Top

Preview: Garmin inReach Mini || 2-way satellite messaging for 3.5 oz!

The new Garmin inReach Mini is half the weight and size of the existing inReach SE+ and Explorer+. It will be available in late-June/early-July 2018.

Garmin dropped a big surprise this morning: a new addition to its popular inReach line, the inReach Mini. This new device is noteworthy for two reasons:

1. Size

The inReach Mini weighs just 3.5 oz (100 grams) and measures 4″ x 2″ x 1″ (5 cm x 10 cm x 2.5 cm), making it about half the weight and size of Garmin’s two existing inReach devices, the inReach SE+ and inReach Explorer+. Its more comparable to the SPOT Gen3 than the other inReach units.

2. Functionality

The Mini retains the essential inReach function: two-way satellite messaging, i.e. it can send and receive text and emergency messages anywhere in the world, using the Iridium satellite network.

To achieve its weight and size, some secondary features had to be sacrificed, like navigation and battery life; the new virtual keyboard is even more painstakingly slow. When paired to a smartphone via the Earthmate app, however, most functionality is fully regained.

The Mini also has functionality that not even the larger SE+ and Explorer+ have, such as compatibility with other Garmin devices like the Fenix 5 GPS watch.

Preview: Garmin inReach Mini

Due to its size and weight, I would expect the inReach Mini to gain traction with user groups that would never consider the SE+/Explorer+. I’m specifically thinking of trail runners and cyclists. Many long-distance and ultralight backpackers will gravitate to this device as well — they’ve been asking Garmin for a Mini-like device for a while now.

I would have thought that such a noteworthy product would be launched at a press or industry event, but I don’t think that was the case here. Garmin did not show it at the last Consumer Electronic Show or Outdoor Retailer, both in January, nor did it seed the Mini for testing with major outdoor media outlets like Outside and GearJunkie. The Mini appears to have launched with just a press release.

According to the Garmin website, the Mini will be available in “5 to 8 weeks,” or mid-June to early-July.


Key product specs

  • MSRP: $350
  • Weight: 3.5 oz (100 g)
  • Size: 2.0″ x 3.9″ x 1.0″ (5.2 x 9.9 x 2.6 cm)
  • Service plan required ($12 to $100 per month)
  • Connects via Bluetooth with free Earthmate smartphone app and with some Garmin devices

Functionality

As a standalone device

When used independently of other devices, the inReach Mini can:

  • Send an SOS message;
  • Send preset messages (set beforehand in the inReach online portal);
  • Send custom messages, using a painfully slow virtual keyboard;
  • Receive messages;
  • Send and receive messages with other inReach devices;
  • Broadcast its location to an online map, at 2- or 10-minute intervals; and,
  • Request a weather forecast for a current or future location.

The Mini can also store 500 waypoints and 20 routes. The 0.9″ x 0.9″ display does not have a grid map (like the SE+) or color topo map (like the Explorer+).

When paired

The functionality and user-friendliness of the inReach Mini greatly improve when it’s paired via Bluetooth to a smartphone using the free Earthmate app. Menus can be more quickly navigated; custom messages can be typed much faster; and your entire contact list can be accessed.

Equally important, Earthmate gives your phone the functionality of a conventional handheld GPS device. View your location (retrieved by the GPS chip in the Mini or in your phone) on a color topo map, create and navigate to waypoints, and record tracks. Multiple map and imagery layers can be downloaded to Earthmate, as detailed here.

Unlike earlier inReach devices, the Mini is also compatible with other Garmin devices, notably the Garmin Fenix 5. Especially on runs, I appreciate being notified by my Suunto Ambit3 watch of incoming phone calls and text messages without needing to stop. Now, this same functionality is possible with messages sent via satellite.

inReach Mini service plans

The inReach Mini requires a service plan. Garmin offers four personal plans for all its inReach devices, ranging from $12 to $100 per month. The more expensive plans include higher (or no) caps on text messages, tracking, and weather forecasts.

The plans are available as an annual contract ($12 to $80 per month) or month-to-month ($15 to $100 per month, plus a $25 annual fee).

Battery life

Relative to the inReach SE+/Explorer+, the Mini has a shorter battery life. It is spec’d at:

  • 20 days at the 30-minute interval power save mode
  • 50 hours at 10-minute tracking with 2-minute logging
  • 30 hours at the 10-minute tracking with 1-second logging

In comparison, the SE+/Explorer+ spec at 30 days, 100 hours, and 75 hours, respectively.

