three satellite communicator devices, zoleo vs inreach messenger vs mini 2

Three Best Satellite Communicators of 2024

This buyer’s guide to the best satellite communicators sets out to compare the only three tier-1 options in the category; ZOLEO vs inReach Messenger vs inReach Mini 2. For most adventurers, you should choose between just these and ignore all of the rest.

Beyond the 10 essentials, a satellite communicator will provide a larger boost to your overall outdoor safety than any other gear available. These units offer peace of mind to your loved ones, and two-way communication with search and rescue teams, rangers, and medical professionals. Simply put, you should buy one, learn to use it, and bring it with you on every single foray into the wilderness.

Our guide is based on stats/feature comparison, meta study, and years of backcountry experience, both guiding and on personal trips around the world. We’ve used these satellite communicators to check-in, resolve emergencies, meet up in the mountains, and once even arrange a trailhead tow. These are the satellite communicator devices we prefer, and we’re sure you’ll like them!

Jump ahead for our performance criteria and pro tips. While you’re here, why not shop more backcountry electronics, such as the best backpacking battery packs or best headlamps.

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How To Choose Between ZOLEO vs inReach Messenger vs Mini 2

For 2024 most backcountry adventurers should choose the Garmin inReach Messenger which narrowly surpasses ZOLEO in features and performance, while clearly besting Garmin inReach Mini 2 for the top slot. But in the grand scheme, all three are largely equal with similar features and usability, with only marginal differences between them. Each unit should be paired with a backup battery, like the 5.3 oz BioLite Charge 20.

  • Choose Garmin inReach Messenger because it offers the best overall blend of performance, desirable features, usability, and value. Shop now.
  • Choose ZOLEO Satellite Communicator because it is the most economical device, and comes with a user-friendly system and a dedicated phone number. Shop now.
  • Choose Garmin inReach Mini 2 because among tier-1 options, it has the biggest screen, lightest weight, best standalone operability, and on-device navigation capabilities. But it gets a clear third place from us.  Shop now.

If you already have any one of these three, there is no need to switch or upgrade to another at this time. But compared to the wider marketplace for satellite communicator devices, including offerings from ACR Bivy Stick, SPOT, Somewear, as well as the Garmin Explorer series, these three trounce the competition and upgrading may be advisable. Shop confidently knowing that whichever you choose, you really can’t go wrong! Jump ahead to read a direct comparison between each pair.

zoleo vs inreach messenger vs mini 2

Garmin inReach Messenger Satellite Communicator

Garmin inReach Messenger satellite communicator device

Best Satellite Communicator

Garmin inReach Messenger is the latest contender in the satellite communicator genre, and offers best-in-class battery life, signal receptivity, and nearly all of the most desirable features, (except a dedicated phone number) for just $300 and four ounces. As such, it takes our top slot award, narrowly beating out ZOLEO and inReach Mini 2. Shop now.

  • Price: $300
  • Weight: 4.0 oz
  • Average Battery Life: 672 hours (28 days)
  • Pros: Best battery with reverse charging. Best antenna with best signal and messaging reliability. Good price. Lightweight. Basic on-device screen functionality. TracBack feature. Group messaging. Tri-network connectivity. Waterproof.
  • Cons: Not the lightest weight, nor the least expensive. Not dedicated phone number. No on-device navigation. Tiny screen. No carabiner clip.


Starting with the battery, Garmin inReach Messenger gives you a longer lifespan than any other satellite communicator, averaging 28 days on 10 minute tracking intervals. That’s double Mini 2, and more than triple ZOLEO. What’s more, it can even reverse charge, powering your phone back up in an emergency.

Next, we nod to the best-in-class signal receptivity for connection to the Iridium satellite network. Based on our backcountry testing, Garmin inReach Mini 2 previously held the top slot with the most reliable performance. That’s thanks to its 31.8 dBm helical antenna, now bested by Messenger’s 35.9 dBm flat panel antenna, which is also less bulky.

