2019 Best Satellite Messengers – SOS Devices

Beyond the classic 10 essentials, modern SOS devices (like our top pick, the Garmin inReach Mini) provide a larger boost to your overall outdoor safety than any other gear available. They 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 wilderness adventure.

This is part 1 of a 2 part series

  1. The Best Satellite Messenger inReach vs SPOT? – what’s the best Satellite Messenger. And how to best use both the inReach and SPOT
  2. Why You Should Make a Trip Plan – how to create one. it might be faster and simpler than you think!

What is in This Article?

  1. 2019 Picks for the Best Best Satellite Messengers – SOS Devices
  2. Which is best? – Comparing 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
  3. 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
  4. The limitations of Satellite Messengers – what they can’t do for you

Garmin inReach Mini

2019 Top Pick | Garmin inReach Mini

Based on months of field use guiding and on our personal trips, the new Garmin inReach Mini is our top choice for a satellite messinger / SOS device — and by a large margin! If you can spare $350 the inReach Mini has no competition.  The Mini takes everything that was great about the older inReach units and puts it into a smaller and much lighter package (⅓ the size and ½ the weight!). It even costs $100 less!

At just 4” long and only 3.5 ounces, Garmin inReach Mini is half the weight of most smartphones and is easily carried in your pocket or just about anywhere. The only significant downside of the Mini is  possibly a slightly shorter battery life vs the older units. But that might only be an issue if you leave it in tracking mode for days — and that’s easily solved with a USB battery (Jackery Bolt is our favorite) which most folks carry anyway to charge their phones and other electronics. A less significant downside is that other than sending the 3 basic messages, the Mini is more difficult to operate without your smartphone. To our mind this is not a bit deal, since we normally perform these operations with a smartphone. But if you don’t carry a smartphone you might want to consider Garmin inReach SE+ (although typing messages will be tedious at best). But on the bright side, sending the standard 3 messages is faster and easier on the Mini.

Garmin inReach SE+

2019 Budget Pick | Garmin inReach SE+ (older model)

Our budget choice is the older Garmin inReach SE+ for around $290 on Amazon (as long as they are in stock). Unil the Mini came in it was our favorite, having served us flawlessly for years. It has all the great inReach functionality but is about $160 less than the Mini and only $140 more than the far less capable SPOT Gen3 Satellite GPS Messenger. For casual use the inReach Freedom Service Plan may also cost less than SPOT’s annual service plan.

SPOT Gen3 Satellite GPS Messenger

2019 Low Cost & Keep it Simple Pick | SPOT Gen3 Satellite GPS Messenger

If you are on very limited funds, and are willing to go with basic 1-way messages and SOS services the $150 SPOT Gen3 Satellite GPS Messenger with the Basic Service Plan is still the lowest cost option, especially if you use your SPOT on a monthly basis. It is also a good choice for those that desire simplicity in their backcountry experience. Like other Satellite GPS Messenger SOS Devices, the SPOT Gen3 ads an important margin of safety for remote backcountry trips — but without becoming and intrusive piece of electronics. So NO 2-way texting… but at the press of a button, you can call for emergency help. There are also buttons to let loved ones know you are safe, or that you need a non-emergency pickup. Messages arrive at your contacts with a GPS location and a link to a map to see where you are. The SPOT doesn’t let you create and send messages in the backcountry like the Garmin inReach units, but it also costs a lot less!

Compared to Garmin units, SPOT Gen3 uses replaceable AAA Batteries. And a single set of lithium batteries lasts a long time—about 120-150 hours of tracking/use in our 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. Finally, 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 that over time the service plan is far and above the major cost for the inReach or SPOT.

SPOT X 2-Way Satellite Messenger

Buy with Caution (for now) | SPOT X 2-Way Satellite Messenger

Recently SPOT entered the 2-way texting/communication arena with the SPOT X 2-Way Satellite Messenger. Among other things it has a built in keyboard in an attempt to make it useable without pairing with a smartphone (although you can use it with one if you want). Unfortunately, being generation 1, it’s user interface is more difficult to use and buggier than the inReach. These problems are reflected by poor reviews on many sites including REI and Amazon (2.8 and 2.4 out of 5 stars respectively). Finally, it uses a satellite network with less coverage than the inReach and we assume (based on it’s 250 hour battery life) it has the same 0.4 watt transmitter vs the 1.6 watts for the inReach. Thus, you should expect poorer reliability of sending and receiving messages and tracking points, especially in difficult areas like canyons and heavy tree cover. As such, we recommend you consider paying the extra $100 for the inReach Mini if you want a 2-way satellite messenger. Or go with the SPOT Gen3 for less money.

We sincerely hope that SPOT can address these usability issues and realize the SPOT X’s full potential!

a) Best Satellite Messenger inReach vs SPOT


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)- 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.


