Garmin inReach Mini Review: No More Missed Calls

brycercampbell

Active member
Hey, I've been using my Garmin inReach Mini for over 8 months now and wanted to share my thoughts. I purchased the unit, and pay for it monthly. The article is pretty upbeat with not much negative to say, because I've genuinely had zero bad experiences (except for an Iridium outage a few days ago?). I'm writing this from the point of view of an average consumer who did a few hours of research and comparison before purchasing, with a basic understanding of GPS and satellite networks. Enjoy.

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Do you answer calls from unknown numbers? I certainly don’t. Neither did that hiker who got lost in Lake County, CO a few days ago. Authorities tried to call him, he received the calls, yet he didn’t answer them because he didn’t know who was calling!

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You never want to be lost in the woods relying on cell service. With the amount of readily available, and relatively inexpensive, satellite communicators on the market, you don’t have to. More importantly, when you lose cell service, you need to have a backup.

Satellite communicators come in different forms, though some of the more popular options are the Garmin InReach line and the Somewear Labs Global Hotspot. Both run on the Iridium satellite network, and when I was looking at purchasing a satellite communicator, it came down to the inReach Mini and the Somewear Hotspot, and I’m sure others are in the same situation.

I’ve been using the inReach Mini for almost a year now. Firstly, why did I choose the Mini over the Somewear Hotspot?

Although the Hotspot is less expensive, it is dependent on a separate device — your phone. It has no independent functionality. In a scenario where I am using satellite communication to reach someone, I want to have redundancy. The Garmin inReach Mini can be used as a hotspot — through the Earthmate app — or as a standalone communicator. That made the increased price worth it for me. If you are comfortable relying exclusively on your phone, then perhaps the Somewear Labs Hotspot is the way to go for you.

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With that in mind, it’s fitting that I discuss the Mini’s durability first. Frankly, the device is pretty much invincible. I either have it clipped to a piece of my trucks dashboard, banging around as I cruise over terrible washboard roads, or on the front of my hiking pack, where I have taken a few tumbles. The device is practically unscathed except for a few scratches on the rubbery material that it’s built out of. It is IPX7 waterproof rated, which means it can withstand 30 minutes under 3ft of water. That also means it’s pretty well sealed against dust. All the ports on the device have flaps that plug them tightly.

My only concern, longterm, is battery degradation. It happens to all electronics over time, though in the past year that I’ve had the device, I’ve had no problems. Unfortunately, Garmin will not replace the battery in the InReach, nor is it user accessible. A questionable choice on such a durable and (hopefully) long lasting device.

On the topic of the battery, so far the battery life has been impressive — though a bit less than advertised. I have my Mini set up to send a tracking point every 10 minutes, Garmin claims with that setup it can last 90 hours. I’ve found it to be closer to 72 hours. Simply change that 10 minute tracking time to 30 minutes, and the battery life expands exponentially.

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The inReach Mini can also log your location locally for later upload every 1, 2, or 5 minutes. This is separate from the tracking points that are uploaded for friends or family to view. They can later be uploaded to MapShare through the InReach Sync program — though I rarely use this feature.

As I’ve mentioned before, there is a companion app for the Mini. It’s called Earthmate, and technically speaking, it’s impressive. I’ve had no bugs or errors or crashes, it loads quick, and has a pretty simply UI. If using the app, the inReach acts more as a hotspot rather than a satellite communicator itself. I really enjoy having the option to use my phone in partnership with the device or use the device on its own. It’s far easier to send messages through the app than letter-by-letter with the Mini, and the weather forecast (see below) is much easier to read.

The inReach Mini can provide you a 3 day weather forecast through the satellite connection at the cost of 1 text message for a basic weather forecast, or $1.00 for a “premium” forecast. I’ve found the basic forecast to work adequately.

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But perhaps the biggest reason you’re considering an inReach, and ultimately the reason why I bought mine, is because of the SOS feature. In the event of something catastrophic, you lift the cap and press the SOS button. You’ll then be connected to the Garmin-powered International Emergency Response Coordination Center. A fancy name, but in practical terms, a dispatch center that contacts the appropriate authorities and can communicate with you both ways. This is NOT available without a subscription.