Due to the newly released Garmin Messenger App, the Messenger device (as well as Mini 2) gets tri-network connectivity. That is, the ability to flex between satellite, cellular, and wi-fi. If you are on either of the latter two, custom messages won’t count towards your plan’s limit. It also has a messaging leg up over ZOLEO with better weather forecasting and the ability to group chat.

While any screen is better than no screen (looking at you, ZOLEO), Messenger’s isn’t all that impressive and a step back in size compared to Mini 2. However, it does give operational cues as well as displaying inbound messages, battery %, weather forecast, time/date. You can even pick from a number of preset messages to send. It’s clunky, but does meet the very baseline bar for standalone operations.

Messenger’s screen also allows for use of the TracBack feature. Like Mini 2, it passively records your location, allowing you to retrace your steps should become lost. You can also export your track online so friends and family can follow your progress. But unlike Mini 2, it does not allow you to plug in a route to follow; we repeat, this is not a navigation device.


Factoring in all of the above, Garmin inReach Messenger is the best all-around Satellite Communicator on the market right now with the best combination of desirable features and good stats for a reasonable price.

ZOLEO Satellite Communicator

ZOLEO satellite communicator as a safety gift

Best Value Satellite Communicator

ZOLEO is the most economical satellite communicator device, and one of, if not the easiest to message with. We’ve used ZOLEO to great success across North America, South America, and Europe, both on personal trips and while guiding professionally. Our top pick, the inReach Messenger is largely based on the ZOLEO design. Shop now.

  • Price: $200
  • Weight: 5.3 oz
  • Average Battery Life: 200 hours (8.3 days)
  • Pros: Least expensive unit. Dedicated phone number. Tri-network connectivity. User-friendly messaging app. Great signal reliability.  Multi-user device connectivity. Good-not-great battery life. Reasonably priced plan with economical plan-pausing. Waterproof. LEDs give operational cues.
  • Cons: Heaviest, and largest unit. No text display, most operations require phone. No group messaging. Tracking functionality is basic. No navigation. Less power-user oriented features. Third best signal receptivity. Cheapest plan is slightly more expensive.


Perhaps ZOLEO’s biggest standout feature is that you get a dedicated phone number for fully transparent SMS text messaging. This makes it the only unit that friends can send texts to without ever knowing that they are sending to you via satellite. In other words, there are no extra hoops to jump through. And it seamlessly sends/receives messages via cellular, WiFi and satellite (no message charge for cell and WiFi).

In our testing, ZOLEO was nearly as reliable at sending messages as inReach, despite being the least expensive unit, at just $200. It has both blinking lights and audible alerts from the unit that give you some idea of its operational status without having to look at your phone. There is a dedicated button to send check-in/location messages. So while it provides far less info and user operation capability directly from the unit itself,, it’s way ahead of similar screenless alternatives from Somewear and ACR Bivy Stick for operation without a phone.

ZOLEO recently added Location Share+ tracking, which was the second to last major feature it lacked vs Garmin inReach (but still no group chat). As such, while this is the heaviest among the tier 1 units, we feel its features, performance, user-friendliness, and low price are well worth a couple extra ounces.


Despite the unassuming price tag, ZOLEO is an incredibly functional and user-friendly Sat Comm device with everything that most hikers will need. While the advent of inReach Messenger displaces it from the top slot in overall performance, it remains the only system where you get a dedicated phone number. We are pleased to award ZOLEO Best Value Satellite Communicator! Read more in our full length, ZOLEO Satellite Communicator Review.

Garmin inReach Mini 2 Satellite Communicator

Garmin inReach Mini 2 Satellite Communicator Device

Clear Third Place, But With Best Screen and Standalone Capabilities

The Garmin inReach Mini 2 is still the smallest and lightest tier-1 satellite communicator device and remains one of the best options on the market. However, while not strictly worse, it is generally inferior to the new Garmin inReach Messenger in most ways, and is now only worth considering if you place a high value on screen size, standalone device operability, and rudimentary navigation features to use in a last-resort scenario. Shop now.