This post contains affiliate links. If you make a purchase after clicking on the these links, a portion of the sale helps support this site at no additional cost to you. I do not receive compensation from the companies whose products are listed. For product reviews: unless otherwise noted, products are purchased with my own funds. I am never under an obligation to write a review about any product. Finally, this post expresses my own independent opinion.

104 replies
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  1. Ted
    Ted says:

    Hi Alan, I was considering the inReach Mini as my first Sat device, but after learning about SatPaq I’m not sure. Do you have experience with the SatPaq device? https://satpaq.com/satpaq/
    Thanks for all you share! Ted

    • Alan Dixon
      Alan Dixon says:

      Hi Ted, Sorry for the late reply, a glitch in the comment-works here. I would go for the Mini. Be cautious some newcomers on the block. In most cases do not have the robust package of features that inReach units have. They are essentially texting and SOS devices. They may have spotty tracking performance, less than perfect way for your “contacts” to access messages and locations, limited mapsets (supporting phone app), can’t export tracks and location points, sending a location point stops tracking, no group messaging, etc, or a way for you to maintain your information for a long time in the cloud. The inReach has set of the right tools that’s been refined of 8 years of use and field testing by expeditions, guides and individual users all over the world. It’s going to take a while for the new kids on the block to catch up with that feature set. Hope this helps, -alan

  2. Helen
    Helen says:

    Hi Alan,

    I have a Spot X and I want it to communicate with a Garmin InReach Explorer. As the spot X has its cell number, I thought I could reply to a message sent by the in reach to the spot x but it doesn’t seem to be working. Can you help? Thanks

    • Alan Dixon
      Alan Dixon says:

      Hi Helen, I have returned the SPOT X I had on loan so am unable to do any testing to bring light on this issue. As you probably know by now the “phone #” associated with a satellite device is not always the same functionality of an actual cell phone with a number. Hopefully SPOT tech support may be able to shed some light on the issue. As you know, inReach to inReach messaging works great in the field and it is something we use all the time when guiding. In fact I use it more than any other messaging type when out guiding. It’s a game changer. Wishing you luck with your SPOT X, and a great year hiking. Warmest, -alan

  3. Luke
    Luke says:

    Thanks for the well written review. How do friends and family back home contact you from their phones? I haven’t been able to find a clear answer for this so far. The best I found from Garmin is that people can respond from a text message or email that you send to them. Is this the only way to send a message to an InReach? Or does the device come with a telephone number that your contacts can put into their phone in case they need to contact you before you send something while in the field?

    • Alan Dixon
      Alan Dixon says:

      Hi Luke and apologies for the late reply. I’ve been guiding Alaska’s Brooks Range for the last two weeks and will soon head back in to Alaskan mountains for another two weeks. The easiest way is for you to establish a message thread from the inReach to their phone (SMS). This can be done in the field, but is most easily done as a “test” message to establish the thread before you leave. Once the thread is established, from the land-based phone end it just the same texting to the inReach as it is to text another land-based phone. The other option from a laptop is to text message someone via your mapshare page. This is also best tested before you leave. Hope this helps, and wishing you a great year trekking. Warmest, -alan & alison

  4. Don
    Don says:

    Would be a much better review if you would drop the transmit power comparison. No offense, but you clearly do not have a background in radio theory, and you don’t understand the difference in antennas used by SPOT and InReach. The patch antenna used by SPOT is much more efficient than the omni-directional used by InReach. Power is a moot point – both systems work very well and have been extensively tested.

    One other thing to mention is usage model. SPOT and InReach usage models depend on lots of messages to establish location, trend, and status. So tracking is something that should be turned on and left on for best results.

    Otherwise your review is excellent.

    • Alan Dixon
      Alan Dixon says:

      Hi Don, good comments and based on them I will likely re-write this post a bit. FWIW I am an engineer and altho not an expert in radio theory, I do understand some radio wave theory since I was in physics before switching to engineering. The problem with the SPOT is that is has a patch antenna that is supposed to be facing the sky. But in reality, and because of the way the SPOT’s attachment is designed, it hangs down — not facing up. Thus focusing its meager 0.4 W of power across the surface of the earth and not up towards the sky and satellites. In comparison the inReach’s antenna points up in its optimal position, which when combined with its higher transmission power is more effective than the SPOT hanging down. This is corroborated by my field experience with both units — where the inReach is more successful at consistently sending and receiving messages. If SPOT worked out a way so that a normal carry had the patch antenna facing up its %’tage of successful transmissions would go up. Anyway, I will likely incorporate much of this conversation into the writeup. So thanks for reading it carefully, and making some informed suggestions for improvements. Best, -alan

      • Josh Spice
        Josh Spice says:

        Hey Alan, fwiw, people routinely carry spots on their bikes on bikepacking races in all sorts of configurations and orientations and they track just fine, for the most part. Sometimes, yes, there are times when they dont send a signal, but it seems to not be related to orientation but to connecting with the satellites in general. On the big Alaskan dog mushing races, spots are mounted facing up, on the sled, and they will often miss sending signals due, I think, to the spotty (ha!) coverage extent of the spot satellite network that far north. The satellites are often only near the horizon, not directly overhead like farther south. Cheers, Josh

        • Alan Dixon
          Alan Dixon says:

          Hi Josh and apologies for the late reply. I’ve been guiding Alaska’s Brooks Range for the last two weeks and will soon head back in to Alaskan mountains for another two weeks. A couple of thoughts on your post. 1) SPOT is one-way communication is far less limited. Having extensively used two-way communication in the field in difficult hard to manage situations — both inReach to inReach, and inReach to ground crew — I can unequivocally say there is no comparison between the inReach and SPOT. The inReach is hands down the better unit by a large margin. 2) As you point out the Iridium satellite network that the inReach uses has better coverage than the GlobalStar network that SPOT uses — especially true as you go farther north, e.g. Alaska. Combined, I am at a loss to find even cost a compelling argument to use the SPOT over the inReach. Warm regards, -alan & alison

        • Johnny
          Johnny says:

          As a Satellite Network Engineer at the JPL I can assure all parties that the inconsistency of the SPOT devices is due to their choice of SAT constellation/provider. Iridium is far superior. PS I’m a SPOT Gen3 owner and not a Garmin inReach owner, I opted for a Spot3 and Garmin GPSMAP 64 model for my dual sport adventures. Mixed feelings /shrug

        • Alan Dixon
          Alan Dixon says:

          Hi Johnny,
          Apologies for the late reply. Just back at a computer after a month of guiding Alaska’s Brooks Range and then some personal trips in Alaska. Now digging out of the backlog of being away from the internet for a considerable amount of time. Yes, the Iridium constellation is superior. And especially so nearer the poles, e.g. Alaska and Patagonia two places Alison and I hike a lot. As such, we feel that the new inReach Mini and smartphone running GAIA GPS (for navigation and interface with the Mini) is the idea pairing for communication and navigation. Finally the cost of the inReach Mini and GAIA GPS App is less than the cost of Spot3 and Garmin GPSMAP 64. Wishing you a great year of adventuring. Warmest, -alan & alison

  5. Matt
    Matt says:

    Hey Alan, thank you for the indepth review. We’re looking at buying an inreach for whitewater trips. Have you tested the tracking with less than optimal antenna position? We’re thinking of leaving it in the med kit, which is a sealed Pelican case.

    • Alan Dixon
      Alan Dixon says:

      Hi Matt, good Q. The Mini has the same transmit power as the older inReach units. As such, expect the same transmit performance (just a bit less operating time due to a smaller battery). When I am packrafting or rafting, I usually carry my inReach in a flexible see-through waterproof case (so I can operate the buttons) firmly attached to somewhere on the deck. This also has little impact on transmission, and we got signal out fine from the bottom of the grand canyon when we rafted it a few years back. Your Pelican case is much thicker and without testing it I would not count on it reliably transmitting from inside the case. Hope this helps. And wishing you some great paddling. Warmest, -alan & alison

  6. GerryD
    GerryD says:

    I don’t see much posted anywhere on longer term cold weather performance. I take 3-5 trips by snowmobile to remote areas in a wide range of temperatures including below zero. I currently have a SPOT3 and it’s been great for what it is. When moving I throw it in the outer pocket of my backpack on the back of my snowmachine , turn on tracking and it sends tracking data back to my family so they can see I got to where I’m going safely. I’d like to move to 2-way communication but the units are only rated to -2F for operating and +32F for charging! The SPOT3 is rated to -20F operating temperature and I can pop in new lithium batteries to my heart’s content but I’ve never had to if starting with a fresh set at the start of the trip.

    I’m really concerned about cold weather performance but also would love to have 2-way messaging so that, in emergencies I could provide better details as to why I might need help. I can only carry so much stuff in my pockets too. Has anyone else been using the Inreach on extended cold weather trips and dealt with power issues?

    • Alan Dixon
      Alan Dixon says:

      Hi Gerry, yeah lithium batteries do great in cold Wx, and the SPOT does have a longer battery life. So two in the plus column for SPOT. But as you point out 2-way has significant advantages. And also, SPOT is getting some of that long battery life with a weaker transmitting power. So as I and others have noted it is not quite as reliable in getting messages out as the inReach units. So that longer battery life does have a downside. As to cold Wx operation, Alison and I just finished using the inReach Mini on the Southern Patagonian Ice Shelf and battery life was pretty close to normal and I had it in an external pack pocket so not keeping it warm. Temps were around 20 deg F in the mornings with winds in the 30 knot range. So not nearly as cold as you might use it but at least an indication that’s performance does not dramatically drop off as temps get lower. My suggestions would be two. 1) Get a Mini, it is so small that you should be able to find a warm pocket for it in very cold temps. 2) Bring a good USB battery. This post has some suggestions for good ones. Hope this helps. Warmes, -alan & alison

      • GerryD
        GerryD says:

        Thanks for the reply. Lots to consider.

