Garmin In-Reach Failure

ChasingOurTrunks

Well-known member
Hi folks,

I'm on my usual month-long journey around Canada, and am just in the last week or so of my trip. Sadly, it'll all be done within a cell network, which is not quite what I planned. I'm posting this up in case others are, like me, depending on a Garmin In-Reach Mini for emergency communications in the backcountry.

We have used this device successfully since purchasing it last fall, and I really liked it. We used it to track our route into camp last night, and did our usual check-in message after tossing it on the dash. I messaged my dad a bit, and then went to bed with it at about a 75% battery. This morning, we woke up to a bright orange brick; I assumed the battery had died so we charged it for the morning while we drove. At lunch, still nothing, so I swapped cables and connected it to a fully charged portable battery pack that I keep handy. An hour later, nada. I then looked up how to do a factory reset (power, down, and back buttons) but no result at all, and I've tried multiple cables (all of which worked to charge it before - it's why I've got them with me; the original cable as well as one from a Blackberry that does both charging and data transfer). After all these attempts were unsuccessful, I've stopped in at a campground with wifi just so I could download the Garmin Express app to see if I could hard-reset it from the computer. All failed; it's a non-working paperweight. And not a very good one of those, either, because it's so small and light!

For nearly $500 for the device, and $30 a month, I expected a bit better, so I figured I'd post this for two reasons:

1) Does anyone have any other suggestions on how to fix this thing? I've tried contacting Garmin but they are closed until Monday and advised that I don't call until Tuesday because "Monday is busy"; also given Monday is a holiday I doubt they will be available and may not be able to get a result until mid-week.

2) I figured I'd warn folks that this happened to me. We used a SPOT device for nearly 7 years, and never had a hardware failure like this even though it was much more "rode hard and put away wet".

I also note - on the website, one of the "top solutions" describes my issue so that tells me I'm not alone in having this experience.


EDIT

I'm throwing this into the thread because Garmin just sent me a replacement device. I was certainly irritated that my original device failed, and honestly that came through a bit in the above so I modified that a little too, because as the discussion below proves, redundancy is best for emergencies anyway and this thread has lots of great info. And frankly, my irritation was misplaced -- as I was transferring to the new device, I found a bunch of messages that I've sent over the years, including during one particularly tricky adventure where communication with friends and family made all the difference for me. The inReach was essential on that trip, and it worked like a charm. Re-reading the messages was a reminder that I've definitely gotten my money's worth out of this device, a thousand times over, and I'll continue to carry one - but I'll also have a backup SOS plan, just in case.
 
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m-l_johnny

Active member
I’m glad this didn’t fail on you when you needed it.
A sat emergency communicator is something I need to obtain, but still undecided on which one.
I’m not a fan of Garmin, their customer service is horrid. I have a GPS65 that does not accurately track distance. Called customer service, waited almost an hour on hold. Explained the problem and that I was using it while riding a bicycle.
The answer I was given was that the unit is intended for hiking. Really?!!!
 

Trail Talk

Well-known member
Bought an ACR ResQLink years ago and continue to depend on it. No subscription ever! Mandatory registration with the Canadian Beacon Registry means our signal goes directly to the national rescue centre and not through a commercial call centre. Battery change at year 5 was pricey ($200 Cdn) but came with recertification. We are also diligent with updating our travel plans and contacts on the beacon registry site to shorten verification delays should it be needed. Of course it only has the one function, no other features like messaging and tracking. I'm still of the mindset that other gadgets can provide those functions while the emergency beacon remains a dedicated device, although we have also rented a sat phone on occasion.
 

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deserteagle56

Adventurer
Don't write off the whole system because you happened to get a bad unit. I am part of a Search and Rescue unit and follow the scuttlebutt on Spot and InReach and other such units . Yours is the first I've heard of that simply died.

It's a mechanical gadget and like any other gadget, it can fail. If you go to some other similar gadget, doesn't mean it cannot fail also.
 

ChasingOurTrunks

Well-known member
I’m glad this didn’t fail on you when you needed it.
A sat emergency communicator is something I need to obtain, but still undecided on which one.
I’m not a fan of Garmin, their customer service is horrid. I have a GPS65 that does not accurately track distance. Called customer service, waited almost an hour on hold. Explained the problem and that I was using it while riding a bicycle.
The answer I was given was that the unit is intended for hiking. Really?!!!
I was a bit shocked that they didn't have customer support on weekends; I would have thought that some basic customer support came with the subscription. And for a business as big as Garmin to have on their website "Monday is usually too busy, call later in the week instead" -- My though tis perhaps they can hire more people by reinvesting some of that 18% profit and over a dollar earnings per share that they've posted at last earnings! But, it is what it is - Garmin isn't alone to be a bit "soft" on the service side of the equation these days, a lot of companies are in that boat it seems.

