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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
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 (review forthcoming) 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 the Garmin Fenix 5 watch
  • 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 chances, 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


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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  1. I’ve long wondered why they even bother with the UI, just make it an even smaller USB device that provides the Iridium (or other sat network) comm link and let the phone do everything else.

    • It’s always better to control a “complete” product without having to rely on a 3rd party component that you can’t control like a phone, phone OS, etc. I like the fact that you don’t need a phone to use to the Mini, especially if all you want to so is send preset messages and have the SOS capability. Much more reliable that way too.

    • The InReach 1.5 iOS/Android didn’t have a user interface. Just function buttons, an SOS switch and Bluetooth.
      It also ran on AA lithiums so you could take spares. Mine just died last week so I’ve ordered the mini as a replacement.

  2. As an owner of an aging (print totally rubbed off the buttons) Gen-1 SPOT, I was looking around for what to replace it with. Thanks for your review, Philip, this really helps. While I never had any issue with the SPOT “fire and forget” messaging in my 10yrs of use, and most messages were actually delivered, I agree with you that 2-way comms is a game changer and is going to be very helpful in cases where my plans change.

    One year ago, down below Needles in Canyonlands, across from Spanish Bottom, I had the Colorado River within reach, but couldn’t get to it, because it recently had flooded, and the banks were a 10ft stretch of bottomless mud. I had not anticipated reaching the Colorado, but not being able to get water, so I was in dire straits. I dug a pit into the mud, and pumped the water seeping in, but this was slow going, and it was clear that I had to turn back and abandon the planned 3-day trek. With the SPOT, this change of plans was difficult to convey to my guardian back home, even though I had agreed on a complicated protocol beforehand (HELP, followed by OK OK OK, indicating the new direction of travel). I ended up hiking more than 30mi that day, and was back at my car at Elephant Hills around 11pm. The option to clearly communicate what was going on, and what my new plans were, would have made a world of a difference both for me, and for my guardian, who had understood that something was wrong, but didn’t really understand “what” until I called from the Motel in Monticello next morning.

    I guess I’ll upgrade to an inReach Mini before my next trek.

  3. Do you know if the Inreach has a “fee” every time you activate it? I read a review of the newer spot the other day and noticed there was an activation fee. Seems a little… crappy.. in that it’s not “just” $15 a month or whatever the Spot was when you add around a $20 activation fee on there. Especially for those that are purely summer time users and need it for 2-3 months of the year. You’ve already paid $350ish for the device.

    But maybe it’s just once a year? Still hate fees like that but if it’s not every time you activate it you can “spread” out the activation fee amongst your 2-3 months if you think of it like that. Tough for a product like this, though. Hate to put a price on potential life saving devices, but for some of us $350 is a tough pill to swallow if even affordable then you add monthly fees and activation fees.

    • I believe its an annual fee of $24.95. While it’s easy to blame Garmin for these prices, you really should place the blame on the Iridium Satellite Network. They are the ones setting the prices. I looked into this issue before Garmin bought DeLorme and it was the same story. The network is a separate company and they keep the prices the way they are.

      • Thanks for the lesson!

      • Zachary G Robbins

        FYI the site says the annual activation fee is $19.95 and monthly is a $24.95 activation fee. Just another small savings using annual instead of monthly.

      • The the activation fee ($19.95) for annual plans is one time fee. The fee for the monthly (freedom) plans of $24.95 is annual fee. It gets added to your bill every year on the anniversary of the activation. So it can be more then small savings over couple years. Of course, the main draw with monthly plans is, you can have service suspended for the whole year and only pay $24.95.

    • Here’s a link to their plans. The Freedom plans allow you some flexibility to start and stop the service during the year and not pay for months not used, however, the monthly and annual fees are a bit higher. You’ll just have to crunch some numbers to see what works best for you.

      It can be a bit confusing. I think I ended up on the phone with them to sort it all out when I first got a device a few years ago.

  4. Thank you for the review. I am seriously considering this unit to have in case of emergency for backcountry travel. It would certainly give the folks at home peace of mind as well as a measure of additional safety for me. I am a bit confused about the two way abilities. For instance, if there was an emergency at home and someone needed to contact me can that be accomplished with this unit if it is on or can they only reply to a message when I send them one? Or is the two way feature only when SOS is activated? I see the new Spot X has its own phone number allowing people to be able to text directly to that number if I am understanding correctly. Does the Garmin mini have that type of functionality? I don’t have first hand experience with any of these units so your insight is very helpful.

    • You can only message someone with an inreach if you are communicating from another inreach. With the Spot X, anyone can send you a text. The big problem though with the SPOT is that their network is quite unreliable while the inreach network is very reliable.

      The inreach workaround is for you to send a check-in message to the person you want to stay in touch with. As long as they keep that message, they can reply to you at any time in the future and you’ll get a new message in your inreach inbox. That’s what my wife does.
      From the inReach product manual:

      How can people send me a message and reply to my messages?
      Email Messages – When you send a message to an email address, the message contains a link to a web page that can be used to send a reply. The recipient can use the form multiple times. They cannot send an email directly to you.

