Comps: inReach Mini vs SE+/Explorer+, SPOT Gen3, and PLB’s

For Outside I have written a piece on the primary differences between the new Garmin inReach Mini, which was released last week, and existing satellite communication devices like the inReach SE+, inReach Explorer+, SPOT Gen3, and personal locator beacons like the ACR Electronics ResQLink.

Here’s the link:

The Garmin InReach Mini vs. the Competition

If you have questions or comments, leave it here, since Outside does not have this feature enabled on their site.

Posted in on May 11, 2018
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  1. Mike on May 11, 2018 at 9:15 am

    As luck would have it, your article is already out of date! Spot just announced an in-reach clone!

    • Andrew Skurka on May 11, 2018 at 9:17 am

      I know! Who would have thought, two new devices in a week.

      • Bob S. on May 11, 2018 at 8:38 pm

        I’m sure a week after you get your new Mini Garmin is going to release the Mini+

    • John Fegyveresi on May 11, 2018 at 11:16 am

      Was just going to say this! Crazy. It looks like you still can’t do a month-to-month, pay-as-you-choose plan for the SpotX though (you still have to sign up for a full year at a time). With that said though, I’d love to see your thoughts on the SpotX if you get a chance to review it Andrew.

      • Charlie Nuttelman on May 17, 2018 at 8:11 am

        +1 on a review of the Spot X, if you have had the chance review it!

        • Andrew Skurka on May 17, 2018 at 10:07 am

          Working on it. Their PR agency has a tight supply of units, but I’m on their list.

    • Joe S on May 11, 2018 at 2:37 pm

      There’s also the new Somewear Global Hotspot that was recently funded. So many options!

      • Jay on May 14, 2018 at 10:12 am

        If Somewear meets all their targets for device functionality, size, weight, and delivery dates, that’ll be a great device, but as usual, I’ll believe it when I see it.

  2. Dmity on May 14, 2018 at 9:45 pm

    What’s your experience with “pausing” inReach subscription? How frequently can I do it?

    • Andrew Skurka on May 14, 2018 at 10:19 pm

      If you sign up for the Freedom plan ($25 per year plus higher monthly fees) you can activate and cancel anytime in your online account. Can’t recall if the cancellation is immediate or if it carries through to the end of the current billing period.

      • Paul on May 25, 2018 at 1:51 pm

        You can change the inReach plan any time you want. The change takes effect at the beginning of the next billing cycle and I think you pay for a minimum of 1 month if you go to a more expensive plan.

        • Dave M on June 20, 2018 at 10:12 am

          According to the Garmin website, if you are on an annual plan, changing to a lower tier annual plan will incur a $24.95 charge. Moving to a higher tiered annual plan incurs no charge.

          Just something to be aware of.

          • dmitry on June 20, 2018 at 12:06 pm

            I believe you’re mistaken Dave: (all the way at the bottom)

            > Service can be suspended a month at a time at no charge


            > Enrollment in Freedom plans is subject to a $29.95 annual fee.

            Interestingly, Roadpost (InReach Canada resller) does it differently (

            > The monthly fee while your plan is suspended is just $2.95


          • Dave M on June 20, 2018 at 7:22 pm


            I should have been more clear – my comments were regarding the “annual” plans, not the Freedom plans. “No charge applies to changing to a more inclusive annual plan; a $29.95 fee applies to changing to a less inclusive annual plan.” BTW the $29.95 is on your CA site link, it is $24.95 on the US site.

            I may have jumped in after the topic had changed to just the Freedom plans, but looking at the OP question (you, I think?) it wasn’t specific to Freedom plans as far as I could tell. Sorry about the confusion.

    • Marc on May 17, 2018 at 2:01 am

      There is also weekly plans available at

      I am partner of this company.

  3. bmcf on May 16, 2018 at 2:10 pm

    With Spot X now added to the mix one of the other factors I look at, though not mentioned much in gear reviews, the satellite networks. IMHO Iridium is a strong market leader and will be around for a long time. GlobalStar, more of an underdog, it’s future a little more tentative.

  4. Marc on May 17, 2018 at 1:59 am

    There is also a new device coming up that combines Iridium + GSM + 4G in one … see

    It also serves with automatic safety features like dead mans switch, and many more.