  • Price: $400
  • Weight: 3.5 oz
  • Average Battery Life: 336 hours (14 days)
  • Pros: Lightest weight. Second best signal finding and message send reliability. Standalone device offers full, albeit clunky, functionality without phone. Tri-network connectivity. Phone app makes messaging easy. Advanced tracking with waypoints, routes, TracBack, and track sharing. Navigation capabilities. Great battery life. Group messaging. Detailed weather reports. Waterproof.
  • Cons: Most expensive. No dedicated phone number. Small screen and nested menus make on-device-screen operation clunky and user-unfriendly.


The Garmin inReach Mini 2 offers exceptional signal receptivity with 14 days of average battery life in a sleek package that is both the lightest and smallest in its class. It’s small-but-functional screen allows you to activate and use all of the device’s features without requiring a Bluetoothed phone, and the availability of preset messages drastically reduces typing. However, you will still want to use your phone for composing custom messages, and navigating the complex nested menus feels clunky and outdated.

Thanks to a firmware update, inReach Mini 2 can now take advantage of the Garmin Messenger app, which allows for tri-network connectivity, meaning messages sent over cell service or wi-fi don’t count towards your plan’s limit. It also allows for group messages, and the ability to communicate with email addresses, SMS, and over the Garmin Messenger app.

Did we mention the tracking and navigation weather features? This is where the inReach Mini 2 stands out. Firstly, it automatically records a user’s activity and passively stores their route so that it can be retraced.  This is a feature called TracBack (and Messenger has it too). But unlike Messenger, you can download GPS tracks via the Explore app and upload them to the Mini 2. While massively inferior to using a phone app like Gaia GPS or paper topo maps, it does grant your system redundancy should all else fail


Despite being surpassed in most ways (price, battery, antenna) by the new Garmin inReach Messenger, Garmin inReach Mini 2 is still an excellent and near-best-in-class satellite communicator relevant to power users, and those who care about screen size, standalone device functionality, and having a backup navigation system.

ZOLEO vs inReach Messenger

ZOLEO vs inReach Messenger

How to decide between Garmin inReach Messenger vs ZOLEO is likely what most folks will be wondering. The good news is that both are excellent, and you will likely be happy either way. That being said, while neither is strictly better than the other, the comparison below clearly point to Messenger having more advantages than ZOLEO. But how you weight those advantages according to your personal needs and preferences matters more than quantity of advantages, and ZOLEO is still a great option.

Favors ZOLEO vs inReach Messenger

  • $100 less expensive
  • Dedicated phone number
  • More economical plan pausing
  • Higher waterproof rating

Favors inReach Messenger vs ZOLEO

  • Triple the battery life
  • Capable of reverse charging
  • 1.3 ounces lighter weight
  • Allows group messaging
  • Slightly better signal receptivity
  • Basic screen gives standalone operability
  • Slightly better weather forecasting
  • TracBack feature, better track sharing
  • Most basic plan is less expensive
  • Released more recently
zoleo vs inreach mini 2

ZOLEO vs inReach Mini 2

The immediate question is why aren’t you choosing between Messenger vs ZOLEO? But the crux of Garmin inReach Mini 2 vs Zoleo is whether you would rather save $200 and a get dedicated ZOLEO phone number, or save two ounces of weight, and get device that is fully operational without a phone, with rudimentary navigation capabilities and and access to group messaging.

Until recently, we were definitely on team ZOLEO. But this comparison got a lot closer thanks to the new Garmin Messenger App along with a 2023 firmware update that granted inReach Mini 2 access to tri-network communication (switching between satellite, cellular, and wi-fi) – a huge boost in user-friendliness that was formerly a big separation point in favor of ZOLEO.

