The world's most in-depth and scientific reviews of outdoor gear

Garmin inReach Mini Review

Emergency and routine text communications from the backcountry, in a tiny package.
Editors' Choice Award
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Price:  $350 List | $349.99 at Backcountry
Compare prices at 4 resellers
Pros:  Small, two-way texting
Cons:  Complicated to compare costs, texting on device is very slow
Manufacturer:   Garmin
By Jediah Porter ⋅ Review Editor  ⋅  Aug 20, 2018
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84
OVERALL
SCORE


RANKED
#1 of 7
  • SOS Emergency Messaging - 30% 9
  • Non-Emergency Messaging - 30% 8
  • Signal Coverage - 20% 9
  • Ease of Use - 10% 7
  • Portability - 10% 8

The Skinny

This is our most highly rated satellite messenger. It does everything any other device can do, in a much, much smaller package. In our decades of using and testing satellite communications, this is what we've been waiting for. It is hard to imagine it getting any smaller. Any additional features would add minimal utility while beginning to threaten what we consider to be modern wilderness values. The InReach Mini provides communication to secure help in an emergency, to coordinate most logistical needs, and to assure loved ones of your safety. This is what we want when in the wild. The InReach Explorer+ does these same things, but is three times the size.


Compare to Similar Products

Our Analysis and Test Results

Garmin makes what amounts to a revolutionary leap in miniaturization with the InReach Mini. Of course, the miniaturization of the now venerable InReach Explorer+ comes with some compromises. The on-device texting interface, navigational attributes, and battery life all suffer from the smaller size.

However, given how most people use their satellite messenger, these compromises might go entirely unnoticed. For instance, the core of our testing team noticed exactly no drawbacks to the down-sized profile of the Mini. To cut the weight and bulk of a piece of equipment for human-powered adventures by half, with so few compromises that experienced users literally don't notice, is a tall order. In this case, the end result is a product that is an easy decision for our Editors Choice award.

Performance Comparison


On even the most ultralight of multi-pitch rock climbs  there is really no good reason to leave the InReach Mini behind. It is just that light and compact  especially considering all it does.
On even the most ultralight of multi-pitch rock climbs, there is really no good reason to leave the InReach Mini behind. It is just that light and compact, especially considering all it does.

Overall, the Mini scores on top of the heap among satellite messengers and personal locator beacons. It literally does all the important things that any device on the market does and is one of the smallest products available. It only makes a few battery life and usability compromises. It is the same size as the Best Buy OceanSignal PLB1 and works basically the same as the three-times-larger (and former Editors Choice winning) Garmin InReach Explorer+.

Your smartphone and the Editors Choice InReach Mini work seamlessly for handy and quick communications.
Your smartphone and the Editors Choice InReach Mini work seamlessly for handy and quick communications.

SOS/Emergency Message


All the communication devices we tested can be used to summon help in the event of an emergency. The InReach Mini does so with a paid subscription. Any emergency message is routed through a for-profit call center administered by Garmin. In short, you push the "SOS" button and a signal is sent, via satellite, to headquarters. That dispatch center now knows your location, some rudimentary identification information (which you added during registration) and that you have some sort of emergency. At this point, you need not do anything more. Dispatch will contact local resources.

The pace, type, and viability of local response depends on, among other things, local socio-political realities, economic factors, weather, and other potential emergencies in the area. Whether local resources are summoned by the Garmin dispatch, or another dispatch source makes little to no difference in local response time.

If you have information about your emergency that will help rescuers respond, you can actually send out these details with the Mini. It requires some preplanning, and familiarity with the device and its function, but sending more nuanced information to emergency responders is possible. Short of two-way voice communications as provided by a satellite phone or radio, two-way services like the InReach products and the Top Pick SPOT X provide the best possible emergency messaging service.


Emergency messaging differences between the InReach Mini, InReach Explorer+, and SPOT X are subtle, but the end result is the same. You can send a "y'all come" message containing location data, and follow up with more details on your situation. These are the most sophisticated emergency notification devices available today.

The SPOT Gen3, ACR ResQLink+, and Best Buy Ocean Signal rescueME PLB1 allow only the initial emergency message. also containing location information. These devices don't give you the ability to follow up with more details.

Emergency messaging with the notable GoTenna Mesh requires a crowd-sourced network that overlaps with someone that has cell signal or satellite or radio contact with the outside world who can relay the emergency message.

It is the Mini's size that really stands out. It does all we've come to appreciate about the larger InReach  at a fraction of the size.
It is the Mini's size that really stands out. It does all we've come to appreciate about the larger InReach, at a fraction of the size.

Non-Emergency Messaging


The InReach Explorer revolutionized backcountry communications with the ability to send and receive texts. The InReach Mini continues this, just in a smaller form. Texting with the InReach devices is a little different than with your smartphone (no emojis, no media, and no group texts), but it is familiar enough to be easy to operate.


The two-way texting functionality of the InReach Mini is matched by the InReach Explorer and the SPOT X. The GoTenna Mesh also enables two-way non-emergency texting, but only between users similarly equipped.

The Best Buy OceanSignal rescueME PLB1 has no sort of non-emergency messaging. Both the ACR ResQlink and the SPOT Gen3 have only preprogrammed "I'm here and I'm ok" sort of non-emergency messaging capability.

