I’m always interested in new options in off-grid communication, so GoTenna immediately caught my eye.

GoTenna - Text & GPS On Your Phone, No Service Required
  • GoTenna Helps You Stay Connected.
  • Use Your iOS Or Android Phone To Send Texts & Share GPS Locations.
  • GoTenna Creates Its Own Off-Grid Network.
  • Send Private 1-to-1 & Group Chats Or Broadcast To All Users Nearby.
  • Free GoTenna App.

This two-way cell phone antenna device allows two cell phone users to text and share location with each other (or other GoTenna users in the area) whenever and wherever they may find themselves without cellular service: in both wilderness or urban settings.

The device appealed to me for the latter, when I’m traveling internationally and have my phone in airplane mode, but want to communicate with another member of my travel party.

In wilderness settings, I often don’t need or want service, with the exception of the possibility of emergency service, which GoTenna doesn’t provide. It works user-to-user (both users must have a GoTenna antenna) over short distances.

 

How it works:

When you buy GoTenna, it comes in a pack of two (for $199). I had ours set up in about two minutes. You just take the antenna wands out of the package, and pull the little tab on each to extend the stick.

When it clicks, you can see whether the GoTenna wand is charged by waiting for the light to blink. If it does, you’re in business. If not, charge the wands first using the included USB cords.

Next, download the free GoTenna app. It will walk you through the activation steps, which, again, took me only a minute or so.

You turn the GoTenna back on to pair it with your phone via Bluetooth (one wand per phone), add your phone number and name, and you’re in business.

You can import your contacts, so it’s easy to find other people when you need to contact them (more on that in a minute) and download maps to use off-line (more on that, too).

Once you and a partner both have the wands paired to your phones, you can use them offline to contact each other. Each GoTenna has a nylon loop so you can attach it to a backpack, jacket, or hat.

Important note: you don’t hold it; you need it to have a clear path to get a signal. Think of GoTenna like a messaging app: it has the capability to send messages and location, but not much else.

You cannot use GoTenna to send photos or video, make phone calls, or scroll through social media. It’s like a walkie-talkie, only much better.

You do everything you want with GoTenna from the app.

  • Send one-on-one messages: this is the primary thing we’ve done with it. You can send messages to anyone in your contacts who also has a GoTenna (this is the reason for the pack of two).
  • Send Shout messages to everyone in the area with a GoTenna: A ‘shout’ message is basically a general message that will go out to everyone with a GoTenna within range. Not many people have these, so it’s not much of an issue right now, but in theory, you could use this feature to send out a general invite to meet up at a location at a concert or festival to meet other users, or send an ‘all call’ as an emergency.
  • Send emergency messages: this feature is deceiving, because GoTenna cannot actually connect with emergency services (a con to using it, for sure). It can only connect with other GoTennas (not satellites), so this emergency feature is just a ‘shout’ set in priority mode. If anyone nearby is also using GoTenna, they’ll get a message that someone needs assistance. I guess it’s better than nothing.
  • Use maps: I love this feature. While online, you can download tons of pre-existing maps in GoTenna’s app. (This feature is under ‘location’). Then you can use the maps while offline. We could have used this in Paris, and we will be using it in Central America this fall.

As mentioned, GoTenna is touted as a solution for communicating in the outdoors, when traveling without coverage, and during natural disasters other situations when off the grid.

I have not used GoTenna during our outdoors adventures. The range isn’t long enough for hikers or campers to communicate with family back at home (reason #1 I’d use it), and to use it hiker to hiker, we’d also have to carry multiple cell phones in the wilderness, which would require bringing solar chargers.

While we might do this occasionally (I love the Waka Waka solar charger for this purpose), most often, we’re tech-free in the wilderness.

Instead, I’ve been using GoTenna for international travel. When we travel internationally, we pay for limited service plans, so more often than not, we’re in Airplane mode and offline.

With GoTenna, we can continue to communicate when we separate during the day, and we can use the maps.

GoTenna - Text & GPS On Your Phone, No Service Required
  • GoTenna Helps You Stay Connected.
  • Use Your iOS Or Android Phone To Send Texts & Share GPS Locations.
  • GoTenna Creates Its Own Off-Grid Network.
  • Send Private 1-to-1 & Group Chats Or Broadcast To All Users Nearby.
  • Free GoTenna App.

The teens and I used GoTenna last month in the Caribbean, when we were doing different service projects a few miles apart, and we’ll use it again in Costa Rica and Panama later this year.

Pick up GoTenna for $150 or look for it at REI. If you travel even a few times per year off the grid (or in Airplane mode), it’s well worth the investment.

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