    I am partner of this company.

  5. Adam Logan on May 27, 2018 at 9:06 am

    Got an estimate on product availability?

    • Andrew Skurka on May 30, 2018 at 7:59 am

      This morning Garmin is saying 3 to 5 weeks, versus the 5 to 8 weeks that it was saying on May 2 when the Mini was released. So they’re falling behind their initial launch date estimate by 1 to 2 weeks every month. If they keep up that pace, I would estimate early-July at the earliest.

  6. Marc on May 31, 2018 at 12:50 am

    Protegear starts shipping the InReach Mini on June 6.

  7. Martin on June 7, 2018 at 4:24 pm

    I can’t see in any specs, DOES THE MINI SHOW A BREADCRUMB TRAIL of an uploaded route and your positon on the screen? If so this is perfect and save 4 oz!

    • Andrew Skurka on June 7, 2018 at 4:33 pm

      No, not really.

      If you load a route onto it, it will show you distance and direction (with numbers and a compass rose) to the next waypoint, but it won’t show where you are on a route. You can, however, use the Earthmate app for that.

    • Steven on June 26, 2018 at 5:44 am

      You can however upload an existing route (mind max 500 point) in GPX format. Followers can see where you are on the track.

  8. Martin on June 7, 2018 at 4:50 pm

    Thanks for the quick reply! It just came in the mail and I can’t see the functions as I haven’t renewed my subscription and don’t know if I’m keeping it.

    I was looking at this for redundancy for off trail hiking as a backup system if the little IPhone I carry dies that has the earthmate app on it.

    I guess if it pointed to my next waypoint I could stay on route, but if I veer off to the side one way or the other I wouldn’t know it.

    Oh well, looks like if I get the fenix 5x that gives enough redundancy. Would be nice to have the route on the screen, but 4 oz savings in base weight is hard to pass up! Happy trails this summer. Its here! And thanks for the quick reply.

  9. PeterB on June 12, 2018 at 1:57 am

    Thanks Andrew for the blog. I was going to buy the Explorer +, but got the Mini instead. You saved me 4 ozs and $100, thanks. The Mini is perfect for my needs. Will start soloing this year and wanted to have an SOS GPS/Satellite device with 2-way communication capability. I would not feel comfortable with a one way messenger and not knowing if an SOS was actually received. The smaller screen size was not an issue as I plan to bring my Smartphone to which I can sync the Garmin Mini with. My phone, even with no cell service, is my camera, Kindle, notepad, and GPS all bundled into one device. Looking forward to my first hike with the new Mini.

    • Andrew Skurka on June 12, 2018 at 2:57 pm

      Good choice. Assuming that it works as well as the existing units (i.e. no bugs), I think for most people it’s the option out there.

  10. John D on June 24, 2018 at 10:18 pm

    One factor I think to keep in mind is the battery life. Yes, it does weigh half as much but the specs indicate the battery only lasts half as long. I usually spend 7 days at at time when I go backpacking. I bring one 6000 mAh battery for my inreach explorer+, iPhone, and steripen (although I have never had to charge this while on trail). I have never run out of charge with this setup and I feel comfortable that I can take as many pictures as I want, read some on the kindle app before going to bed and track for 12 hours a day. My battery weighs 161 grams. I believe that primarily using the inrearch device with its screen during the day saves me significant iPhone battery that adds up over 7 days. If I were to switch to this new mini, I think I would need to get a bigger battery to have the same comfort level that I will not run out of charge on any of my devices. Of course, that would eat up some or even most of that weight savings. In addition, I clip my inreach to the front of my shoulder strap which I find very convenient for looking at the screen to read and respond to messages or to quickly check the map, the elevation, my pace, or distance to the next way point. Even though I have the earthmate app on my iPhone, since getting the explorer+, I find I rarely look at the earthmate app other than for writing messages. When I had the older SE version, I looked at earthmate all the time. I know this sounds kind of stupid to talk about this difference, but I do save battery life doing it this way. That is because I can keep the bluetooth off on both devices. Keeping bluetooth on on both the iphone and the inreach does add up over 7 days. In the past, I tried only turning on bluetooth for the few minutes I needed to use the earthmate app, but that is a pain in the butt when your hiking. Maybe you walk and chew gum better than I do, but I always end up slowing down and/or almost tripping on something. For me, it was annoying enough to leave bluetooth on most of the time.

