Best Satellite Messenger inReach vs SPOT?

Last year we had a local backpacker freeze to death. They’d likely be alive today if they had brought a Satellite Messenger & activated its emergency signal (by the time they were reported missing and the search crews went out, they had frozen to death overnight). Of course, there are many other good reasons to carry a Satellite Messenger. With newer, 2-way Satellite Messengers you can get interactive help like medical advice (assessment & treatment), other information like helicopter landing sites, best evacuation routes, etc. In fact, you may get enough information to help yourself and not even need a rescue—the best possible outcome.

The older inReach SE is highly capable & a deal for only $250

Updated 2018

The the unit I use, the older but still highly capable (Amazon’s choice) DeLorme inReach SE, is still available for only $250 on Amazon. This is $150 less than the new Garmin inReach SE+. The older DeLorme inReach SE is the unit I continue to use each year with great satisfaction. But I’m not sure how long it will be available. If you are intersted in a discounted unit you might want to grab one while they are still around.

As of now the small difference in price between the older $250 DeLorme inReach SE vs the $150 SPOT makes the inReach SE as a better deal for price to performance. That is, you get significantly more fictionality and safety for only a $100 more in purchase price. And you have to spread that $100 over the number of year of serviceable life which makes the price difference even smaller on a per/year basis.


This is part 2 of a 3 part series

  1. Why You Should Make a Trip Plan – how to create one. it might be faster and simpler than you think!
  2. The Best Satellite Messenger inReach vs SPOT? – what’s the best Satellite Messenger. And how to best use both the inReach and SPOT
  3. Five Good Reasons to carry a Satellite Messenger (besides sending out an SOS) coming soon

What is in This Article?

  1. Best Satellite Messenger inReach vs SPOT – A comparison of the pros and cons of the Garmin inReach and the SPOT Satellite Messenger. And yes, I have a strong favorite
  2. Tips on How to Best Use an inReach or SPOT – Especially how to get reception in difficult areas, setup messaging, and how best to configure/use their tracking modes
  3. The limitations of Satellite Messengers – what they can’t do for you

a) Best Satellite Messenger inReach vs SPOT

inreach-spot-1200

Both of these Satellite Messengers can call for a rescue and track your route, but the iReach can do far more…  Pictured L to R

The current inReach versions are the Garmin inReach SE+ (pictured) and inReach Explorer+.

The current inReachs are the Garmin inReach SE+ & inReach Explorer+.

Both SPOT and inReach Perform Well – either is far better than not carrying anything!

I have used both the Garmin inReach and the SPOT Satellite Messenger extensively over years. Both of these units will do the job. They will send out location and emergency messages as well as record tracking waypoints along your route. Either of these units is way better than not carrying anything at all. And they are the perfect complement to your Trip Plan.

Comparison Table – Best Satellite Messenger inReach vs SPOT

Advantages of SPOT Satellite Messenger

  • The SPOT Satellite Messenger is less expensive* than the inReach, $150 vs $250
  • It is lighter at 4.8 oz vs 6.9 oz
  • A single set of lithium batteries lasts a long time—about 120-150 hours of tracking/use in my field experience. The batteries can be easily replaced mid-trip with a spare set. In comparison, the inReach has less tracking time and a non-removable battery that has to be recharged via an external USB battery.
    • But this battery efficiency comes at a price. The SPOT’s low 0.4 watt transmission power, based on my field experience means fewer successful waypoints/messages sent in difficult receptions areas.
  • Depending on how much you use your unit, the annual service plan for the SPOT may or may not be less expensive than the as-needed Freedom Plan for the inReach.

* Note: Over time the service plan is far and above the major cost for both the inReach and SPOT

Advantages of Garmin inReach

  • The Garmin inReach has 2-way communication similar to a Sat. Phone, but the device and service plan cost a lot less than a Sat Phone. Garmin calls it “The satellite communicator that allows you to type, send and receive, track and SOS all from the palm of your hand.”
  • Better emergency options:
    • 2-way communication is a BIG DEAL! You can send and receive text messages. As such, you can get interactive help like medical advice (assessment and treatment) and a ton of other useful information like helicopter landing sites, best evacuation routes, etc.
    • And you might even get enough information to help yourself and not need a rescue
    • If you do need a rescue, the authorities will know what the problem is and therefore show up with the right personnel and equipment. [vs. a “blind” SOS message from a SPOT where they have no idea what the emergency/problem is.]
    • Finally, you’ll get some peace of mind knowing that help is on the way, and where and when they will arrive
  • More reliable messaging:
    • 4x higher transmission power, 1.6 watts vs 0.4 watts for the SPOT. In my experience this gives you a higher percentage of successfully sent messages vs. SPOT. This is especially true in difficult transmission areas like dense tree cover and/or tight canyons
    • Better satellite network (Iridium) equals faster and more reliable message transmission
    • You get confirmation that your tracking points have been sent. Again, especially helpful if you are a difficult transmission area
  • You can request and receive a weather report for where you are hiking/climbing
  • Ease of use: Compose and send/read messages via your smartphone. It’s pretty much the same as regular texting. (You can send them via the unit too, although the typing is tedious).
  • Cost: There is an option for a month-to-month service plan which might be less expensive than SPOTs annual plan

Note: skip the Garmin inReach Explorer+ and use the Garmin inReach SE+. Your smartphone with GAIA is far superior for the GPS mapping functionality then anything the Explorer adds. See How to use your Smartphone as the Best Backpacking GPS.