Favors ZOLEO vs inReach Mini 2

  • $200 less expensive
  • Dedicated phone number
  • More economical plan pausing
  • Higher waterproof rating

Favors inReach Mini 2 vs ZOLEO

  • Double the battery life
  • Two ounces lighter weight
  • Allows group messaging
  • Slightly better signal receptivity
  • Screen give full standalone operability
  • Basic navigation capabilities
  • Better weather forecasting
  • TracBack feature, better track sharing
  • Most basic plan is less expensive
Garmin inReach Messenger vs Mini 2

Garmin inReach Messenger vs Mini 2

If you’re deciding between Garmin inReach Messenger vs Mini 2, we feel that Messenger is the better option for nearly everyone because it’s less expensive and has a better battery. That being said, they share many of the same systems and are overall extremely similar. The biggest pull towards the Mini 2 is its slightly lighter weight, slightly bigger (but still tiny) screen for ease of standalone operation, and gps-track based navigation capabilities. But let’s be honest – you probably do most of your navigating on your phone and with paper maps anyway. We bet that only a very small percentage of owners have ever used their inReach Mini 2 to navigate.

Favors Garmin inReach Messenger vs Mini 2

  • $100 less expensive
  • Double the battery life
  • Capable of reverse charging
  • Slightly better antenna/signal receptivity
  • Released more recently

Favors Garmin inReach Mini 2 vs Messenger

  • 0.5 ounces lighter
  • Larger screen
  • Slightly superior standalone operability
  • Rudimentary track-based navigation capabilities
  • Better button placements.
zoleo vs inreach messenger vs mini 2, the best satellite communicators

ZOLEO vs inReach Device Comparison

*Mobile users rotate device for full-width table

Price ($) Weight (oz) Avg Battery Life (days) Reverse Charging Waterproof Screen With Basic Functionality Best Signal Receptivity
ZOLEO 200 5.3 8.3 no IPX8 No 3rd
InReach Messenger 300 4.0 14 yes IPX7 Yes 1st
InReach Mini 2 400 3.5 28 no IPX7 Yes 2nd

ZOLEO vs inReach Feature Comparison

*Mobile users rotate device for full-width table

S.O.S. & 2-way messaging Bluetooth to Phone App Location Tracking Weather Forecast Tri Network:
Group Messages
Dedicated Phone Number
ZOLEO yes yes yes Yes No No Yes
inReach Messenger yes yes yes Yes Yes No No
inReach Mini 2 yes yes yes Yes Yes Yes No

ZOLEO vs inReach Subscription Plan Comparison

*Mobile users rotate device for full-width table

Monthly Rate Activation Fee Suspended Monthly Rate + Reactivate Fee SOS & Check-in Messages Custom Messages Cost per additional message Location Sharing
ZOLEO  Basic (Monthly) 20 20 4 + 0 unlimited 25 0.5
$6/Month unlimited
Zoleo In Touch (Monthly) 35 20 4 + 0 unlimited 250 0.5
$6/Month unlimited
Zoleo Unlimted (Monthly) 50 20 4 + 0 unlimited unlimited N/A
$6/Month unlimited
inReach Safety (Monthly) 15 35 0+35 unlimited 10 0.5 $.10 per share
inReach Safety (Annual) 12 30 N/A unlimited 10 0.5 $.10 per share
inReach Recreation (Monthly) 35 35 0+35 unlimited 40 0.5 $.10 per share
inReach Recreation (Annual) 25 30 N/A unlimited 40 0.5 $.10 per share
inReach Expedition (Monthly) 65 35 0+35 unlimited unlimited N/A Free
inReach Expedition (Annual) 50 30 N/A unlimited unlimited N/A Free
field testing satellite communicator devices

Performance Criteria for the Best Satellite Communicators

Pro Tips and Performance Criteria By Alan Dixon

To date, no satellite communicator device has every single desirable feature, although inReach Messenger, inReach Mini, and ZOLEO come closest. But with some improvements to their phone apps and some software/firmware improvements, Bivy Stick and Somewear could easily close the gap.

