In-Depth Garmin inReach Mini Review

In-Depth Garmin inReach Mini Review

In This Guide
  • Is the inReach Mini the Right Choice for Me?
  • How to Use the inReach Mini
  • Setup & Subscriptions, and Rescue Insurance
  • Tips and Tricks
  • Getting the Best Deal on the inReach Mini

The Garmin inReach Mini packs some powerful features into s small and reasonably priced package. You can send and receive your GPS location to anyone with a text or email (or another inReach Mini) in the backcountry where your cell phone doesn’t work. You can also receive messages, allowing you to communicate with family, friends, and emergency services. Additional features on the inReach Mini allow you to get weather reports, track your trip and share with friends, and perform navigation. There are some limitations, and I’ll cover that later, but all-in-all, the inReach Mini is a solid device that I use and recommend.

There are a few other satellite communicator options and I compare the inReach Mini to them at the end of the article.

If you find this guide helpful, you can help support this site by buying the Garmin inReach Mini with this link to REI. You get a discount of up to 10% with an inexpensive REI membership and free shipping. It ends up being cheaper than buying from Amazon, there are benefits to buying from REI, and you help support free hiking guides for everyone.

I am fortunate to be able to spend a lot of time in the backcountry for recreation, for trail maintenance, and as part of an awesome SAR team in the Northern Sierras. I carry the inReach Mini with me every time I head out. – Amazon Reviewer

What Does the Garmin inReach Mini Do?

How The Garmin Inreach Mini Works
The Garmin inReach Mini works where cell phones don’t, using a satellite connection to communicate with other devices, including non-satellite ones like phones and email.

The Garmin inReach is a two-way satellite communicator that works where cell phones don’t. It uses the Iridium satellite network, which has pole-to-pole coverage, to send and receive data. If you don’t ever hike out of cellphone range, you don’t a device like this. But if you hike out of phone range as many of us do, this palm-sized device can save your life.

The onboard GPS can send your position with every message, and you can also use it for some basic navigation functions (more later). It’s impact-resistant and rated IPX7 waterproof, which means it’s built for the outdoors (unlike most cell phones). I have full tech specs and unboxing images later, along with a how-to guide.

In practical terms, having an inReach Mini means that in the backcountry you can:

inReach Mini Review Video

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inReach Mini vs InReach Explorer

Inreach Mini Size Comparison
From left to right, the inReach Explorer, the inReach Mini, and a refreshing can of seltzer water (for size reference).

The inReach Explorer is the big brother (and earlier) model of the inReach, and an evolution from the original Delorme units. Unlike the Mini, the Explorer has a full color screen and maps preloaded. You can also upgrade the maps on the Explorer with more trail-rich OSM ones. Onboard sensors assist with navigation tasks.

The Explorer is almost twice as big as the Mini. And the Explorer’s battery lasts about twice as long as the Mini.

So which one should you get?

I have a full review of the inReach Explorer here if you want to dive deeper.

inReach Mini Service Plans

The bad news is that you need a subscription to use this unit. It won’t work without one.

The good news is that the subscription plans are affordable, especially when you consider that the inReach Mini could save your life. And with the Freedom Plans, you can turn service on and off (for a fee).

Garmin Inreach Mini Plans
Here’s what it will cost you every month. I appreciate that Garmin offers an affordable option at $15/month.

Here’s what I recommend. If you just want the inReach Mini for emergencies and the occasional text message to your loved ones, go with the Safety plan. It offers unlimited preset messages, which include your location info (on a map link).

If you want to send your track or path to people at home, go with the Recreation plan. I get a lot of emails from parents who want to be able to see where their kids are on backpacking trips, and this is what I recommend. Just remember that it will only track as long as there is battery power (more later).

And if you hike all year, just get the annual plan and save a few bucks. If it’s seasonal, do the math and see if it makes sense to get a Freedom plan and cancel it.

If you’re an organization using the Mini, there are business plans that let you message all units and track users.

There are activation fees and downgrade fees, read the fine print for the skinny. Visit the inReach subscription page for all the details on personal and professional plans.

You can check your data usage on the device at any time: Utilities > Data Use.