Conclusion – so which is the Best Satellite Messenger inReach vs SPOT?

The Garmin inReach SE+ is by a large margin the better device. The SPOT Satellite GPS Messenger’s lack of 2-way messaging, lower transmission power, difficulty to carry in the optimal antenna orientation, and no confirmation that messages or waypoints have been successfully sent are problematic. Especially since there is an alternative unit with similar cost that outperforms it (the inReach).  And there just are times when you need to send out a message but are in a crappy reception location (like a deep forested canyon). It’s good (possibly critical) to have higher transmission power and know that your message actually went out!

In summary: you might pay a slightly higher annual price (unit and service plan) for the inReach vs. SPOT, but you get far more functionality, safety, and peace of mind from the inReach. That being said, the SPOT is still a valid Satellite Messenger and is way, way better than not carrying anything at all.


b) Tips on How to Best Use an inReach or SPOT

Best Satellite Messenger inReach vs SPOT

Tip: Do a quick pre-trip test to make sure make sure your emergency contacts can see both your “location messages” and “tracking waypoints.” The best way to do this is on a quick hike with tracking on and sending out a few location messages along the way. Your contacts should be able to access the web page (e.g. https://share.Garmin.com/xx) and see information like this.

Make a Trip Plan

Pre-Trip Testing

Test your unit with your emergency contact(s) before leaving for your trip:

  1. Do a quick pre-trip, test hike and make sure your emergency contacts can see both your “location messages” and “tracking waypoints” on the tracking webpage like the picture above
  2. Send out your basic message types, like OK, Custom and Help (SPOT and inReach) and make sure that each of your emergency contacts receives them
  3. InReach only, make sure your emergency contacts can reply to your text messages and independently send texts to you. Again this is best done with test texts before you leave on your trip
  4. InReach battery drain test. Put your inReach in tracking mode and take it for a 4-8 hour hike on the weekend. Send a few locations and messages along the way. After the hike, check the remaining battery percentage do the calculations on % battery drain per hour. Use this to estimate whether you’ll need a recharging battery on your trip. See Batteries and Recharging below.

Agree on Meaning of Messages and What to Do

  • Make sure that you and your emergency contacts know/agree on the meaning of the basic message types, like OK, Custom and Help (SPOT and inReach). And that they know what to do for Custom and Help messages. See Trip Plan for examples.
  • Have an agreement on what to do when tracking points stop and do not resume in an agreed upon time (i.e. within a 12-hour time period).
  • Have an agreement on what to do when the unit “goes completely dead,” i.e. no tracking points and no messages. See Trip Plan for examples.

All of the above is best done in a Trip Plan. Here is a  link to Template Trip Plan Document that you can fill out and use: Full Trip Plan for Backpacking.

Tracking Mode

  • My suggestion is to use the tracking mode (10 minute interval seems about best). If nothing else, at the end of your trip you’ll have a nice map of your route and your friends may enjoy following your progress and adventures real-time.
  • Most important, Tracking Mode can alert your emergency contact of a problem even if you can’t. In a bad accident (especially when off-trail and solo), you may be severely injured (i.e. a serious fall, getting struck by a tree limb, etc.) such that you can’t activate the SOS function of your device. Your tracking (bread crumb trail) will let your emergency contact monitoring the trip (and SAR personnel) know your last known location within 10 minutes. And 1) your lack of moment will tip off your emergency contact that something is not right and 2) it will greatly accelerate locating and getting help to you.
  • Avoid turning the unit off at breaks (my experience is that I inevitably forget to turn it back on).
  • When in tracking mode, carry your inReach or SPOT in the correct position for best transmission (see owner’s manual).
    • For the inReach this is with the antenna pointing towards the sky and free of your body or other obstructions.
    • The SPOT device should be oriented so the face is pointing to the sky (unit horizontal). This is difficult to do while hiking. If you use the clip provided with the SPOT, it usually ends up hanging vertically (face of the unit pointing away from your pack/body). While not optimal, it seems to work for many people.

Good antenna orientation: The Mountain Laurel Designs Shoulder Strap Pocket  is an excellent way to carry an inReach with optimal vertical antenna orientation. It’s also very easy to access while walking.

Improving Performance in Difficult Reception Areas

Improving performance in difficult reception areas all boils down to increasing your view of the sky. That is, increasing your line-of-sight/unobstructed-sky to the satellites you are trying to reach, along with proper antenna orientation. In other words, your transmission reliability may be impaired if you can’t see a good portion of the sky (e.g. heavy trees, deep canyons, etc.).

  • This is especially important for SPOT use because in bad reception areas, you will get no indication of whether you have successfully transmitted messages.
  • Make sure your antenna is properly oriented (see end of Tracking Mode above). This is especially important in difficult receptions areas!
  • Physically move to where you can get a larger, unobstructed portion of the sky. Try walking to a large clearing in the trees. Or moving to a wider point in a canyon with more view of the sky. You may even need to hike up the canyon wall some to increase the percentage of sky you can see. I had to do this once in the Grand Canyon to initiate a helicopter rescue.

