by Treas Manning

Entering The Maze, sounds like a good place to get lost, at least in the sense of getting away from it all. After a year like this last one, the wild and beautiful isolation was exactly what we needed to unwind and regain our sanity. The reality is, when you heading into the backcountry or outback there is always a risk of getting lost, running out of water with miles to go, car trouble, broken bone trouble. We read about these things happening even to the most experienced adventurers.

With that in mind, I thought our outing into the desert might be the perfect time to product test the ZOLEO tracking and SOS unit we are now carrying in the shop. 

Our first step was to call in the company rep and have him run our staff through how the darn thing works. Everything seemed easy enough, so we grabbed a unit off the shelf and proceeded to the company website to do the initial setup. It went like this: 

  1. Create a login
  2. Register your unit
  3. Pick a monthly plan (yes there is a monthly fee to send check-in messages and text messages), we'll get into that in a bit. 
  4. Download the ZOLEO app onto your cellphone.
  5. Pair your ZOLEO with your cellphone. 
  6. Next enter your desired contacts, those that you want to check-in with.
  7. Then enter those that you to send an SOS alert in case of an emergency, your SOS contacts. 
  8. Test your check-in function.

ZOLEO alerts and messages are managed through your cellphone. They are sent via Iridium, giving you coverage beyond mobile networks. It is a Global 2-way text, email, and app-to-app messaging system. Cool!

The only advice I would pass on is to try your darndest not to message the office, after all, you are on vacation, but when duty calls you can put out fires without running around searching for cell service. 

We set up a plan with my brother to test the mightly ZOLEO. We had already listed him as a check-in contact and SOS guy. NOTE: When we tested the unit with him before leaving home, we realized the text message he received from us showed an unknown number as the sender. I had him enter that number under my contact listing. He sees that number on his screen, he knows it is from me. 


Our test plan was to check in each evening from our campsite. To do this I would open the app on my phone, making sure my ZOLEO was pointed to the open sky, and click on the checkmark in the upper right corner. He in turn would receive an automatic message that read, I'm Okay, along with the coordinates of our location. When we were at the Horseshoe Canyon trailhead, my brother was able to click on the coordinates which then brought up a photograph of the sign at the start of the trail. On his screen, there was also a marker designating the exact location of our campsite. He then messages back asking if we were camped on the northeast corner of the plateau about 50 yards from the trailhead. Response, yes we are! Is that awesome or what?  

For my brother the nerd the nightly check-ins, sort of became a game for him, following us throughout our vacation. There was a downside, the one night I forgot to check-in, I received a blistering message the next day. "Hopefully you just spaced out on checking in last night, if you've been kidnapped, you're on your own."

A couple of things to keep in mind when considering a ZOLEO. It works through an app on your cellphone, so your cell must be close by and the battery charged. The unit itself must be charged as well. When in you're car, that's easy enough. When you're out on the trail that another thing. Because I am a nut about gadgets, the solution was simple. I just happen to own a Goal Zero solar panel. It's roughly the size of a Kindle when folded up. During the day when hiking, I hang it open from my backpack and it charges my phone and ZOLEO pretty quickly. I love it when things work!!!

Let's talk about cost. 

The ZOLEO is $199, the app is free. 

Compare that to Garmin's InReach. 

InReach mini: $299.99

InReach Explorer: $349.99

InReach Explorer+Satelite Communicator: $449.99

In preparing for the ZOLEO product test I did a bit of homework and logged onto a couple of tech review sites. I one con that kept coming up was that there is no screen on the ZOLEO, there are four flashing lights in a circle telling you that the unit is searching and sending, but no screen. I was concerned about that, but at the same time on the pro side, the reviewer pointed out the affordability. 

I personally, always carry my cellphone when I am out and about, mostly for the camera. But the places I go, rarely have cell service and if there is service it is spotty at best. Because you use the screen on your phone to send check-ins, write messages, and emails I didn't find it bothersome that the ZOLEO unit didn't have a screen. As long as your cellphone and the unit are within Bluetooth range all is good. I keep my phone in my pack, I'd pull it out when I needed to send a check-in or text through the ZOLEO, which I had hanging on my belt or from my pack. One word of advice, don't lose your phone, don't throw your ZOLEO off a cliff, keep them both charged and within Bluetooth range, and you'll be able to call for help, heaven forbid if the occasion calls. 

UPDATE: While I was talking with the sales manager for the company, I asked him if there was a family plan, thinking it could get expensive if a family had to purchase multiple units and plans. Good news! For example, our ZOLEO unit is paired with my cellphone and registered under my name. If Herb were to head out on a backpack or mountain bike trip without me, he could use my ZOLEO unit. I would go online and instruct the unit to ignore my cellphone. Herb would have to download the app to his cellphone and then pare it to the ZOLEO unit. Sharing is as simple as that, you could actually use the unit for each member of your family. Woo Hoo, that thar is AWESOME!!!

Now let's talk about the monthly plans. There are three plans to choose from. 

Basic: $20 mo . 25 Satellite Messages included . Additional Messages .50 cents each . Satellite SOS Alerts included

In Touch: $35 mo . 250 Satellite Messages included . Additional Messages .25 cents each . Satellite SOS Alerts included

Unlimited: $50 mo . Unlimited Satellite Messages . Satellite SOS Alerts included 

Unlimited Automatic Tracking an extra $6 mthly. The automatic tracking updates your movements every few minutes. If the individuals you have set up to track your whereabouts, noticed that your location has not changed it could be you are in trouble or have dropped your ZOLEO. When the tracking stop, it should raise concern.

 You can suspend your account if you're stuck at work, not out on the road or the trail, and your ZOLEO has been banished to the back of the drawer. To suspend your account, simply go to the ZOLEO website and suspend the account. The only hitch is, when you first purchase your unit and sign up with the monthly plan, you can NOT suspend the account for the first three months. When you do suspend your monthly service there is a $4 mthly charge, which keeps your account and the number assigned to your unit intact. We chose the $35 per month plan, if we suspend the account, we will only be charged $4 per month. To get back on the trail with your ZOLEO, head back to the website, login and unsuspend.   

GEOS SOS Monitoring is included in all plans. Here's the scoop on that...

Wherever You Are in the World, GEOS Is There

Delivering on its mission is to provide best in class safety and security assurance products for people, places, and things, GEOS Worldwide, Ltd. has been the leader in global* safety, security, and risk mitigation solutions since 2004. As far as we’re concerned, when it comes to emergency monitoring and dispatch, they’re the folks you want in your corner. That’s why every active ZOLEO plan includes GEOS emergency monitoring services.

The WrapUP

I loved the ZOLEO! 

  1. Pretty easy to set up and activate.  
  2. Comforting to know I can call for help if someone in my group takes a beater, including myself.
  3. The ZOLEO tracks my whereabouts. 
  4. The quick check-ins send a, I'm Okay message along with my location coordinates
  5. It's only $199!!! 
  6. I can activate an emergency SOS should I be in big trouble and need HELP! That where GEOS comes in handy. 
  7. Let your family or friends know where you are, and it's fun for them to follow you along. Especially if they're outdoor/adventure enthusiasts or gadget nerds like mine. 

For more info and fun come into Granite Chief and we can run through it together.