Field Tested: Garmin InReach Mini Review!

For the past 3 years I’ve been carrying a Satellite Messenger in some capacity for both casual communication with friends and family, and SOS emergency capabilities if s#$t were to hit the fan while I was off the grid. My first satcom device was a SPOT Gen 3 messenger which ultimately failed me when I needed it. After that, I moved on to Delorme Devices which eventually led to Garmin Devices. These felt more reliable but pretty bulky, expensive, and heavy. So what’s next? The Garmin InReach Mini of course! The InReach Mini on paper appears to have solved all of the problems I’ve had with other SatCom devices… but does it deliver? I’ve had this device in my bag for about 5 months now and feel I have used it enough to form a well rounded opinion on it.


Features and Specs

Garmin InReach Mini – This thing is small!
  • SOS – Trigger an SOS event with a dedicated button and communication with emergency responders.
  • 2-Way SMS – Send and receive text messages from friends and family.
  • Live Tracking / Location Sharing – Ability to share location with friends and family in real time.
  • Weather Forecasts – Download weather data from anywhere in the world!
  • ANT+ Integration – Connect with certain Garmin wearables and handhelds to send and receive messages.
  • SmartPhone Integration – Connect to the “Earth Mate” app for IOS and Android to send and receive messages.
  • 100% Worldwide Satellite Coverage
  • Battery Life – claims up to 50 Hours with Tracking Enabled (10 Minute Interval) 
  • Dust and Water resistant housing
  • Basic Navigation Functions

Hardware Design and Form Factor

Activating a new InReach Mini

The highlight feature of the Garmin InReach Mini is its form factor (hence… mini in its name) . This sucker is TINY! The device measures 2.0 in x 3.9 in x 1.0 in and weighs only 3.5 ounces with its included lanyard. This is awesome news for trail runners and hikers who like to pack light.

The InReach Mini is enclosed in a rugged impact, dust, and water resistant plastic and rubber case that feels solid in the hand. I’m not worried when I toss this in my pack next to my ice tools and crampons. The Micro USB port is protected by a thick rubber plug that can be removed to charge the device. The SOS button is also protected by a hard plastic case to prevent accidentally pressing it.

The Garmin InReach Mini features a small but functional monochrome .9″x.9″ LED backlit display with 128×128 pixels. This screen looks a lot like that of the older generation Garmin Fenix Watches. It’s not super flashy but I assume they went this route to save battery life.


Text Messaging

Typing a message on the InReach Mini can take some time.

The Garmin InReach Mini has the ability to send text messages and emails to friends and family. Using the Garmin InReach website or EarthMate app you can setup a series of “Quick Messages” which are pre-canned short messages made by you. These can be accessed using a shortcut on the device. These are ideal for things like “I’m OK” or “I’m camping here for the night”.

You can also create custom messages on the go. These are composed using the smartphone app (Earth Mate) or by using the directional buttons directly on the device. Composing a message with the devices buttons is PAINFUL but possible… I’ll definitely be using the smartphone app unless it’s a truly dire situation!

Quick messages allow you to send short, pre-written messages to your contacts with a couple of button presses.

The great thing about InReach devices is that they have “Message Sent” confirmation. This is HUGE for me. My old SPOT Gen 3 device never let me know if my message was sent… I’d just wait, and pray that my wife was receiving it. With the Garmin InReach Mini a small icon appears to let you know that the message has been sent.

Messages can take up to 5-10 minutes to actually transmit depending on tree cover and your location. It’s definitely not like texting your friends on your iPhone but it does get the job done. When messages are received the InReach Mini emits a pretty annoying chirp that’s hard to miss.


SOS Function

Garmin InReach Mini features a protective cover on the SOS button.

One of the main reasons you’d purchase a Satellite Messaging device is for the SOS functionality. Not only can it be a life saving feature, but it also gives friends and family peace of mind knowing you’re capable of calling for help. I know this is particularly reassuring for my wife when I’m off on some solo adventures.

Running in the remote wilderness of the White Mountains. Peace of mind having the Garmin InReach Mini in my bag!