Unused texts do not roll over to the next month.

inReach Mini Tutorials & Instructions

Let’s start by taking a tour of the Garmin inReach Mini and its features. At the end of the post I have a guide to setup and activation which you’ll have to perform before using the unit.

Using the Mini

The buttons on the inReach Mini are dead simple. They’re also big and chunky so that you can hit them with gloves on.

Inreach Mini Power Button
The power button is the only button on top and requires a long press to turn on. Once on, a long press on the power button lets you turn off, lock the screen, check the battery, and do a few other functions.
Inreach Mini Left Buttons
The up and down buttons cycle through the menus. And then the micro-USB port under the weatherproof cap lets you charge the device with a standard cable.
Inreach Mini Right Buttons
While the up/down buttons browse the menus, the OK button selects an item, and the back button takes you out/exits a sub-menu. The whole device works using these simple buttons. It’s great for everything aside from typing custom text messages.
Inreach Mini Sos Uncovered
The SOS button is under a cap so that you don’t hit it accidentally. The button is also bigger than the other buttons, so if you’re used to the unit’s feel, you could find it and hit it if you couldn’t see.

The screen is easy to read in direct sunlight and in the dark (with the backlight).

Connecting to a Satellite

There’s not much to do here aside from making sure your Mini has a clear line of sight to the sky. If there is heavy tree cover, or if you’re in a deep valley or canyon, the inReach Mini (or any sat device) will have a hard time connecting to a satellite. The good thing about the inReach Mini is that it will keep trying to send a message if it doesn’t have a signal. Mounting it high on yourself or backpack helps.

Texting with the inReach Mini

Inreach Mini Messages Main
The main function of this unit is messaging. It’s similar to sending a text on your phone, but with some wrinkles.

So there are three types of messages that you can send with the inReach Mini:

Messages are 160 characters, can include your location and name, and can be sent to:

I took this on a solo 8-day backpacking trip off-trail in the High Sierra, and it worked great. Gave me and my wife peace of mind in case I broke an ankle or worse. I sent her a canned “I’m camping here” text every evening, and she could check my location on the online shared map. It’s tiny, so you don’t need to worry about extra weight. – REI Reviewer

Preset Messages

I use these the most as part of my basic plan. Preset messages are unlimited, include my location, and get the job done.

Inreach Mini Define Preset
First I define the preset messages online and then sync my inReach Mini with my phone to get them on the device.
Inreach Mini Preset Message
Then I simply select preset messages from the message menu.
Inreach Mini Preset Loaded
And boom, there’s the preset message that I entered online.
Inreach Mini Preset Send
Then I hit send and forget it. It usually takes a few minutes for a message to send, and the unit will keep trying to send in the background if doesn’t have a satellite connection.
Inreach Mini Send Status
I can check the status of my messages (preset or other) in my message history. If the message hasn’t sent yet, I’ll see that little arrow on the side. No arrow means that it was successfully sent.
Inreach Mini Got Message
The recipient(s) get a text or email with your preset text and a link to a topo map with your position. This part is the same for all messages.

Regular & Quick Text Messages

If you’re not sending a preset message, it’s considered a regular message and counts towards your text message allowance. Here’s how you do it.

Inreach Mini New Message
Select “New Message” from the messages menu.
Inreach Mini Select Contacts
Select the contacts that you want to send it to.
Inreach Mini Contact List
You’ll see a list of the contacts that you synced with the device. Each contact has an icon on the right that indicates the type of message, email, SMS (text), or iR (inReach device).
Inreach Mini Social Post
You can also post to Facebook, Twitter, or your Garmin MapShare page. MapShare is a page that you can make public (or private) to share your tracks, waypoints, and check-ins.
Inreach Mini Quick Text
After selecting contacts, you can compose your message. If you select Quick Text, you can include a pre-typed message that you defined on your online dashboard.
Inreach Mini Quick Text Example
All of the quick text that you defined online gets synced to your phone. You can define as many quick text messages as you’d like. For preset messages, you can only define three.
Inreach Mini Writing Message
You can also write your own message. Doing this on the device means that you have to scroll through every character, which is a pain.
Inreach Mini Autocomplete
If you hold down the OK button on a letter, you get a handy autocomplete function that you can scroll through. It’s a thoughtful feature.
Inreach Mini Phone Message
If you have paired your phone with the Earthmate app, you can also type free-form messages from there, which is much easier.

