Our Top 3 Satellite Messengers | Garmin inReach Min, Zoleo Satellite Communicator and Somewear Global Hotspot

3 Best Satellite Messengers 2020

Beyond the classic 10 essentials, modern Satellite Messengers 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.

The Newcomers | Zoleo & Somewear

Revised June 2020: To include an extensive head-to-head field test between the Garmin inReach, and newcomers Zoleo Satellite Communicator & Somewear Global Hotspot.

We’ve been using Satellite Messengers since the first SPOT Gen 1 unit over a decade ago. Since then we’ve tested and used every subsequent version of SPOT and inReach all over the world. And until last year they had little competition. But a release of an inexpensive Iridium chipset has spawned some serious challengers to the inReach and SPOT. Read on to find out just how much of a challenge.

What is in This Guide

  1. 2020 Picks for the 3 Best Satellite Messengers
  2. The Rest of the Satellite Messengers

Pro Tips

  1. How to Best Use a Satellite Messenger – Especially how to get reception in difficult areas, setup messaging, and how best to configure/use their tracking modes
  2. The limitations of Satellite Messengers – what they can’t do for you
  3. You Need a Trip Plan – If you’re carrying a Satellite Messenger, your work is only half done. To close the safety loop, you also need a trip Plan. So read  Why You Should Make a Trip Plan and how to create one. It’s faster and simpler than you think and it may save your life.

The 3 Best Satellite Messengers for 2020

Below are our top picks based on our recent-head-to-head backcountry field test. We tested the Garmin inReach Mini, Zoleo and Somewear on message send reliability, location (waypoints), tracking accuracy, weather reports, phone app features, physical unit features and ease of use, battery life, size/weight/ease of carry, and cost of data plans.

Garmin inReach, Somewear, & Zoleo Best of the Best

And just to be clear, after months of field testing we determined that these are the best three units on the market. They are all great and worth your consideration. Depending on your use and budget one may be a better fit for you.

Video of our 4-day Backcountry Field Test

Garmin inReach Mini

Top Pick | Garmin inReach Mini Satellite Messenger

3.5 oz   $350 (current price)

Highlights: Top performance in almost every category, best message reliability, smallest & lightest, visual display, almost all operations can be done without a phone

Look no further than the Garmin inReach Mini If reliability, top performance and a full set of features are your criteria. The inReach Mini was the best performer by almost every measure. It has the most reliable message send (only unit to get every message out), it has by far the largest and most robust feature set, including exceptional tracking. It’s the smallest and lightest unit to boot. All your information is available from its screen display, and all features can be activated from the unit without a phone, including reading messages. It also allows group texting, and email messaging (Somewear and Zoleo do not). And it has detailed and accurate weather reports. The inReach has a public/private web interface for people to follow your track or see waypoints/message locations on a map. In summary, it is the unit we rely on when guiding, doing a challenging/sketchy trip in difficult and remote terrain, or documenting a new route we’re scouting.

All of this performance has been refined and honed over a decade. But that seniority does come with a downside. The inReach shows its venerable roots in its aging and creaky user interface, which by modern standards is complicated with nested menus and tons of features to navigate through (many are power user features not of interest to the average user). You’ll need to do some user manual reading and then practice to learn how to best use the Mini. Unlike the Zoleo and Somewear, the Mini does not seamlessly message between WiFi, Cellular, and Satellite connectivity — that’s because it’s a satellite only device. This adds confusion, especially from folks at home trying to message you, and it adds to cost (e.g. Somewear and Zoleo Cellular and WiFi transmitted messages do not count against your totals).

PROS Lightest and smallest, almost all functionality, messaging, and data available via the front screen; excellent message send reliability, excellent tracking, downloadable waypoints and GPS track. The inReach has a public/private web interface for people to follow your track or see waypoints/message locations on a map and message you, downloadable maps allow you to navigate and see your track via the phone app, detailed weather reports, group texting and emailing (Somewear and Zoleo do not), and a large number of custom pre-set messages that reduce typing.