House Keeping

  • For both SPOT and inReach, delete all pre-trip/at-home messages and tracking points. This will make tracking the trip a lot easier than having a thousand(s) mile long track line from your home to the start of your trip.
  • inReach only: If you have a limited text plan, know that all incoming messages count towards your plan total—none are free. So let your contacts know to only reply to text messages when needed, like when you ask for a weather report. If 2-3 people reply to each message it can quickly add up.
  • Consider giving a trusted person (knowledgeable about the account) access to your account. See Trip Plan for an example.

Batteries and Recharging

See Best Lightweight Backpacking Electronics Gear for more detail on lightweight batteries and recharging.

  • For the SPOT carry a spare set (4) four AAA lithium batteries. Note: once the SPOT starts to blink red you don’t have a lot of operational time left.
  • For the inReach consider carrying an external USB battery in the range of 6000 to 100o mAh. (This can be also be used to recharge most of your other electronics.)
  • See lead picture of SPOT and inReach for a visual on these battery options.

Always Bring a Backup Battery!

It’s critical safety precaution to make sure your inReach is always available for use (especially if you are using it in tracking mode during a trip). My three favorite lightweight and high capacity backup batteries are:

  1. Jackery Bolt 6000 mAh USB Battery (pictured right)- With two built in cables (lightening & micro-USB) it will charge just about any backcountry electronics. It has a faster charging rate than the EasyAcc below but has slightly less overall capacity.
  2. EasyAcc 6000mAh USB Battery This has slightly more capacity (tested) than the Jackery battery but has a slower charging rate & only a built micro-USB cable (altho you can attach your own lightening cable to charge an iPhone). It can charge a large phone like a Galaxy S7 about 1.4x and a smaller phone like an iPhone 7 2.3x.
  3. Anker PowerCore 10000 (only 6.4 oz) this is the lightest option f you need to recharge your inReach a lot.  It can charge a large phone like a Galaxy S7 ~2.5x and a smaller phone like an iPhone 7 ~3.5x. Its limitation is that it only has one USB port for a cable.
  4. And of course for the SPOT a spare set of lithium AAA batteries.


c) The limitations of Satellite Messengers

Sometimes a timely rescue is not possible. A Trip Plan and/or a Satellite Messenger like the Garmin inReach and the SPOT Satellite Messenger is not the solution to everything. I have been in some extremely bad situations where rescue was not feasible even if I had sent out an SOS. As they say, the best rescue is self-rescue. And to state the obvious, Goal One is not needing rescue in the first place. So be sensible and safe out there.

Finally, a Satellite Messenger should never be considered a license to do silly things or take unnecessary risks.

72 replies
  1. Korpijaakko
    Korpijaakko says:

    Thanks for writing this article. Good comparison and important topic… But if looking for “best” shouldn’t it include more than two options out of many? For example I have great experiences from YBtracking Yellowbrick (no affiliation, just a happy customer) which beats at least the SPOT about 6-0, especially in demanding use. Also for strictly for rescue-use a proper PLB would be a great option as well.

    Reply
    • Alan Dixon
      Alan Dixon says:

      Korpijaakko, good points and thanks for commenting. First, I limited my article to “Satellite Messengers” and did not include PLBs like the ACR ResQLink 406 MHz GPS Personal Locator Beacon because for me and I am guessing most of my readers, the messaging functionality is a huge benefit. I point out many of these benefits in this article and in my previous piece“Why you should make a trip plan.” But you are correct that for simply transmitting a SOS signal, PLBs with a full 5 watts of power are arguably more effective than the Satellite Messengers at 1.6 to 0.4 watts. But that is a “blind” SOS signal. There is no way to communicate “this is non-life threatening problem but we need rescue in 48 hours.” No way to let SAR personnel know the nature of the problem so they come fully prepared do deal with it. And there is no way to get interactive medical advice and other help that might avoid the need for a rescue. And the list goes on…

      As to the YB3 Tracker. It has similar 2-way Satellite Messenger functionality like the inReach. Its downsides are 1) It is 2x to 4x more costly. Its $600 (for bluetooth “standard version” comparable to inReach) vs. $270 for the inReach and $150 for the SPOT. 2) At 10.75 oz, it is over double the weight of the SPOT and 50% heavier than the inReach. 3) Finally, this is mostly a US based site. The YB3 is a UK device and as such it appears to not be available for purchase in the US from stockists like REI and Amazon. I take you at your word that it performs well in the field. And I am assuming that based in Finland that a YB3 may be easier to procure for you than us in the US. Thanks again for you thoughtful comments. All the best, -alan

      Reply
      • MikeM
        MikeM says:

        Hi Alan. I don’t wish to criticise your excellent article about satellite messengers. On PLBs, though, I’d add (for readers) that they’re genuinely dedicated emergency devices, albeit only intended to be activate in genuine emergency situations which require urgent attention.

