Garmin inReach Mini 2-Way GPS Satellite Communicator Review

Garmin inreach mini review-640

The Garmin inReach Mini 2-Way Satellite Communicator is a reliable and easy-to-use GPS-enabled satellite communicator that can send SOS messages to rescuers in an emergency, email or text your friends and relatives, track your route, mark GPS waypoints and help you navigate in the backcountry. Like its big brothers, the inReach Explorer+ and the SE+, the Mini notifies you when it’s successfully sent your messages. It can also receive messages from other people, including search and rescue personnel, friends, and family, anywhere in the world via the Iridium Satellite Network, offering peace of mind for anyone who spends time off the grid.

Garmin inReach Mini 2-Way Satellite Communicator

Ease of Use
Messaging
GPS Tracking
Search and Rescue
Satellite Network Coverage
Battery Life

A Real Breakthrough

The Garmin inReach Mini is a GPS tracker, 2-way satellite messenger and SOS device all in one. If you need a reliable way to send and receive text messages anywhere worldwide, the 100 gram inReach Mini has no equal.

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The size of a plum, the Mini weighs 100 grams (3.5 oz), making it far easier to carry than the larger (214 gram) Garmin inReach Explorer+ (shown above) or SE+ models. This new small size makes it ideal for trail runners, ultralight backpackers, fishermen, skiers, or anyone who wants an unobtrusive GPS satellite communicator that they can stuff in a pocket for an emergency. The only real functional difference between the Mini and the bigger inReach units is battery life and ease of use. More on this below.

The InReach Mini is much smaller than the InReach Explorer+ or SE+
The inReach Mini is smaller than the inReach Explorer+ or SE+

Service Plans

A monthly or annual service plan is required to use the inReach Mini, adding another $12 to $100 per month to the $350 cost of the unit. The nice thing about the monthly plans is you need only pay for the months you use the device, making them perfect for international travel or seasonal use only. I use the lowest tier $12 per month Safety plan, mainly to send daily check-in messages to my wife. I think it’s well worth the price when you compare it to what you pay each month for a Smartphone that only runs over cell networks.

The menu items displayed using larger letters are in-focus
The menu items displayed using larger letters are in-focus

Mini User Interface

The Mini’s user interface is a hierarchical menu system that you navigate with up, down, back, and ok messages on the sides of the device. It’s not well documented, but easy enough to figure out. As you scroll through the menus, the currently active or “in focus” item is displayed in larger letters than the other items on the menu. To trigger it, you push “ok.” If that item has additional sub-options, the one without any navigation icons (up or down arrows) is the current item selected and will be triggered when you click “ok” on the side of the unit.

Writing ad hoc messages with the Mini User Interface is painfully slow, but you can pair the Mini with a Smartphone to get full keyboard access.
Writing ad hoc messages with the Mini User Interface is painfully slow, but you can pair the Mini with a Smartphone to get full keyboard access.

However, the size of the Mini’s screen does compromise its usability compared to the larger inReach Explorer+ and SE+. While the Mini is a fully functional standalone unit, you can pair it with a smartphone using Bluetooth and the free Garmin Earthmate app. Doing this gives you a much richer interface to the unit’s functions and makes composing messages easier because you have a full keyboard at your disposal. However, using Bluetooth chews up the battery of the Mini and your Smartphone faster, so it’s a tradeoff.

The inReach Mini has a dedicated SOS button to signal Search-and-Rescue in an Emergency. The button is covered to prevent accidental activation. The Mini is also USB field-rechargeable from a portable battery. 
The inReach Mini has a dedicated SOS button to signal Search-and-Rescue in an Emergency. The button is covered to prevent accidental activation. The Mini is also micro-USB field-rechargeable from a portable battery.

Reliable Two-Way Messaging

The inReach Mini provides fully interactive, two-way satellite-based messaging up to 160 characters in length.

There are four kinds of text messages supported on the inReach Mini:

  • Ad hoc messages, up to 160 characters in length, that can be sent to anyone with an email address or SMS cell phone number, including search and rescue responders. All messages include your GPS coordinates if GPS satellite connectivity is available
  • Preset (pre-defined) messages that you can edit and change in the inReach web portal. These are good for check-ins or to tell someone you’re running late. You get 3 preset messages. For example: “Checking in. I’m OK!”, “Delayed. I’m OK!”, or “Please pick me up here.”
  • Quick text messages (also pre-defined) that you can edit and change which obviate the need to type common responses when messaging back and forth with someone. You get 10 quick text messages.
  • SOS messages which are sent to Search and Rescue agencies when you activate the SOS capability. You also have the ability to cancel accidental SOS messages,

One of the best features of the inReach Mini is audible or visual message confirmation. I’ve set up the Mini to make an audible chirp when the message I’ve sent has been successfully relayed to the recipients’ email address or SMS cell phone number. That chirp sounds anywhere from 30 seconds to 5 minutes after I send a message, but knowing that it’s been sent and not lost gives me enormous peace of mind.