CONS One of the more expensive monthly data plans, complicated user interface, no cellular and WiFi messaging, no dedicated phone number, complicated for users to message you back. Can painfully compose messages from the unit if your phone went dead, but you really need to compose messages via your phone (but Zoleo and Somewear have no ability at all to compose messages via the unit)

Somewear Global Hotspot

#2 Ease of Use & Features | Somewear Global Hotspot

4.2 oz   $300 (current price)

Highlights: Best blend features and an easy to use modern app, seamless messages between cellular, WiFi, satellite, good size & weight

We think of the Somewear Global Hotspot as something of a modernized inReach “Lite.” The Somewear takes some (but not all) of the inReach functionality and updates it with a contemporary user interface so simple it does not have a user manual. As such, it is the best blend of functionality and ease of use. And the Somewear adds seamless text and email messaging between cellular, WiFi and satellite data (no charges for cell and WiFi messages). Like the inReach, it does tracking and provides a public web interface for people to follow your track on a map, and the phone App allows downloading of maps for use when you do not have cell or WiFi data — albeit all these functions are more limited than on the inReach — nonetheless they get the basic job done.

On the downside, the Somewear is the least usable stand alone unit. Basically all you can do without your phone is send an SOS message. This is not surprising with a single on/off button, and a single monochrome LED on the unit (in addition to the protected SOS activation button). [Note: users can also use the power button to toggle tracking on/off on the device.]

PROS Only slightly heavier and larger than the inReach. Reasonable cost data plan. Has all the basic/necessary messaging and tracking functionality for backcountry use that goes well beyond messaging, including tracking, waypoint setting, and offline maps. Given its functionality (far greater than the Zoleo) it still has a simple and easy to operate App. The Somewear is probably the best blend of functionality and ease of use of all the units.

CONS Of all the units this is the one that relies entirely on phone/App use except for sending an SOS. From the unit itself there are no audible alerts and a single blinking light provides little or no user feedback on the unit’s status. Tracking is basic/adequate but is not as robust as inReach. It has the least detailed weather reports (e.g. no wind speed predictions). Mid-level data plan is a good value, but if you want to do any serious tracking, you’ll need to upgrade to the $50 premium plan (the $35 Garmin plan is actually a better deal if you intend to do a bunch of tracking).

#3 Value Messaging | Zoleo Satellite Communicator

5.2 oz   $200 (Amazon)

Highlights: Lowest cost both for unit and data plan, ease of use, only unit to have dedicated phone number for totally transparent messaging between cellular, WiFi, and satellite.

The Zoleo Satellite Communicator is the messaging ease of use Champ. It is the only unit to have a dedicated phone number for fully transparent text messaging. This makes it the only unit that friends can send text to without ever knowing that they are sending to you via satellite. In other words, there are no extra hoops to jump thru. Like the Somewear it seamlessly sends/receives messages via cellular, WiFi and satellite (no message charge for cell and WiFi). The Zoleo was nearly as reliable sending messages as the inReach Mini. The Zoleo is also the least expensive unit, costing $100 less than the inReach Mini and Somewear. And if you take into account that it doesn’t track, it has the least expensive messaging data plan. The Zoleo has both blinking lights and audible alerts from the unit that give you some idea of its operation and status without having to look at your phone. There is a dedicated button to send OK/location messages. So while it provides far less info and user operation directly from the unit (e.g. without a phone) than the inReach Mini, it’s way ahead of the Somewear for operation without a phone.

But it ends at messaging and sending out an SOS. The Zoleo does not track, has no mapping capabilities in the Phone App, nor does it have any web app where users can see your track or messages on a map. There are no group messages (more of a pain than you might think at first blush). And you can’t download all your message locations to even get a basic track of your trip. So again, when we say messaging only (albeit you can send messages with location), we mean it. As such, power users or people that want a trip track will likely look elsewhere. Finally the Zoleo is the heaviest and bulkiest of the devices.

PROS Least expensive unit, least expensive message data plan (if you take into account it sends no tracking points), easiest to send and receive messages, second best message send reliability, only unit with a dedicated phone number for messaging transparency, leds and buttons provide decent operation of unit without a phone. Nice detailed weather reports (altho the least accurate of the units, at least in our four day field test — it may not do mountain weather all that well). Good battery life, but lack of tracking means that it will inherently use less battery than the inReach or Somewear.

CONS Heaviest and largest unit, no mapping on app, no tracking, no public web interface for people to follow your track or see waypoints/message locations on a map, no downloading of waypoints or location messages.

