Home / Product Reviews / DeLorme inReach Explorer Satellite Communicator Review

DeLorme inReach Explorer Satellite Communicator Review

reviewed by:
Philip Werner
Version:
1
Price:
379.00

Reviewed by:
Rating:
5
On November 18, 2014
Last modified:August 18, 2015

Summary:

The DeLorme inReach Explorer is a satellite communicator and GPS tracking device that can sends and receive text messages, confirms message delivery, can send an SOS message for help, and track your route and GPS waypoints, even when you are out of range of cell phone towers. It beats the pants off of the SPOT Gen 3, in terms of message delivery reliability and the fact that you are not limited to pre-canned OK messages.

Wearing the DeLorme inReach Explorer on my shoulder strap in the Royce Range
Wearing the DeLorme inReach Explorer on my shoulder strap in the Royce Range

The DeLorme inReach Explorer is a satellite communicator and GPS tracking device that sends and receive text messages, can send an SOS message for help, and track your route and GPS waypoints, even when you are out of range of cell phone towers and wireless networks. I’ve been using one since late summer on all of my backpacking trips and day hikes and it’s a big step up from the SPOT Gen 3 satellite messenger, which provides a subset of the inReach Explorer’s capabilities and still suffers from periodic message transmission failures.

In the following review, I’ll explain the major benefits, weaknesses, and quirks of the Delorme inReach Explorer, in addition to explaining the ins and outs and weakness of its different subscription pricing tiers. While the technical capabilities of the inReach Explorer are very impressive, I believe the annual subscription costs of the device still put it out of the reach of most recreational users who would use it year round. But, I’ll let you decide whether the extra cost is worth it to you.

Typing a custom message on the DeLorme inReach Explorer
Typing an ad hoc message on the DeLorme inReach Explorer

Two-Way Text Messaging

The DeLorme inReach Explorer provides fully interactive, two-way satellite based text messaging up to 160 characters in length. There are three kinds of text messages supported on the Explorer:

  • Ad hoc messages, up to 160 characters in length, that can be sent to anyone with an email address or cell phone number, including search and rescue responders
  • Preset messages (up to 3) with predefined recipients  that include GPS coordinates if GPS satellite connectivity is available
  • Quick text messages, which obviate the need to type common messages or responses

While there is a full keyboard on the Explorer and predictive text completion is provided, it can take a while to compose a message with the buttons on the device’s faceplate. Therefore, all Preset and Quick text messages are defined in the inReach web portal, which is also used define new routes, view waypoints and tracks, review one’s message history. manage address book contacts, social media accounts, billing and payment information.

One of the best features on the inReach Explorer is audible message confirmation. I’ve set up the Explorer to make an audible chirp when the message I’ve sent has been successfully relayed to the recipients email address or cell phone. That chirp sounds anywhere from 30 seconds to 10 minutes after I send a message, but knowing that it’s been sent and not lost (which occurs periodically with SPOTs) gives me enormous piece of mind.

Two-way communication with Search and Rescue
Two-way communication with Search and Rescue

SOS

The two-way text messaging capabilities of the inReach Explorer are even more useful in an emergency situation because you can communicate with rescuers, providing them with information about your condition and receive instructions from them about how to stabilize your circumstances. Even more importantly, the two-way communication makes it possible for you to use the inReach to call-in emergency services for your hiking partner, guiding client, or a casualty that you come across during a hike, while assuring your family that you are not the victim yourself. You can’t do that with any other satellite communicator or personal locator beacon sold today.

Activating the SOS function on the inReach is simple but nearly impossible to do accidentally. To engage the SOS button, you need to unlock it using a separate button at the bottom of the device before you can push and activate an SOS signal. If you still manage to activate an SOS prematurely, you can cancel the SOS alert without requiring a SAR call-out by choosing the cancel SOS option on the two-way message history screen.

A short tracking point interval will fill the inReach device's internal memory capacity more quickly, but is required if you want a very accurate track and accurate measure of trip distance.
A short tracking point interval will fill the inReach device’s internal memory capacity more quickly, but is required if you want a very accurate track and accurate measure of trip distance.

Tracking

It’s possible to track and share the track you take on a hike, using the inReach Explorer, with another person in near real-time. This is handy if you want other people to be able to follow your journey using the web-based inReach Mapshare capability,  look up your location to see where you are along a predefined route, lets you follow your track back to your starting point, or map a new route, say off-trail, so you can see where you travelled. This tracking feature is also useful if you’ve missed a previously agreed-to check-in time because you’ve had an accident and can’t signal for help, since rescuers can follow your track to your current location.

