The Garmin inReach series has revolutionized communication and safety in the outdoors, offering reliable satellite connectivity when cellular networks fail. In this review, we'll compare the Garmin inReach Messenger and the Garmin inReach Mini 2, two popular models that cater to different needs. Both devices have similar features that allow me to stay connected with loved ones and emergency services in case of an emergency. However, there are some notable differences between the two devices that make one a better choice for backcountry adventures. Let's dive into the details.
First, let's start with the similarities. Both devices are charged via a USB-C interface. They both have a robust design with an IPX7 water rating (they can withstand incidental exposure to water of up to 1 meter for up to 30 minutes) which ensures they can endure harsh conditions, making them reliable companions for rugged adventures. Utilizing the Iridium satellite network, they offer global two-way messaging, location tracking, and they also allow the user to be connected to emergency services via the built-in SOS button. This button provides a direct line to GEOS, a 24/7 emergency response center that can coordinate with local search and rescue teams to provide assistance in case you find yourself lost, seriously injured, or out of cured meats for your charcuterie board. Just kidding, don't use the SOS feature for that last one. Both devices also offer the TracBack Routing feature which will help you retrace your steps in case you become lost. These features are critical for people who venture into remote areas, as they provide a way to stay on track, stay in touch with loved ones, and request help if needed.
Speaking of staying in touch with loved ones, both the inReach Mini 2 and the inReach Messenger are compatible with the Garmin Messenger app. This means you don't need to tediously type out or scroll through pre selected messages on your device when you are urgently trying to get help or check in with your loved ones after a long day on the trail. You can simply utilize the satellite network on your smartphone's Garmin Messenger app and type everything out with your phone's keyboard like you would for a text message. Another handy feature that's available in the app is group messaging which is certainly useful when traveling with a group.
Airpods Pro case for scale.
Now let's dive into the differences between the two devices. One of the main differences between them is battery life. The Garmin inReach Messenger has up to 30 days of battery life with a message or location sent every 10 minutes, and up to 46 days with a message or location sent every 30 minutes. The inReach Mini 2, on the other hand, has up to 14 days of battery life in 10-minute tracking mode and up to 30 days with location updating every 30 minutes. They will both will last up to a year with the power turned off.
Another difference between these two gizmos is their native features. The inReach Mini 2 has the ability to add up to 1,000 waypoints/favorites/locations, 100 courses, and 200 activities that you can store on the device. It also has a digital compass and is compatible with the Garmin Explore App, both of which should help you in case you find yourself lost. Unfortunately, these are all features that the inReach Messenger lacks. The inReach Mini 2 also has a larger display than the Messenger, presumably so you can utilize the navigation, compass, etc on the device itself.
One feature that the inReach Messenger has that the inReach Mini 2 doesn't is the ability to charge your phone from the Messenger battery. This could be extremely useful if you find yourself needing to charge a dead phone in order to stay in touch with your loved ones. Simply attach your phone charging cable to the USB-C port and enable reverse-charging on the device.
For a full break down of both of these devices plus the original inReach Mini and their features, check out this page on Garmin's website that gets as granular as possible.
Using the Garmin Messenger App.
If you are utilizing a Garmin watch with mapping alongside your inReach, the lack of features on the Messenger compared to the inReach Mini 2 may not deter you from purchasing it, which was my mentality when evaluating which one was going to be right for me. My primary use of the inReach Messenger was to contact loved ones while off the grid, or use the SOS feature in case of a serious emergency, and I can utilize my Forerunner for mapping and navigation if needed.
One important consideration is the cost of using these devices. The price of the Messenger is slightly more affordable at $300 while the inReach Mini 2 is priced at $400. Both the Garmin inReach and inReach Messenger require a subscription plan to use their messaging and tracking features. The cost of these plans can vary depending on the level of service you require. The Messenger's basic subscription plan costs $14.95 per month ($11.95 with a 12 month commitment). While that's about as much as a couple of cervezas at your local taqueria each month, it's certainly worth it if you find yourself in an emergency situation and need assistance.
In my experience, the inReach Messenger has been super easy to use and provides peace of mind when heading out into areas where cell service isn’t always available. There are other devices that offer similar services, however, since I already have a Garmin Forerunner 945 LTE, I chose the inReach Messenger because I'm able to pair it with my watch and activate an SOS from there if needed. All in all, I would highly recommend the inReach Messenger to others who venture into the backcountry (especially solo) in order to be prepared for those unforeseeable worst case scenarios.
Words by Jared Erickson