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Garmin inReach Explorer+ Satellite Communicator Review

 

Navigating through the backcountry
All photo credits: Josh Kirchner

More and more, as time goes on, the word "backcountry" is thrown around in the hunting community. Getting far away from roads and immersing yourself in the wild is a welcome change of pace these days by many hunters. However, with those types of hunts also comes a bit of risk in terms of safety. This risk is elevated even more when you are hunting solo. Not only can this mentally affect the hunter, but also the hunter's loved ones. Not being able to communicate with them for days—or even weeks on end—is sort of terrifying. You don't know if everything is peachy or if they are injured somewhere unable to move. Fortunately, there is a device that can make you and your loved ones rest easy: the Garmin inReach Explorer+ Satellite Communicator.

What is it?

Garmin inReach Explorer+ Satellite Communicator

The inReach device has been a wildly successful addition to backcountry enthusiasts' packs around the world. For this review, I will be talking about the Explorer+ model; however, Garmin also offers an SE+ model. The Garmin inReach Explorer+ is a satellite communication device that allows you to send and receive text messages. With every text message you send, a GPS marker with coordinates is also sent to the person receiving the message. This is the ultimate peace of mind when you are on a long trip away from home without cell service. Your loved ones not only can get regular updates from you, but they can also know your exact position at the time of sending the text. The days of running around with your cell phone in the air looking for a signal are in the past. You can use this device anytime, anywhere, without having to hike to the top of a mountain to get service. All you need is a clear line of sight to the sky and you are good to go. You can check out the inReach in the goHUNT Gear Shop here.

Features

Garmin inReach Explorer+ Satellite Communicator features

Texting

The most popular feature of this gadget, if you haven't guessed, is going to be the ability to send and receive text messages. You can send texts to any cell phone or email address of your choosing. This works off of a monthly plan so make sure to text accordingly. It counts each time you send a message as well as receive one. The plan I use gives me 40 messages per month and I have found that to work just fine for me. The numbers of texts can be monitored via the device. As far as a signal goes, I have never had an issue getting one and have sent messages successfully in the thickest of dark timber.

GPS

The Explorer+ is named just that for a reason—because of its GPS functions. This device is going to come pre-loaded with topo maps to aid in your navigation, giving you the ability to drop waypoints, follow routes, and find your way back to your truck or camp. I find this to be super beneficial as an avid backpack hunter. We are always measuring ounces/space in our packs and being able to condense navigation as well as communication down to one device is huge to me. For those conscious about weight, this is going to set you back 7.5 ounces. Note: you cannot add landownership map chips to the inReach, but you can download some of inReach's landownership maps. Another note on navigation is that this also comes equipped with a digital compass, which I have found to be very accurate.

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Share

Social media has become a huge part of everyday life for most of us. Before work in the morning, I am sitting at my dining room table eating breakfast and scrolling through my news feeds on Instagram and Facebook. It has become a normal way to stay in contact with friends and hugely beneficial to business owners looking to connect with their customers. The inReach Explorer+ acknowledges that with the ability to share your trip with friends, family, and followers on social networks.

Weather

If you are anything like me, you are constantly checking the weather around your hunts. Not only for hunting purposes but for your overall trip in general. I always pack my gear according to the weather I see beforehand. Once you are out of cell range, though, getting the weather report can prove difficult. Luckily, the Explorer+ gives you the option to request a weather report for your current location via text message. Normal text rates apply to this feature (more on that later). You can also request the forecast in the coming days. Options include a Basic and Premium. The Basic is going to give you a three-day forecast reported in six-hour intervals. Premium will give you a seven day with one to two-hour intervals the first day, three to six for the next, and 12-hour intervals for the remaining days of the week. Basic will set you back a text message each time. Premium will run you $1.00 per request, which will be automatically added to your inReach bill. This is a small price to pay, if you ask me, for valuable information in the backcountry.

S.O.S.

Garmin inReach Explorer+ Satellite Communicator S.O.S feature

This is the big one: the one that can save your life should you get yourself caught in a sticky situation. This device comes equipped with an S.O.S. button that will directly connect you with search and rescue and give you the ability to communicate with GEOS via your inReach. They will get an exact GPS coordinate of your location and make sure that help is on the way. I can't stress how much of a big deal this is. My friends and family can rest easy knowing that if something were to happen to me and I couldn't walk, help is going to be there. With that being said, make sure that you don't accidentally press this button without needing to. You could be left with a pretty hefty bill for no reason. Luckily, I have never had to press this button and, hopefully, you’ll never have to either.

In the field

Using the Garmin inReach Explorer+ Satellite Communicator in the field

I have had the pleasure of using an inReach for the past few years and have been very pleased with it. The same can be said for my wife who can sit back and get a text from me every night giving her the status of my trip. A simple message is all that it takes: "Back at camp. I love you and goodnight." Aside from the few downsides it has, which I will get into shortly, my inReach is always in my pack. I have taken it on multiple out-of-state hunts, more in-state hunts than I can count, and it has been through its fair share of unfavorable weather with no hiccups. From scorching hot weather to below freezing, it has never missed a beat. In my opinion, having something with that functionality and reliability is invaluable. I don't see myself getting rid of this thing anytime soon.