Field testing Satellite Messengers

The Rest of the Satellite Messengers

SPOT Gen3 Satellite GPS Messenger

Budget Option | SPOT Gen3 Satellite GPS Messenger

4 oz $150

Currently $100 Amazon

If you are on very limited funds, and are willing to go with basic 1-way messages and SOS services the 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 adds an important margin of safety for remote backcountry trips — but without becoming an 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 reception areas. And the SPOT’s GlobalStar Satellite Network has less coverage than InReach’s Iridium Network.

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

If You Don’t Carry a Smartphone
SPOT X 2-Way Satellite Messenger

7 oz $250

If you want to compose and send messages and don’t want to also carry a smartphone then this is your device. Recently SPOT entered the 2-way texting/communication arena with the SPOT X 2-Way Satellite Messenger with Bluetooth. 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). While the full, blackberry style keyboard makes message typing a lot easier, it also seems to add weight and bulk. As such at 7 ounces it’s almost three times the weight of the Garmin inReach Mini.

We’ve found it much buggier and harder to use than the inReach and SPOT, and technical support and billing are not stellar. Finally, it uses a satellite network (GlobalStar) with less coverage than the inReach (Iridium Network) 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, we’ve experienced 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 $50 for the inReach Mini if you want a 2-way satellite messenger or go with the SPOT Gen3 for a lot less money.

How to Best Use a Satellite Messenger

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.
  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 Messenger 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

  • 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.

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

  • 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. And 1) your lack of momentum 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 (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 flat units without a visabel antenna, 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.

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 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.

Batteries and Recharging

See Best Lightweight Backpacking Electronics Gear for more detail on lightweight batteries and re-charging.

  • Consider carrying an external USB battery in the range of 6,000 to 10,000 mAh. (This can be also be used to recharge most of your other electronics.)
  • For the SPOT Gen 3 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.

Always Bring a Backup Battery!

It’s a 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 and only a built-in 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 Gen 3 a spare set of lithium AAA batteries.

The Limitations of Satellite Messengers

Sometimes a timely rescue is not possible. A Trip Plan and/or a 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 take unnecessary risks.

Disclaimer

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.

130 replies
  1. Kevin
    Kevin says:

    Great in-depth review. I’m going back and forth between the inReach and Zoleo. Mainly day trips for me that include areas of no cell service. In your post you say the Zoleo has the lowest subscription rate. I’m not seeing that unless you go with the most expensive plan on the inReach. Am I missing something? Thanks.

    Reply
    • Alan Dixon
      Alan Dixon says:

      Kevin, not sure what you are looking at, but the middle plan which is what most folks would use is far cheaper/message on Zoleo. 40 messages for $35 on inReach so around $1.00 per message. For Zoleo you get 250 messages for $35 so around $0.25 per message. BUT since the plans are nowhere near the same, it is impossible to make a direct comparison. E.g. the $40 Garmin plan includes free pre-set messages (3 basic ones) and unlimited tracking (On Zoleo every message comes out of your monthly allocation). And the Zoleo plan will not let you suspen for the first three months, but but Garmin has and annual subscriptoin fee in addition to monthly plan costs, etc., etc. Best, -alan

      Reply
      • Kevin
        Kevin says:

        Alan – now I get it. I was just looking at total cost where, I believe, you look at what you get for your money. Thanks for the clarification.

        Reply
      • Kevin
        Kevin says:

        Hey Alan,

        I ended up going with the Somewear. Got it last night and will try it out today. Question: Did this thing go to sleep on you? I try to check the satellite coverage and it often shows something like “Will check again in 20 minutes”. There’s also an icon with a half moon and “z” which make me think it’s asleep. I can’t seem to wake it and since there is no manual I’m stumped. I have an email off to Somewear but still await there response. Thanks.

        Reply
      • Kevin
        Kevin says:

        Alan,

        I figured out the sleep thing. I’m enjoying the device. It’s used mainly while I’m doing trail maintenance on the Finger Lakes Trail in New York State. I’m in and out of cell service.

        What do you think about the method of securing the Somewear to your pack? As soon as I got it I figured there could be trouble with it popping off. After hooking it to my pack I added a carabiner between it and the pack. Sure enough, when I took my pack off today the Somewear was hanging by the carabiner. Other than that I’m really happy with my purchase.