This is the message that a recipient gets wen you send a preset check-in message. They have the option to respond and send a reply back.
This is the message that a recipient gets when you send a preset check-in message (left). They have the option to respond and send a reply (right).

I mainly use the Preset Messages on the inReach Mini to let my wife know I’m ok or if I’m going to be delayed. It’s important that I know that she’s received them since she has explicit instructions about when to notify Search and Rescue to come find me if I’ve overdue.

Comparison to SPOT Satellite Communicators

I used to own a SPOT Satellite Communicators (Gen2 and Gen 3) and you never knew whether your messages had gotten through because sometimes they didn’t. It’s the main reason I switched to the inReach for my personal use. While the new Spot X Messenger does provide 2-way communications, it’s far more difficult to use than any of the inReach devices and I can’t recommend it.

You can display a map of your track in the Earthmate app or use the digital compass
You can display a map of your track in the Earthmate app or use the digital compass

Other inReach Mini Functions

In addition to its messaging functions, the inReach Mini can:

  • Display your GPS lat/lon location and elevation
  • Track trip statistics such as current and average speed
  • Help you navigate with a digital compass
  • Set waypoints and navigate to them
  • Send a track of your route (called Mapshare) to a friend
  • Display topo maps and tracks when paired with the Earthmate App (requires map downloads) and your Smartphone
  • Pair with other Garmin devices such as Garmin watches
  • Post your location or Mapshare route to Facebook and Twitter

Mini Battery Life

The Mini has a smaller battery than the inReach Explorer+ and SE+, but its actual battery life depends on your device settings, such as the tracking and message checking intervals. Here are the guidelines that Garmin publishes, for different usage patterns.

  • Up to 30 hr with 10-minute tracking send interval and 1-second log interval
  • Up to 50 hr with default mode with 10-minute tracking send interval and 5-minute log interval
  • Up to 20 days with extended tracking mode with 30-minute tracking send interval
  • Up to 1 yr when the unit is turned off

These battery life guidelines assume that you use the tracking feature, which isn’t something that I normally do. If you’re like me and only turn the unit on to send a preset Check-in message a few times per day, and don’t pair the Mini with a Smartphone, the battery lasts a long, long time. Still, it’s prudent to carry a micro-USB plug and spare power bank with you on extended trips.

Activation and Synching

The inReach Mini isn’t an entirely standalone device and you need a web browser to set and synch certain functions associated with your account on the Garmin website. In addition to selecting or changing Satellite Network Plans, you need to log in to the website to specify your emergency contacts, change the default preset messages (3) or the preset canned quick response messages  (10). After making these changes, they have to be synched to the Mini to take effect. The synching process can be achieved using a computer or a Smartphone, through the Garmin Earthmate App.

another preset message

Recommendation

The Garmin inReach Mini 2-way Satellite Communicator is a real breakthrough in terms of convenience, giving you the ability to signal to Search and Rescue in an emergency and communicate with them (or friends and family) by text or email, anywhere in the world, over the Iridium Satellite Network. While the Mini doesn’t provide any new functions beyond those provided by the existing inReach Explorer+ or SE+, its small size and low weight make it much more amenable to use for fast-and-light recreation like trail running, ultralight backpack, or cycling, where size and weight matter more. While the more advanced functions of the Mini are harder to use with its small screen size and limited controls, it is easily paired with the free Earthmate App running on a smartphone using Bluetooth. If you’re carrying a Smartphone in the backcountry already, the two enhance each others’ capabilities. Highly recommended!

The author purchased this product.

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15 comments

  1. You may have accidentally unsubscribed. Try resubscribing.

  2. I doubt it. That was an attack on their website. The inReach runs over a 3rd part satellite network and never connects to Garmin for anything.

  3. Read some reviews on REI regarding needing clear sky to successfully send messages. This can be an issue if you’re in the wilderness that’s mostly treed. Have you or anyone you’ve heard also had issues with this product with that regard?

    • I almost always hike in treed wilderness and have never had any issues getting a signal out. Even when I’ve been down high in the Great Gulf which is surrounded by big mountains and a forest canopy. But yeah, I’ve heard that people have issues. It is satellite-based after all. What’s the alternative?