Contacts

You can only message contacts from the device itself. You enter your contacts on your Garmin Explore dashboard page, and you can also sync them directly from your phone contacts (easier). When you sync your inReach Mini with your phone, the contacts are updated.

If you use your phone paired with the inReach Mini, you can free-form enter email and text addresses.

If you’re messaging another inReach, you can simply respond to a message (if you got one first), or add the device to your contacts. You can get the unique (email) address of a user in the Accounts > My Info > inReach Addr section of the Garmin Explore dashboard page.

Receiving Messages

Inreach Mini Mail Check
One of the main screens is “Mail Check,” where you can check for new messages. The display tells you the last time messages were checked. You can manually trigger a message check or else the unit will check at regular intervals.

The other side of the equation is receiving text messages, which is very easy. If anyone wants to message you, they simply need to reply to your message.

If you have a public MapShare page, you can also let people send messages to you there. The MapShare option is helpful if you want to share your progress with a larger family group. Everyone just uses the MapShare page as a hub to communicate and you don’t have to manage a bunch of back and forth text messages.

If you are not actively checking for messages, there is a handy “ring until read” feature that will nag you until you see an incoming message.

One note, don’t use the inReach to InReach email address from a phone or email. It only works between inReach devices.

Inreach Mini Text Back
To send a message to the inReach Mini, just reply to the message you received.
Inreach Mini Getting A Message
And voila, the satellites do their magic and the message appears on the Mini.

Testing the inReach Mini

Inreach Mini Test Message
Test the inReach Mini before heading into the great unknown.

You can send a free test message to check whether the unit is working and whether your subscription is active (in the menu, Utilities > Test Message). I generally just do a test when I start my hike. Don’t let an expired credit card on your subscription leave you high and dry if you need it.

inReach Mini Weather Forecasts

Inreach Mini Weather
Getting a weather report is as easy as a few button clicks. You can get reports for your current location, or from any waypoint, which is nice if you want to plan ahead for a camping destination along a route.

Another great feature on the inReach Mini are the weather reports, which are powered by Dark Sky (they have a great smartphone app too). I use Dark Sky in day to day use, in addition to on the inReach Mini, and find the reports to be excellent, if not the best out there.

Getting a weather report is similar to sending and receiving a message. You first establish your location using the onboard GPS, choose the type of forecast you want, then send the request. It can take few minutes to get the forecast back, but I never had a failure.

There are a few flavors of weather that you can get.

The data you get with a forecast is:

Inreach Mini Basic Weather
You can choose whichever type of forecast you’d like. A little icon animates while waiting for the data to come to the device.
Inreach Mini Weather Forecast
The weather forecast is laid out in rows, like a menu, which you can scroll up and down on. Clicking “OK” into a menu gives you detail for the day, clicking on an hourly row lists out all the forecast values.
Inreach Mini Weather Earthmate
You can also initiate and view a weather report from the Earthmate app (more later).

inReach Mini Rescues & SOS

Inreach Rescues Blog
There have been over 2,000 rescues worldwide from inReach devices. Hopefully you won’t be one of them, but it’s nice to know that they have a good track record.

Being able to send and receive texts in the backcountry is great, but I really have this unit for the SOS functions. If I’m in the middle of nowhere, I want to be able to call for help. And unlike beacons like the Spot Gen 3 and ACR ResQLink, you can actually have a two-way conversation through text messages with a rescue coordinator.

A few days ago on a hike I wasn’t looking where I was going and I almost stepped on a huge rattlesnake. What would I have done if I had been bitten? I was alone and it was a long, strenuous hike back to the trailhead. The inReach Explorer would have come in handy but it’s so dang heavy I didn’t take it with me. Now that I have the Mini, I’ll always carry it with me. – Amazon Reviewer

Here’s how it works. You inReach Mini connects with GEOS, which handles all emergency communications, and is included in your subscription. When you set up your account you can fill in some information about yourself (gender, age, emergency notes) to help GEOS access the situation. Triggering SOS on the Mini sends GEOS a message with your GPS position and account information. You can also trigger an SOS from the Earthmate app (more later).

