The $400 and $450 retail prices on the new Garmin inReach SE+ and Garmin inReach Explorer+ probably causes many prospective customers to balk. Like the second-generation inReach units, the inReach+ models can send and receive text messages and emergency signals even if outside of cellular range.
But the inReach+ units are more than just that. They are better described as handheld GPS units with inReach technology. The SE+ is a fairly basic unit, while the Explorer+ has the features you’d expect in a mid-tier GPS-only device, like full-color topographic maps and a digital compass (so that it knows its bearing even if it’s not moving).
Is this all worth $450 or $500 to you? I can’t answer that without knowing more about your intended use and budget. But I can help you learn more about exactly what inReach+ is and does. Here’s a deeper dive into a few of the details:
1. Topo North America (NA)
The Explorer+ is pre-loaded with DeLorme Topo North America (or Topo NA), a proprietary topographic mapping layer. What does it look like? Here are some screenshots:
Topo NA is based on the gold standard USGS 7.5-minute quadrangles. I don’t find it to be as aesthetically pleasing, but it’s functional and it’s more up to date. Here is a side-by-side comparison:
The Topo NA data has been finessed some for the Explorer+. Per Garmin: “We’ve improved the contour drawing process to adjust the density on the fly and make the maps more readable in the mountains. We wanted climbers to be able to see the individual contours and their labels rather than just seeing brown when the elevation change is dramatic and the contours draw so closely you can’t tell them apart.”
Topographic maps are NOT pre-loaded on the SE+, and maps cannot be user-loaded. The SE+ only has a primitive grid map with lat/long. However, you can pair the SE+ to a smartphone with the Earthmate app, which can display Topo NA, USGS quads, and aerial imagery so long as it’s downloaded beforehand (or has cell service).
2. Quick type
The “virtual keyboard” on the second-generation inReach devices was carried over to the inReach+. Typing messages on it was a slow and tedious process. However, it allowed you to send messages without carrying a smartphone, and it’s arguably more user-friendly in crappy weather (i.e. rain and cold, when smartphone touchscreens are difficult to use).
Garmin improved the keyboard for the inReach SE+ and Explorer+ by adding a quick-type feature. It will suggest words in its dictionary and words that the user has typed before. Screenshots:
3. Service test tool
More than a few users have carried their inReach (or SPOT or satellite phone) into the field, only to realize that it was not functioning properly, sometimes a few days later when a helicopter flew overhead looking for them.
A service test tool should have been on the second-generation units, but was not. The SE+ and Explorer+ have it. Screenshots:
4. Weather forecasts
Using the excellent WX2InReach service, it was possible to have location-specific weather updates sent to a second-generation inReach, either regularly or on-demand.
The inReach+ units have a built-in weather forecast tool for land and marine uses. Details, per Garmin: “The weather for our land-based forecasts comes from Dark Sky, maker of the popular Dark Sky app and the forecast.io API, the same used by WX2InReach. Weather forecasts for the majority of the world will be the same for both WX2inReach and Garmin inReach+, and our tool will offer hourly granularity and seven day forecasts and an easier to read interface.
“The forecast is specific to your location, so you will definitely see different forecasts over a 5 mile range. But my research has led me to believe that it does not take into account elevations in a way that a high summit forecast would. I have tested this out by comparing the valley and summit forecasts received by inReach with those given by the Mt Washington observatory. What I found was that the inReach forecast was more of an average for the area that I used as my location coordinates.”
[Last updated February 8, 2016. In the original post I was given an incorrect source for Garmin’s weather data.]
More questions about the inReach+?
If you have not done so already, read my other posts about the inReach+. Also, feel free to leave a comment here. I have a reliable contact on the inReach team if the question has not been asked and I don’t know the answer.
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