The InReach Mini carries the same SOS features as its bigger brother the InReach Explorer. A hard plastic flap covers the dedicated SOS button to prevent accidental pushing. When the button is pushed a warning pops up saying that you have 10 seconds to cancel. After that the SOS message is sent to a third party dispatch team. This dispatch team has the ability to send and receive messages directly to and from your device to investigate the severity of the situation (for example: “My leg is broken and I’m off trail”). This kind of information is extremely valuable to search and rescue teams! Once the dispatcher has all of your information they forward it on to local Search and Rescue operations along with your GPS location.

Launching an SOS Event from the Android App is easy.

Another feature of the Garmin InReach Mini is the ability to trigger an SOS event from connected devices. This means you can send SOS messages from your smartphone and certain Garmin Wearables like the Fenix 5 Plus (More on this later).

Fortunately I haven’t gotten into a situation where I needed to use the SOS function of the InReach Mini but I do trust it!


Pricing and Subscription Cost

This all sounds great right?! But how much does it cost?

At the time of writing this review the Garmin InReach Mini is available for $350 from most outdoor outfitters and Amazon. To me, this initial cost is slightly high compared to its competition (SPOT Gen 3 $150, SPOT X $250). However, due to carrying the reliable brand name Garmin… a higher price tag is expected. 

Garmin InReach Plan Pricing and Details

The initial sticker shock isn’t the only expense here though. Most of your money will be consumed by the monthly subscription cost. Plans come in two flavors “Freedom” and “Annual”. The Freedom Plans cost more but offer the flexibility of cancelling or suspending your account at any time. Annual plans are just that… annual contracts that cost less per month but have you locked in for a year. These plans range from $11.99/Month for the most basic to $79.99/Month for the “extreme” package. Keep in mind these are only “base” prices and there’s a few bucks tacked on top for fees and taxes. I opted for the “Recreational” plan which ends up costing about $27 per month after its all said and done.


GPS Tracking and Location Sharing

Example MapShare Page

One feature I really appreciate is the “MapShare” function. MapShare allows my friends and family to follow me in real time when I’m off running a 50 mile race in the mountains with no cell phone coverage. The web interface configure MapShare is a little finicky and dated (this is a trend that continues through the entire InReach website portal). However, once you’ve got it set up works pretty seamlessly. Once I hit “Start Tracking” on my InReach Mini at the trail head the device sends a location update every 10 minutes. This means you don’t get PRECISE location tracking but it’s good enough for my wife to get a general idea of where I am and how fast I’m moving. I even have my Mapshare page sync’d with this website here!

Garmin InReach Mini Tracking

Navigation Functions

Garmin InReach Mini navigating to the start of a course.

The Garmin InReach Mini features some basic navigation tools designed to get you out of a sticky situation. Keep in mind, if you want FULL navigation functions and mapping you’ll need to step up to the big brother Garmin InReach Explorer.

  • Digital Compass – A basic compass tool for map reading and bearing.
  • Waypoint Navigation- The device allows you to save waypoints on the go and navigate to them later. For example “Water” or “Camp Site”.
  • Routes – The Garmin InReach Mini can follow a basic route by uploading a GPX file to the device… Oddly enough it doesn’t appear to support Garmin Connect Routes which is kind of disappointing.
  • Location – The Location page will give you a Latitude and Longitude read out which can be helpful when trying to convey your position to another party.

Garmin and Delorme Ecosystem

Not too long ago in 2016 the Garmin mother ship aquired a company called Delorme. Delorme was the original inventing company of the InReach platform and initial devices launched. Since this acquisition Garmin has rebranded the InReach device and given it a face lift to get it more in-line with their other handhelds and GPS units. However, some things are still seperated and it can be rather confusing to work with these devices.

The InReach Web Portal

InReach Web Portal

I’m going to be blunt. The Garmin InReach web portal is painfully dated. The web portal has seen very little changes since the Delorme days other than changing the brand name at the top. Pages load slowly, the interface isn’t totally obvious, and down-time seems to occur quite frequently. 

The InReach Web Portal allows you to set contacts, pre-configure quick messages, set up social media connections, and configure your subscription choices.