Inreach Mini Sos
Initiating an SOS is as easy as removing the cap from the SOS button, then holding it down. You get a 20 -econd countdown where you can cancel it. You can also cancel after sending by holding down the SOS button and confirming a cancel. Hit the button with care (more later in my tips section).
Garmin Mini Sos Message
Here’s what a message from GEOS looks like.

From there, GEOS contacts local emergency services and messages you back with a confirmation that help is on the way. If there is a medical emergency, the GEOS team can advise on treatment. They stay in regular contact with you until first responders reach you. Even if you are relatively close to civilization, rescues can take a minimum of a few hours, usually more. So having a dialog with the rescue center can be reassuring.

Over 2,000 rescues have been performed from inReach devices, and you can read about them on the Garmin blog.

Optional Rescue Insurance

You can also opt-in to the reasonably priced $18/year search and rescue insurance offered by GEOS on the Garmin Explore online dashboard. It works in most of the world and covers you for up to $100,000 in rescue expenses per year.

Do you need it? Some areas cover the cost of search and rescue as part of their public service budget, and others (can) charge you for it. For $18/year it seems like a no-brainer.  You can read the fine print here.

You can also elect to get the insurance for medical evacuations. In this case they’ll fly you home in a medically-equipped aircraft. The medical evacuation insurance is a little more pricey at $130 for the US & Canada and $175 internationally.  You can read the details here.

To get either insurance, you just click on a checkbox on your online account page. Both insurances are totally optional. And again, GEOS rescue coordination is part of the monthly subscription, so you can always use SOS.

inReach Mini Earthmate Maps & Sync

Inreach Mini Bluetooth
You can pair the Inreach Mini with your phone using Bluetooth.

In order to fully realize the potential of the inReach Mini, you need to pair it with a smartphone using the Garmin Earthmate app (for iPhones and Android phones). Pairing it with a smartphone:

Now I don’t keep my Mini on all the time paired to the phone for a few reasons.

I have used the phone often to type custom messages in, in which case I turn on Bluetooth, do my messaging, and get out.

Pairing the inReach Mini with your phone is simple, just follow the instructions on the Mini device.

You can also sync your device using Garmin Express. Note that the inReach Mini does not sync using the inReach Sync program like the inReach Explorer does.

inReach Mini Navigation

Inreach Mini Location
Does the inReach Mini do navigation? Yes. Do I use it for navigation? No.

The inReach Mini has an onboard GPS receiver, and from that, you can perform some basic navigation features. It really needs to be paired with the Earthmate app to do anything meaningful though.

There’s a location screen which gives you your latitude, longitude, and altitude. I’ve actually found this screen to be the most helpful when plotting my position on a paper map (and I use the degree,  minute, second view to match most maps).

Waypoints

Inreach Mini Waypoint
When you drop a waypoint on the Mini, you can customize elements of the waypoint such as name and symbol.

You can easily drop waypoints on your phone from the main menu: OK > Mark Waypoint > Done. Waypoints that you specify on the Earthmate app or inReach (online) dashboard will also sync with the device.

The inReach Mini has a “navigate” function that will allow you to navigate to any waypoint. It’s not that handy in real life since navigation is always a straight line. So if you mark a waypoint at the end of a trail, the navigation will always give you the direct path there, even though the trail may twist and turn.

Inreach Mini Online Map
You can plan on the Earthmate app or on the online dashboard seen here. The online maps are good quality.

Following a Route

Inreach Mini Navigation
Navigation is basic on the Mini. You can’t see if you’re on the trail or not, but you can see the (straight line) distance to the next waypoint. This is the navigation display on the home screen.
Inreach Mini Next Waypoint
Here’s what the navigation display looks like on the detail screen.

Following routes is similar to following waypoints. In fact, a route in the inReach world is simply a series of waypoints.

