false sense of security."

"Although we really like them ... the devices are not perfect technology," he says.

Personal GPS trackers used by backcountry travellers are usually about the size of a cell phone and cost between $250 and $600. They are widely available online or through outdoor gear shops.

Kennedy says the GPS technology allows some of them to be used in two different ways.

One use is as a navigational guide that can help a user determine their topographic and geographic location.

As second use is as a SOS beacon, which allows the user to push a button and send an alert with details of their location to rescuers.

Batteries and training still required

But trackers "don't always work reliably as people would like," Kennedy notes.

For instance they still rely on batteries, can become water-logged or lose reception. They also require some training to be able to use.

Kennedy said making the trackers mandatory would also make the backcountry more expensive for users.

"We live in a very beautiful area and we want to see people taking advantage of that without having a huge financial burden to access [it]," he says.

If you can afford one, however, Kennedy still recommends getting a GPS tracker, or at least getting a topographical app on your phone — although note the app might rely on a connection to a cell phone tower if your phone does not have built-in GPS.

Most importantly, take a paper map and compass and be able to use them, he says.

People travelling through avalanche country should have avalanche training, he added, and know the "10 essentials" to carry when moving through the backcountry.

With files from The Early Edition

To listen to the interview, click on the link labelled GPS trackers offer 'false sense of security' in backcountry, says Alpine Club of Canada