  11. Cat on June 28, 2018 at 1:06 pm

    Which way you leaning now that SPOT has a flexible Month to Month Plan comparable to Garmin.
    Does the size/weight of Mini and compatibility with Earthmate outweigh the standalone use of the Spot X

    • Steven on July 2, 2018 at 12:05 pm

      Garmin uses Iridium = 100% coverage of the earth, while SPOT uses Globalstar = only few area’s covered and not every area is even good. Besides this from what I read online and experienced myself, even while testing a SPOT Gen3 and both a Garmin inReach Mini and Explorer+ only a few days, seems that the Iridium network is more reliable/stable. This is also caused by the power output whereby the signal is send on the Garmin devices. The SPOT uses a lower power output for sending messages, therefore it’s great battery life but that comes with the price of less reliability. That combined with the (less) coverage of the Globalstar network and you get a less overal performance.
      I would make a choice between SPOT and Garmin on the terrain you want to use it. Comparing plan prices is pointless while you’re in a emergency situation. You don’t want to think about the 50 $ you saved on services.
      I was in for a (mainly) tracking service in Europe (where SPOT is ok) and didn’t felt the need for the two-way messaging feature. However, having a Garmin inReach Mini and an Explorer+ for some days I’m gonna buy a Mini. When I first used it I found it ok-ish but after using it a few times and digging in on all the buttons, it’s a clever thing. The texting on the Mini and Explorer+ is almost identical (even slow). I mainly gonna use it on long cycling trips and carry 10.000 mAh battery packs. Ok, the Explorer+ has double battery life compared to the Mini but the Mini is so light and small it overrulled it for me.

      You can hate or love Garmin but one thing you can credit them for is: when they come with something new it’s ok. Downside of Garmin is, besides they have too much stuff now, is that they always build up on existing products to keep up with other brands. They just don’t have enough time to develop another device. It’s always easier being a runner up then the runner.

  12. GregJ on July 16, 2018 at 4:11 pm

    Hi Andrew. Thanks for the write up. Is there any functional difference between the Explorer+ and the mini-plus-iPhone-with-earthmate? Looking at both but if I already bring my phone with me, I’m wondering if I’d miss anything (except some battery life) by just getting the mini.

    Curious what you think. Thanks!

    • Andrew Skurka on July 27, 2018 at 9:15 am

      When the Mini is paired with a phone, there are almost no functional differences (and perhaps none at all) between the Mini the the SE/Explorer models. When standalone, the Mini has less nav features and is more difficult to operate. But the phone overcomes those deficits entirely.

  13. Lisa on September 18, 2018 at 9:35 pm

    I’m a little late to the party, but your review is helpful. I’ve recently been getting adventurous enough on my solo outings that I’m thinking one of these devices would be a good idea. Actually, it was my mom’s idea (despite the fact that I’m 41, they never stop being moms!). I’ve been using my iPhone with Gaia Premium for GPS and mapping and have been very happy with it. I’m not a big fan of technology, especially when I’m out backpacking, and don’t love the idea of having easy access to messaging, etc. I do, however, think two-messaging is probably a handy feature in an emergency situation (though hopefully I’ll never need it). For the most part, I’m looking for something that will get me help should I break an ankle when I’m off-trail and out of range, and that’s pretty much it. Do you think the Mini is overkill? I can picture using this most months of the year, so would want to avoid high monthly fees…Thanks for your insights!

  14. Michael D Aparicio on February 15, 2019 at 2:11 pm

    Thanks. I own SE+, Mini, and Spot Gen3. Most trips, I like the Spot’s limited messaging. I’ve come to conclude we’re now too connected to the world when we’re in the wilderness, and something is lost. Now that satellite phones are getting cheaper, I’m seeing them on top of Sierra passes. That said, some trips call for more connectivity. When circumstances call for that, I reach for one of my inReach. But, I appreciate the lack of connectivity with the Spot. Of course, if you have to choose, I guess the mini is the safer purchase. We saw some on the JMT last summer. Heard no complaints. Thanks.

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