As for pricing, the unit itself cost me $350. That seems to be what it’s going for now, but with Black Friday and Christmas, you might be able to snag it for less.

There are 3 different subscription plans: Safety, Recreation, and Expedition.

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Without a subscription, the unit is basically dead weight. Make sure you factor in the cost of the subscription when deciding whether to purchase the inReach Mini or competing devices.

Personally, I use the Recreation plan on a month-to-month basis. When I am not traveling, I pause the subscription. For the Recreation plan, you have to use the Mini over 8 months to save money vs the Annual subscription.

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In summary, whenever I go hiking, camping, or go anywhere for an extended period without cell service, I take my inReach Mini. Frankly, the only downside to the unit is the subscription cost. In my mind, there are levels of importance in your safety equipment. There are mandatory things, such as a knife, shovel, and a first aid kit. Then there is the second layer, things that you can go without but will make your life much easier or safer. I think the inReach, and all satellite communicators, fall into that second category. If you don’t have a way to communicate outside of cell signal, it’s not worth cancelling your next camping trip. But it is worth thinking about sooner rather than later.

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Screenshot from @Bill Ruttan

Since writing this article a few days ago, I saw on another thread that there was a messaging outage on Oct. 25 due to the Iridium network. I've never seen this happen before, and hopefully it doesn't happen again. But definitely worth mentioning.

Thanks for reading.
 

ace944gs

Member
Awesome review! I'm in the market for a sat device and will be making a purchase hopefully during one of the upcoming sale times you mention... great to read this type of first hand non-affiliated/ ad supported review... thank you!
 

brycercampbell

Active member
Awesome review! I'm in the market for a sat device and will be making a purchase hopefully during one of the upcoming sale times you mention... great to read this type of first hand non-affiliated/ ad supported review... thank you!
Glad I could help!
To limit such degradation I only charge the battery of my “MINI” to 80% (unit is used only for periodic communication and I carry a separate battery ‘power bank’).
Smart! I also carry an Anker battery bank, around 10,000mAh. I've never had to use it, but it's there if I need it. Charging to 80% is the way to go, for sure
 

pluton

Adventurer
I bought a different inReach device (Montana 700i) in March 2021, and I've been pleased with the inReach part of it. As with the satphone for 8 years before, I haven't needed to use it, but it has worked every time I've tested it.
 

4x4tripping

Adventurer
Thanks for the review of the "mini"

I did have too god experiences during my transafrica and trip in south america with the bigger unit inreach explorer. Did work well too! It is nice to have a backup plan out of cell coverage...
 

DaveInDenver

Luddite
The organization that handles SOS calls is GEOS IERCC and isn't necessarily exclusive to InReach. Although, Garmin did buy them in 2020. GEOS has historically handled SOS activations for Globalstar/SPOT along with most other SENDs like Zoleo, Skymate Mazu and Inmarsat IsatPhone2, Iridium GO.

It's important to note that Garmin dropped offering Medevac insurance that GEOS used to provide as part of the subscription. So as I understand it you now have to buy it through myGEOS as a policy.

https://my-geos.com/

They also did a major revision of their SAR terms and condition in April, 2021, that removed some potentially significant coverage. Anyone who's using or relying on Garmin/GEOS IERCC should check that what you assume is covered really is covered.

https://www8.garmin.com/iercc/Standard_SAR_TC.pdf

I happen to own a SPOT and as of September 1, 2021, they moved their SOS coordination and emergency/travel risk management to FocusPoint International. Same caveat, now is a good time to verify what happens when SOS is pushed and that you'll get what you think you'll get in the places you're going and what the potential costs might be.

https://www.focuspointintl.com/

https://www.findmespot.com/en-us/spot-focuspoint-partnership

Another significant data point is ACR for their Bivystick (an Iridium SEND) uses Global Rescue for SAR coordination instead of GEOS or FocusPoint. ACR themselves also sell SARSAT-COSPAS PLBs, activation of those are handled through NOAA, USCG and USAF ARFCC (Air Force Rescue Coordination Center) rather than a commercial organization.

