The SPOT satellite messenger is a first for the outdoors user: The GPS-based locator beacon blips text-message data and latitude/longitude coordinates to emergency services, friends and family members. What makes it special is that it can be employed in both emergencies and nonemergencies.

As the company puts it, the device offers "a vital line of communication, independent of cellular coverage." If you're lost or stranded in the woods -- and your cell phone does not work -- this device can send a 911 message.

Or, in a nonemergency, the SPOT delivers an "I'm OK" message to the e-mail accounts and cell phones of chosen friends or relatives.

The device has just four buttons and sends three types of messages. In addition to the "OK" and "911" signals, SPOT can transmit an "I-need-assistance" message to your same group of family members and friends if you, say, break a paddle 15 miles into the Boundary Waters and want to alert your buddy to canoe in and help as you portage toward home.

In all modes, SPOT sends message data plus GPS coordinates. At home, your GPS data -- and the pinpoint locations from which you transmitted a signal -- are viewable on a computer screen via the Google Maps program, which SPOT integrates with its website. ($150 plus a $100 annual service fee;