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Garmin inReach Mini Review


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Home Forums Campfire Editor’s Roundtable Garmin inReach Mini Review

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  • #3543625
    Ryan Jordan
    Admin

    @ryan

    Locale: Central Rockies

    *** Also: New Masterclass: How to Use the Garmin inReach ***

    Companion forum thread to: Garmin inReach Mini Review

    The Garmin inReach Mini is the smallest, lightest, and most powerful satellite messaging device on the market.

    #3543635
    rubmybelly!
    BPL Member

    @sleeping

    Locale: The Cascades

    A few comments (hope I’m not repeating something you already said, I did skim through the entire review):

    You can get free weather forecasts, provided by National Weather Service (though you can set it up to use DarkSky instead, as well as set it up for recurring daily forecasts, to use Mountain-Forecast, and more), with a few options, from WX2InReach. Donations are accepted. It’s a great service, consider donating a bit if you use it. I have a preset message (which don’t count against your message total, so free for as many messages as you send) for just this purpose. Not as fancy as Garmin’s, but free and quite useful.

    While it adds weight (horrors!), I find this Garmin backpack tether useful.

    “If you don’t hike with a smartphone,”

    You can also use an iPod instead of an iPhone. An iPod weighs less but is just as functional when using Earthmate.

    Edit to add: I have no relationship with WX2InReach, just an appreciative user of the service.

    #3543647
    Jonathan Shefftz
    BPL Member

    @jshefftz1

    Locale: Western Mass.

    “It’s really small – much smaller than I thought it would feel” – My reaction too!  I had wondered about whether the upgrade over my old DeLorme-era Explorer unit was worth the $, but both the decreased weight and size are impressive.  (I had upgraded previously from the DeLorme-era SE to the Explorer for the navigational functions, but skipped the Garmin-era “+” version since by then I was using my phone for all navigation.)

    The Mini also has a nice little advantage if you have a compatible Garmin watch:  on my Fenix 5X (full-color topo maps on my wrist, wuhoo!), with just a few button presses (hopefully not inadvertent ones!) I can send a preset message or even call in an SOS, so I can leave the Mini tucked away safely in my pack while still accessing essential functions on my wrist.  (Now I just have to hope that since my phone, watch, and Mini can all communicate with each other — plus my avalanche beacon with my phone — they don’t someday decide to gang up on me a la Skynet…)

    #3543650
    Gerry B.
    BPL Member

    @taedawood

    Locale: Louisiana, USA

    Can this device give your location in UTM coordinates as well as Lat/Lon coordinates?

     

    #3543654
    Ryan Jordan
    Admin

    @ryan

    Locale: Central Rockies

    @taedawood – yes – units can be changed in one of the settings menus, either on the device or via the Earthmate app.

    #3543693
    Jeffrey Stone
    BPL Member

    @stonepitts

    Locale: Klamath Knot

    We do a lot of road trips in areas with little to no cell coverage, and in these situations I take my Spot Gen 3 in case of emergency.  I’m wondering if the technology exists for non-emergency texting to local sheriff’s offices, state police or AAA Emergency Road Service, to name a few examples?

    #3543697
    rubmybelly!
    BPL Member

    @sleeping

    Locale: The Cascades

    “I’m wondering if the technology exists for non-emergency texting to local sheriff’s offices, state police or AAA Emergency Road Service, to name a few examples?”

    Yes, you can do that with the Garmin inReach line, as long as you know the SMS phone number or email address you want to correspond with. You can send a text to any SMS phone number or email address. (You might be able to do it with the Spot as well, I don’t know anything about the Spot).

    #3543709
    Rex Sanders
    BPL Member

    @rex

    Locale: California

    Thanks for the review.

    It reinforced my dislike for dysfunctional keyboards, and the Mini seems like a big step backwards compared to the inReach SE virtual keyboard that I already hate. I’d rather not depend on two battery-sucking, failure-prone devices for effective two-way communication. Here’s hoping the Spot X turns out OK.

    Speech-to-text? Maybe on the Mini+ with Iridium Next. Siri, Alexa, and similar services rely on multiple microphones and fast Internet connections to translate talking using big fast computers in the cloud.  Not likely to be crammed entirely into a handheld device soon.

    How about a new smaller, lighter sat phone (with 12-button keypad), and all the other functions of a Mini?