      Text/SMS Message – When you send a message to a text or SMS mobile phone number, the recipient can reply to the message you sent. They can reply multiple times to the same message. They cannot initiate a text message conversation.

      MapShare – Anyone with access to your MapShare page can send you a message at any time.

      inReach Address – Any inReach user who has your inReach address can send you a direct message or reply directly to you.

      • I did end up getting one of these little marvels. I have used it multiple times in northern Georgia. It has worked great! Even hiking down a canyon with extensive tree cover and very little sky visible I was able to get a message out, though it did take awhile. Word of warning for those trying to activate at the same time as many others, think Black Friday or Christmas, it can be time consuming when they are bogged down with activations. That does not impact the use however, that works fine, it is just the initial activation system. The custom presets are great, just got to remember to plug into your computer and synch them to your mini before you go. So glad I picked one of these up, it has been easy to keep in touch with family while I am out backpacking.

  5. Great review! Philip, which “spare power bank” do you use/recommend? Thanks!

  6. Excellent review. I recently read about the “Somewear Global Hotspot” which looks to compete with the inreach mini. Have you had any experience with this device or have plans to review it in the future? Just want to make sure I cover all my options prior to purchasing the inreach.

    Thanks Philip

  7. Are you able to monthly service ahead of your departure? I am asking because the SPOT rental program does not allow that if you want to just get temporary service using your own device.

    • I’m not really sure what you’re asking. Just sign up for monthly service for as long as you need it.

      • Yes I could have done better with the question. I have a SPOT device (have used several years now). The first few years I had an annual subscription for service since I was hiking a alone many times each of those years. This year I wanted to activate the my device through the SPOT rental program since I only plan on a couple of AT section hikes. SPOT has the site setup to do this using a calendar to choose your days of desired service. However the calendar does not work, so you can only sign up to start service on the day you want it to start. I had no internet service to do this days before I started hiking, therefore had to set it up at home before I left and pay for days that I would not be hiking, or SPOT’s suggestion that I just login and do it the day of my hike start. That was not possible, since I would not have access to do it that particular day. So I did not use the device on the section hike. Long winded explanation, but what I was asking is if you can setup the inReach for service ahead of your hike (ie: from home say 10 days before you want it to start). I will take a look at the plans, as it sounds like a different model from the SPOT rental program. Thanks.

  8. I do hope that Garmin has eradicated the problem with the “IN REACH” devise where the on button can cause an unintended SOS to be activated! How embarrassing when a helicopter drops down from the sky to pick you up in the middle of a hike; an unwarranted callout can be very expensive. I don’t own a Garmin device but rely on the KTI Safety Alert PLB which is protected with a hard case and is just about idiot proof to activate.

  9. How do you make these things work if the receiver of the message is also in the backcountry— say, crewing for a runner?

    • It’s a satellite modem – meaning all messages are relayed via satellite. For example, just use messaging.

    • Unfortunately, due to a sprained ankle combined with some creative bad planning, I got in a situation a few years ago with my daughter and grandkids where I had to use the SOS feature of my Delorme Inreach Explorer. Although there was a massive power outage in the region due to an enormous ice storm, I was able to communicate with our rescuers via text. I don’t know what devices they were using but the whole operation worked really well.

      I had earlier set up the device to give progress reports to family for a 5 day kayak expedition on the Lower Canyons of the Rio Grande and forgot to take them off the text list… more bad planning… I mentioned there was some creativity involved in the lack of proper preparation! As a result, my whole family all over the country was kept informed the entire night with play by play of the rescue.

      Chastened Grandpa learned quite a bit from the episode and vowed never to get in that situation again, however, the creativity bug bit once more three years later and the same crew plus one got tied up in another rescue, this time for different reasons. The communication the second time was handled via intermittent cell phone and hiker word of mouth. The cause of the second situation won’t happen again either. Suffice it to say, I’ll never tell a person who has to hold both hands up making an “L” with the fingers to figure out which way is left or right: “Turn left at the next trail junction and I’ll catch up to you after I draw water out of this creek.” We didn’t see them for 24 hours. In the future, we’ll stay in sight of each other on a group hike.

      When Grandpa and the lost members of his crew were reunited on the second rescue, his granddaughter exclaimed, “Every time we hike in these mountains, we have to be rescued by the Rangers. First, it was Casa Grande, and now this!” The lead Ranger whirled around and inquired: “Casa Grande. Was that you guys?” Grandpa sheepishly bowed his head and acknowledged, “Yes”, whereupon the Ranger said, “We need to talk! But I’ll wait until the kids aren’t around.” I replied, “Just give it to me now.”

      Although it may appear otherwise, Grandpa is generally not an irresponsible hiker and backpacker. There were a couple situations that came up that he should have foreseen had he thought of more of the things that could go wrong while following his plans. Preparing for possible failure is a part of preparing for success. Grandpa has better processes in place and will have some training sessions for all on future group hikes. As stated before, Grandpa is not irresponsible–he was completely responsible and will be much more cognizant of possible problems… and will also have his InReach along just in case!