InReach Web Portal Mapping

Garmin InReach Web Portal Mapping

Mapping within the InReach Web Portal is another point of confusion for me. InReach does not fully interface with Garmin Connect. Which is odd considering they’re the same company now. Garmin Connect is a super polished web portal that offers tons of information, mapping, route creation, etc… Why InReach doesn’t leverage this… I do not know. Within the InReach website you’re able to import routes from Garmin Connect, create routes by “clicking” along breadcrumb trail on the map (no routeable maps), and set way points. These features are functional but not all that easy to use. With the InReach Mini not being particularly designed with full navigation functions in mind. I don’t find myself missing out on too much here. I’d much prefer to use my Fenix 5 Plus for navigation. Ultimately, if this stuff is important to you I’d suggest stepping up to the larger InReach Explorer with topo mapping.

Firmware Updates and Sync

Another confusing topic is how you update your firmware and sync your device with the InReach System. The InReach Mini is the first InReach device to utilize Garmin Express which is used for all other Gramin products. This is great and makes Firmware updates supre simple. However, “InReach Sync” is another program you’ll need to use on a desktop PC in order to sync your device with the InReach website. Things like custom messages, contacts,  and mapshare configuration need to be Sync’d before they’ll work. I really wish this just happened over the air or could be done in Garmin Express. Having two separate programs for one device is rather frustrating.


ANT+ Communication with Garmin Wearables

Garmin Fenix 5 Plus is fully compatible with InReach Mini!

This is one of the coolest features of the Garmin InReach Mini however you’ll need a compatible device to make it work! The Garmin InReach Mini features ANT+ communication with compatible wearable Garmin Devices. Currently only the Garmin Fenix 5 and Forerunner 935 watches are compatible with this function.

Composing a message on the Garmin Fenix 5 connected to InReach Mini

What does this mean? Well, it means you can send/receive messages, check your tracking stats, battery life, and trigger SOS functions all from the devices on your wrist!

Initiating an SOS event on the Garmin Fenix 5 Plus connected to the InReach Mini

In practice this works surprisingly well. I simply stuck the InReach Mini in the top pouch of my trail running vest and operated it entirely remotely for a 15 hour race from my Garmin Fenix 5 Plus. I was able to read messages my wife was sending me and check to make sure the device still had a GPS fix all without having to take it out of my bag. More importantly… if I needed to trigger an SOS event I could simply do it from my watch. This might be a life saver if for whatever reason I was unable to get to the device in my backpack. I love the innovation here, I only wish the InReach functions were entirely built into the watch without needing two devices… someday right? I can dream.


Battery Life

InReach Mini can be charged during use via its USB Port

The Garmin InReach Mini sports impressive battery life specs as follows:

  • 30 Hours – 10 Minute Tracking with 1 Second Logging
  • 50 Hours – 10 Minute Tracking with 5 Minute Logging
  • 20 Days – Extended Tracking Mode with 30 Minute Tracking Intervals
  • 1 Year – Turned Off

In the real world these numbers can vary quite a bit depending on what you’re doing. If you have ANT+ enabled, Bluetooth on, and send/recieve messages while tracking you’ll get significantly lower battery life. Recently I ran a 15 hour race event and was left with approximately 30% battery by the end. I was live-tracking, sending occasional messages, and had the InReach Mini paired with my Garmin Fenix 5 Plus.


EarthMate Mobile Application

EarthMate Smartphone App

The Garmin Earth Mate Mobile App can be installed on IOS and Android mobile devices. This app allows you to send and receive messages, trigger SOS events, and view a super detailed offline topographic map from your phone. What’s great about this is it means you can type messages using your phones keyboard just like a regular SMS text message. This is much quicker than fiddling with the on-board keyboard of the InReach Mini. 

Surprisingly the app works much better than the InReach Web Portal. The mapping features are a welcome addition that give you the capabilities of full topo maps without a cellular connection.


Weather Updates

InReach Mini Weather Update Screen

The Garmin InReach Mini has another trick up its sleeve. It’s capable of downloading a brief weather forecast over the satellite network from anywhere in the world. this could be particularly useful for remote mountaineering or thru hiking trips when you’re trying to plan ahead but don’t know what to expect for weather. 


Compared to the Garmin InReach Explorer

Garmin InReach Explorer (Left), Garmin InReach Mini (Right)
Quite the size difference!