        Everything through design, construction, and the satellite network with which they communicate, is made to make them as reliable as possible. (eg. Where I am, in New Zealand, some of the satphone networks have inconsistent reception if you cannot clearly see a northern horizon.) With some irony, the PLB design of being a useless brick is really a feature, because it means the owner can’t run down the battery, prior to an emergency having happened, on non-emergency functions. As long as you’re not beyond the stated expiry date (and haven’t already used it) you can virtually guarantee that pressing the activation button will get a signal out to the full ability of official PLB specifications.

        Satellite messengers have heaps of advantages and useful functions for people who want to track their journey and communicate with the outside world whilst doing it. They’re a great compromise, and one that should seriously be considered, but I guess a potential weakness is that the emergency function is generally stapled onto the side of a device that’s primarily intended for non-emergency functions. Some people I know carry a satellite messenger AND a PLB, although clearly that wouldn’t appeal to light-weighters.

        In any case, thanks for an excellent article.

        Reply
  2. Nick
    Nick says:

    Thanks for the extensive over-view and comments! I solo backpack, to the concern of friends and family, and I have decided to get some kind of device, but I am really on the fence about using one for anything other than an emergency situation (and might just get a PLB) because of confusion that might be generated by a malfunctioning device, or one that is lost but still putting out signals. I was wondering how you had weighed out those issues.

    Reply
    • Alan Dixon
      Alan Dixon says:

      Hi Nick. Hopefully the following will help you make a decision. Yes, the PLB is simpler and less expensive (no plan needed). And for simply transmitting a SOS signal, PLBs with a full 5 watts of power are arguably more effective than the Satellite Messengers at 1.6 to 0.4 watts. It is a valid choice.

      But a PLB can only send out a “blind” SOS signal! There is no way to communicate “this is non-life threatening problem but we need rescue in 48 hours.” No way to let SAR personnel know the nature of the problem so they come fully prepared do deal with it. And there is no way to get interactive medical advice and other help that might avoid the need for a rescue. And the list goes on… I have personally done an emergency rescue and the ability to communicate with SAR personnel pre-rescue was critical. We were able to assess the person, and 1) determine that they did need evac., 2) instruct me on what to do medically until they got there, and 3) we were able to work out a place where the helicopter could land, AND we could get the person to. I’ve also received medical instruction on how to lance a horribly abscessed tooth via the gum with a pocket knife–from an Emergency Medicine Doctor and a Dentist. (The danger was for the infection to go into the brain.) In that case, I was able to solve the problem with out the need for medical personnel, and walked out under my own power. Actually, I completed the planned trip albeit in some pain.

      As to your concerns about “confusion that might be generated by a malfunctioning device, or one that is lost but still putting out signals.” I suggest you make a good Trip Plan and are clear about what to do in those circumstances with who is monitoring your trip. I outline many of these exact issues in Why you should make a trip plan and leave it with someone for every trip. Best, -Alan

      Reply
  3. Bob S.
    Bob S. says:

    Excellent article with one small exception, recommending readers skip the DeLorme inReach Explorer and get the SE instead. The additional features that come with the Explorer far outweighs the small amount of money you save up front with the SE and there is no sacrifice for size and weight.

    Reply
  4. Cheri
    Cheri says:

    One comment and one question., To add merit to your above comment, a friend was thru hiking and used the Delorme InReach. She forgot to let her husband know she reached the hostel and left the Delorme in her room. She could not reliably receive service on her cell so they used the Delorme to communicate. Her husband upon noticing that the tracking had not moved for several hours, tried texting her on the Delorme to no avail. He then called the hostel to verify if his wife had checked in. The hostel assured him she had been sitting on their porch for several hours. She was safe, but had she needed rescue and was not able to push the button, he could have alerted authorities.

    What are the benefits to having the tracking set at 10 minute intervals as apposed to 20 minute intervals? Wouldn’t this save on battery? Is having it set at 20 minutes too big of an area to look at in case a search is needed?

    Reply
    • Alan Dixon
      Alan Dixon says:

      Hi Cheri, great story about the inReach tracking.

      As to the 10 minute interval: it’s the shortest tracking interval that comes with the less expensive plans. It makes a nice and fairly precise track of your trip with an accurate route, time and distance. I find this information useful in a variety of applications. As to rescue, I doubt that 10 or 20 minute intervals make much difference–nor do I think a 20 min interval would greatly increase battery life. Although that could easily be tested in a couple of 4-5 hour sessions at each interval setting. Best, -alan

      Reply
  5. Andy
    Andy says:

    Do you think that Gaia GPS is better than an inReach Explorer only when using the Explorer as a stand-alone unit, or is Gaia still better than an Explorer paired with the Earthmate app on a smartphone?

    Reply
    • Alan Dixon
      Alan Dixon says:

      Andy, was in the field. Thus the late reply,
      As a mapping tool, there really is no comparison between Gaia GPS and inReach Explorer. Gaia is vastly better. As such, I use my inReach as a tracking and messaging unit and not as a mapping GPS. That being said, the inReach App on the iPhone is great for messaging. Really like it! And I do use the inReach web-based Map Page to view and export routes post trip. Hope this helps, -alan

      Reply
      • Andy
        Andy says:

        I’m really enjoying getting to grips with all that Gaia can do – and I’m about to buy an inReach, so your insight here helps a lot – thank you!