  10. I plan to use the Safety plan as do you, but on the monthly Freedom plan. It appears, but is not clear that the Freedom plan gives you the same usage limits as the annual plan including the unlimited Preset Messages during the months you turn it on. Is that true.

  11. I recently bought an inReach Explorer+ for a couple of long (10+ miles) day hikes with my young children and wanted to keep their mom informed and at ease. It was great. But I realized that I was mainly using my phone for messaging, tracking and maps and the large device was actually not necessary. So I’ve returned it and have bought an inReach mini instead.

    The problem I currently have is that switching my subscription from my previous inReach device to a new inReach device is not straightforward and Garmin/inReach customer support is not readily available (I’ve been trying Chat/Phone for two days and they have not even responded to my email inquiry yet). But I am pleased with the product itself. Totally worth it to me. Hopefully I can get the subscription transfer sorted out.

    • Wanted to update that I was able to transfer my subscription to Mini after calling customer support. Overall I am very satisfied with what inReach offers.

  12. Hi Phillip – can this replace the need for a dedicated PLB? Thanks.

  13. A couple other things worth mentioning:
    Your position is “stamped” automatically with every message and is not part of the 160 characters.
    One feature is that you can set it up so people can track your location at home via computer. (Maybe that’s what you meant by “sending your track to a friend, but thought I’d clarify).

  14. Does a response to a 2-way message cost money? If they reply to one of my messages using the webform, does that cost me or is it free/included?

  15. Nice review Philip.

    I’ve had the InReach Explorer+ for a couple of years now. Before that Spot II & III. I now use the InReach almost exclusively for backpacking navigation in concert with the EarthMate app. I am considering replacing the Explorer+ with the Mini and I’m trying to figure out what I’ll be giving up.

    Display: No color, no maps (the maps on EarthMate are superior to the InReach maps)
    Barometric altimeter
    Built in Compass
    Memory/History: Explorer+ has 2 GB, Mini has none

    It is the Memory/History that I am concerned about. For long (10 – 20 day) trips on the JMT I download many (200+) waypoints to the device for access and navigation during the trip. I also store the track points for multiple days to be downloaded after the trip.

    With the Mini do I lose the ability to download waypoints and store multiple days of track points?


  16. Another thorough review Phillip! I’ve now used the mini for a total of 30 days of backpacking ((10 days & 170 miles on the Long Trail and numerous trips into the wilds of Algonquin Park in Ontario) and it’s been flawless. My spouse insisted that I have a devise for my solo trips and the inReach mini was the option I chose based on your recommendation when we chatted last summer during the NH Gaia session.
    I sent twice daily updates to my contact list and appreciated confirmation that messages were received. Learning curve was not difficult – even for an old guy! Now I don’t even think of heading off on an overnight hike without the inReach in my pack. The monthly basic plan has met my needs.

  17. Hi Philip,
    Great review as always.
    Just followed the link and purchased one from REI. I plan on simply keeping it my pack and using for emergencies (mine or someone else’s). Stupid question time, once I receive it and set it up, how would I text for help. For instance in the Whites how to contact N.H. Fish and Game?
    Or do I simply hit the SOS and someone responds?

    • Just hit SOS and they’ll contact the right authorities in your area. Although Fish and Game has responsibility for coordinating rescues in NH, they don’t have a 24 hour call center. People should call 911 in an emergency if they have cell phone access and the emergency operator will contact the appropriate people to respond. The system works really well.

  18. Philip, Once again I am getting into hiking. Having followed your reviews previously thought I would come back to the expert advice to get me going again. I have a chance to purchase a used In Reach SE and also a used SPOT Gen3 for the same price. That being said and reading reviews I am looking towards the In Reach. I have never used either device. Any tips you could give me on buying used? I have also reached out to In Reach to see If I can register a device that has previously been registered by someone else, Do not want them to think it is stolen…

    • Get the inreach. More reliable messaging. Two way messaging. Full keyboard. MUCH better customer support. I carry an explorer myself. Yes a mini is lighter, but I prefer the bigger unit. The integrated gpS is sometimes useful. I also use it for weather forecasts.

  19. I have an original inReach (black box maybe 8+ years old) and was trying to find out if the new mini has better technology (more satellites, better connectivity, etc.) and not sure I’ve found anyone that really knows. I was told by Garmin CS that they work the same only difference would be weight, however they didn’t seem like a real person in the know on the subject. I’m kinda skeptical that in the last 8-10 years that this technology has not been improved similar to phone GPS’s but I just don’t know for certain. Any clues or other ideas?

    • I suspect that most of the “improvements” are in the back end (the satellite software) and not the front end, although most of these devices can receive software updates (driver updates). The one person who would know for sure would be Chip Noble at Garmin who I believe is still the Inreach product manager. But with the exception of weather forecasts, I don’t think much was changed in term of the functional experience for end users across the devices.

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