    Seems like the industry mostly is going the other direction – assuming you always have a functional smartphone, and dumbing down the satellite device as much as possible. The Bivystick is about as dumb as you can make it.

    — Rex

    #3543730
    Brad P
    BPL Member

    @brawndo

    Most likely, your smartphone won’t fail and most people do have one.

    In the rare cases where the smartphone fails, the Mini is still functional.

    So if you carry a smartphone, it’s a good option. If not, there are others.

    #3543731
    Kevin Babione
    BPL Member

    @kbabione

    Locale: Pennsylvania

    Brad – You’re right.  As long as the Mini doesn’t fail you’re still able to communicate.  Also, chances are good that there will be more than one Smartphone along if you’re hiking with others.  Let them know to download the Earthmate App before the trip and you’ve got built-in redundancy.

    #3543798
    Cameron M
    BPL Member

    @cameronm-aka-backstroke

    Locale: Los Angeles

    For something that has the size and weight of a PLB but can fully carry out the critical emergency messaging required without a cellphone, I think it’s amazing.

    #3543818
    cyndy b
    BPL Member

    @triskele

    Locale: Somewhere in the Southwest

    I’m wondering if the mini offers the same antenna strength as the ‘regular’ size inReach devices?  I just bought one of the newer inReach Garmin units from REI, but I’m still under the 90 day return for electronics.  IF the mini has effectively the same ability to capture a faint signal, I’d want to upgrade, since I would carry a cell phone anyway, and I have a stand alone GPS… the Inreach for me is all about emergency use, and I’d be fine with a tiny light device if it’s communication capability is truly just as good…

    #3543836
    Adroit
    BPL Member

    @adroit

    Locale: Northeast US

    @kbabione

    Without an InReach product, the Earthmate app will require an annual subscription.

    From the Earthmate site…The navigation app is included with the purchase of an inReach® satellite communicator, or you can buy an annual subscription to use the app as a standalone product.

    #3543837
    Rex Sanders
    BPL Member

    @rex

    Locale: California

    A few more thoughts:

    – I’m not anti-smartphone. I’ve used them continuously since way before they were called smartphones. I’ve taken them on many day hikes and a few backpacking trips. I just don’t find smartphones that useful or desirable in the backcountry. YMMV.

    – I’ve also had too many experiences with failing electronics. Double the devices means double the chances of something going wrong when you need it.

    – Satellite messenger plus smartphone also means double (or more) the weight, double the battery recharging needs, double the fiddle factor, another device to pull me out of the present, one more thing to keep track of, etc.

    – I’ve had mis-interpreted non-emergency messages turn into a ranger visit to my campsite because the inReach SE cursing keyboard is such a pain to use. Text entry on the Mini is even worse. I can’t even imagine trying to describe a complex first aid or SAR situation with three keys – especially if my vision, thinking, or motor skills are compromised.

    – I usually backpack alone. The decision-making committee comes to consensus much faster :-)

    Since this is Backpacking Light, I can wish for one device that meets my needs at a lower weight, lower battery consumption, and higher reliability than two gadgets.

    — Rex

    #3543838
    Rex Sanders
    BPL Member

    @rex

    Locale: California

    Cyndy,

    Smaller device doesn’t always mean less reliable service. We need more real-world experience to know if Garmin screwed up in that department.

    Since the Mini is roughly the third generation of inReach devices, and the previous models have good track records, I’m guessing the messages will go through just fine.

    — Rex

    #3543843
    rubmybelly!
    BPL Member

    @sleeping

    Locale: The Cascades

    @adroit: “Without an InReach product, the Earthmate app will require an annual subscription.”

    This is true. But the inReach product doesn’t care who’s smartphone it’s connecting to. So if I have a friend download Earthmate onto their phone, and my phone dies, I can simply pair my inReach to their phone and use it without them having to have a subscription. I think that’s the point Kevin was making.

    #3543848
    rubmybelly!
    BPL Member

    @sleeping

    Locale: The Cascades

    I think one of the possibly underused functions on the inReach devices is the ‘quick text’ feature. You can set up and then sync a whole bunch (not sure how many) of quick texts into the device via the Garmin inReach website (this is different from Preset messages). With a bit of thought, you could pre-program a number of situational messages on the device which would significantly ease communicating during emergencies. Yes yes, I know, you can’t program in every situation or contingency, I’m not suggesting you could. But, again, with a bit of thought, there’s a lot you could program in that could be very useful during stressful situations, taking some of the pain out of communicating solely with the device.