Downsides

Even though I believe this to be a no-brainer in anybody's pack, there are some downsides to the inReach. For me, they are not deal breakers by any means, but definitely deserve mention. Here they are below:

Price

It seems that gear is just getting more and more expensive and the inReach is no exception in that category. The SE model is going to set you back about $400 and the Explorer about $450, but if you’re a goHUNT INSIDER, you’d get 28 points or dollars back. Yes, it’s expensive, but this is your safety we are talking about. We will spend twice that amount of clothing and weapons. That pro definitely outweighs the cons.

Typing

When it comes to typing on the device, things are a bit slow. There is a digital keyboard that you have to scroll around choosing letter by letter to write what you want to say. I don't find this to be a big deal, but some folks complain about it. I don't use this as a cell phone and am not typing huge messages out so it is a non-issue for me. You can apparently connect your inReach to your phone so you can actually type with your phone, but I have never felt the need to do so. If it is that important to you, though, consider that option, which can be done via the Earthmate app.

Subscription based

Of course, there is a subscription, right? Yes, unfortunately, there is. There are a few different plans to choose from here. I find the Freedom plan to be more than enough for my needs. That gives me 40 text messages per month along with Unlimited Pre-Set messages, which you can set up beforehand. That particular plan runs around $35 for monthly service or about $25 annually. There are other plans above this rate that will offer you even more text messages per month if you wish. The good thing about that is I can turn the subscription off at any time if I am on a monthly plan. If I want it on for the month of September, due to elk season, then once I am back from hunting, I can turn the subscription off so I’m not continually getting charged every month. The same goes for turning the device on. Just go into your account online and turn it back on whenever you want. Easy as pie. So, unfortunately, you will have to pay monthly for this, but who is really benefiting here?

Closing thoughts

Packing up the Using the Garmin inReach Explorer+ Satellite Communicator

A lot of folks are always complaining about advancements in technology today. Whether it's rangefinding binos or bows shooting 380 fps, this Garmin inReach is definitely an exception and not something to shake your head at. As I said above, I think owning one of these devices is a no-brainer and something that all of you should definitely consider. Giving our loved ones the mental comfort that we are indeed alive and kicking back there is monumental. On top of that, having the confidence to know that if things go south you are going to be OK is nothing short of incredible. Ever since I got one of these, my family has been way more at ease when I go into the field, especially when I am alone. Yeah, it's an investment, but an investment in your safety. How much is that worth?

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22 Comments

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Hello G. - posted 2 years ago on 05-17-2018 07:29:34 pm
San Francisco, CA
goHUNT INSIDER

@brady for chrissake you guys are on top of things at GoHunt! Just placed the order. Send it!

Brady J. Miller
Brady M. - posted 2 years ago on 05-17-2018 05:41:38 pm
Las Vegas, NV
goHUNT Team

@Gil... today is your day!! We just got the Garmin inReach Mini's in the Gear Shop: https://shop.gohunt.com/collections/new-for-2018/products/garmin-inreach-mini

Hello G. - posted 2 years ago on 05-09-2018 09:46:54 am
San Francisco, CA
goHUNT INSIDER

@brady. I'll be buying from GoHunt.

Brady J. Miller
Brady M. - posted 2 years ago on 05-09-2018 09:38:51 am
Las Vegas, NV
goHUNT Team

@Gil - The new inReach mini will be added to our Gear Shop soon!

Josh K. - posted 2 years ago on 05-05-2018 08:57:48 am
goHUNT INSIDER

@Gil. Thanks for the update! That little mini seems like a great option!

Hello G. - posted 2 years ago on 05-04-2018 11:54:18 am
San Francisco, CA
goHUNT INSIDER

The new Garmin In Reach Mini announcement happened yesterday. Though I'd rather have a consolidated unit--GPS with chip support, SOS and TXT, the new Mini is what I'll be purchasing. I'll carry the Mini for its SOS and TXT functionality, and a separate GPS unit with a chip slot (for OnX maps) for navigation. The Mini weighs less than half the weight of the In Reach (3.5 oz), so not adding much to overall pack weight.

Brady J. Miller
Brady M. - posted 2 years ago on 04-05-2018 09:01:09 am
Las Vegas, NV
goHUNT Team

@Gill - I am still using the older version of the inReach when Delorme owned it. So because of that I still use a Garmin 64s and the inReach at the same time. Plus the maps on the Garmin gps are huge in my opinion coupled with all the digital scouting I do with google earth before I head out hunting.

Jim T. - posted 2 years ago on 04-05-2018 06:04:53 am

No, just the Rino plus satfone. Use Rino to communicate with hunting partners a lot in the mountains, know where each other is on the screen, get weather reports, get topo and landowner info. Satfone to call home after the day's hunt if feel the need. Nice to know can call for help anytime.

jason l. - posted 2 years ago on 04-05-2018 01:27:44 am
garrett,IN
goHUNT INSIDER

I was about to buy one but also think ill wait till it takes the onx maps

Hello G. - posted 2 years ago on 04-04-2018 07:55:44 pm
San Francisco, CA
goHUNT INSIDER

@brady while in backcountry are you carrying the garmin in reach AND another GPS unit?

