In advance of my thru-hike later this month of the Kings Canyon High Basin Route, I purchased a DeLorme inReach Explorer and Delorme inReach SE. I bought both so that I could evaluate them in-person before returning one, and I thought I would share my assessment and my buying recommendations.
The inReach will replace my SPOT Gen3 Satellite Messenger (long-term review), which has been a very reliable device but which only offers 1-way communication. With the 2-way inReach, family and friends can send me messages, too. For my wife, Amanda, this was a must-have feature, since I have a history of being gone during the worst of times, including the 2013 Boulder floods and when our fur child had to be taken to the vet ER.
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Key differences between the inReach Explorer and SE
Specs. Physically, the units seem to be exactly the same. Same size, same weight (6.9 oz), same screen, and same buttons. On the inside, some of the hardware (e.g. battery, antenna, memory) is no doubt the same, too. However, the Explorer has some additional features: a digital compass, barometric altimeter, accelerometer, and more memory.
Cost. The Explorer retails for $380 and the SE for $300 (available at REI.com, Backcountry.com, Cabela’s and other retailers). Since they are not seasonal items, don’t expect to see them below MSRP until an updated unit is released. I bought mine during a Memorial Day sale with a coupon for 25% off one full-priced item. As with the SPOT Gen3, a service plan is required to operate the inReach units. The service and service cost is identical for both units.
Messaging and tracking. The Explorer and SE both offer 2-way communication and tracking. Send 160-character text messages to cell phones or email addresses, and receive messages back. Messages can be sent directly from the device, or via a smartphone that has Delorme’s Earthmate app and that has been paired with the inReach using Bluetooth.
Navigation. For the extra $80 at retail, the inReach Explorer offers the functionality of a conventional handheld GPS unit like the popular Garmin eTrex 30:
- Provide current location
- Create waypoints and routes
- Navigate to waypoints and along routes
Routes and waypoints can be created with the device, or beforehand in your Delorme account and then synced to the inReach.
In contrast, the inReach SE is almost strictly a communication device. One exception: it does provide its current location, which can be overlaid on a topographic map with the same grid system, e.g. UTM.
Is the inReach Explorer worth it?
Most definitely, I will be keeping the inReach SE and returning the inReach Explorer. The Explorer fails to offer $80 in extra value as a GPS unit, and these funds would be much better spent on a 2-year GaiaGPS Pro account ($4/month, or $40/year) that allows me to use my smartphone as a kick-ass GPS unit. Alternatively, consider Backcountry Navigator or Trimble Outdoors Navigator Elite.
The inReach Explorer has a pitifully small and low-res screen, relative to the large, bright, and high-res screens on modern smartphones. While the Explorer must be operated with its clunky buttons, a smartphone allows for tapping, pinching, swiping, and rotating.
Furthermore, a GPS app offers a more extensive database of maps and imagery. With Gaia GPS, for example, I can view ariel imagery and USGS 7.5-minute quads, the gold standard for topographic maps in the US.
In the most basic sense, the Explorer is functional as a handheld GPS, and thus could be used as one, which would eliminate the extra weight of a smartphone and the extra cost of an app. However, in nearly all imaginable circumstances I will be carrying my smartphone anyway. First, due to security concerns I don’t leave it in my car at a trailhead. Second, unless I plan to only use the inReach’s preset messages (which undermines why I initially bought the inReach), I’ll want my smartphone: typing on the inReach’s virtual keyboard is painfully slow and frustrating.
If you own the inReach Explorer or inReach SE, I’d be curious to hear the thinking behind your decision and your assessment of the product. Please leave a comment below.
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