First… if you haven’t yet. Go read my review for the older Garmin InReach Explorer HERE. How does the Mini compare to the slightly older Garmin InReach Explorer? Well the first most obvious difference is size. The InReach Explorer is significantly larger than the mini in just about every way. As an avid trail runner the older InReach Explorer was simply too big and heavy for me. 

Other than the obvious size difference the Garmin InReach Mini makes some sacrifices compared to its bigger brother the Explorer. First, it has no mapping functions. The Explorer features full color topographic maps. These maps are great for bushwhacking and its nice not having to rely on a cell phone for this.  The other big difference is battery life. While the InReach Mini features enough battery life for most activities. True multi-day trips may need more juice… the Garmin InReach Explorer doubles the battery capacity and duration.

The third difference is usability. The older InReach Explorer features a D-Pad, and multiple buttons. The D-Pad makes typing messages much easier and quicker. The dedicated shortcut keys make quick-messages easier.


Conclusion

Garmin InReach Mini

The Garmin InReach Mini is a feature rich Satellite Messenger / PLB crammed into a tiny, lightweight, well designed little package. I really like where Garmin is going with this and appreciate the smaller footprint in my trail running vest. Ultimately I think this design will have me throwing it in my bag more often and leaving it at home less.

Here’s where I think the Garmin InReach Mini hit the mark:

  • Small, lightweight form factor. 
  • Ability to send and receive messages to friends and family. 
  • Message confirmation feedback after messages are sent.
  • GPS Tracking with live-tracking location sharing.
  • Send messages via smartphone AND on the device itself. 
  • Excellent battery life when used conservatively.
  • Rugged, water resistant, freeze resistant hardware 

Here’s what I wish the Garmin InReach had… that it doesn’t:

  • Initial cost and monthly fees are a little steep. I’d like to see this device in the $250 price range with a $20 monthly fee… I can dream.
  • InReach Web Portal needs a serious update. I’d love to see this tied into the Garmin Connect Interface and more integrating between the two entities (Garmin and Delorme InReach)
  • Expand the list of compatible ANT+ devices for remote control operations to the cheaper Forerunner and Vivoactive devices.
  • I’d like to see a future “InReach Mini Plus” model released that includes full mapping capabilities like the Fenix 5 Plus series of watches. I mean… if they can fit it into a watch why not a small handheld?
  • More integration with Garmin Express on the desktop PC for sync and firmware updates. I don’t like needing two separate pieces of software for one device.

Who’s the Garmin InReach Mini for?

I see the Garmin InReach Mini as being every long distance trail runners dream. This thing is so light and portable that it’s a breeze to toss in my Ultimate Direction pack and forget about. Even more, being able to control it from my watch means I’m stopping less to fish it out from the depths of my backpack. It’s functional, reliable, and jams a lot of great features into a small footprint. I highly recommend this device for “fast and light”  remote adventures where SOS and Messaging is a must.

However, if you’re an off-the-grid adventurer who requires full topographic maps I’d say you’d be better suited with the bigger Garmin InReach Explorer. You can read my full review about THAT device HERE.


Competitors

ACR Resqlink – $300 – The ACR Resqulink is purely a SOS device with no recreational communications (no text messages, no gps tracking, etc…). It features a powerful broadcast beacon that has basically become the gold standard in SOS beacons. Another benefit of this device is it does not require a subscription and has a 5 year battery life with no recharging necessary.

SPOT X – $250 – Spot X has a similar feature set as the Garmin InReach mini with the added benefit of having a full QWERTY keyboard built into the device. I have not had an opportunity to test the SPOT X out but it does look like a promising device at a slightly lower price point.

SPOT Gen 3 – $150 – SPOT Gen 3 is a super basic Satellite Communicator that offers Messaging, Tracking, and SOS features. The SPOT Gen 3 allows you to send 3 pre-configured text messages to friends and family but cannot confirm if messages are sent, or receive messages. This is a budget friendly option but in my experience has proven to be unreliable.

Garmin InReach Explorer – $450 – The big brother to the InReach Mini. The InReach Explorer can do everything the mini can with a few benefits. It has a larger, full color, screen. It has numerous buttons and a full directional pad. It features full 100K topographic maps with no cellular connection required. And, it doubles the battery life of the Mini. Downside… it’s rather bulky, somewhat expensive, and has started to become dated.

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