However, the accuracy of your track depends on the frequency in which you log track points in the Explorer. For example, if you are mapping a new route instead of following an existing trail, you’ll want to set the log interval to one second, so you record your precise location frequently. A one second log interval is also necessary if you want an accurate estimate of the distance you’ve travelled. I’ve experienced 25-50% mileage discrepancies in the inReach trip computer compared to paper maps when recording my tracks with the longer default 1 minute log interval (which trades better battery life for decreased accuracy.)

When tracking, you also need to define the send interval in which your logged track points are sent to the Delorme web site. If someone is following your route closely, you’ll want to set the sending interval to be more frequent. If you’re following a predefined route plan on a trail, a less frequent send interval is probably sufficient and will also extend the device’s battery life.

Drawing routes is easy on the DeLorme inReach web site and includes the ability to switch between topo, satellite imagery, and road views
Drawing routes is easy on the DeLorme inReach web site and includes the ability to switch between topo, satellite imagery, and road views

Route Planning

The inReach web site includes a basic route planning capability that lets you define your own routes, save them and synch them with your inReach device so you can refer to them in the field. GPX and KML imports and exports are also supported, although  I’ve experienced interoperability issues with Caltopo, so your mileage may vary.

Predefined Maps synched to the inReach Explorer
Predefined Routes synched to the inReach Explorer

In addition to creating and saving routes, you can create and name waypoints, and sort or hide them using various map filters. Beyond that, the functionality of this mapping tool is very rudimentary. There is no way to search for place names using the tool, so you need to zoom out and manually scroll to new start points, and the maps provided, at least for New Hampshire’s White Mountains, are significantly out of date when compared to DeLorme’s printed state Gazetters. That kind of thing really bugs me.

GPS Mapping

While it is possible to plot routes on the DeLorme web site and synch them to your inReach Explorer, the device does not have enough memory to store a base map, so you can’t really use it as a full-fledged GPS. Instead, the Explorer can only display your predefined route and track on a white screen in the absence of any topo information although you can “navigate” to a point on your route to see bearing and distance information reported on
the Compass page and an orange route highlight displayed on the Map page

Route and Track available on the inReach Explorer
Route and Track available on the inReach Explorer

It is possible to see a topographic map of your route and track if you pair your inReach Explorer with DeLorme’s free Earthmate iPhone or Android app via Bluetooth. The Earthmate mapping app can also be used to configure the Explorer device, send and receive text messages, and display data stored on it, providing a better interface than the clunky buttons and virtual keyboard on the Explorer device.

Map and Track in the DeLorme Earthmate app on an Android Phone
Map and Track in the DeLorme Earthmate app on an Android Phone

By using Bluetooth, you can tuck the inReach away and just use your phone to display your route and track. Of course, the downside is that you drain both devices’ batteries more quickly.

Personally, I’d much rather own a full-fledged GPS unit with accurate maps that had integrated two-way text messaging capabilities than relying on a separate cell phone app and a satellite-enabled device to navigate. Having two independently powered  devices significantly increases the chance of system failure if one of the devices runs out of power, is damaged, or fails to operate.

Recharging the inReach Explorer
Recharging the inReach Explorer

Battery Life

The inReach Explorer has a built-in battery which must be recharged using a USB compatible power source or battery. Battery life is typically 4-5 days if you are careful about the tracking intervals you use, you keep the screen brightness at a low-level, you turn the device off at night, and configure the screen to automatically lock after a short interval.

When I asked DeLorme why they opted for a non-replaceable battery over replaceable ones (say AA Lithium batteries), they explained that using an embedded battery enabled them to make the device smaller and lighter weight, while improving the power management functions they could build because the power source was self contained. Furthermore, DeLorme felt that advances in battery pack and solar rechargers have advanced enough that consumers can carry sufficient external power to top off the internal battery pack as needed, while cutting down on the environmental footprint created by using disposable batteries.