  4. Hiking in Isle Royale-transmission was spotty. Sometimes family received messages, sometimes not. We often received a no satellite-unable to transmit message-with an open clear sky. Only emails were going through apparently, but we didn’t know that at the time, which didn’t really help with needing to reassure family with immediate texts.
    Purchased the mini on sale for a great price at REI, but not as reliable or easy to use as I’d hoped for. I felt as if I was using an old flip phone with those arrows up and down. Maybe I’m getting old, but had mixed feelings about this product, ended up getting text messages out via our cell phones on top of high hills or mountains without the mini. Didn’t feel as if I could rely on it, though have never used the SOS function. Will probably continue to carry it hoping that the SOS function will go through if ever needed. Wish there was something else.

  5. Having beta tested the original Delorme branded models, the issues of coverage is more about horizon to horizon views. If you find yourself in narrow canyons or gorges, your view and ultimately connection to the satellites to communicate is truncated. I tested in the Cascades range in Washington including areas such as the Lime Kiln and Robe Canyon trails as well as heavily forested coniferous locations. The performance far surpassed the Spot in all areas and I had the additional comfort of knowing when and where the messaging failed using the smartphone app. Successful messaging was accompanied with a beep from the device allowing you to keep on the go after checking in.

  6. Do you know if the SOS function reports to the user that the SOS message is received? That would certainly give peace of mind. I need something mostly for SOS purposes when I hike alone in hilly wooded areas (the Ozarks) with spotty or no cell phone reception – I am afraid of falling and breaking a leg and having to hope that another hiker comes along (trails have some traffic in the daytime, and I don’t go significantly off trail, and do carry a whistle). Could one use the two-way to message to the local 911, or does the SOS just trigger an alarm and provide them with a GPS location?
    My last device of this nature was a ResQLink – I never had to use it – its 5 year battery lifespan is up, and I need a replacement. Thank you very much for your informative reviews.

    • The emergency agency will send you a message back when you trigger the sos button. That will be the confirmation that they got your message. The reason they send this confirmation is to see if you are able to respond and communicate with them. If you can or can’t is valuable information for them. 911 (usually state-run) and the private organization that responds to Garmin SOS messages are different organizations. One is usually “public” and Garmin’s is private/corporate (and both are different from the public service that responds to PLB’s like the ResQLink. The Garmin SOS includes a GPS lat/lon. Can you message 911? (only if they have a real phone number – the inreach is not a phone and they are set up to receive text messages – check before you go on a trip) Yes. but it’s probably best if you do that with a cell phone since 911 is used to dealing with phones and pinging phones to get GPS lat/lons. The whole point of having an inReach is to use it in places where there is no phone service. You’d probably be a whole lot better off and receive a faster rescue by going through 911 if cell phone service is available, because it’s already “local.”. That make sense?

      • Yes, that makes sense. Of course I would use the phone if phone service is available, but I find that some valleys, even in larger suburban parks, lack reception, somewhat surprisingly.

        Thank you for the review and the information. It is particularly nice to know that the device works in forests, since that is where I spend most of my time hiking. This seems like a good safety precaution, along with a small power bank and cord for the phone, if Bluetooth eats up battery capacity.

    • Some dispatch agencies do have direct points of contact which can be messaged from an InReach type device, but you will likely need to contact the local agency where you will be to get that answer. When you send an SOS message using the button, the message will go to Garmin’s international emergency response center and then be transferred to the local agency based on the device’s location. In a place like Colorado, you might be geographically closest to one County but physically be located in another County. The receiving agency will then determine whether they respond directly, request mutual aid, or transfer the response to the other County. In some cases, a faster SAR response could be made by contacting the closer Agency directly rather than waiting for the rerouting to happen.

      Responding to the initial message from the IERCC and the local SAR agency will help them to determine whether the SOS is accidental or intentional, as well as provide specific resources to handle your situation.

      To answer the question about transmissions being sent, in my experience canyons can provide a false positive that a message was sent, but have not had issues with tree canopies or distant mountains.

  7. Appreciate your reviews. A friend uses Zoleo – do you have any opinion regarding a comparison? Thanks

    • Zoleo has a sos function and check-in function which are accessible from the device without requiring a phone app to use. What it lacks is the ability to compose ad hoc messages without a secondary device and phone app. In the event of a real emergency, you want the ability to have two-way messaging onboard your primary device to communicate with SAR and medical advisors if you have a live patient. While it’s not fun to pick out characters with all of the garmin inreach devices, they all have a type ahead capability built in that guesses the words you intend and makes it more tolerable. It’s even easier if you have a network phone/app, but its not a requirement. That is key. Some people like the fact that the zoleo can switch back and force via iridium or cell networks depending on what network is most available, but that capability doesn’t really impress me. If I’m carrying a phone anyway, in the rare instance when my device (mini2) can’t reach iridium, I can just whip out my phone. I’ve had this happen in dense tree cover and its not a big deal.

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