Bought an ACR ResQLink years ago and continue to depend on it. No subscription ever! Mandatory registration with the Canadian Beacon Registry means our signal goes directly to the national rescue centre and not through a commercial call centre. Battery change at year 5 was pricey ($200 Cdn) but came with recertification. We are also diligent with updating our travel plans and contacts on the beacon registry site to shorten verification delays should it be needed. Of course it only has the one function, no other features like messaging and tracking. I'm still of the mindset that other gadgets can provide those functions while the emergency beacon remains a dedicated device, although we have also rented a sat phone on occasion.
This looks like a good tool - I will look into it further. I think the Garmin is probably fine for "hey mom I'm in camp" type off-grid communication, and it's better than nothing in an emergency because I'm sure they are mostly reliable, but I'd be lying if I said I wasn't a bit spooked about this thing now. The fact is you never know when something will go wrong -- for instance, my wife broke her leg on one of our adventures in March - we were fine and had the tools and skill to stabilize until she got to the hospital (which was moments away -- this was a coffee stop on that particular adventure so we were close to civilization when it happened!) but these things happen, and we might need to call for help, and I can only imagine how much more stressful things would be if our Garmin failed us in an emergency.


Don't write off the whole system because you happened to get a bad unit. I am part of a Search and Rescue unit and follow the scuttlebutt on Spot and InReach and other such units . Yours is the first I've heard of that simply died.

It's a mechanical gadget and like any other gadget, it can fail. If you go to some other similar gadget, doesn't mean it cannot fail also.
Totally agree with you. No tech solution is 100%, and we have plenty of redundancies for these things -- But, there's value in having expectations managed accordingly too. The Garmin In-reach promised a robust device, an e-ink screen, light on battery, and basic programming functionality in a compact package. It's touted as a device that is as a "simple and basic" solution (as much as one can get in a device that talks to space) specifically to ensure it's robustness so it'll work in an emergency. That's not been my experience as this one failed with relatively light use. When I bought mine, I asked the Garmin rep specifically what to do if things went haywire, and was told "you can always do a factory reset, you might end up not having some functionality but you'll be able to call for help". The confidence was inspiring, but when I encountered this situation the factory reset didn't work and that confidence is not there anymore! And, while of course every device can fail, the fact that this problem appears as a "top solution" on the Garmin website suggests that perhaps this isn't an isolated thing with the In-Reach devices.

I've also heard issues with the SPOT devices not sending messages each time (as in, sometimes failing to send a check-in) but they alert when they do that and I've never heard of them failing completely. As you said, nothing is perfect so I'm sure there are some out there.

Likely the best option is one of each - a SPOT and an In-Reach -- and use the in-reach for day to day but have the SPOT as an emergency backup. That's expensive, and I'll look into the other options out there like the beacon suggested above, but I think if I truly needed an SOS response and my in-reach failed, the cost of having both devices would be a bargain at ten times the price.
 
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ChasingOurTrunks

Well-known member
By way of a further update - I spent a bit of time on Garmin support. No solutions for my device, and my device was in warranty (but barely - the 1-year is up in September!), and they are replacing it. The replacement will only have a 90 day warranty, so if this happens again in 6 months it's a much more expensive proposition, but the replacement will be en route shortly. I can't say I'm thrilled with this device in general, but anecdotes do not tell the whole story or how likely this is to happen to others, but for those reading, I would suggest some redundancy planning if your current SOS plan relies entirely on Garmin.
 
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deserteagle56

Adventurer
but for those reading, I would suggest some redundancy planning if your current SOS plan relies entirely on Garmin.
Which is why your idea of running a SPOT and an InReach is a good one. For years I packed around an Iridium satellite phone. It worked great - except for two times when it would not connect to the Iridium system. Both times it was because Iridium had made some change to their system which my phone was incompatible with - but they did not bother to notify users of the change.

So things can happen to any of these devices. Best to have a backup.
 

ChasingOurTrunks

Well-known member
I just spent a bit of time looking at the devices that @Trail Talk suggested; the exact one is discontinued but there are others.


I think this is even better than the Spot/In Reach combo; I think the In-Reach for sat comms and emergencies, but with the GPS-enabled PLB as a backup, is probably the best way to go for me. It's much cheaper since there's no subscription required, and it works everywhere in the world. This is a much more robust solution by the looks of it, and I'm very grateful to Trail Talk for mentioning it as I wasn't previously familiar with them.
 

SDDiver5

Expedition Leader
Have you looked into Starlink?

Strange problem with your Garmin. Maybe it got wet or something?
 

Alloy

Well-known member
I just spent a bit of time looking at the devices that @Trail Talk suggested; the exact one is discontinued but there are others.