        You comparison chart at the top says Inreach allows unlimited preset messages and SPOT3 allows three. According to Garmin’s site, they’re claiming each account can only have 3 preset messages though you can use those an unlimited amount of times – which would make it the same as SPOT3… or is Garmin’s info wrong?


        • Alan Dixon
          Alan Dixon says:

          Hi Gerry, you are correct that both the inREACH and SPOT have 3 preset messages that can be sent an unlimited number of times without incurring additional charges. But the SPOT only has 3 messages with no ability to send a custom message — not one typed in the field and not additional preset ones, composed before you leave on your trip. In comparison, with the inReach you can pre-write a number of preset messages before you leave on your trip. That way you can simply select and send a message in the field but just clicking send. That is, no need to type it. I find this especially useful for things like requesting a weather forecast from my team tracking my trip. That is, I have a custom preset message “Please send me a 3 day weather forecast.” And another message “Please send me an hourly weather forecast for the next 24 hours.” I am just back from trekking in Patagonia where wind is critical to safety and trip success. I was getting wind speed forecasts almost every day (and we did have winds up to 100 kph, with higher gusts). I will note that these custom preset messages are not “free” and count against the message allotment for whatever inReach plan you have — although I rarely exceed that allotment. Hope this helps. Warmest, -alan & alison

  7. Ted Crum
    Ted Crum says:

    Thanks for the comprehensive review.
    I’ve always preferred replaceable batteries for critical equipment; (I carry an “AA” cell backup pack for the rechargeable battery in my marine radio.) That’s a plus for SPOT.
    On my motorcycle, I’d also like the device to run on vehicle power when driving, SPOT couldn’t do that last time I looked. Is that still the case?
    Can the InReach run and charge on USB power while riding?
    BTW, my emergency backup solution for the Inreach would be a USB supply loaded with alkaline AA’s. That will stay ready for 6 years without the need to charge.

    • Alan Dixon
      Alan Dixon says:

      Hi Ted, nice to hear from you. This is going to be a short response as I am leaving for an international trip tomorrow. Anyway here goes. Just get the Garmin Mini, it’s a no-brainer winner at this point — nothing else is close. It will operate from a USB power source via a standard uUSB cable, so no battery drain. So yeah, you could run it while riding on motorcycle or while you are in your car. Hope this helps. And be safe out there on your motorcycle. Warmest, alan

  8. Gerald Morrison
    Gerald Morrison says:

    OK Folks… I would really appreciate your input. I am 70 yrs old, and love taking my grand sons out into the CO mountain for hiking, fly fishing, UTV’ing, camping, etc.

    *I want to make sure that if something happens to me, that they have the ability to notify rescue operations so that we all can be found and be taken care of. I would hate it if something happened to me in a remote part of the mountains and they were stranded without anyone knowing how to find them.

    *I am NOT interested in mapping, as I can easily use my phone/GPS. I primarily want a device where they can send a SOS and that it is reliable.

    *I only would need this for basically 3-4 months a year, so a yearly subscription is not an interest.

    *Another requirement is that I would like their parents to have access to the device when they take the kids out into the wild….

    I am leaning towards the InReach Mini because of the size, monthly subscription options, but most of all, RELIABILITY with Iridium satellites. Thoughts on what would be the best for me and my particular needs?

    • Alan Dixon
      Alan Dixon says:

      Hi Gerald, lots of good thoughts there. The very short answer is you definitely want the mini. Given you requirements it is almost an exact fit. Have a great year trekking with the grandsons!! Warmest, -alan & alison

  9. sarah bates
    sarah bates says:

    Hi Alan: i really enjoy your blog. The eastern Sierra trip description and photos are wonderful. I have had a Spot for many years. I am thinking of switching to the Garmin for all the reasons you point out. One of the options Spot includes is to pay for what is essentially insurance to cover expense of a rescue if necessary. (So far not necessary!) But like all insurance, it offers peace of mind. I am wondering if you have thoughts about this. How was the rescue you were involved in paid for? I haven’t checked yet to see if Garmin offers this sort of option.

    • Alan Dixon
      Alan Dixon says:

      Hi Sarah, good Q about the rescue insurance coverage for the SPOT. The Garmin inReach has a similar rescue insurance option when you sign up. And for FWIW I have used the Garmin inReach Mini daily for over 5 weeks this year and it has been great. Wishing you a safe year of trekking. Warmest, -alan

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