Reviews You Can Rely On

Garmin inReach Messenger Review

For how most people actually use their satellite communicators, this is the best product on the market
garmin inreach messenger personal locator beacon review
Credit: Garmin
Price:  $300 List
Manufacturer:   Garmin
By Jediah Porter ⋅ Review Editor  ⋅  Jan 19, 2023
78
OVERALL
SCORE


RANKED
#1 of 11
  • SOS/Emergency Messaging - 30% 7.0
  • Non-Emergency Messaging - 25% 9.0
  • Signal Coverage - 20% 8.0
  • Ease of Use - 15% 6.0
  • Portability - 10% 9.0

Our Verdict

The Garmin inReach Messenger is our Editors' Choice winner. It displaces its sibling and longtime winner, the Mini 2, with a much bigger battery, a larger antenna, a lower price, and some clever little attributes. It does not have the robust navigation features that a couple of other options have, but most outdoor enthusiasts are now navigating with their smartphones and associated apps. The inReach Messenger has global coverage, a variety of subscription plans, good app usability, and great battery life (and the ability, if it makes sense in your situation, to send some of that battery to a different device). At the top of the charts, there are a few excellent choices with very minor differences, but the Messenger is the device we think is best for most use cases.
REASONS TO BUY
Small
Comprehensive
Reliable
REASONS TO AVOID
Not the absolute lightest
Tiny screen
Button use
Editor's Note: We tested the inReach Messenger through the autumn of 2022 and added it to our lineup on January 19, 2023. We will continue testing and report back any new findings along the way.

Compare to Similar Products

 
Awards Editors' Choice Award Best Buy Award  Best Buy Award Best Buy Award 
Price $294.90 at Amazon
Compare at 2 sellers
$250 List
$249.95 at REI
$200 List
$200.00 at REI
$280 List$330 List
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Pros Small, comprehensive, reliableCompact, great network, on-device basic controlsExcellent network, seamless communication, some on-device functionalitySmall, affordable subscription options, proven satellite and dispatch networks, simpleReasonable initial purchase price, no paid subscription, uses proven global network, compact
Cons Not the absolute lightest, tiny screen, button useNo on-device message viewing or composition, USB-C charging (could be a pro for some)No on-device message viewing or composition, heavier than close competitorsOnly supports SOS and tracking on the device itself, no custom messaging, occasional hardware issuesNo non-emergency messaging
Bottom Line For how most people actually use their satellite communicators, this is the best product on the marketA small, light, and full-function two-way messenger that competes closely with the top of the heapThis nearly perfect device provides comprehensive, polished, two-way satellite communications at a fair priceCompact, simple, two-way satellite communications using proven technology and relatively affordable subscription optionsThis device provides a compact and affordable “help me” button in your pocket
Rating Categories Garmin inReach Mess... ACR Bivy Stick ZOLEO Satellite Com... Somewear Global Hot... Ocean Signal rescue...
SOS/Emergency Messaging (30%)
7.0
7.0
7.0
7.0
9.0
Non-Emergency Messaging (25%)
9.0
8.0
8.0
6.0
1
Signal Coverage (20%)
8.0
8.0
8.0
8.0
9.0
Ease of Use (15%)
6.0
7.0
7.0
7.0
5.0
Portability (10%)
9.0
9.0
7.0
8.0
8.0
Specs Garmin inReach Mess... ACR Bivy Stick ZOLEO Satellite Com... Somewear Global Hot... Ocean Signal rescue...
2-way Messaging? Yes Yes Yes Yes No
2-way Messaging Available via Cellular/Wifi? Yes No Yes Yes No
Custom Messaging Viewable and Composable on Device? Yes No No No No
Passive Tracking (turn on and forget about it - viewers at home can watch your progress on the web) Yes Yes No Yes No
Weight w/ Batteries 4.0 oz 3.6 oz 5.3 oz 4.1 oz 4.0 oz
Battery Life (hours) Up to 28 days with a message or location sent every 10 minutes with full sky view Up to 120 200+ when checking messages every 12 minutes Up to 1000 messages 24
Waterproof Rating IPX7 (No dust rating. Rain, splashing, and accidental submersion up to 30 minutes) IP67 (protection from harmful dust. Rain, splashing, and accidental submersion up to 30 minutes) IP68 (protection from harmful dust. Rain, splashing, and accidental submersion at least 30 minutes) IPX7 (No dust rating. Rain, splashing, and accidental submersion up to 30 minutes) No Formal Rating. Likely exceeds rating system. Claimed "Up to 15 meters"
Pairs with Smartphone? Yes Yes Yes Yes No
On Device Functions (if you lose or disable your smartphone) All, but very slow to text SOS, check-in, tracking. All texting requires smartphone. SOS, check-in. All texting requires smartphone SOS. All texting requires smartphone app All.
Satellite Network Iridium Iridium Iridium Iridium COSPAS/SARSAT
Dispatch service Garmin Response Team Global Rescue GEOS GEOS COSPAS/SARSAT
Dimensions 3.1" x 2.5" x 0.9" 1.9" x .9" x 4.5" 3.5" x 2.6" x 1.0" 3" x 3.6" x .8" 3.0" x 2.0" x 1.3"
Cubic Inches (L x W x H) 6.9 7.7 9.1 8.6 6.8