DeLorme Service Plans - 2014
DeLorme Service Plans – 2014

Subscription Plans

DeLorme offers a number of different subscription plans for inReach Explorer users shown above, including discounted annual contracts and so-called Freedom Plans which let you purchase inReach services on a month-by-month basis. If you are just interested in using the inReach explorer to send pre-canned text messages and SOS message, then one of the two safety plans are a good deal, particularly since you can tell when inReach messages have been delivered to their intended recipients (unlike the SPOT Gen 3 where messages periodically fail and no confirmation is provided).

However, if you also want to use the tracking capabilities provided by the explorer, which are handy if you can’t send an SOS message because you are incapacitated or you want to create new GPS tracks by walking them, you need to upgrade to one of the more expensive plans which provide unlimited tracking points and tracking points logging at a faster. more accurate rate. This where the inReach becomes too expensive for recreational users, like myself, which is a pity, because this device has so much to offer even with its limited mapping and GPS navigational capabilities.

Recommendation

The DeLorme inReach Explorer is a satellite communicator and GPS tracking device that can sends and receive text messages, confirms message delivery, can send an SOS message for help, and track your route and GPS waypoints, even when you are out of range of cell phone towers. It beats the pants off of the SPOT Gen 3, in terms of message delivery reliability and the fact that you are not limited to pre-canned OK messages. The cost of satellite service however, is about twice that the SPOT Gen 3 ($300 vs $150) on an annual basis, although limited duration plans on a month-by-month basis to defray annual fees. If you are travelling overseas or deep into the backcountry, I’d recommend that you take a DeLorme inReach Explorer to ensure that you can communicate with your loved ones and give them peace of mind. It really has no equal.

Likes

  • Two-way satellite text is very handy for communicating outside of cell phone range
  • Preset messages enable fast dispatch of routine check-in communication
  • Satellite signal is strong enough to beam through tent walls and backpack fabric
  • Website portal is easy to use and easy to synch with
  • Audible message delivery notification
  • Never experienced a dropped or undelivered message
  • Mapshare lets friends and family follow your progress
  • Digital compass can be set to a true or magnetic bearing

Dislikes

  • Topographic maps are only available in Earthmate cell phone app
  • Service fees are too expensive for year-round recreational use. About twice the expense of an SPOT Gen 3.
  • Barometric altimeter. If you know the GPS coordinate why not look up the elevation?

Manufacturer Specs

  • Includes digital compass, barometric altimeter and accelerometer
  • Includes an odometer and displays useful trip statistics while in the field, such as trip time, max speed, moving average, trip distance
  • 100 hours of battery life in 10-minute tracking mode with a clear view to the sky. Extended tracking mode can extend battery life even more for long-haul trips.
  • Color screen and virtual keyboard with predictive text for standalone two-way messaging
  • GPS accuracy to +/- 5 meters
  • Water rating: IP67 (withstands incidental water exposure; tested for submersion at one meter for 30 minutes).
  • Rugged, dustproof and impact-resistant (Mil-STD-810G for shock; IP67 for dust).
  • Impact-resistant (Mil-STD-810G for shock)
  • Internal lithium polymer battery (2,450 mAh capacity at 3.7 V)
  • SOS messages are received by GEOS, a worldwide emergency response coordination center with 24/7/365 staffing
  • Weight: 6.7 ounces
  • Email, SOS and tracking functions work anywhere in the world; SMS availability may vary by country.
  • 100% global coverage via the Iridium satellite network, which is the world’s furthest-reaching satellite communications network.
  • Maintains a satellite signal lock even in difficult GPS environments and embeds precise location coordinates in sent messages.
  • Pairs via Bluetooth with Apple iOS, Android, or Kindle Fire with bluetooth (smartphones and tablets)
  • A contract-free (minimum 30-day commitment) or annual satellite subscription plan is required for use; plans start at $11.95 per month.

Disclaimer: Delorme loaned Philip Werner an inReach Explorer with an unlimited service plan for this review.

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37 comments

    • When I contacted DeLorme and suggested wather forecasting as a feature request, I got the standard “we are working on lots of new features that I can’t talk about” response. If you read that thread on BPL you’ll see that there are limitations to the services provided, but still it’s a plum, if you can get a weather forecast and figure out what all of the raw data means (it’s very hard to interpret). That said, it still doesn’t give me enough justification to spend $300 a year for the recreational plan.

  1. i use the InReach SE on true remote travel canoe and winter camping trips. Performance including battery life has been excellent. However, on these trips, I don’t use the tracking feature. The device is shut off otherwise. I do send out an email to a list of contacts including myself at the end of each day. With the annual plan, I can move service levle up to the expedition level when needed or drop it down and even suspend service to manage expenses. I have had the device since 2013.