        Reply
  6. Frank
    Frank says:

    I have a question, or rather an action I want to validate.

    But first, an amazing collection of information Alan, you are top notch and this site has been invaluable.

    Q: I purchased a Garmin GPSMAP 64s for use when overlanding. I am not really reconsidering this strategy and am instead considering my two iPhones (mine and my wife’s) loaded with Gaia and returning the Garmin in trade for the InReach SE. I think those two products should cover me for both navigating and safety. Do you see any reason to keep the Garmin 64s?

    Thank you in advance Alan!

    Reply
  7. Randy
    Randy says:

    Hi Alan

    I had ask for the Inreach SE for Christmas and Santa brought it. I have already tested it out with text and downloaded the Earthmate app to the phone and snc it with my phone. Really cool. The reason for getting it was the fact my wife and I are semi-retiring and will use it on some backpack trips and from your article that I read thought it would be good to have along the way.
    Hope to never use it but if we need it we will have it.

    How do you pack your electronics in your pack? I have collected items like what you have shown over the years and never know how to pack it so it is out of the way.

    Thanks again

    Randy

    Reply
    • Alan Dixon
      Alan Dixon says:

      Good Q Randy. inReach on the right shoulder strap of my pack in a MLD pocket. Camera on my left shoulder strap with and Peak Designs Caputre Clip. And my iphone in a plain, non-w/p pass inside a pint Ziplock freezer bag in left hip pocket of my pants. Have been doing this for years. Best. -alanElectronics Carry Pic

      Reply
  8. Jerry
    Jerry says:

    I just checked REI for the DeLorme inReach SE – Guess what? No longer available, But Wait….

    They now have the Garmin inReach SE for $400.00. Well they did redesign the case…

    Reply
  9. Nick
    Nick says:

    Great stuff here bud. Which leads me to another device I just found, the Thuraya SatSleeve I haven’t done much research but it looks promising but possibly overkill for most uses. Just wondering if you have tried this or have any good leads on info/reviews about this product?

    Reply
    • Alan Dixon
      Alan Dixon says:

      Nick,

      I have a similar device the Iridium GO!, which I reviewed for backpacking light. It has the advantage of being fairly reliable, and that the base unit can sent out an SOS and location without the need for your cell phone.

      That being said, I would prefer a standard Iridium Satphone, or an inReach over the GO! and I am guessing with about 95% confidence that would also be true or the SatSleeve. That’s the short answer. A longer answer would likely require me to have used a SatSleeve in the field for a couple of weeks. And a number of paragraphs of writing. Best, -a

      Reply
  10. natasha
    natasha says:

    Alan, thanks for such a detailed post! A question. I don’t have a smartphone because I don’t need one (I know I’m in the minority). If I want a satellite messenger and a GPS, am I better off with the Explorer? Or an SE plus a separate GPS unit? Or just get that IPhone? Thanks much in advance!

    Reply
      • Alan Dixon
        Alan Dixon says:

        Sorry for the very late reply Natasha. If you haven’t, you should also read Why You Should Make a Trip Plan and Leave it with Someone for Every Trip.

        This is a complex decision that is mostly based on what you want out of the device and how much you want to pay. For the very cheapest, “help me be safe” option the SPOT would fit the bill. And if you are only hiking on popular trails and/or OK with maps, it would do you fine.

        If you actually want a GPS it gets more complicated. The iPhone with Gaia is hands down the best GPS out there. So if you want GPS only and no SOS or satellite messaging it would be the clear choice. And you would have the advantage of owning a smartphone. I love my iPhone 6+ and use it for a million non-frivolous, non-social media stuff every day. I’ve written 75% of some of my trip reports on planes/trains using it an a bluetooth keyboard.

        The most complicated is if you want GPS and a SOS/Satellite messenger. First if you actually want to send 2-way text messages in any reasonable way then you want an inReach. The SPOT is fine as a tracker and SOS device but it sucks as a text messaging device (it really isn’t one). In contrast, an inReach either with or without an smartphone is quite good at 2-way texting via satellite. If you want a GPS (and think you really will get use of it as a GPS) then the cheapest option would be to get the inReach Explorer+. And at $50 more it may be a better choice than the inReach SE+.

        What do I use: I use my iPhone 6+ all the time out backpacking for various tasks, including GPS, looking at stored maps, trail guide pages, mileage tables, taking trip notes, quick photographs, and listening to audio books at night etc. I find it an indispensable trail tool. But I also carry an inReach SE in tracking mode as well. That way I get decent track of my trip, and my emergency contact can follow my progress. And especially on high risk like my recent Overland Route in Utah I have quickly available SOS and 2-way communication if I need it. And I have had to med-evac someone on a trip. So stuff does happen. Hope this helps. -a

        Reply
        • natasha
          natasha says:

          Alan, thanks! Re: smartphone. I don’t need one in my everyday life as I own an iPad, which is essentially a big iPhone and works better for my needs (I find typing and reading on smartphones very inconvenient). I love it, but obviously not for hiking (bulk, weight, …).