Setting up the InReach Mini is as easy as following the instructions  mainly on the device and app. The quick start manual gets you going  and the equipment walks you through the rest.
Setting up the InReach Mini is as easy as following the instructions, mainly on the device and app. The quick start manual gets you going, and the equipment walks you through the rest.

Signal Coverage


Garmin programs the Mini to work with the global Iridium satellite network. With patience and an understanding of the realities of all satellite communications (i.e., that steep terrain, buildings, and vegetation compromise or block all satellite signals), the Mini works all over the world.


The InReach Explorer+ uses the same Iridium network. In side-by-side testing, we didn't notice any difference in the reception of either of these devices. There was some speculation that the Mini's smaller form (and associated smaller antenna) would result in poorer reception. In the open terrain and fairly steep valleys of Wyoming's Southern Tetons (Coal Creek, on the Teton Pass road, to be specific) the message sending capability of these two devices was identical.

All SPOT devices use the GlobalStar network. This network does not cover the whole world, but it likely covers everywhere you might wish to go. The ACR ResQLink and Best Buy OceanSignal use the COSPAS-SARSAT network to tap into global networks as well. The network coverage of the GoTenna Mesh is far less robust than the InReach Mini.

Using any satellite messenger in dense forest is problematic. In this case we were still able to get messages out  but it isn't guaranteed. Clearer skies are better.
Using any satellite messenger in dense forest is problematic. In this case we were still able to get messages out, but it isn't guaranteed. Clearer skies are better.

Ease of Use


You pay for the smaller stature of the Mini by sacrificing some ease of use as compared to the Garmin InReach Explorer+. The Mini needs to be recharged more frequently and sending messages straight from the device is harder with the Mini.


In reality, these drawbacks are minor. You have three options for texting with one of these two Garmin products. You can text on your phone using the Garmin app with either device. Or you can text directly on the Mini or Exploer+. Of these three, texting with the app, regardless of which device it is linked to, is far and away easier than on either device.

In either case, texting on the device is annoying. If we scored texting on the app 95 out of 100, we might score texting on the Explorer 30/100 and might score testing on the Mini 20/100. Indeed, texting on the Explorer is 150% better than on the Mini. But using the app on your likely ever-present smartphone is many times better.

Typing messages on the Mini is a tedious  one-letter-at-a-time affair. It can be done  but using the smartphone app is far preferable.
Typing messages on the Mini is a tedious, one-letter-at-a-time affair. It can be done, but using the smartphone app is far preferable.

Similarly, the Mini's battery life compromise isn't actually that big of a deal. For weekend to week-long trips, we found the 50 hours of claimed battery life to be more than enough. That is 50 hours of usage. The device turns on and off quickly, so you only burn battery when texting. On longer trips, you will likely be equipped to recharge phones and camera batteries and other electronics. In this case, you can top off the Mini too.

In testing the speed of these devices we sent messages back and forth to a tester's phone. We actually found no significant differences between the signal speed of the InReach Explorer  InReach Mini (shown here)  and the SPOT X.
In testing the speed of these devices we sent messages back and forth to a tester's phone. We actually found no significant differences between the signal speed of the InReach Explorer, InReach Mini (shown here), and the SPOT X.

We did very much appreciate the SPOT X's texting interface. For those who wish to eliminate or reduce their smartphone use in the backcountry, the SPOT X allows contact and communications, almost seamlessly, with no use of your smartphone. For this reason, we granted the SPOT X our Top Pick award.

Messages sent from each of these three devices  at the same time  arrived to our tester's iphone all in the same minute.
Messages sent from each of these three devices, at the same time, arrived to our tester's iphone all in the same minute.

Portability


The Mini is so small that you need a real good reason to leave it behind on any sort of remote adventure. For even the shortest trail runs in the wild, the 4 ounces and minimal bulk of the Mini are easily justified. In a nod to the power of miniaturization, the Mini is smaller than just the batteries of the satellite communication options 15 years ago. And the Mini does more than those outdated bricks ever dreamed of doing.


The Mini is essentially the same size and weight as the SPOT Gen3 and the Best Buy OceanSignal rescueME PLB1. It is much smaller than both the Garmin InReach Explorer and the Top Pick SPOT X.

Size comparison of the two newest satellite messengers on the market. Clearly  the Mini is much more  well  miniature.
Size comparison of the two newest satellite messengers on the market. Clearly, the Mini is much more, well, miniature.

Best Applications


As long as you can stomach the costs, which aren't that much higher than the competition, overall, there is no reason that any wilderness traveler wouldn't carry a Mini.

The texting interface of the InReach Mini. Conversations look much like in any messaging app.
The texting interface of the InReach Mini. Conversations look much like in any messaging app.

Value


Comparing the costs of these devices is tricky. The initial purchase price is easy to compare, but that is only part of the equation. Many of the satellite communicators we test also require subscription costs, with services varying among the different devices and subscription fees. We've examined all the options and have found that the InReach Mini, over a long enough time frame, isn't actually horribly expensive. There are certainly products that come in at a lower initial price, but for what it does, no product is a better long-term value than the InReach.

If you really want to nerd out check out this price comparison.

It is when deep in the backcouuntry that the real value of something like the InReach Mini is realized.
It is when deep in the backcouuntry that the real value of something like the InReach Mini is realized.

Conclusion


The minor compromises made to downsize the venerable Garmin InReach Explorer to Mini status are well worth it. The InReach Mini does everything that the Explorer does, at one third the size and weight.


Jediah Porter