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DeLorme inReach Explorer Satellite Communicator Review

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.

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.

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

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 for this review.

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24 comments

  1. 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.

  2. 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…

  3. 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.

  4. Like John says… this is NOT a PLB.

  5. For those who actually have this – when you send 1 message to multiple address’/cell phones – does it count as 1 message or does it count the number of addressees?

  6. I have had incidences where the messages I sent from my Explorer were received but the URL would not show my location on my mapshare to my recipient. Delorme stated this is a problem with my recipient’s phone or carrier and not their problem. Has any one had this problem?

    • Does this device show up as having a phone number when texting? I’m still unclear on how the messaging function works. If it’s email, do you have a special email address?

      • The explorer communicates with the iridium satellite. So no phone network is involved. Have you had delorme failure like I described?

      • I have not seen this failure. Thanks for answering.

      • Your message goes through a satellite and to a server that then sends it on as a text or email. If email it shows it coming from an address you create @inreach.garmin.com

  7. This review is now nearly two years old and no major hardware upgrades have been made. Also, earlier this year, Garmin purchased DeLorme. Garmin (and DeLorne) are not advertising any sort of upgrades and the device is still relatively expensive.

    Would you still buy it? I really like the features, think I can tolerate the dislikes and am OK with the price. Just hate spending money on 2-year old technology. (I just bought myself an iPhone7, not an iPhone5!). would love to hear the group’s thoughts.

    • Yep, I would. Rather, I will as soon as my SPOT contract runs out.

      • I can pretty much guarantee that they will release a major upgrade at a lower cost. That should happen right after I make the purchase and the return period expires :-)

        Thanks!

    • Thanks, Phillip!!

      For those looking to buy one, REI has a 25% off sale running right now. It ends on 11/21/16. $284.89 after the discount and it includes free shipping. (Don’t be like me and continue browsing their website as I ended up with some gloves, etc, in my basket!)

  8. I bought an InReach Explorer a couple years ago to communicate with the wives when a couple brothers in law and I kayaked 83 miles through the Lower Canyons of the Rio Grande Wild and Scenic River. That way, they could track our progress and know when to make the 250 mile round trip to the take out. Of course, I forgot it in the RV when we left for the 150 mile trip to the put in so they just had to come get us at the originally estimated time, which was Spot on… pun unintended, but accepted.

    It did come in handy a few days later when my daughter, grandkids and I climbed a mountain off trail as a day hike. Through a convergence of creative bad planning, we got started too late, progress was much slower than anticipated, and my daughter sprained her ankle near the top of the mountain. It got dark and the weather started going downhill, even though we were no longer in a position to do so ourselves. I hunkered us down against a tree to keep us from sliding downslope, wrapped us in whatever I had to cut the wind, and called for rescue. The two way texting was very useful in communicating with SAR to assess our needs and the two rangers sent to aid us were able to climb directly to our coordinates. Other than my wife on our wedding day, the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen was their headlamps coming over the pass about 11:30 PM. They taped my daughter’s ankle, fixed us hot drinks, stuffed us in sleeping bags a while to warm us up and then assisted us in hiking out. We got to the trailhead at 5:30 AM.

    I didn’t realize I still had my father and sisters as recipients on the text list so they all got live updates all night long on our adventure. I think they’d have preferred the sleep.

  9. I have had my InReach SE since they first came out. I only have the safety plan and pay it each month whether I use it or not.

    My navigation system. 1. waterproofed paper map and compass, 2. InReach SE device, 3. cell phone with the following apps, Gaia, Maps3d, and Earthmate that comes with my InReach device.

    This is multi-redundant system. How?

    1. The paper map obviously has all the compass data on it but it also has longitude and latitude.

    2. The InReach device has the compass coordinates and all of the different longitude and latitude formats as well as the ability send texts and is an emergency beacon/locator.

    3. The cell phone has all the maps with a GPS and compass over-lay. The maps are both flat and three dimensional. The cell phone also has a compass and GPS coordinates as standard. The cell phone also pairs with the InReach which has its own map system from Garmin/Delorme. It all works in airplane/no cell service.

    As much as safety, this system has brought me greatly reduced stress especially when hiking alone. For example, this past September I was on Isle Royale in my tent in a driving rainstorm and was able to txt with my family. Two weeks later I was doing the same thing on Mt. Hood!

  10. If you can get it set up it might be good. I spent three hours including an hour on the phone. I lost faith and tried to cancel – well that is $150 plus they charged me $50 (20 set up plus 25 monthly) for the 5 minutes it was actually connected to the satellites. Then when you call them they just tell you too bad so sad. worst customer service ever.

    • You seriously went out and bought this device, and couldn’t figure out how to set it up so you just gave up and cancelled? Sounds like you’re just terrible with technology to be honest Jeff. It’s pretty simple…

  11. Its great they loaned you one for your review. If you buy one for yourself consider some issues I’ve had:
    They failed to get into contact with me after an autopay issue, shut off the device, charged me late fees, then when I found it wasn’t working they charged me contract termination fees to get it working again.
    Device got shut off on me again this time after I payed for the month and had planned on using it.
    Device has failed to work before and is often very slow when it does work.
    Billing department at Inreach is terrible at customer service.
    There is no centralized customer service department.
    I guess just like any other company they are out there to get your money, but with SAFETY products there should be some better support and consistent reliability.

    • I’m still about to buy one for myself. I think this is the best tool for my need. Knowing what I know about the company, it sounds like you had problems with the satellite coms company which I believe is an entirely separate company.

  12. I am glad I only read this after buying my inReach Explorer +. Yes this is the hardware update you have been looking for. I am able to load both OpenStreet and global Topo maps for the region I am like to visit – Southern African region – South Africa, Namibia, Lesotho, Swaziland, Mozambique, Malawi, Zimbabwe and Zambia. No additional charges – just the subscription fee. I can upload routed that I create in BaseCamp or in Google Earth. My concern is battery life. We will be hiking for 8 days. I think I will have to carry external battery packs and have one waiting at our halfway resupply point. Just not sure what size power packs I should use.

  13. I just purchased the se+. I am interested to know what sort of visual conformation is provided if you can’t hear the audible conformation when a message has been successfully delivered?

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