    Note, i find the syncing a pain. I tried use an Apple ipad and this messed thing up royally. Subsequently I was told to do it through a PC.

    • Hi Paul,
      I’m leaving on a very remote canoe trip very soon and considering the inreach. When you only turned it once a day, how long did the battery last? Did you also send out your position once a day?
      Cheers! Gab

  2. Since i do a lot of solo trips in remote areas of northern ontario the SE that i have works great. Also gives peace of mind to friends/family when i check in at night on facebook so they know i am ok and can track me if needed with tracking points every couple of hours.

    As for the price i find that it is not too bad even though the pricing is higher in Canada than the US. However i also dont keep it active on a plan year round as it is normaly only used for the summer months so inactivate it for the rest of the year for 5$/month and just reactivate it when needed

  3. Thank you for this. I’ve spent many hours the last week researching SPOT Gen 3, SPOT Connect, and InReach. A couple brothers in law and I plan a remote canoe/kayak expedition down the Lower Canyons of the Rio Grande–over 80 miles of continuous canyon, serious whitewater, no cell coverage, extremely difficult rescue scenarios, and a 400 mile round trip for our ever patient wives to pick us up from where they will be camped in Big Bend. I want to be able to let them know we are OK, and when to come get us.

    From SPOT Gen 3 or Connect, I can give the OK signal and a pre programmed “Should finish tomorrow. I’ll send another message like this if we’re delayed.” I don’t know how much 2 way communication I’d use but more capability is better than less.

    The SPOT service is about half the cost of InReach but I can suspend my InReach account when not using it. I can rent either but the rental would cover about half the cost of the unit so I might as well get one.

    I still haven’t decided what’s best for me.

    • The inReach is useful if you only use it occassionally. I’d probably prefer it over the SPOT Gen 3 if I used it like you intend to or for international travel. I really like the 2 communication feature and confirmation that the message was sent, but I need it a 12 month plan and it’s simply too expensive for me at that price.

    • I have heard nothing but terrible things about the SPOT connect! I have the gen 2 spot, it works OK but does drop the odd signal. Just need to hit it more than once to be sure.

      • That’s exactly my approach with the Gen 3 (which is still much better than the Gen 2). Just send a couple of signals at slightly different times and one of them always seems to get through. Plus train the person who receives the ok messages not to panic if they don’t get a message for a day or two.

  4. Does it function as a PLB as well?

      • This is in no way a PLB. NOT a PLB. Has no radio beacon at all. It only works through the commercial sat (iridium) and cannot be used as a homing device. A real PLB like its maritime counterparts EBPRB sends its signal to SARSAT and is monitored in the U.S. by NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) and the AFRCC (Air Force Rescue Coordination Center). PLB’s like also sends a local radio signal which can be homed into by ground SAR folks with their receivers.

      • It’s a PLB connected to a private network rather than a public radio network. The private network calls SAR in addition to sending messages to your family. Frankly, I’d want both. If you’ve ever tried to call in SAR by phone it can be a real keystone cops while they get their interagency act together. I’d want my family to know that I needed help so they could help “manage” my case when it falls through the cracks between the state police, fish and game, and multiple local volunteer SAR teams.

  5. I’ve used the SPOT 2 and the Delorme Inreach Explorer (not in the same year) for my annual John Muir Trail hike. Hands down, I prefer the Delorme for the following reasons: (a) I know 100% the transmission went through; (b) I get the free weather forecasts (there are two services, a free one good for only USA, a for-fee one available worldwide), which I find very useful for figuring out if I should adjust my mileage schedule for the day or not; (c) I am able to communicate to not only the outside world but to other hikes who have the same device (great way for lead and sweep to communicate if both have the device); (d) plans are flexible, and I’ve adjusted my plan before/after the hike; (e) I was able to upload GPX files to the device; (f) also provides me with altimeter which is useful; (g) the interface with the smartphone (Iphone) was great; (h) no limit on number of email addresses messages can go to; (i) ability to update address book in field; (j) ability to communicate with packer to communicate in the packer meetup for supplies that those hikers in the group who have dropped out, that the packer does not bring in their supplies and to confirm exactly when/where we meet the packer in light of a storm situation. I used a solar charger to keep it and my Iphone charged while on the hike. No problem with the batteries in it, the charge life was quite long.