If you’re familiar with following a course on a device like the Fenix watch, the GPS will monitor whether you’re on-trail or not, and will alert you when you’re not, or when there is a turn. The inReach Mini is much more basic.

Inreach Mini Routes
Here’s an example of planning a route along a winding trail. It’s a series of waypoints.

Also note that the inReach Mini does not sync with Garmin Connect or Garmin Basecamp, and any courses you plan there will not work on the Mini unless you export and import them into the inReach dashboard.

Compass

Inreach Mini Compass
The compass screen can be handy when trying to get a general idea of your direction of travel.

The compass is not a magnetic compass, but simply a display that indicates your direction of travel based on consecutive GPS fixes. It’s handy in a pinch but not good for stationary navigation.

inReach Mini Tracking

Inreach Mini Tracking
Here’s the tracking screen on the Mini, which is like a little trip computer. The unit saves a track internally, and also broadcasts your track position out to your MapShare page and intervals you specify.

Tracking is a handy feature where the unit sends out positions at regular intervals and plots them on a map for family and friends to see. It’s a nice way to let folks know that you’re safe, but it comes at cost of one of the more expensive plans and some battery life.

garmin inreach review tracking
Here’s what a track looks like on the website after it’s been transmitting for a while.

You can minimize the battery drain of tracking by changing the send interval in the settings. The choices you have are: 10 min, 20 min, 30 min, 1 hr, 2 hr, 4 hr. The “Extreme” subscription plan also lets you track at 2 min intervals. The default is 10 minutes. There’s also an extended tracking mode which puts the device into sleep mode between track points to maximize battery life.

Tracking is a neat way for people to follow you in a detailed manner, but for me it seems like overkill. You can simply turn the unit on and off, send (free) preset messages to check in with your position, check for new texts, and then turn it back off. It’s economical and keeps the battery topped up in case of an emergency.

Fenix Watches, ANT+ & the inReach Mini

Garmin added this neat feature to the inReach Mini, but it’s more of a convenience than a necessity. If you have a device that can sync with an ANT+ sensor, you can use it as a remote control for the inReach Mini.

The Garmin Fenix watches can pair with ANT+ and the Mini, so if you have a Fenix you can use it as a remote control to view incoming messages, send preset messages, start and stop tracking, and initiate or cancel an SOS.

inReach Mini Battery Life

Inreach Mini Battery Display
The main device display has a battery icon that shows how much you’ve used, and you can also get a detailed percentage when your Mini is paired with Earthmate.

For such a small unit, the battery life is good on the inReach Mini, and you can tell that the Garmin engineers put a lot of thought into making the Mini efficient and giving the user options to extend the battery life.

Here are the specs:

After testing the Mini for a while, I found that no one feature really killed he battery quickly. As you would expect, sending lots of messages, getting weather reports, and tracking drained it quicker than not. Having Bluetooth on in a 5-hour test just brought the battery percentage down by 5% more (than not having it on).

If you have tracking on and the unit can’t get a fix on a satellite (GPS or Iridium), it will drain the battery down quickly as it constantly tries to connect. Cell phones have a similar problem when they’re in and out of a service area. If you have tracking on, I’d recommend checking the device periodically (like every hour or so) to make sure it’s connecting.

My Tips For Using the inReach Mini

After using the inReach Mini for a while, and having used the inReach Explorer (and previous Delorme for years), here’s what I would recommend with the inReach Mini.

Overall, I really love the inReach Mini and use it on every hike. I like it better than the inReach Explorer, but again, that might be a better choice for you.

Buy the inReach Mini at REI

Inreach Mini Buy Rei

The inReach Mini comes in two colors, black and orange. I went with orange since it’s easier to see.

If you’re thinking about buying the Garmin InReach Mini, there’s something important you can do to help support this site and review.Use this link to buy your InReach Mini from REI. You get REI dividend money back (which will cover the membership cost), free shipping, you can easily return it, and there’s a host of other benefits. I get a small percentage of every sale, so you’ll help support my website hosting costs and all that dumb stuff.

See the Latest Prices at REI

A little pricey, but great peace of mind… For me and wife. Worked flawlessly. Battery was great. – Amazon Reviewer

inReach Mini Accessories

Inreach Mini Attachements
The inReach Mini comes with a mounts that will work for most folks.