          My current trips are mostly on trails (solo trips up to 4-5 weeks), but some are in remote locations and I hope to venture off-trail more in the future. And yes, stuff happens. Your article summarizes the merits of two-way communication really nicely, so I guess the best option for me now will be the Explorer, for tracking, GPS and emergencies. When I realize I need something better for GPS, I will consider getting an iPhone.

          I know that for most people that’s not even a question. But because I spend all my working hours at a computer anyway, I cherish my time off the grid and just wouldn’t find a smartphone as useful. We all differ though.

          Thanks again!

          Reply
        • Rom
          Rom says:

          Do you have a bluetooth keyboard recommendation? Thinking about getting one for travel use with my iphone. Thank you!

          Reply
          • Alan Dixon
            Alan Dixon says:

            I am in Patagonia between treks so short reply. I have a $30 butterfly one around 5 oz that is fine. But it’s not with me so I can’t give more detail. Best -a

  11. Theresa
    Theresa says:

    I am a casual hiker. 2-3 trips per year. My main goal is help if needed (SOS) and being able to trach my hike route later. I have the option to purchase the discontinued InReach. The one without the screen. Would you recommend it?

    Reply
    • Alan Dixon
      Alan Dixon says:

      If by “one without the screen” you mean the inReach SE that doesn’t have maps.. then yes, very much so. The inReach SE is the one I have happily and successfully used for the last two years. Best, -alan

      Reply
      • Theresa
        Theresa says:

        The earlier version, before the SE. Delorme discontinued sales of them but some stores still sell them. It’s called an InReach but has no screen at all. It pairs with your cell for messaging and tracking. It’s much cheaper but since it’s discontinued I’m not sure if I should purchase it.

        Reply
  12. Craig Kent
    Craig Kent says:

    Thanks for the helpful article. I’ve got an inReach Explorer that I activate when I’m ready for a solo backpacking trip. Last night I turned it on and activated trip info just to help wear down the battery so I could give it a full charge before leaving. This morning the trip info shows a distance of 3.3 miles traveled at an average of 6 mph even though it sat on my desk all night! Any idea why? It makes me wonder about its accuracy.

    Reply
    • Alan Dixon
      Alan Dixon says:

      Craig, your inReach is likely working fine. When indoors, it can sometimes still get GPS reception (mine does in my house). BUT this a low quality, low accuracy fix/location. This is due to the ceiling and walls of your home degrading the GPS signal. What happens then, is that due to a high level of fix inaccuracy in your home, the inReach gets your location in a different place every 10 minutes. As such, to the inReach thinks you have “moved” between each 10 min fix. Thus the distance traveled.

      Have a great trip, -alan

      Reply
  13. Jamie Dahl
    Jamie Dahl says:

    this is a very good write up, I found you page mostly because of your Wind River write up, but saw yet another “spot vs satellite vs inreach” document (and I’ve seen you call those items out on trip reports). Personally I have found that Ham Radio is far more reliable, a LOT cheaper (15.00 test fee for basic Tech License, You can get a sturdy but cheap radio for as little as 50.00 or go up to 600.00 if you want lots of battery draining features. ), and if you couple in APRS on your radio you get SPOT like behavior as well.. Anyway love your trip report on the Wind River, I”m considering planning a trip in the area for later this year and your page popped pretty high on the Google results!

    Reply
    • Alan Dixon
      Alan Dixon says:

      Thanks Jamie. Actually Alison and I both have a license and we own a couple of handheld Yaesus. Compared to the SPOT they do have advantages assuming that you can hit a repeater. And in certain parts of the world it’s still the major mode of communications for remote areas. But without a repeater nearby with somebody monitoring it, I think the inReach has significant advantages. Best, -alan

      Reply
  14. Daisy
    Daisy says:

    Wow Garmin’s buyout of DeLorme/InReach has made for a much more expensive device/plans: $450 (Garmin) vs $299! (DeLorme) Yikes! Makes me rethink Spot for SOS and not bother with messaging (though I really like having that option) Then use Gaia for navigation if the need arises…

    Reply
    • Alan Dixon
      Alan Dixon says:

      Smart plan Daisy. And very little $ ventured if you decide that at some point you want to upgrade to the inReach. Other option would be to get an SE used. Best, -alan

      Reply
  15. TM
    TM says:

    Nice article, some feedback from a Spot user who used it on the 2016 PCT:

    Unit worked well for the most part, the latency for the “i’m ok” messages varied wildly, my usual routine was to turn the unit on in the morning and send the ‘i’m ok’ messages and leave the SPOT on for at least an hour. Most days, my wife got the email and location coordinated. About every 5 days, no email.

    Feature’s that In-Reach has that SPOT does not and would be worth it.

    In NorCAL , we left a Trail Angel house and she mentioned “Looks like you’re headed into a Wildfire”, but with no Cell Coverage in the town ( Belden ) or Wifi, we couldn’t get info on it. A few miles down the trail, we met another hiker with an In-Reach, he had Weather/Fire information on the device and was able to tell us the fire was about 30 miles North of us and headed AWAY from us. Very good information, as we were starting to smell and see smoke.

