goTenna Mesh review: Private networks for going off the grid or during outages

If you’ve ever gone camping or hiking and found yourself “off of the grid” for a period of time, you likely know how refreshing it is. No phone, no Facebook, no Reddit, no text messages. On the other hand, it can be somewhat scary to be away from society for any length of time. What happens if you get lost or separated from your party?

Whether you’re in the bottom of a canyon or three miles deep into the woods, it might make some nervous to be un-tethered from society. At the very least you want to be connected to another person in case of an emergency, right?

Unfortunately, all service providers have pockets or large swaths where coverage is not available. So, forget about calling back home when you find yourself up a tree, staring down at wild coyotes. You can’t even text your buddy who’s only a few hundred feet away.

If you packed a goTenna Mesh as part of your camping gear, the situation could be much different. The goTenna Mesh is a stick-like device designed to create a mesh network which allows for 1-to-1 communication between phones. In short, it takes your phones and turns them into an almost walkie-talkie like experience that also allows for messaging and location data. But that’s selling it short.

Unlike traditional walkie talkies, goTenna Mesh lets you share GPS coordinates and use an offline map. Moreover, the mesh aspect means that the connection and network itself get better when more uses are added. And, thanks to automatic channel and interference management, you don’t have to worry about switching channels or picking up junk over the airwaves.

Each goTenna Mesh is about four inches tall and is comprised of anodized aluminum and a protective, weather-proof coating. An adjustable silicone strap (four color options) lets you attach it easily to a backpack or, say, to the top of a canopy. If you have multiple units, you can place one at a cabin, another in a tree stand, and carry one with you. The more of these you have in the area, the better your experience gets.

Battery life is rated at about 24 hours but that’s on consistent usage. If you only need to turn it on for a few hours each day, you’ll get multiple days worth of life. According to goTenna, the battery can hold its charge for nearly one year. Charging is done via a microUSB port located on the side.

The goTenna Mesh pairs to your phone via Bluetooth where all of your work is done via the mobile app. Upon setup you’ll enter your contact information and, optionally, download an offline map. After that you’re basically good to go.

There are a variety of types of communication that goTenna Mesh offers including 1-to-1, private group (up to 10), and a public broadcasting, called Shout. If you’re looking for another user, you’ll find them by phone number of goTenna ID (GID). Head to imeshyou.com and you’ll find a whole network of mesh nodes to connect to and users to chat up.

On the left side of the app, you’ll find options like Contacts, Location, and Settings. Under the Location, you can search and download hundreds of different maps for offline viewing.  In the Settings you’ll find options to adjust your profile information, notifications, chat settings, map settings, and security options.

According to goTenna you should be able to get line-of-sight range up to four miles (6.4km) in area like beachsides, plains, and deserts. Mix in buildings or mountains and trees and you’ll find that cut down. Reports we read varied from a few blocks in a big city to a couple of miles in a national park.

Generally speaking, we found no issues in using ours in the woods and countryside. We never really wandered more than a half mile away from the other users and our base was at the top of a hill. Indeed, we used three goTenna Mesh units; one on each of our backpacks, and one to triangulate.

The goTenna Mesh sells in a two-pack for about $180; a four-pack is $329, and an eight-pack is $579. Each bundle comes with charging cables and includes a 1-year warranty and 30-day trial to goTenna Plus. The premium service usually sells for $29.99 per year and includes topgraphical maps, trip stats, location tethering, and more.

Would we like to do more than send and receive messages? Yes and no. Going off the grid means just that. Sometimes we want to be inaccessible and away from the world. On the other hand, we might like to make a quick emergency phone call if the need arises. Picture messaging? Ehh, we’re okay without that.

If you find yourself camping, canoeing, hiking, or even taking a vacation every so often, the goTenna experience is worth checking out. In our research of the devices we found that users have taken these to Disneyland, on cruise ships, and hang-gliding. In other words, it’s not just for places that are off the grid but those which might be congested or suffering an outage.

REVIEW OVERVIEW
Setup
Features & Options
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