        Reply
  2. foo
    foo says:

    I believe BivyStick is a product that should be included here. They have been in the market roughly as long or longer than the Somewear and Zoleo (and are at least doing well enough to release a re-designed 2nd gen device).

    The huge selling point for me is the billing is MUCH more user friendly; roughtly the same $-per-message _except_ there are no contracts or activation/REactivation fees. I have the InReach Mini, and it’s a great device, but the billing really leaves a bad taste in ones mouth when you have to choose between less-than-friendly options for intermittent use.

    Reply
    • Alan Dixon
      Alan Dixon says:

      Hi Foo, the thing that was holding back our consideration of the BivyStick was it’s 7.3 oz weight (this is a ultralight backpacking site). Given it does not have a screen and has a high $360 purchase cost we felt there were many better options out there. That being said the new “Bivy Stick Blue – Satellite Communicator” at 3.35 oz is the lightest of the lot and could change things. What remains to be seen is how the antenna configuration works for such a small unit. Only testing in dense tree cover and in deep canyons will tell if it has the same message send/receive reliability of the inReach. We are currently awaiting an evaluation Bivy Stick Blue to find out that as well as battery life for such a small unit. Best, -alan

      Reply
      • David Skau
        David Skau says:

        I was concerned by the weight of the BivyStick Orange as well… though I suppose if it really eliminated the need to carry a separate powerbank, that would more than make up for it… guessing based on your decision not to include it (and BivyStick’s decision to go light for the new Blue) that isn’t as good of an idea in practice as it sounds on paper?

        Reply
        • Alan Dixon
          Alan Dixon says:

          Only testing will tell. I am in line to get one of the first BivyStick Blues. There was a slight delay in production but expecting it soon. Stay tuned. (Oh, and I for one, prefer the flexibility of having my USB battery separate from all my components.) Best, -a

        • David Skau
          David Skau says:

          Will look forward to seeing the update on BivyStick Blue when you’re able to test it – I will be returning my Zoleo (largely because of the high cost even when plans are paused, given I’m not able to really adventure far for much of the year) and put off my purchase until I can either compare BivyStick Blue reviews to Somewear and/or snag one of them on sale…

          Re: BivyStick Orange, I think I’d also be concerned about possibly draining my sat Messenger by charging another less critical device… not sure if they designed in any protections against that (say, setting the powerbank function to stop with enough battery for 2-3 days of use) – but maybe not since it needs a phone on as well, even for SOS… Glad they changed that on the Blue!

  3. AD
    AD says:

    Thanks for the reviews! Went out and grabbed a Zoleo based on your comments. Still love the map compass thing so a full GPS isn’t needed; mainly was looking for a budget SOS signal way to stay in touch for emergencies only. Thanks for clarifying the difference between texting to a Zoleo vs texting to a Garmin!

    Reply
  4. Brad Tavel
    Brad Tavel says:

    As a newb to backcountry hiking/camping, satcom to family and emergency aid providers was really important. I agree the inreach user interface is cumbersome at best. It really underscores your advice on doing shakedown hikes and doing runtrhoughs with all equipment close to home before venturing out. Sugarloaf and Catoctin were great for testing and familiarizing myself with the mini.

    Reply
  5. Jussi
    Jussi says:

    “no dedicated phone number, complicated for users to message you back.”

    Dont understand this with mini. My units have dedicated, fixed, cellnumber and messaging back is as sinple as replying to sms message. Dont know how this could be easier…

    Reply
    • Alan Dixon
      Alan Dixon says:

      Jussi, it looks like a dedicated number but it isn’t. E.g. you can’t randomly send a text to that number and have it work. Yes, if you reply to the SMS that works. The difference may appear to be trivial but it isn’t and has caused a lot of confusion and frustration (e.g. somebody tried to notify you of an at home emergency and when they send a message to the “dedicated” number and it bounces, and of course you in the field have no idea it bounced). In a nutshell, if you give somebody the number you believe your “dedicated number” they will not be able to text to it. They can only reply to an SMS thread once you have established it. Again this is a much bigger deal than it appears at first blush. And of course there is no data via cellular and WiFi on the Mini. Hope this helps to clarify things a bit, -alan

      Reply
    • Alan Dixon
      Alan Dixon says:

      Jussi, their is a nuance to this that you may not realize. If a user randomly sends a text to that number (e.g. does not reply to a text you sent) it will fail. This may seem trivial but it isn’t. I work as a guide and from first hand experience a number of times this difference HAS caused huge problems when reliable messaging was most critical. Hope this helps. Warmest, -ala

      Reply
    • Alan Dixon
      Alan Dixon says:

      Blaine, not nearly as robust/fully featured. But likely adequate for basic navigation assuming you download maps ahead of time. Best, -alan

      Reply
  6. Joe Mills
    Joe Mills says:

    Hi Alan, Btwn. our friends and I we have 10 children away at school plus 6 adults and would like the means to communicate my messege using satelite technology. True Sat. phones are not an option dues to the numbers needed and total cost. We were thinking the Spot X 2-Way since the reviews were 4.7 out of 5 but there were only 16 total. This communication would be for more of a “Phones are down” situtation not many Explorers in our band. TYIA, Joe.

    Reply
    • Alan Dixon
      Alan Dixon says:

      Hi Joe, I still think that the Garmin inReach Mini is the best 2-way satellite messaging device going — and you can get it from major retailers like REI which will at least give you a 90 day return policy. The interface and smoothness of operation is just not there with the SPOT (and it’s on an inferior satellite network). Best, -alan

      Reply
  7. 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

    Reply
    • 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

      Reply
  8. 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

    Reply
    • 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

      Reply
  9. 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?

    Reply
    • 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

      Reply
  10. 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.

    Reply
    • 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

      Reply
      • 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

        Reply
        • 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

  11. 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.

    Reply
    • 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

      Reply
  12. 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?

    Reply
    • 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

      Reply
      • 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?

        https://support.garmin.com/en-US/?faq=Dlq83lU2Ru5SHas9vohbbA

        Reply
        • 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

  13. 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.

    Reply
    • 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

      Reply
  14. 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?

    Reply
    • 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

      Reply
  15. 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.

    Reply
    • 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

      Reply
  16. richard mamrosh
    richard mamrosh says:

    Thank you for the excellent article. Bought the DeLorme satellite messenger for our oldest daughter and son in law and they love it. It is nice to be able to send messages two ways, and the DeLorme doesn’t burden you with an expensive contract like SPOT.

    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
  17. 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
  18. 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
  19. 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
  20. Will C
    Will C says:

    Alan, I went to the Gaia site on Google Play.
    https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.trailbehind.android.gaiagps.pro&hl=en

    The concerned comments were listed there.

    Reply
  21. 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
  22. 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
  23. 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
      • John T
        John T says:

        I am confused about the inReach SE … i see Garmin and DeLorme units for sale on amazon… are both still in production and what is difference if so… I have read bad reviews with Garmin sync issues and poor customer service so I was thinking DeLorme maybe way to go… your thoughts.

        Reply
        • Alan Dixon
          Alan Dixon says:

          Hi John T,
          Apologies for the late reply. Alison and I are 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, this is a bit confusing. Garmin bought DeLorme and therefore inReach units. The older DeLorme inReach units (SE and Exlplorer) are no longer in production and for the most part seem to have sold out on existing stocks. The newer DeLorme inReach units (SE+ and Exlplorer+) have been re-branded with Garmin on the unit. Finally, I have never had synch issues with any of my inReach units, Delorme inReach SE, and now the inReach Mini I currently use. Again as this post suggests, we feel that the new inReach Mini and smartphone running GAIA GPS (for navigation and interface with the Mini) is the ideal pairing for communication and navigation. Hope this helps and wishing you a great year of hiking. Warmest, -alan & alison

  24. 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

      • The “older” but highly capable DeLorme inReach SE is still available for only $250 on Amazon. vs. the newer 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 a DeLorme inReach SE while they are still around.
      Reply
  25. 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
  26. 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
    • Alan Dixon
      Alan Dixon says:

      Yes, they can ping your inReach for location assuming it is on. More info. below. Warmest, -alan
      http://info.delorme.com/hp_files/DeLorme_inReach_Brochure.pdf

      Reply
  27. 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
  28. 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
  29. 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

  30. 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
  31. 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
  32. 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
  33. 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
  34. 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
  35. 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!

        • Rom
          Rom says:

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

        • 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

  36. 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
  37. 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
  38. 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
  39. 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
  40. 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
  41. 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
  42. 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
  43. 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
  44. 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

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