On longer trips, the shorter battery life is easily negated with a portable battery charger like the Anker PowerCore 10000. The Mini’s battery capacity (mAh) is not specified in the press materials, so I’m uncertain how many times it could be recharged with a, say, 10k mAh portable battery.

Questions about the inReach Mini? Leave a comment.


Disclosure. This website is supported mostly through affiliate marketing, whereby for referral traffic I receive a small commission from select vendors, at no cost to the reader. This post contains affiliate links. Thanks for your support.

48 Responses to Preview: Garmin inReach Mini || 2-way satellite messaging for 3.5 oz!

  1. Chris May 3, 2018 at 1:17 pm #

    The Garmin website says the mini weighs 4.23 oz. Did you get the 3.5 oz weight from somewhere else? Does that difference come because of the optional carabiner?

    • Andrew Skurka May 3, 2018 at 1:43 pm #

      Per https://buy.garmin.com/en-US/US/p/592606#specs

      • Chris May 3, 2018 at 1:45 pm #

        Ah, on the ‘spec’ page. I was reading the ‘overview’ page where it says:
        “Measuring just under 4” tall by 2” wide and weighing a mere 4.23 oz, …” under the “Travel Lighter, Communicate Smarter” heading.

        Seems to be conflicting numbers. I’m curious what the discrepancy comes from…

        • Chris May 3, 2018 at 2:01 pm #

          Yes – it looks like the 3.5 oz number is correct. It weighs 4 oz with the carabiner, so assuming 3.5 without.

      • Bob S. May 3, 2018 at 5:34 pm #

        The Explorer Mini combined with the carabiner is definitely smaller, lighter in weight and features, and $150.02 more expensive than buying the original Explore which makes it great for the ultralight hiker dialing in their gear and base weight. For the rest of us gravitationally challenged humans the weight difference is equivalent to about a half cup of dry roasted and salted sunflower seeds ;-P

        But, yeah, the Mini is wicked cool!

        • Andrew Skurka May 3, 2018 at 7:57 pm #

          In terms of functionality, you’re right: it offers little more than the original inReach, and at a much higher cost. But if you’re in the market for this kind of device, the Mini could be much more appealing than the SE+/Explorer+ due to its weight, size, and cost; and more appealing also than the original SE/Explorer, which Garmin will not repair and which have a serious SOS button malfunction issue.

          • Dan May 9, 2018 at 9:44 am #

            What is the SOS malfunction issue on original inreach? Is it just that the button is too easily accessible on front panel causing possible unintended activations?

            Considering the inreach explorer+ (model prior to garmin) because I found it on sale for $200.

          • Andrew Skurka May 9, 2018 at 9:55 am #

            https://www.outsideonline.com/2291531/garmin-inreach-units

          • Franklin May 9, 2018 at 11:15 am #

            Dan, if you don’t mind, where do you see the original explorer on sale for $200?

          • Dan May 18, 2018 at 6:10 am #

            Franklin, The $200 deal is here: https://www.cabelas.com/product/DeLorme-InReach-Explorer-Satellite-Communicator-with-Navigation/1926518.uts?slotId=0

            What do you all think, go with the new mini for $350 or old Explorer for $200?

            Weight is part of the equation, but not huge. Mostly will be used for backpacking and dirtbiking in the backcountry.

          • Josh May 18, 2018 at 9:23 am #

            I think the mini is a great balance between price/weight/functionality. Although the $150 price difference is intriguing, I personally would probably keep wanting the mini for its light weight and smaller footprint. I unfortunately I got the Explorer + a few weeks before the announcement of the Mini. I love it but I’ll have to live with the fact that I could be carrying 4oz less ;o) At least I’ll have backup maps. Get what you’ll ultimately be happier with and you’ll forget about the price difference in a few weeks ;o)

          • Josh May 18, 2018 at 9:36 am #

            Looks like REI is having a sale for $75 off the Explorer + Don’t see it on the website, but it’s in the catalog.

  2. Shawn May 3, 2018 at 1:21 pm #

    Glonass and/or Galileo support this time around?

    • Andrew Skurka May 3, 2018 at 1:47 pm #

      No mention of either, but that’s not to say there’s not.