    #3543869
    Jerry Adams
    BPL Member

    @retiredjerry

    Locale: Oregon and Washington

    I can’t think of a trip where one message “following plan, everything okay” wouldn’t suffice.

    Last trip, the wife had a question about how to switch the TV to HDMI1.  “Push input button, push up arrow button above okay button, push okay button to select HDMI1”.  I assume I’d need a smart phone for that.

    Can I read messages on the Mini?  How many characters does it display?  Or maybe I need a smart phone for that.

    #3543925
    Adroit
    BPL Member

    @adroit

    Locale: Northeast US

    @idester-2-2.   “I can simply pair my inReach to their phone and use it without them having to have a subscription. I think that’s the point Kevin was making”

    That may or may not be true, I don’t know.

    The annual subscription that I referenced above is for the Earthmate app, not the InReach device.

    The point I was trying to make is in order for your friend to load the app on their phone, they have to purchase the app first?,(~ $30 US) unless they have purchased an inReach sat comm. (then the Earthmate app is included/free).  I could be wrong, but thats my understanding of how it works. Does anyone here know?

    Now if your friends are cool with that extra purchase, then you’re good to go.

    #3543958
    rubmybelly!
    BPL Member

    @sleeping

    Locale: The Cascades

    “The point I was trying to make is in order for your friend to load the app on their phone, they have to purchase the app first? … Does anyone here know?”

    Yes, I know. The download is free, so they can download the app without paying anything. The Earthmate app can only be paired to one device at a time, but it can be any device. So, as I said above, I can have a friend (or two or three, etc.) download the app for free to their phone, and if my phone dies (so that my Earthmate app is no longer paired to my inReach), I can then pair their phone to my inReach without them having to pay anything. If they wanted to use the app without having an inReach device, then they would have to pay.

    And if I wanted to have my own redundancy, I could carry both an iPhone and an iPod, both with the Earthmate app installed. If the iPhone died, I could then turn on the iPod, pair it to my inReach, and continue using Earthmate on the second device without any additional cost.

    #3543959
    Kevin Babione
    BPL Member

    @kbabione

    Locale: Pennsylvania

    Thanks Doug…That’s what I meant.  Hiking around PA we’ve found that it’s really nice to have as many carriers as possible in the group.  The AT&T phone won’t have any service but the Verizon phone will (and vice versa).  I’m pulling the trigger on an InReach Mini and will have at least one of my hiking buddies download the app.  They can always delete it after the trip.

    #3543982
    Ryan Jordan
    Admin

    @ryan

    Locale: Central Rockies

    @stonepitts – Jeffrey – AAA does not offer SMS roadside assistance. It *does* offer SMS updates about the status of roadside assistance once you do request. So the obvious workaround I suppose is you send an SMS with the location attached to someone you know, have them request AAA assistance, and go from there…

    #3543983
    Sam Farrington
    BPL Member

    @scfhome

    Locale: Chocorua NH, USA

    This is the first gizmo I’ve seen that would actually be substantially better than simply a small cell phone, a small Garmin, and a small PLB, due to lighter weight and with multiple functions in one device. So it gave me some pause, balancing the cost, including the cost for satellite access, vs somewhat lighter weight, and the commo access.

    Unlike many, I usually trek solo or with dog(s), so while enjoying meeting people on the trail, at lodging, and coming and going from trailheads, it is the wilderness solitude that is a major, perhaps the major, source of enjoyment from backpacking. For hiking in groups, or with a partner, yes this is probably a great leap forward, and perhaps a must. In earlier days, when I led groups, would not have been without it.

    #3543984
    Ryan Jordan
    Admin

    @ryan

    Locale: Central Rockies

    @rex – I can do speech-to-text on my iPhone (SE) without network connections (e.g., in airplane mode or otherwise with “No Service”). Not Siri/Alexa, but it works awfully well. I know the SE processor has to be a bit more powerful (and a much higher battery drain) than what’s in the Garmin inReach Mini, but it seems like speech-to-text can be an option on smaller devices like this.

    #3543991
    Ryan Jordan
    Admin

    @ryan

    Locale: Central Rockies

    @triskele – cyndy – in comparing the two side by side, I have observed no differences between send/receive times or ability to get signals in/out from difficult locations (eg in canyons).

    I don’t know if the antenna size/strength is the same, but I’ve observed no performance differences anecdotally.

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