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What is a Satellite Messenger & How Do They Work?

What is a Satellite Messenger?

When dipping toes into the outdoorsy lifestyle with camping and travel, a lot of information comes up. From what to look out for to suggestions on what to bring along, there’s really something for everyone. After spending some time in these areas though, eventually someone is going to bring up satellite messengers. So what are they anyway?

A satellite messenger is a two-way text communication device that can send text messages and emails via satellite. Their primary use is for emergency communications, and can both send and receive text-based messages in areas where cell service may be limited or non-existent.

These really are fabulous pieces of equipment, and have helped numerous times in emergency and rescue situations effectively locate someone in time to prevent the worst. However, not a lot of things really dive into what they are and how they work, so keep reading for more information about them.

What is a Satellite Messenger?

A satellite messenger is a small, handheld device that uses a satellite to send emergency messages. This is exceptionally useful in areas in which cellular service is limited or non-existent, and are favored emergency equipment for backpackers, hikers, and the like due to allowing emergency personnel to receive distress messages and locate them should there be an emergency.

They have a few other functions as well, such as:

  • Send and receive text messages
  • Send and receive GPS location
  • Real-time weather alerts

Most of these have some sort of subscription fee or service plan to be able to use, but the bonus is that all communications are two-way unlike some other similar devices. This allows travelers to keep in contact with whoever they need to, while also being able to communicate effectively with emergency personnel should the need arise.

Also, read PLB vs Satellite Messenger – Which one is Right For You?

How Do Satellite Messengers Work?

Satellite messengers work by connecting to a satellite in order to communicate with other devices. As such, they are essentially a self-contained communications system, but unlike some other satellite systems, a satellite messenger is two-way. This means that they can both send and receive messages. 

It is important to note that these are not phones. They are meant for emergency contact and safety above all else and use written communication such as text messages and emails rather than audio. As such, they almost always have a rather small screen. Long messages scroll across the screen, so it’s best to keep messages limited. 

They are almost always monitored by a third-party provider, which is part of the reason they need to have a service plan of some kind in order to function properly. Additionally, satellite messengers also tend to need a direct line of sight to the sky that is unobstructed by anything, including trees. That way, it can actually communicate with the satellite and relay the messages.

Why Use a Satellite Messenger Instead of a Cell Phone?

Cell service isn’t everywhere, even now in the modern era. There are still many areas that have limited or no service entirely. A satellite messenger only needs direct access to the sky and it will be able to send text messages and emails, whereas a cellular device needs cell service and/or data to be able to communicate.

However, iPhone 14s have an emergency satellite access function and are the first standard smartphones to do so. They’re not as extensive in survival features or are useful for anything but emergency services in the same areas where a satellite messenger is useful. It’s not necessarily a viable replacement for a satellite messenger, but it is a good backup option.

Where Would You Need a Satellite Messenger?

Satellite messengers are popular in certain situations and areas due to the fact that they can be used in areas where cell service may be limited or nonexistent. They do almost always require service plans in order to function, and sometimes that becomes quite pricey. Most people activate service plans as they’re planning on using them and keeping them off outside of those periods.

Here are some times when one might need to use a satellite messenger:

  • Camping, hiking, and backpacking
  • Oceanic travel
  • Emergency preparedness in areas with extreme weather conditions
  • Foreign travel
  • Homesteading
  • Hunting trips

Whatever the need, there is likely to be a service plan that suits it. Be sure to check what is available ahead of time and keep budget in mind.

Learn more about Two Way Radios Vs. Walkie Talkies.

What’s the Difference Between a Satellite Messenger and a Satellite Phone?

A satellite phone is very similar to a satellite messenger, but with the added bonus of being able to make voice calls and use data over the satellite network. They need a cell plan on top of being more expensive overall but might be a necessary expense if spending an extended period of time in remote areas.


Satellite messengers are popular pieces of emergency preparedness equipment. They are small, handheld devices that operate via satellite rather than cellular service and/or data in order to communicate with another party. This is intended to be used to effectively communicate with emergency personnel but can also be used to give quick updates to family and friends. Additionally, some models may have more features such as weather tracking.

While new smartphones are starting to come out with similar features, they are not adequate replacements in most situations to a satellite messenger or the even more advanced satellite phone. They do require their own service plans at the very least, but it is a worthwhile investment if spending any significant time in remote areas. The ability to contact emergency personnel if there is a problem has saved numerous lives, and it’s lightweight enough to fit into nearly every kit.


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