Jim T. - posted 2 years ago on 04-01-2018 06:56:52 pm

I use a Garmin Rino like my son and our hunting partners. We all know where each other is and can talk to each other anytime. That is huge in the back country. I also carry an Iridium satfone for emergencies and occasional check in with the wives. Best setup I can have.

Josh K. - posted 2 years ago on 03-29-2018 03:43:51 pm
goHUNT INSIDER

@Jason I typically only use the device for marking waypoints and texting. Battery life in my experience has been very good. I MIGHT go through 15% battery life over a week long hunt using it like this. This is me turning the device off after every time I use it. I've never felt inclined to worry about battery life with this.

Lance V. - posted 2 years ago on 03-27-2018 06:23:32 am
Coeur D Alene, ID
goHUNT INSIDER

Jason - I have the older DeLorme, which was the satellite Unit Garmin purchased. It doesn’t have the map on screen, so I only use it for tracking and text messaging and I use mapping on my phone.
Using it as I’ve said, I usually use about 15% battery per day. So this lasts quite a while. I would guess it is significantly shorter if you are using the screen to view maps.
To charge, you can use any USB batter pack that you might use for a phone or 110 plug.

Jason P. - posted 2 years ago on 03-26-2018 07:54:53 pm
New Mexico
goHUNT INSIDER

Can some she'd some light on What type of charging system this uses and how long will a battery typically last.

Hello G. - posted 2 years ago on 03-26-2018 04:43:30 pm
San Francisco, CA
goHUNT INSIDER

@Brady I hope more people reading this thread lobby Garmin--takes about 2 minutes to send a message through their contact us page . Support of chips would be a game changer! I've held out hoping to see a change...may have to bite the bullet and build up some more GoHunt points.

Brady J. Miller
Brady M. - posted 2 years ago on 03-26-2018 04:36:51 pm
Las Vegas, NV
goHUNT Team

@Gil - I've also brought this up to Garmin numerous times at trade shows in the winter. It is a slight downfall... but since this is a Garmin product now, I really hope that we can add chips to their device in the future for mapping products.

Lance V. - posted 2 years ago on 03-25-2018 09:12:59 am
Coeur D Alene, ID
goHUNT INSIDER

Garmin has their own App called Earthmate that shows very similar functionality to ONX. You can download private landowner information on your phone as well as other layers of maps. It’s very similar to ONX but not quite as nice.

I have the older version of the Delorme where the only maps you can get are on your phone and you bluetooth connect to view your GPS position from the satellite.

Since Garmin has their own program competing with ONX, I doubt they will support ONX. They may use the Satellite as an advantage they have over ONX to get market share. So, I wouldn’t hold out hope for that.

If you have the unit, I think it’s about an extra $40/year to get their landowner mapping. Not a big deal. Currently, I subscribe to both ONX and earthmate.

jeff w. - posted 2 years ago on 03-24-2018 03:12:28 pm
Bellflower, CA
goHUNT INSIDER

that's a bummer about the Onx maps support. I thought that it would since other Garmin devices do. This was on my wish list, but I'm gonna wait until they fix that part!

matthew a. - posted 2 years ago on 03-24-2018 02:09:34 pm
Sheridan, WY
goHUNT INSIDER

Turning it on and activating it was easy enough, I got through it with one signal bar at the trail head(not reconended). I will say its not very intuitive, so if your CPU illiterate you may want to google how to do it.
The activation question: the short answer is it required an activation fee, but the cost depends on what option you choose.

Gerald M. - posted 2 years ago on 03-24-2018 01:35:46 pm
goHUNT INSIDER

How easy is it to turn the subscription on/off and is there an activation charge each time? I've heard that you have to call them and sit on hold.

Hello G. - posted 2 years ago on 03-24-2018 12:52:32 pm
San Francisco, CA
goHUNT INSIDER

Great device. One downside not mentioned is that it does NOT support OnX Maps. I've provided feedback to Garmin and contacted OnX Maps requesting they lobby for chip support. This would take a solid device and make it the ONLY device used in backcountry by all hunters and outdoor enthusiasts. Garmin responded asking if their head of product could contact me--I said yes. OnX Maps said they would reach out to Garmin. Fingers crossed.

matthew a. - posted 2 years ago on 03-24-2018 07:15:46 am
Sheridan, WY
goHUNT INSIDER

I purchased and used this last year; it works great and was more reliable than sat phones ive used in the past.
I rented llamas and trailers last year and upon returning the llamas the provided trailers wheel bearing went out. We had no cell service and it was 0100 in the AM. I sent out a text to the owner through the inreach, 2 hours later he showed up to pickup the llamas and deal with the broken trailer.
If your on the fence about buying one, hope this helps.