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.
I’ve also written a gear review of the new GARMIN inReach Explorer+ which replaces the older Delorme model reviewed below. It’s has a few new features including weather forecasts, a bigger battery, and more on-board memory.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
- 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
- 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?
- 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 for this review.
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