When you first get the Mini out of the box it’s setup with the loop connector. You can clip the included carabiner to the Mini and then clip it to your gear or pack. You can also run a lanyard through the loop.

Inreach Mini Loop Clip
The attached loop is big enough to fit a carabiner or small line through.
Inreach Mini Carbiner
Running the carabiner through the loop lets you lash it to most anything.

You can also use the included hex wrench to put the spine connector on the back of the unit, which allows you to hook the Mini to an (optional) spine-mount belt clip or backpack mount. I just keep it simple and put it in a pocket on my backpack.

It looks like the inReach Mini will fit in a Ram Mount X-Grip holder too.

If you need to top up the battery on the trail, any portable charging option will work. The unit charges with a micro-USB cable, which is standard for chargers.

inReach Mini Unboxing

Inreach Mini Unboxing Front Back

Inreach Mini Unboxing Open

Inreach Mini Unboxing Parts

inReach Mini Setup

Inreach Mini Setup Webpage
You can’t just pop the inReach Mini out of the box and start using it unfortunately. You need to perform some setup.

Here’s how to approach setup the Garmin inReach Mini:

  1. Sign up for an account at explore.garmin.com
  2. Turn the inReach Mini on
  3. Select your language
  4. Select Activate
  5. Enter the IMEI & auth code from the Mini on the account setup on the website
  6. Pick a plan and setup your information on the website (preset messages, contacts, etc.)
  7. Download the Earthmate app and login to your online account in the app
  8. Pair the Mini with your phone and sync with Earthmate
  9. Send a test message
  10. Charge the device fully (it comes partially charged)

inReach Mini Manuals & Support

Here’s some more resources where you can dig deeper.

Garmin Walkthrough Video

inReach Mini Specs

Customizing Your inReach Mini

Inreach Mini Mgrs
You can customize a limited number of features on the device, including the coordinate system.

Since the inReach Mini is a pretty basic device, there aren’t a whole lot of settings to tweak. Here are the highlights:

One of the reasons why I’m a fan of Garmin is that they’re great about actively updating firmware. Based on the updates and feature additions from my other Garmin devices, I’d expect that to be the same for the inReach Mini. Here’s what they addressed in the latest firmware.

inReach versus SPOT

There are a few two-way satellite communicator options out there, and I tested most of them. I preferred inReach Mini over the SPOT units. Whether the inReach Explorer or inReach Mini is right for you is your call.

And just a note, all of these devices require a subscription.

I purchased both a Spot X and Garmin Inreach Mini at the same time a month ago. I planned to test both and keep the one I thought was best. To my surprise, it wasn’t close at all. I found the Inreach Mini to be far superior. – REI Reviewer

inReach Mini vs Spot Gen 3

Spot Gen 3 Versus Garmin Inreach Mini
The units might be similarly sized, but there’s no comparison in terms of functionality.

I used to be a big Spot fan when I got my first satellite beacon back in 2010. But over the years the company went downhill a bit, as did the devices.

The Spot Gen 3 is a reasonably priced unit, but when it comes to a device that will potentially save your life, does $200 matter?

I ended up ditching the Spot Gen 3 in favor of the Garmin inReach Mini because:

inReach Mini vs Spot X

Spot X Versus Inreach Mini
The Garmin inReach is not only smaller, it’s better.

The Spot X is the newest unit from Spot and I had high hopes for it. Unlike the Spot Gen 3, the Spot X is a 2-way communicator. It has a keyboard like the old Blackberries, which I was excited about, since the inReach units make you button through the keyboard (a pain).

The price-point of the Spot X is lower than the inReach Mini, but you lose the ability to get weather reports and you can’t do any advanced navigation like you can with the inReach Mini paired with your phone.

I tested the Spot X for a month and was disappointed. If I was in charge of Spot, I wouldn’t have shipped the unit out the door like it was. Here’s why I don’t recommend the unit.

Pay $100 more and get the inReach Mini.

The Spot X is a great gift for someone you never wish to see or hear from again. – REI Reviewer

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