Our Analysis and Test Results

The inReach Messenger is the latest in a long line of satellite communicators from Garmin. It offers iterative improvements in some ways and a couple of small steps back (no navigation, smaller screen, half an ounce heavier). As compared to the closest competitor, the Messenger has longer battery life and a larger antenna. In our scoring system, it tied for the top place with the inReach Mini 2. Overall, the Messenger is better, but the difference really is too small to show up on our scoring rubric.

Performance Comparison


garmin inreach messenger personal locator beacon review - serious environments require serious considerations of your...
Serious environments require serious considerations of your equipment. The inReach Messenger is the best device for human-powered, remote communication.
Credit: Jediah Porter

SOS/Emergency Messaging


The Garmin Messenger features emergency messaging that is fast becoming "industry standard." It works like this: when something dire happens to you, somewhere without cell signal, you activate the SOS mode. This can be done through the app on your phone or with a button on the device itself. That SOS message, digitally and automatically packaged with identification and location information, goes to the 24-hour staff at "Garmin Response Team." That team has deep and comprehensive informational resources. They cross-reference your location with their database of SAR resources and work to mobilize the closest and most effective local response.

Local response to your emergency will depend on many, many factors, and virtually all of them are out of Garmin's control. Local response will depend on geopolitical matters, SAR team triage, weather, time of day, and a host of other logistical matters. By far, the most "standard" part of emergency response now is the communication part. Thanks to the two-way texting functionality of the inReach Messenger, you can provide further details on your situation and potentially receive updates on the status of the SAR response.


In an emergency, the inReach Messenger works very much like all the options on the market. We can't emphasize enough that the biggest determinant of the outcome of your emergency will depend on local resources and conditions. Using your inReach to activate a response to an injury sustained in a vehicle accident down a dirt road just beyond signal might yield a response in minutes or hours. The same injury resulting from a mountaineering fall in a storm in trail-less mountains in a developing nation might require days to weeks to yield a response. In both cases, the satellite communication portion would take just minutes.

Non-Emergency Messaging


With the inReach Messenger and associated app, you can send and receive text messages (with seamless threads across satellite, cellular, and WiFi), conduct passive web-linked tracking, and collect basic weather forecasts. This is as much non-emergency messaging as any product on the market will do. The inReach Messenger does it all through an app or, with a greater fiddle factor on the device itself.


Without adding data or voice functionality (both of which require significantly more bandwidth and therefore greater expense and battery/antenna power), it is hard to imagine vast improvements to non-emergency messaging on the inReach Messenger. We are ready to be surprised with additional functionality. We have been pressing for years for what we'd call a full-function satellite messenger feature set. Only now, with the*inReach Messenger (and subsequent software upgrades to other current devices), has Garmin delivered what we've been asking for. To be clear, we now consider full-function non-emergency messaging to include, on both the device and via an app, seamless two-way messaging, tracking, and weather forecasts.

garmin inreach messenger personal locator beacon review - there are now two apps in the garmin inreach ecosystem. explore does...
There are now two apps in the Garmin inReach ecosystem. Explore does messaging and navigation. Messenger does just texting, but allows one to do so across satellite, wifi, and cellular.
Credit: Jediah Porter

Signal Coverage


The Iridium network employed by the inReach Messenger covers the entire world and does so in a reliable fashion. We've used exactly this same network for decades on other devices, and we have a great deal of confidence in the network.