    • Hi Marti124 – how many days did you go without charging? and which solar charger did you use? I would think if you are moving a lot hiking the solar only works at base camp which may be too early/late for enough sun shine? Would this work with an external battery pack like they use for recharging iphones etc/?

      • The charge seems to last about 3-4 days if my memory is right. I used the Goal Zero Nomad 3.5 panel (about 8 oz) and the Switch 8 Charger (about 3 oz; still sold at Amazon as a kit). I have used this system 2 years straight, and the one panel can service two hikers if they each have their own Switch 8 Charger. I use the nearly weightless wiregate Carabiners from Zpacks to hold panel to top of pack and exposed to the sun while hiking. Able to maintain charge on Iphone and Delorme using this arrangement. http://www.amazon.com/Goal-Zero-41001-Switch-Recharging/dp/B009KY7S6Q/

    • I forgot to mention I have the 15000 mAh rugged LimeFuel external – was good for about 3-4 Iphone5 recharges. Wondered if this works for the InReach with USB.

  6. I was frustrated at first since I thought it would be closer to a stand-alone GPS in functionality. While the lack of a base map is still disappointing, they’ve made real improvements in the software, and I’ve come to peace with my Explorer. I hike solo a lot and like (and my family likes) being able to be in touch no matter what–and knowing I can call for help if needed. And once you get the hang of the navigation features, they can be genuinely helpful–if a bit limited. I’ve been slightly lost a few times and been able to get back to a known location by using the Delorme. The basic safety plan is enough for me. Overall, it seems like the most versatile PLB on the market. We used it in the UK with no problems and it works great here at home in the Rockies.

  7. It looks like they’ve stopped making the original inReach, which is a bummer, as standalone SOS, pre-set outgoing texts, and dropping breadcrumbs is about all I’d want from a device.

  8. SectionHiker.com

    Can you explain the difference when you say 1-second tracking vs. the tracking on the subscription plan that says it only tracks every 10 minutes? I’m assuming that you record 1 second tracks and then every 10 minutes those tracks are sent to the service, is that true? If so, does it cost $0.10 per 1-second reading or per 10-minute sync?

  9. Can someone tell me if the tracking actually works when you are under a forest canopy? I am using SPOT trackers and they are hopeless; looking for something better.

  10. Excellent Review. I have been looking for a reliable means of emergency communications. SPOT is nice, but one way communication just does not give you that sense of security. Especially in life threatening situations you want to know that someone heard you. I ended up settling for Inreach SE
    It seems to have all the benefits of the explorer, with the exception of navigation which Im already using my GPS and phone for

  11. Thanks for your review!
    Barometic Altimeter: It’s a very useful feature for us flying a paraglider. Or other aerial stuff. If my wife just know my last postition she can’t know if I’m still flying or on the ground. From cloud base my downwind range could be 15 km. Makes all the difference. Also if you encounter an accident that forces you down without beeing able to send your position when you hit the ground. (Hopefully I will never encounter such an situation)

  12. Thanks for the excellent review. You mentioned that you would rather own a full-fledged GPS unit with accurate maps that had integrated two-way text messaging capabilities, rather than pairing this device with a smart phone. I assume from your statement that nothing like that is currently available?

    I am exploring options for a trip to Iceland next September, that will include a fair amount of off the grid backpacking, so allowing family to track, communicate and have solid GPS capabilities would be very nice.

  13. How did (or do) you attach your inreach to your pack? I’m looking to improve there. I added some cord loops to the shoulder straps of my Arc Blast, but it’s a bit of a fuss…

  14. …..Service fees are too expensive for year-round recreational use. About twice the expense of an SPOT Gen 3….
    Then why didn’t you just buy a SPOT 3? Half the functionality for half the price, seems even to me. You should also take the SPOT 3’s lousy web site & customer service into account too.

  15. Backcountry explorer

    This has got to be the best investment I have ever made. It allows me to keep in touch with my kids when my wife and I are hunting in the back country. Battery last 4 days if I put it on manual and check it every 2 hours. You must be patient when using it because it may take up to 10 minutes to send depending on the terrain. The only thing I wish they would add now, that they have the weather updates is forest fire updates. We had a close call and it would have been nice to get a warning when it got within 5 to 7 miles from us.

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