ACR has a long history in this field, I'm sure they know what they're doing, too. But you still need to understand what you do and don't get. Global Rescue sells policies to cover SAR costs you might incur above just the SOS activation.

https://partner.globalrescue.com/bivy/
 
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The organization that handles SOS calls is GEOS IERCC and isn't necessarily exclusive to InReach. Although, Garmin did buy them in 2020. GEOS has historically handled SOS activations for Globalstar/SPOT along with most other SENDs like Zoleo, Skymate Mazu and Inmarsat IsatPhone2, Iridium GO.

It's important to note that Garmin dropped offering Medevac insurance that GEOS used to provide as part of the subscription. So as I understand it you now have to buy it through myGEOS as a policy.

https://my-geos.com/

They also did a major revision of their SAR terms and condition in April, 2021, that removed some potentially significant coverage. Anyone who's using or relying on Garmin/GEOS IERCC should check that what you assume is covered really is covered.

https://www8.garmin.com/iercc/Standard_SAR_TC.pdf

I happen to own a SPOT and as of September 1, 2021, they moved their SOS coordination and emergency/travel risk management to FocusPoint International. Same caveat, now is a good time to verify what happens when SOS is pushed and that you'll get what you think you'll get in the places you're going and what the potential costs might be.

https://www.focuspointintl.com/

https://www.findmespot.com/en-us/spot-focuspoint-partnership

Another significant data point is ACR for their Bivystick (an Iridium SEND) uses Global Rescue for SAR coordination instead of GEOS or FocusPoint. ACR themselves also sell SARSAT-COSPAS PLBs, activation of those are handled through NOAA, USCG and USAF ARFCC (Air Force Rescue Coordination Center) rather than a commercial organization.

ACR has a long history in this field, I'm sure they know what they're doing, too. But you still need to understand what you do and don't get. Global Rescue sells policies to cover SAR costs you might incur above just the SOS activation.

https://partner.globalrescue.com/bivy/
What does the acronym “SEND” (as in SENDs) stand for?
 

DaveInDenver

Luddite
I didn’t know either but found this:

That's right, sorry to use undefined terms. The acronym SEND is the term for an RTCM standard these devices mostly adhere to, which was forked from the PLB standard.

RTCM is Radio Technical Commission for Maritime Services: https://www.rtcm.org/

PLB is Personal Locator Beacon used with the dedicated SOS satellite system: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/International_Cospas-Sarsat_Programme

The SEND devices use a general purpose backbone such as Iridium or Globalstar sending short data burst messages that notify someone. The SOS function isn't fundamentally different than any other message to the constellation. The difference is how the message is handled on the ground. Think of them like a high priority text message. The chain between the InReach or SPOT or whatever could be an SOS or a check-in or just telemetry data from a remote sensing site.

The RCTM standard does consider importance. It's like dialing 9-1-1 on a cell phone. Once you get an operator you're handled in high priority but the phone and cell system doesn't really know a 9-1-1 from any other call. I mean, it does sort of since it will give GPS data and works regardless if the phone has a SIM or not. But basically if you haven't got signal to make a regular call punching in 9-1-1 doesn't work any better.

This is slightly different than a PLB. When you activate one of those it's a dedicated signal to the satellites that prompt a response. This is more like pulling the fire alarm in a building. The whole communication chain is designed to do just one thing - tell someone that you need help and where you are. It's not really good at doing anything else but does the SOS well.

The differences are nuanced. But one thing is battery life and transmit power, which are interrelated. A PLB is a 5 watt transmitter and the battery lasts 5 years before you should have it replaced. It's designed to be tested some number of times and still definitely work for an activation. Compare to an InReach or SPOT, which are 1.5 watts and 0.6 watts respectively, and the batteries in them need routine charging or replacement and there's still no guarantee that they're strong enough for an activation so you should really carry a power pack or spares.
 
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