      • Bearcreek May 6, 2018 at 12:18 pm #

        I really doubt it. It holds a maximum of 500 waypoints, just like the original Delorme units. I strongly suspect that it has even less functionallity than those. What Garmin needs to do is build the two way messaging feature into one of their fully functional GPS receivers.

  3. Hunter May 3, 2018 at 1:23 pm #

    Why can’t they just incorporate the 2 way messaging and SOS into the Fenix 5X? That would be a KILLER product if paired with a smartphone.

    • Andrew Skurka May 3, 2018 at 1:42 pm #

      I think you’d need a much bigger battery and stronger antenna than what can be squeezed into the Fenix 5. One day….

  4. Langleybackcountry May 3, 2018 at 2:03 pm #

    You said it stripped out “navigation”, but stores “500 waypoints and 20 routes.” So no mapping function at all? You need the Earthmate to see the routes?

    Also, do you know if it has a barometric altimiter?

    • Andrew Skurka May 3, 2018 at 2:09 pm #

      Until I have one in-hand or see a review by someone who understands GPS nav, there’s going to be some speculation involved.

      I think the nav is really basic, like a digital needle that tells you the direction and distance to your next waypoint. Imagine a GPS from the 1990’s. To bring the nav into this century, you need Earthmate.

      Not sure about the barometer. No spec or implication one way or the other.

      • Langleybackcountry May 3, 2018 at 2:34 pm #

        I have a Foretrex 401, which is super basic, but maybe they are assuming that most users will have a phone, so why bother? That isn’t necessarily wrong.

        • Jeremy May 3, 2018 at 6:14 pm #

          To me this is quite reasonable; in contrast to a decent phone app, maps on GPS handhelds are pretty painful to use. I’m happy as long as these beacons can display my coordinates.

        • Andrew Skurka May 3, 2018 at 8:05 pm #

          Yes, most users have a phone, so it makes sense to remove weight and expense that exists for a redundant feature.

          Also, there are other ways to navigate, e.g. paper.

          • Langleybackcountry May 4, 2018 at 10:05 am #

            What is this “paper” of which you speak? 😉

  5. Nick May 3, 2018 at 3:52 pm #

    so if I 1) am just looking for something to keep in contact with the family at home 2) use the earth mate app so the text functionality is decent and 3) take an external battery with me to keep other devices charged, this seems to fit thbe bill more than the standard size models? Any other differences?

    • Andrew Skurka May 3, 2018 at 8:03 pm #

      Ding, ding, yes.

      The case for the SE+/Explorer+ is largely undermined by the Mini. In addition to shorter battery life, the Mini’s weakness is as a standalone unit: its navigation features are crude, and the virtual keyboard looks awful (so stick with the preset messages at all costs, and enter your most important contacts through the online portal). But with the Earthmate app, the Mini can do everything that the SE+/inReach+ can do.

      • Langleybackcountry May 4, 2018 at 9:44 am #

        Everything except, apparently, the altimeter, which is not listed in the specs. This is probably a deal-breaker for me at that price.

        • Andrew Skurka May 4, 2018 at 10:39 am #

          Why do you need the altimeter so badly? Don’t you have an altimeter watch, or can’t you just pull the altitude off your phone?

          • Langleybackcountry May 5, 2018 at 9:08 am #

            Mainly it’s because in my case, my current GPS has a barometric altimeter. Switching to a device without it I am losing a valuable tool and have to add another device at a much higher cost. I would rather get the Explorer+ unit in spite if the size because it is replaceing a device, retaining all of it’s functionality, and gaining the satellite and phone-syncing capability and greater battery life.

            Getting elevation from the GPS doesn’t provide weather information like a barometer can, and as long as you calibrate the altimeter with known elevations, GPS-based elevation can be a lot less reliable. I am a Backcountry skier and often out in poor visibility (Cascades in winter), so elevation is important to me.

            I understand that this is particular to my situation. Obviously the tradeoff may not matter as much, to someone else, especially if the device they are replacing doesn’t have a barometer already.

            It definitely looks like a great option for a lot of people. It’s exciting to see it moving in this direction and I would not be surprised to see a more fully-featured version more appealing to serious mountaineers in the near future.

          • Adrian May 11, 2018 at 2:00 am #

            Barometric altimeter watch on your wrist is a good option in place of the GPS, faster to read, and you’re not having to stop and pull out a piece of emergency gear and run it’s batteries down.