I think this is even better than the Spot/In Reach combo; I think the In-Reach for sat comms and emergencies, but with the GPS-enabled PLB as a backup, is probably the best way to go for me. It's much cheaper since there's no subscription required, and it works everywhere in the world. This is a much more robust solution by the looks of it, and I'm very grateful to Trail Talk for mentioning it as I wasn't previously familiar with them.
PLB are not the savior people think they are. The accuracy of a 5 watt signal on 406MHz is 5km / 3 miles vs. GPS it is yards/meters. With no subscription thousands are never registered. This results in a huge (problem) number of false alarms and a choice to be made about which ones are traced. My buddy activated his sitting by the campfire drunk and didn't figure what he'd done unil the next morning. Police/SAR didn't show up.

An option to ACR is the Ocean Signal resqueME PLB1. It has a 7 year battery and a 7 year warranty.

With the 2 way coms of a satellite communicator (InReach/Zoleo/Somewear/Yellowbrick) the type of emergency can be confirmed rather than someone thinking it's another drunk guy sitting by a campfire.

I've been looking at Somewear Labs. The device is $350 and the subscription is only $100/year.

Quite often the GPS signal for my InReach (4 1/2 years old) Mini is blocked by trees/mountains (same as our Starlink) so the InReach is set to send messages only (via Iridium satellites ) if the GPS satellites are not available.

I've been told that if possible before pushing the SOS move to a location with clear sky, stay in that location and don't turn it off. By staying the same location and not turning it off the device only triangulate/transmits 1 location. This is more and more important the worse the (terrain and weather) conditions are. The increased accuracy cand save SAR hours.

To help SAR visually pin point a location I carry (yellow, red and orange are not distinct from fall leaf colors) a 6'x6' bright blue cloth in the truck and my rain jacket when hiking/trail clearing is bright blue.
1659670916165.png
 

Trail Talk

Well-known member
PLB are not the savior people think they are. The accuracy of a 5 watt signal on 406MHz is 5km / 3 miles vs. GPS it is yards/meters.
Your comments had me scratching my head and checking the specs of my unit. When activated, it transmits GPS coordinates on 406MHz to satellite receivers and further broadcasts a homing signal at 121.5MHz to aid rescue units arriving onscene. Its claimed accuracy is within 100 metres or less. This is the same for newer ACR units and I assume other PLBs with GPS capability.

Thanks for reinforcing the need to properly register and update your travel plans with the beacon registry agency. IMO this is a critical part of trip preparation to ensure that, should you need to activate the beacon, search and rescue are confident your signal is legitimate. Still, in some of the places we go, and depending on weather, I know that a response may be days away! It infuriates us to read the too-frequent accounts of hikers in the mountains who get lost and are not prepared to spend a night out so press the button or dial 911.
 
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Herbie

Rendezvous Conspirator
Your comments had me scratching my head and checking the specs of my unit.
Yeah, it's a bit of a red herring. Technically there used to be 406MHz PLBs that did NOT include GPS - it's not required to be part of the standard. That said, due to the explosion of smart-phones, GPS chips are now cheap as, well, chips, so every modern PLB includes one. They transmit the GPS coordinates along with their beacon signal.
 

ChasingOurTrunks

Well-known member
Have you looked into Starlink?

Strange problem with your Garmin. Maybe it got wet or something?
Good idea - Starlink as an internet service is interesting but it's not viable for us at the moment - both in terms of availability, and the size of the unit. But, we are considering it for a larger project in the future, and it's only a matter of time before tech like that gets "downscaled" to a more portable (i.e. carried by a person, like an Iridium phone) version I think.

My inReach didn't get wet really -- maybe a few rain drops from time to time, but certainly no submerging. I used to have my SPOT device on my motorbike handlebars through rain, sleet, hail, and snow (yeah, snow!) and I think all of these devices are meant to be robust enough for that kind of thing, but I never came close to those limits with my InReach.

Is your unit updated?
.
Yep, before every trip I update it as a matter of course. I initially thought the update may have caused the problem, hence why I tried to do a total reset, but that wouldn't work either.

PLB are not the savior people think they are. The accuracy of a 5 watt signal on 406MHz is 5km / 3 miles vs. GPS it is yards/meters. With no subscription thousands are never registered. This results in a huge (problem) number of false alarms and a choice to be made about which ones are traced. My buddy activated his sitting by the campfire drunk and didn't figure what he'd done unil the next morning. Police/SAR didn't show up.
Totally true from what I read - the need to register these devices is critical, as @Trail Talk said. But, the one I linked is GPS capable and is supposed to get rescuers to within 100 meters, which is pretty darn good. I also really like your signal idea which is another perk of that PLB I linked - it has both a white strobe and an infrared strobe to aid rescuers in locating you.
 

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