The world's most in-depth and scientific reviews of 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 | $298.42 at Amazon
Compare prices at 3 resellers
Pros:  Small, two-way texting
Cons:  Complicated to compare costs, texting on device is very slow
Manufacturer:   Garmin
By Jediah Porter ⋅ Review Editor  ⋅  Apr 3, 2020
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78
OVERALL
SCORE


RANKED
#1 of 10
  • SOS/Emergency Messaging - 30% 7
  • Non-Emergency Messaging - 25% 9
  • Signal Coverage - 20% 8
  • Ease of Use - 15% 6
  • Portability - 10% 9

Our Verdict

The Garmin inReach Mini is our most highly rated satellite messenger. It does everything any other device can do, in a much, much smaller package — it's hard to imagine it getting any smaller. In our decades of using and testing satellite communications, this holds its own at the top of the pack. Any additional features would add minimal utility while beginning to threaten what we consider to be modern wilderness values. The 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. As long as you can stomach the costs, which overall aren't that much higher than the competition, there is no reason that any wilderness traveler wouldn't want to carry this device.


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 comes with some compromises. The on-device texting interface, navigational attributes, and battery life all suffer just a little from the smaller size. However, given how most people use their satellite messenger, these compromises might go entirely unnoticed. 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 pick for our Editors' Choice award.

Performance Comparison


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 Messaging


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 employed 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 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 provide the best possible emergency messaging service.


Emergency messaging differences between the InReach Mini and its two-way communication competitors 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 SOS message sent from an InReach Mini is received and handled by GEOS Inc., a for-profit, private-sector entity that specializes in various forms of remote emergency dispatch. Interestingly, all the private-sector devices and services that we test and that offer emergency messaging employ GEOS dispatch services.

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


The two-way texting functionality of the inReach Mini is matched by only a few products on the market. Others might edge ahead with an included on-device keyboard. Otherwise, clarity and reliability are pretty consistent across the board.

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.

Our primary request for future iterations of the Mini or app is to have text chains continue seamlessly on satellite, cellular, and wifi. Other options include this in a pretty standard fashion, so it cannot be that difficult. It is the lack of this that makes the Mini currently share its Editors' Choice award. With seamless messaging, the inReach would again top the field alone.

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.


Many other tested devices use the same Iridium network. In side-by-side testing, we didn't notice any difference in the reception of any of these devices. There was some speculation that the smaller form of the Mini (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 a handful of recently tested Iridium devices was identical. In further testing, the other Iridium-enabled devices have message transmission rates and reliability on par with the inReach devices.

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 bigger inReach devices. The Mini needs to be recharged more frequently and sending messages straight from the device is harder.


In reality, these drawbacks are minor. You have two main options for texting with the Mini (Garmin smartwatch users have another option that most do not). You can text on your phone using the Garmin app or you can text directly on the Mini device. Of these, texting with the app is far and away easier than texting on the device.

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 battery life compromise of the Mini 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.

For those who wish to eliminate or reduce their smartphone use in the backcountry, be aware that the Mini will tie you back to that phone for contact and communications.

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 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 it does more than those outdated bricks ever dreamed of doing.

Size comparison of the SPOT X and inReach Mini. Clearly  the Mini is much more  well  miniature.
Size comparison of the SPOT X and inReach Mini. Clearly, the Mini is much more, well, miniature.

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, we offer a price comparison chart in our main review.

It is when deep in the backcountry that the real value of something like the inReach Mini is realized.
It is when deep in the backcountry that the real value of something like the inReach Mini is realized.

Conclusion


Overall, the inReach Mini scores on top of the heap among satellite messengers and personal locator beacons. It does all the important things that any device on the market should and is one of the smallest products available. It only makes a few battery life and usability compromises, but for solid communication and custom messaging, this Editors' Choice winner has yet to be beat.

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


Jediah Porter