  • SOS capabilities [essential capability]
  • 2-way messaging [essential capability]
  • Pre-set location sends to contacts [essential capability, custom location sends a plus].
  • Tri-network (satellite, cellular, wi-fi) communication for messaging, location sends, and tracking [highly desirable]
  • Multi-day tracking, web viewable, with individually saved tracks & ability to export tracks to a .gpx file [highly desirable, nearing essential capability]
  • Group messaging [highly desirable]
  • Good battery life [essential capability]
  • Buttons and signals on unit capable of basic control and understanding of the unit’s status and what it’s doing [essential capability]
  • Display screen [highly desirable]
  • Navigation capabilities [marginally desirably]
  • Good antenna with connection Iridium Network [essential capability]
  • Lightweight, 3-6 oz [very highly desirable]
  • Dedicated phone number [highly desirable]

How To Best Use A Satellite Communicator

Bring a Backup Battery!

It’s a critical safety precaution to make sure your satellite communicator is always available for use (especially if you are using it in tracking mode during a trip). So Bring an external USB battery in the range of 6,000 to 10,000 mAh. Anything in the 6,000 range should cover day trips up to long weekends. Anything 10,000 or higher is good for a week of adventuring. And those estimates are conservative, assuming you aren’t going overboard on ues of electronics.

BioLite Charge 20

BioLite Charge 20

5.3 oz | $40

We like the BioLite Charge 20 because it is very lightweight, durable, grippy, and well-made. It offers 6,000 mAh, which is enough for 1.5 phone charges – perfect for anything from a day hike to a three-day weekend backpack. It charges quickly, and can charge multiple device at once.

Nitecore NB10000 Gen 2

Nitecore NB10000 Gen 2

5.3 oz | $60

With an impressive power-to-weight ratio, the Nitecore NB10000 Gen 2 has better stats than any other power bank. It offers two or more complete phone recharges for only 5.3 ounces. It’s the most ultralight unit in the 10k mAh-class, and certainly the best overall performer. What’s more, it can charge two devices at once, includes a USB-C port, and gets rave user reviews across the board. It even offers a low current mode for charging smaller devices. Did we mention that its carbon fiber casing is also water resistant (IPX5), and puncture, impact, and abrasion resistant? Carbon fiber also helps prolong the battery life in cold temperatures.

Anker Powercore 10000 Battery Charger

6.3 oz | $20

Weighing just 6.3 oz, this powerhouse, rechargeable USB battery can charge most phones multiple times with 10,000mAh— great for use on trips longer than three days. And unlike many “smart” batteries, the Anker Powercore 10,000 will detect & charge low drain devices like a fitbit or smart watches.

Pre-Trip Testing Your Satellite Communicator

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.
  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. 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. Battery drain test. Put your Satellite Communicator in tracking mode if it has one 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 Re-charging below.

Account Management for your Satellite Communicator

  • 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. 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.
the three best satellite communicator devices, ZOLEO vs inreach messenger vs mini 2

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 Satellite Communicator “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 for Satellite Communicators

Our 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.
    • Your lack of momentum will tip off your emergency contact that something is not right and
    • It will greatly accelerate locating and getting help to you.

Avoid turning the Satellite Communicator 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 Mini and Bivy Stick (and other devices with a visible antenna sticking out this is with the antenna pointing towards the sky and free of your body or other obstructions.
    • For a flat Satellite Communicator without a visible antenna (inReach Messenger, ZOLEO, Somewear, SPOT, etc.), the 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 unit, 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.
shoulder strap mounted with antenna pointed upward

Improving Satellite Communicator Performance in Difficult Reception Areas

Improving performance in difficult reception areas 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 1-way units like the Gen 3 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.
ZOLEO vs inreach messenger vs mini 2

Best Satellite Communicator Limitations

Sometimes a timely rescue is not possible. A Trip Plan and/or a Satellite Communicator 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 Communicator should never be considered a license to take unnecessary risks.

Watch Adventure Alan Compare The Best Satellite Communicator Devices of 2020

zoleo vs inreach mini 2 vs somewear global hotspot

Conclusion: ZOLEO vs inReach Messenger vs Mini 2

Thank you for reading our guide to the three best satellite communicator devices: Zoleo vs inReach Messenger vs inReach Mini. We’re quite confident that these models are best-in-class at this time, and that your experience will reflect this. Happy hiking and stay safe out there!