Expert Review: Garmin inReach MiniPublished on 09/02/2022 · 10 min readThis review is my honest opinion of the satellite communicator, which I purchased with my own money in July of 2019.
All photos courtesy of Will Shaw
About this Review: This review is my honest opinion of the satellite communicator, which I purchased with my own money in July of 2019.
Garmin’s inReach Mini is a two-way satellite communicator. It can send and receive text messages and transmit the user’s location to others. SOS capabilities can put the user in contact with Global Rescue, who work with local authorities and search and rescue to coordinate a rescue in an emergency. I’ve been using the inReach Mini for three years and have found that it’s a handy device to have in the backcountry, and it gives me a little extra piece of mind.
About the gear
- Model: 2019 Garmin InReach Mini
- When I bought it: July 2019
- Days tested: 60
- Used for: Backcountry skiing, rock climbing, hiking, camping, mountaineering, cycling, running, travel
- Where I’ve used it: Colorado, Ohio, Kentucky, France
How it performs
What I was looking for
I was looking for a satellite communicator to be able to check in with family while I was alone in the mountains and have the added security of an SOS beacon. I don’t mind being somewhat off the grid, so I didn’t need to be able to have complete conversations, so the InReach mini has been a good fit.
Why I chose this gear
I chose the InReach Mini because it was a good balance between a simple one-way communicator like the basic SPOT models and a more capable two-way communicator like the InReach or Spot X. I like that it’s small enough to fit just about anywhere, and I still get the capabilities of a two-way communicator if I need them. I also considered buying the SPOT Gen 3. Pricing was very similar, with the InReach Mini being a little more expensive. At the time, inReach Mini’s most basic service was a little more expensive, but I decided on the InReach because it could receive messages while the SPOT could only send. I rarely receive messages, but it’s a really useful feature when I need it. I also like the idea of being able to communicate with a rescue team instead of just pushing a button and hoping for the best.
- Preset Messages: The Garmin inReach Mini can save three preset messages. Recipient(s) and the content of the messages must be programmed from a computer through Garmin Explore and can not be edited in the field. Each service plan includes unlimited Preset Messages. My three Preset Messages go to my wife and are: “At the trailhead,” “Just checking in,” and “Running late, but I’m ok.”
- Quick Text Messages: Quick Text Messages are pre-typed messages that are saved on the device. Unlike Preset Messages, Quick Text Messages do not have a predetermined contact and can be sent to any contact. However, they count towards the total messages sent and received for the month.
- Custom Messages: Custom messages are a lot like sending a text message. They can be sent to anyone, and they must be typed out. It’s easiest to type custom messages on a phone through the Garmin Earthmate app, but it can be done with some patience on the device.
What I love about it
- Durability: The inReach Mini has a rugged feel to it with rubber around the edges. Mine has some scuffs from hanging off my climbing harness, but it has held up better than I’d expect any other electronic to. I even tripped while trail running with it in the pocket of my carry bottle. I landed with all my weight on the inreach in rocks and it was perfectly fine.
- Size: The inReach Mini is smaller than a cell phone and easy to pack. It needs a clear line of sight to the sky to work properly, so I like that it’s small enough that I don’t notice it swinging if it’s clipped to my pack or climbing harness. I have plenty of room for it in my bike bag, and I’ll even carry it on trail runs where I have cell service just because it’s easier to carry than a phone.
- Device Compatibility: I also use a Garmin Fenix 7 watch and Edge 1030 Plus bike computer. The inReach Mini pairs with these and many other Garmin devices. I can send preset messages or trigger an SOS from my watch or bike computer without having to use the inReach as long as it’s paired and in range. I’ll often use my InReach instead of my phone to send a text while cycling because it’s easier than getting my phone out if I have a preset message that works.
- Versatility: For me, the inReach mini is a versatile device. I take it with me any time I’m in areas with questionable cell coverage. I’ve used it hiking, backcountry skiing, mountaineering, rock climbing, and even on drives that pass through remote areas or canyons with no phone service. I have also sent the inReach Mini to France with my parents just in case there was ever a problem with their international cell phone plan. Someone who is going on an expedition and needs to have more regular communication over a longer period of time might not think the inReach mini is as versatile as I do, and it is much more user-friendly when paired with a phone.
- Satellite Coverage: The inReach Mini uses the Iridium Satellite Network, which provides global satellite coverage.
- Weather Forecasts: The InReach Mini can fetch a local weather forecast, though it uses a text message. I’ve used this feature a few times in the alpine, and it works well. One time in particular I was climbing the route Flying Buttress on Mount Meeker in Rocky Mountain National Park when clouds started moving in. We pulled up a weather forecast and saw that no storms were predicted and were able to keep moving. The basic forcast is just an hourly forecast. Garmin offers an advanced and marine forecast, but there is a fee for using them.
