By Chad de Alva
Satellite communicators are essential, life saving tools for anyone who chooses to explore the remote places of the world – especially for folks who travel solo. With a satellite communicator, as long as the user can obtain a satellite fix, they can send and receive messages, perform a number of other useful tasks, and request help if needed. Whether you’re looking for a way to keep your loved ones posted on your status while out riding (or doing anything else outside) or you’re looking for an ace up your sleeve should you get in trouble, a device like a Garmin inReach Mini 2 is worth its weight in gold.
The inReach Mini 2 is the latest generation of satellite communicators from Garmin, a company whose name is synonymous with top shelf GPS gadgetry. No larger than a deck of cards, the inReach Mini 2 can easily be brought along on any adventure. The device is IPX7 rated, so it’s happy as a clam when clipped onto the strap of your backpack or elsewhere on your kit where it can be fully exposed to the elements. The antenna works best when pointed up toward the sky, which is why you’ll see all sorts of gear with specific inReach pockets that hold the device in the correct orientation for best GPS reception. A great example of this is the Mosko Moto Wildcat backpack that we tested in the last issue.
To use the inReach Mini 2, you can either directly interface with the device, or you can use your phone which makes messaging functions exponentially easier. Pair the inReach with your phone, and then by using the Garmin Explore app, you can send and receive messages through an interface that’s just like texting over a regular wireless data connection. Messaging with the inReach happens at a slower pace than regular text messaging, so it’s important to make the most out of each message that you’re sending. Likewise, it’s a good idea to coach anyone that you’re going to communicate with on how to communicate effectively. In ideal conditions, messages take just a couple minutes to make it to their destination, but they can certainly take longer too – so be patient.
Users can also configure three preset messages on their inReach, which are great for sending quick status updates that don’t count against the number of messages on your subscription plan. More on subscriptions in a minute. When sending a message, the inReach user can also provide a link to a web-page where the recipient(s) can see where on earth the message was sent from. The location of an inReach can also be pinged at any time by performing a location request. InReach devices can also record and share their location at fixed intervals by enabling tracking mode. This tracking information is synced to an access-controlled web-page, so you can control who can see your tracking history. Depending on the subscription plan, tracking intervals can range from two minutes to 30 minutes.
Subscription plans let you choose things like number of messages, tracking intervals, and other features available per billing cycle. Garmin has annual plans and monthly plans (called Freedom plans) where you can jump around between different levels of service as your needs change. For more information on plan options, check out: https://www.garmin.com/en-US/p/837461
One of the main reasons folks purchase an inReach is for the SOS functionality. When a user hits the SOS button on their inReach device, the SOS request is routed to Garmin’s International Emergency Response Coordination Center (IERCC). The IERCC manages the SOS request, determining pertinent information and coordinating response efforts with local Search and Rescue or first responder resources. The real value of this SOS feature is that Garmin can communicate with the inReach user to determine the nature of the SOS request. This means that the response can better meet the needs of the emergency. It’s important to remember that the SOS button isn’t like a video game, where support shows up in seconds. Depending on where you are and what resources are available, a response may take hours to reach you. An inReach is a great tool to call for help, but you still need to be prepared to hold out until help arrives.
If you’ve ever gotten home late from a ride or other adventure only to find a worried wife/partner/emergency contact waiting for you – know than an inReach is the best peace of mind you can provide to the people who care about you. With an inReach, your contacts or loved ones can big brother you at any time and see where you are, and where you’ve been. Conversely, an inReach makes sending a quick “checking in, all is well” or any other message super easy, so communicating with the outside world is almost always an option. From coordinating two groups meeting up in the bottom of the Grand Canyon, to simply pulling down a weather forecast when cell coverage is non-existent, an inReach is a great tool to have with you when you’re playing outside.
Just like your phone is a complex device, an inReach is a device with a learning curve that requires reading and understanding to get the most out of it. Take the time to consult the manual and the university of YouTube to get up to speed on how these devices work. It’s important to remember that like any other technology, the inReach has limitations on its performance. The battery life is quite impressive, lasting well over a week in ideal conditions, but cold weather, canyons or other terrain features that impact its ability to see the sky will affect its performance and battery life. In other words, don’t expect to be able to inReach your way out of a mine shaft should you happen to fall into one.
I’ve been using inReach devices since they were first introduced as a Delorme product (later acquired by Garmin) several years ago. In that time, the various generations of inReach devices that I’ve had have proven to be invaluable. I’ve never had to hit the SOS button, but an inReach message has certainly helped save or enable countless adventures. Whether that was requesting mission critical gear to be hiked into the bottom of the Grand Canyon for a film production, or being able to run a key piece of gear to a buddy on a once in a lifetime hunt, being able to communicate almost anywhere on earth is a power that can’t be overstated. An inReach can also make life so much better for your loved ones. I know my wife and/or the people looking after me while I’m outdoors greatly appreciate the fact that they can call up a web-page and see my location in minutes. Knowing that my family isn’t stressing my whereabouts gives all of us peace of mind. Satellite communicators like the Garmin inReach Mini 2 are incredibly powerful devices, effectively putting the world in reach. To purchase a Garmin Inreach Mini go to https://upshiftonline.com/collections/gps-communications/products/garmin-inreach-mini-2