  6. Sean May 3, 2018 at 4:51 pm #

    Any concerns about switch exposure and accidentally setting off the SOS function on this model – based on what can be seen so far?

    • Andrew Skurka May 3, 2018 at 7:57 pm #

      It appears well protected, like the SE+/Explorer+, but I’ll have to verify when I see one.

  7. Joe S May 3, 2018 at 6:07 pm #

    Does anyone know if the GPS data from an InReach device is available to other mobile phone applications, such as GaiaGPS? I’m wondering if I could disable location services on my mobile phone and still get GPS location data via bluetooth.

    • Andrew Skurka May 3, 2018 at 7:54 pm #

      This was discussed in the context of the SE+/Explorer+. I think the answer was no, i.e. the inReach GPS chip will share its location only with the Earthmate app.

      • scotty May 5, 2018 at 11:19 pm #

        There are a few videos of people using the inreach with Gaia. Search the Gaia forum. It’s over of the main reasons I will get one.

        • Andrew Skurka May 6, 2018 at 8:10 am #

          Thank you. Wasn’t clear on it, and haven’t tried myself.

    • Jeremy May 6, 2018 at 11:04 am #

      I just did a quick experiment with a wifi-only iPad and my DeLorme inReach SE. It appears to work with Gaia and SEAiq (sailing app).

      Results: ±65 m error with inReach off, ±10 m error with inReach on. I toggled it a few times and it was pretty consistent. Also, I kept the inReach showing the location screen, and the jump to ±10 m happened in sync with the inReach actually getting its GPS fix.

      However, you won’t be able to disable Location Services as that would prevent your apps from working. (I checked that too.) From other poking about it seems hard to ensure that an external device would be used over an internal device; that’s based on what’s written here: https://icmtgis.wordpress.com/2014/03/05/using-an-external-gps-with-icmtgis-ii-on-ipad/

  8. Chris Walker May 4, 2018 at 8:44 am #

    Andrew, I know you did a talk at google not all that long ago… so you probably have some connections to people with interest in backpacking. This is kind of about GPS also.

    I also know you seem to know where the cellular signal etc is when you were talking about mt whitney.

    I’m dropping this article here… I’ll explain right below.
    https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2018/05/03/missing-hiker-faces-huge-bill-rescue-operation-found-luxury/

    So dude has a cell.. he has battery, he has GPS, and a desire to check in… but it fails… now they want a lot of money from him to pay for a search and rescue attempt… while he was like soaking in a hot tub…

    You and I both know cell signal out there can be spotty… and if you leave your cell on when there is no signal your battery will be dead in no time flat… so you can’t just leave it on and be like “great.. it’s uploading my tracks to google maps for my family to see”

    But here is the thing… Google has all the topos, google probably knows where all the cellular towers are, google can see your GPS location and altitude, google can decide when your cellular antenna goes on and off on your android phone.

    Why can’t there be an app that while in airplane mode looks for a few things
    Your location vs where a cell tower might be
    Your location in terms of on a peak or cliff that might have better access
    Your time since last check in

    If Google thinks you might have signal.. and you have the running it goes “he hasn’t checked in for 4 hours… if he is on a peak or near a cell tower he has picked that after 4 hours no check in he wants me to try and get a signal.. buzz him to let him know (sound or vibrate)… and upload his location to where his family can see it”

    Google already uploads the location but it’s like the assumption that you have 24×7 signal in downtown manhatten kinda thing… I’m talking a more refined GPS check-in for backwoods use that uses googles data in a better way to allow it to be usable without eating your battery.

    Does this make sense to you? I mean if your family know you got up and were moving in the last 4 hours and it seems like you have been making consistent distances it would help to calm people down.. and if something DID happen.. the search and rescue people would have more accurate data to go by… without using something like a SPOT device which is kinda pricey to most of us who don’t go out as many days as you.

    Anyway just trying to get this thought to someone who has more influence in the backpacking world and possibly regular contact with someone at google… I think it would increase public safety, make families feel more secure, and decrease the expenses of communities that have to do regular search and rescue missions which I am sure would help keep our national and stae parks better funded as some of this falls back on them… and funding has been cut and we can’t afford to lose them…

    I don’t want money.. I just want to help make a change… just forward it on to someone if you have a contact… see what happens.