- Battery Life: Garmin claims battery life of up to 24 days with 30-minute tracking in power saver mode. Because I don’t use the tracking features, it’s hard to say how accurate their claims are, but I rarely have to charge the device, and it has held a charge for months at a time in storage.
- Service Plan Pricing: Garmin’s service plans are reasonably priced for a two-way satellite communicator. The three service plans they offer are: Safety for $14.95/month, Recreation for $35/month, and Expedition for $64.94/month as of 8/19/22. I use the Safety plan, which includes unlimited preset messages, unlimited SOS and 10 text messages. Tracking is not included and costs $0.50 per point, and additional text messages also cost $0.50. I have never used more than three or four text messages. If Garmin offered a more basic plan that only included SOS and Preset Messages with no included additional messages, I would switch to that. Garmin’s service plans only activate the device and do not cover any costs that may occur during a rescue. Certain American Alpine Club memberships offer some rescue coverage as a benefit, and there are other forms of rescue coverage available. Garmin offers $100,000 of search and rescue coverage for $29 per year when activating the device.
Issues I’ve encountered
- Ease of Use: Basic features like sending a preset message or triggering an SOS are straightforward and only use one or two buttons. More involved tasks take a lot of navigating through menus. To use the inReach mini for more communication than sending a preset or quick message nearly requires pairing it with a phone via bluetooth. It is possible to type out a message on the device, but with three buttons and a small screen it’s not practical.
- Navigation: I did not buy the inReach Mini for navigation, but it requires a cell phone to navigate and runs off the Garmin Earthmate app. Maps are downloaded to the phone, so it’s a little better than having to stream a map, but I would not rely on the inReach Mini for navigation.
- Any Workaroungs?: As a workaround to paying for tracking points, I have my preset messages posted to MapShare. It’s not as accurate as getting pinged at regular intervals, but I can send regular messages if I want to and produce a rough track that family can follow from home.
- Garmin Explore & Garmin Earthmate: inReach devices are managed using Garmin Explore and Garmin Earthmate. Garmin explore is the website used to manage subscriptions and change preset messages, and it can manage most other settings too. Garmin Earthmate is the mobile app that interfaces with the inReach mini in the field. I don’t have any real issues with either of these, but I use other Garmin Devices, and it would be really nice if the inReach mini could run through Garmin Connect so I could manage them all in one place.
Favorite moment with this gear
The time I was most glad I was carrying the inReach was when I finished a 60 mile bike ride and found that my entire seat bag had fallen off. I had my phone, so I was able to call home for a ride, but my car keys, wallet, and fortunately InReach Mini were in the seat bag. I hadn’t needed the bag on my ride, and it could have been anywhere along the 60 mile loop, so I went home and tried to ping the inReach Mini. I was able to request the device’s location through my Garmin Explore account and waited anxiously.
It took over two hours to get a signal to the device and hear back, but I had a location. With the location in my phone, I drove back to look for the bag. My plan was to get as close to the point on the map as I could and then work out from there, but when I reached my starting point and looked down I was straddling the bag! It was about eight feet off a gravel road in a drainage ditch that was about three feet deep and 18 inches wide. I couldn’t believe I found the bag, and I was shocked that the inReach Mini managed to transmit such an accurate location so deep in a ditch from inside a bag. With the cost to replace a Subaru Key, not to mention the time it saved, my inReach has already more than paid for itself.
Value for the money vs. other options
To me, the inReach mini is the best value satellite communicator available. It can be hard to compare prices because there’s the cost of the device, the monthly or annual service fee, and how those vary from device to device. The inReach Mini is more expensive than its competitors, with the Spot Gen 4 costing $249.95, and the Zoeo Satellite Communicator available for $199.
Compared to the Spot Gen 4, the inReach Mini has the same monthly service fee at $14.95, but it can receive messages. The Spot Gen 4 can only send messages. The Zoleo Satellite Communicator is more comparable, as it can receive messages, but the monthly service fee is $20, so over time it becomes more expensive. This is only comparing monthly plans instead of annual options, which can save a little money and the most basic subscription across all three devices.
A rescue is never guaranteed, and pressing the SOS button on any device does not mean a helicopter will suddenly descend from above, but the inReach Mini is another tool in the kit. It’s small enough that it’s always worth carrying, and it gives me extra peace of mind when I’m in the backcountry alone. What’s more important is that it helps my family feel better, as I can check in throughout the day.