    One lame feature on the Spot is the support: A year after activating the Spot, we noticed a renewal charge on our Credit Card statement. Call Spot the next day and they said they could NOT reverse the charges as it was over 7 days since it was charged. The support gal offered to escalate the request to her Mgr who would tell me the same thing, a very ‘value-free’ phone conversation. The only recourse is to dispute the charge with the credit card company. My wife had requested a deactivation by email months ago, and we never received a bill ( only the only account receives the bill, NOT email, NOT home address )

    Lame support spot

    Reply
    • Alan Dixon
      Alan Dixon says:

      Yeah, TM the 2-way messaging is huge. And Sorry about your experience with SPOT customer support. I have a a few similar sounding stories about SPOT billing. Warmest, -alan

      Reply
  16. Bill Irey
    Bill Irey says:

    Allan,thanks for all the great info! My question is that I cannot pair my new deformed inreach se with my iPhone 6+. I have followed all instructions to the letter to no avail. Do you have any suggestions? Thanks,Bill

    Reply
    • Alan Dixon
      Alan Dixon says:

      Hi Bill, yes the bluetooth connection to the inReach can get wonky at times. My first action is to completely delete (Forget this Device) from my iPhone bluetooth device screen, put the inReach back in pairing mode and try again. If that doesn’t work… I suggest you call their PRODUCT SUPPORT U.S. 913-397-8200 | 1-888-442-7646. I have had good luck with them solving problems. And let me know how it works out. Best, -alan

      Reply
      • Bill Irey
        Bill Irey says:

        Allan thanks so much!! your advice worked great. I’m all paired up. As a 81 year old backpacker I really enjoyed using the iPhone with Gaia last year. At this age and physical condition I felt the in reach was a good safety investment. As mentioned above for those looking for the inreach the GPS Store has them at a good price.

        I have gained a ton of great information from your site!! Thank you for your advice and sharing your knowledge.

        Regards, Bill

        Reply
        • Alan Dixon
          Alan Dixon says:

          Awesome! By the way, my hat is off to you. Backpacking at 81 is impressive, as is doing it with the current technology. Have a great year hiking. Warmest, -alan

          Reply
  17. Bill Irey
    Bill Irey says:

    Allan,sorry for the mis-spell above! Should be my new Delorme SE. Furthermore they are available through “The GPS Store” New in the box complete.

    Bill

    Reply
  18. Steve Elder
    Steve Elder says:

    Alan, thanks as aways for the excellent content. I just got for my birthday, the last item on your 10 essentials list, the Garmin SE+. I love using CalTopo for trip planning and Gaia for tracking and nav on my phone. The SE is just for emergencies and communications with my wife, related to safety only, in the backcountry — mostly short backpacking/fishing trips, sometimes solo.

    Just want to clarify: though I am not using the SE for navigation, you would run Tracking ON for safety purposes if I needed to be located.

    Reply
    • Alan Dixon
      Alan Dixon says:

      Hi Steve, good Q. If I have gone to the expense of buying and SE+ and then paying for service, I would certainly run it in tracking mode. Yes it 1) the track provides some additional level of safety, 2) It can be reassuring to those that are following your trip, 3) friends get pleasure being armchair tourists on your route, and 4) you’ll get a beautiful GPS track of your route post trip. I use these files as the base for many of my trip reports.

      So enjoy your new SE+. Wishing you safe and happy trekking. Warmest, -alan

      Reply
      • Steve Elder
        Steve Elder says:

        Thanks! I used it for a week trip in the Collegiates. Worked great, and used the custom messaging on DAY 1 to help someone out who had been delayed on a 14er, fell and injured. I was able to get a message to her parents to that affect and ask them not to call S&R, which was what she was most worried about. I was the first person she came across since her injury. If she had been more seriously bunged up, the SE+ would have really been a help. Even as it was she called me “Hero Steve.”

        Reply
  19. Robin Murphy
    Robin Murphy says:

    Alan- love the article, most practical comparison I’ve found. A quick question- can my family ping the device to see where I am, rather than just where I put track points or without setting up a tracking interval?

    Reply
  20. Jim Bernard
    Jim Bernard says:

    Hi Alan, Thank you for this article (as well as your others) this has been very helpful to me in deciding what to do about a tracker for a month long cross country motorcycle trip I plan on taking next summer. I have become a huge fan of Gaia on my iPhone and will be using that for my nav (along with paper maps). One thing I’m sure you are aware of but some readers may not be is the use of a smart phone as the gps WITHOUT any cell connection or service plan at all. There are a couple comments above where folks are not smartphone owners and seem to be reticent to owning one for reasons other than the gps functionality. Comments to the effect, “I don’t need one”. I believe they are basing that off of the idea of buying a full price (expensive) unit from a cell carrier and then having a long contract/ monthly payment. I would point out that they can purchase a high quality used phone (from ebay, Amazon etc) for much less than they would spend on a dedicated gps unit. As you know they do not need cell service or any kind of plan at all to load Gaia (or some other gps/mapping app) to the phone. They will then enjoy the functionality of the smartphone working with the inreach, as well as many of the other benefits of a smartphone that you have listed. In short, I would suggest that anyone looking for a gps look very hard at a smartphone to be used JUST for the gps. If you have covered this elsewhere I apologize for missing it. Hope that helps .