No satellite communication network is perfect, however. All satellite communications are subject to interference from terrain, buildings, and foliage. Inside, in a dense forest, and on or near steep terrain, satellite communications will be slower and/or impossible. This is inevitable with current technology and infrastructure.

garmin inreach messenger personal locator beacon review - the inreach messenger in action and facilitating amazing early...
The inReach Messenger in action and facilitating amazing early season Teton Powder skiing. This is why we do it.
Credit: Jediah Porter

Ease of Use


Garmin is a large, older technology company. They've proceeded along a rocky road of user interfaces and ease. Nimble start-ups have pushed the business forward, forcing Garmin to adjust. This technology is complex, and use will be inherently tricky. That said, Garmin does a better and better job of smoothing out their devices' setup and service. Configuring and using the inReach Messenger is easy enough, especially if your expectations are in line.


To get set up and use your inReach Messenger, you will need to configure and pay attention to subscriptions, signal limitations, battery power, and expectations. Allow yourself (and those you are communicating with) a learning curve; this isn't like the text messaging we are accustomed to.

garmin inreach messenger personal locator beacon review - expect to do some set up and configuration of your device and phone...
Expect to do some set up and configuration of your device and phone prior to using your inReach Messenger.
Credit: Jediah Porter

Portability


The inReach Messenger weighs 4.0 ounces and measures 3.1 x 2.5 x .9 inches. It is the first new satellite messenger in a few years that isn't smaller than previous versions. It isn't a ton bigger or heavier than other close competitors, but the plateauing of miniaturization suggests that we won't see great improvements in portability for a while.


For the few grams and tiny bit of additional bulk, you get a bigger battery and bigger antenna. Also, as compared to the closest competitors, the inReach Messenger is a simpler, smoother shape — a rectangle with no protrusions or dangles.

garmin inreach messenger personal locator beacon review - the inreach messenger is heavier than its closest sibling, but...
The inReach Messenger is heavier than its closest sibling, but remains super small and portable.
Credit: Jediah Porter

Some will lament that there isn't an obvious, pre-rigged way to attach the Messenger to the outside of your backpack. We don't lament that. We have tested these devices both inside and outside our packs — as long as it is near the top of your pack, every satellite communicator works well enough inside, and we don't like the vulnerability of a dangling emergency device. If you sense that your signal is really poor, you can get the device out for a better view of the sky for a brief message check and/or send. Otherwise, keep safety equipment secured inside your bag. If you absolutely insist on dangling your satellite messenger, there is a place to string a lanyard.

garmin inreach messenger personal locator beacon review - inreach messenger set up and configuration. we tested very early in...
inReach Messenger set up and configuration. We tested very early in the retail availability of the Messenger. Presumably that explains the multiple software updates we had to coordinate.
Credit: Jediah Porter

Should You Buy the Garmin inReach Messenger?


Yes. This is the best option on the market currently. That said, there are some other fine options (most using the exact same satellite network, for instance) that are very, very similar.

garmin inreach messenger personal locator beacon review - yes, you can type and view text messages on the tiny messenger...
Yes, you can type and view text messages on the tiny Messenger screen. It is tedious, but it is better than nothing, should your app fail for whatever reason.
Credit: Jediah Porter

What Other Satellite Messengers Should You Consider?


You are inevitably going to compare the inReach Messenger to the Garmin inReach Mini 2. We have made exactly that comparison, and thoroughly. If you have no satellite device yet, get the Messenger instead of the Mini 2. If you already have an inReach Mini 2, think of it this way. The Mini 2 and Messenger devices are very, very similar. No need to switch. The Mini 2 is better with navigational matters. The Messenger antenna is bigger. The Messenger also has a bigger battery, and if needed (and with all the caveats), you can use a cord to suck a little of that battery life into a different device.

If you have an older inReach Mini: nothing is hugely upgraded from the original Mini in either the Mini 2 or the Messenger. Maybe, a year ago, you pondered upgrading your original inReach Mini, looked at the then-brand-new Mini 2, and decided it wasn't worth upgrading. Understandable. Now, with the Messenger App and the greater battery size and function of the Messenger device (and another year of wear and tear on your older device), the draw of upgrading might have reached critical mass.

garmin inreach messenger personal locator beacon review - this is why we do it. the technology merely enables these...
This is why we do it. The technology merely enables these spectacular experiences. Don't let the gear get in the way of your outdoor time; let it enable it.
Credit: Jediah Porter

Jediah Porter
 
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