    • Joshua Staines May 5, 2018 at 9:27 am #

      Chris , there are a bunch of free GPS tracking apps for cell phones. I like ViewRanger with it’s Buddy Beacon, also have used FollowMe. Sends your GPS location to a web interface so people with the link can see where you are, without cell service. I use my phone for tracking and an InReach for 2 way communication. But if you didn’t have the InReach a free GPS tracking app could have prevented that issue. Hotels also have good ol land lines where he could have actually called his wife. 😉

  9. Edward May 5, 2018 at 4:12 pm #

    Andrew, by chance have you done a field comparison (e.g., open field, forested campsite, atop a summit, in a canyon, along a river) of various satellite messegener systems?

    Have had a couple and they generally take anywhere from 5 to 20+ minutes (so long that I stop paying attention) to send a basic text message.

    Would be curious if any model has better performance, or if the satellites they use are the reason for better performance.

    • Andrew Skurka May 6, 2018 at 8:13 am #

      What units are you suggesting to use? With SPOT and plb’s, you never know if it’s been receieved. That only leaves inReach. Guess you could compare SE/Explorer and +/+, but not sure it’ll help much since older units are hard to come by.

  10. Edward May 7, 2018 at 12:49 pm #

    Good morning,
    in theory, could test in SEKI anywhere you have a Cellular or Wi-Fi signal, such as JM Lodge, Grants Grove, Wuksachi, etc.

    That way your email account on your cellphone, tablet, or laptop could be used to verify reception of messages.

    Have a SPOT Gen3 that I’d be willing to ship over for testing, in the interests of science and outdoor safety research.

    Busy weekend and busy at work on Monday morning, haven’t had time to sit down and cogitate regarding testing paradigms.

    • Jeremy May 7, 2018 at 2:45 pm #

      As long as the sending time is recorded, you should be able to check after the fact; just dig through the email headers for the earliest timestamp you can find. It might not be the precise time the message was received by the satellite, and email times are not guaranteed, but in most cases it should be close enough. (Keep in mind that sometimes the message might have traversed the satellite part of the network just fine, but is held up at one of the mail servers; email isn’t a guaranteed service.)

      Also possibly worth a look is checking which satellites are visible at the time of sending. (Mostly to know if a message was sent at a particularly bad time.)

      Finally, some of the ACR PLBs support limited through-satellite tests, not just unit self-tests, so it should be possible to test all three of the major devices. For that testing, I’d also consider locations both in the open and on a north face, as I believe those require hitting a geostationary bird. E.g. GOES-15 has an elevation of 44° from the SF Bay area, but only 32° from Vancouver.

  11. Adrian May 11, 2018 at 2:04 am #

    Quite relieved to see Garmin keep working on the line, was worried it would stall after they bought DeLorme.

    Any idea why this wouldn’t be promoted more? The inreach seems to get reviewed well, it’s basically alone in the category, unlike regular GPSs it’s in no danger of being replaced by smartphones, sites like https://www.outdoorgearlab.com/topics/camping-and-hiking/best-handheld-gps rank it in the top devices…

  12. Hunter G Hall May 11, 2018 at 4:03 pm #

    https://www.findmespot.com/spotx/lander.php

    Let the PLB wars begin!

    • Josh May 11, 2018 at 5:44 pm #

      Oof. If that’s the best Spot can come up with, I think Garmin is already winning the war.

      • Langleybackcountry May 11, 2018 at 5:55 pm #

        Well that’s intriguing. It indicates Garmin will not be alone in this device space. A quick look at the “Quick Start” manual and under “Navigation” it has a compass and waypoints. That appears to be it, and it does not appear to connect with a phone for electronic mapping, so that’s a big difference. Also not truly global, but I am not sure of the extent of the InReach 2-way system either.

        • Langleybackcountry May 11, 2018 at 6:19 pm #

          Also, still Golbalstar vs Iridium

        • Jeremy May 11, 2018 at 6:40 pm #

          Globalstar birds need to have both you and a ground station in sight to relay the message, which is why SPOT’s coverage map looks the way it goes. Iridium has global coverage.

          Linking to a phone might be nice, but my phone already has a mapping app that I prefer (Gaia) so that’s not a great loss. Both these devices offer communications ability in case my phone gives out, and both appear compatible with paper maps.

Leave a Reply