    Reply
  21. Will S
    Will S says:

    Alan,

    Thanks for writing the article.

    I think it is important to note the price gap between these two units has widened significantly. The SE+ now retails for $400, yet the SPOT still goes for around $150 (I actually purchase it at REI on sale recently for $75). That is a rather large price difference.

    Reply
    • Alan Dixon
      Alan Dixon says:

      Will. Good buy on the spot for $75 as it is not longer on sale anywhere at that price! As of now the small difference in price between the older $250 DeLorme inReach SE vs the $150 SPOT makes the SE as a better deal. That is you get significantly more fictionality and safety for only a $100 more in purchase price. And you have to spread that $100 over the number of year of servicealble life which makes the price difference even smaller on a per/year basis. But enjoy your SPOT. Warmest, -alan

      Reply
  22. Hunter
    Hunter says:

    Originally bought the spot device, but promptly returned it when I realized the transmission success rate was basically unacceptable.

    Obviously, the ability to communicate with the outside world is priceless in any kind of sticky situation.

    I’ve had the Delorme explorer for a year and a half now and love it. I don’t even go on local hikes without it if I’m in a no cell phone area.

    I like having the GPS redundancy even if I rarely use it.

    One thing I have not done yet, but I’m investigating is using Protegear instead of Delorm/Garmin’s service plan. It seems to have some interesting functionality options.

    Reply
    • Alan Dixon
      Alan Dixon says:

      All great points Hunter. If end up doing the Protegear plan, I’d be curious to hear about your experience. Warmest, -alan

      Reply
  23. Patrick Phalen
    Patrick Phalen says:

    On amazon, it is only $20 more for the navigation model. Are the features really not worth the extra dollars? (Thinking that having redundant systems can’t hurt)

    Reply
  24. Will C
    Will C says:

    Alan, you had me sold on the Delorme SE and the GAIA app but I went to Google play to look up GAIA and they are having serious problems with their latest update. Any alternatives?

    Reply
  25. Will C
    Will C says:

    Alan, Thank you for your response and efforts to clarify the issues I saw on the Google Play app store site with regards to the GAIA app. I will follow up with GAIA and will keep you advised with my findings. Your website provides a valuable service to the novice and experienced outdoorsman alike. It is a great forum for the exchange of experiences and knowledge. I’m sure it has made many backcountry trips more enjoyable and safer. Regards, Will C

    Reply
  26. Kate
    Kate says:

    Alan,

    I would greatly appreciate your advice. I own a horseback riding business in Southwest Montana, we take guests for day trips into the Lee Metcalfe Wilderness. The trail we use primarily is a creek drainage so it is a deep canyon with steep terrain and lots of timber. We do have visibility of the sky the entire time but not a lot. I’m looking for a device that is simple that we can use in an emergency situation only. I have had Spot recommended to me as well as InReach, also have looked into satellite phones. Unfortunately this all seems a little above my head.

    We do not need anything fancy (no tracking, no weather, etc). Just a way to contact help in the event of an emergency.

    Thank you so much for your time.

    Sincerely,
    Kate

    Reply
    • Alan Dixon
      Alan Dixon says:

      Hi Kate, good question. I would say the inReach because of it’s significantly higher transmission power (more chance of reaching a satellite) and that you get confirmation that a message has actually been sent. When using the device in a deep canyon, if you can, try to get into the widest part of the canyon and avoid tree cover. Satellites are on N-S orbits, so the more your section of canyon is oriented N-S the better. If not, at least try and find the widest width in a N-S orientation. With a bit of persistence I have been able to get messages out of some very deep canyons in Utah. Hope this helps. Warmest, -alan

      Reply
  27. Steven
    Steven says:

    Great write up!
    So from what I understand how devices need to be placed, I can put that for cycling the Spot is a better solution as the Spot is more easily placed on a backpack. Rather then an InReach where the antenne has to be upright, which is more difficult on a bike.

    Reply
    • Alan Dixon
      Alan Dixon says:

      Not necessarily so Steven. I find the inReach more pack compatible than the SPOT. 1) It is easier to hold in its optimal upright on a shoulder strap pocket (see pic in article) or side pocket of your pack. In contrast the SPOT tends to hang vertically almost everywhere which is exactly the wrong orientation for it. 2) Making things worse is that the SPOT’s transmission power is less than the inReach’s. In summary, the combo of poorer orientation and lower power makes for less reliable operation for the SPOT. Note: that some have success orienting the SPOT flat on the top of their pack, but you need to be creative to get this to work, and you don’t have access to the SPOT while you hike.

      For a bike, it’s all going to depend on what type of mount you can get (or devise). In this case I would say it should be equally easy to get either of these in the proper orientation given a decent mount. Then the downside for the SPOT will be lower power and no 2-way messaging. But at least it would be held flat in the optimal orientation. Hope this helps. Warmest, -alan

      Reply
    • Alan Dixon
      Alan Dixon says:

      Good Q Bill. I recently bought one and used it EXTENSIVELY while guiding for two weeks in Rocky Mountain National Park last month. I was delighted with its performance, compact size and weight. I would recommend it almost without reservation. I plan to update this post soon with my field testing of the is great device. All the best, -alan

      Reply

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.