Garmin inReach Mini Review: The Best Satellite Messenger?

My Garmin inReach Mini is hands down my favorite piece of camping gear.

Although it’s not an absolute essential, like a tent or sleeping bag, I never go dispersed camping without mine.

The lightweight, compact satellite communicator allows you to stay in touch with friends and family, even when you’re completely off-the-grid. Or, send your exact GPS coordinates to the 24/7 search and rescue monitoring center in case of an emergency.

The peace of mind that the Garmin inReach Mini provides (for both you and loved ones back home) is invaluable, especially if you regularly go solo camping in remote locations.

Below I break down exactly why I love this satellite messenger so much – and why I recommend it to all dispersed campers and boondockers.

Related Post: My Favorite Camping Gifts for 2022


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Quick Overview

Garmin inReach Mini

The Garmin inReach Mini first hit the scene in 2018.

It’s much lighter and more compact than its predecessor, the inReach SE+, without sacrificing nearly anything in the way of functionality.

Immediately popular upon its release, the inReach Mini is still one of the best-selling satellite communicators on the market today.

What makes it stand out from the pack?

For starters, the inReach Mini measures just 3.9 x 2 x 1 inches and weighs just 3.5 ounces. It boasts a ton of features, including two-way messaging, GPS location tracking, and emergency SOS capabilities.

All of this is thanks to the built-in high-sensitivity GPS operating on the Iridium satellite network backed by a rechargeable internal lithium ion battery.

The satellite messenger is built to last – it’s impact-resistant and water-rated for IPX7. Neither rain or snow will affect performance.

Use the inReach Mini by itself or pair it with the free Earthmate app on your smartphone (cellular service isn’t required) for easier messaging.

Do note that a satellite subscription is required to operate the device (even for the SOS feature) – we go into detail on available subscriptions below.

Already sound like the right fit? Then click here to learn more about the inReach Mini at REI.


Garmin inReach Mini Features and Specifications

Here are the main features and specs of the Garmin inReach Mini:

Interactive SOSTwo-Way Messaging
GPS TrackingPair w/ Earthmate App to Use w/ Phone
3.5 Ounces3.9 x 2 x 1 Inches
Rechargeable Lithium Ion Battery50 Hours Battery Life (Average)
Impact Resistant & IPX7 Water ResistantComes w/ USB Cable, Carabiner, & Spine Mount

My Experience with the inReach Mini

Garmin inReach Mini with screen on

I’ve owned the Garmin inReach Mini for a little over two years now.

I originally purchased mine because I wanted a lightweight, compact satellite messenger to stay in touch with friends and family on my remote dispersed camping trips.

Right out of the box, I was impressed with the device’s sturdiness. For being so small and lightweight, it’s quite rugged and has proven very durable in the two years I’ve had it.

Unfortunately, the inReach Mini is a little confusing to set up and learn how to use. But, after some toying around, I was able to quickly learn the ins and outs.

The main way that I use this device is to send preset messages to preset contacts – both of which you need to set up on the Garmin Explore website before your trip – so they know exactly where I’m located while solo camping.

Since receiving the device, I’ve used it for well over 120 days in the field. It’s never failed to send a message and the GPS location is always extremely accurate (to within a few feet).

With that in mind, the service is often quite slow. Messages sometimes take several minutes (even up to a half hour) to send, especially if you’ve just turned the device on and/or are in heavy tree cover.

Because the GPS signal strength/connectivity is often somewhat slow, I don’t personally find the inReach Mini very useful as an actual hiking GPS and rarely use the tracking mode while backpacking.

Luckily, I’ve yet to need to use the SOS feature, so I can’t comment on its performance, although I have no reason not to believe that it works just fine.

As for the battery life, I can easily get around a week’s worth of use sending a preset morning and evening message to my contacts and keeping the device powered off otherwise.

Actually using the inReach Mini’s tracking feature – or additional features like their weather forecast service – drains the battery much more quickly. Don’t plan to use the device longer than a weekend trip if you plan to keep it powered on the entire time.

All in all, I’m extremely happy with the Garmin inReach Mini, especially its two-way messaging and location sharing features. The peace of mind it provides for backpacking, solo camping, and dispersed camping is well worth the price.


Pros and Cons of the inReach Mini

holding the Garmin inReach Mini

After just over two years of use in the field, here’s what I personally consider the most notable pros and cons of the Garmin inReach Mini.

What I Like

Here’s what I like most about the inReach Mini:

  • SOS Feature – The interactive SOS feature for emergencies is perhaps the main reason to invest in this satellite messenger.
  • Stay in Touch – The two-way messaging feature (with both preset and custom messages) enables you to stay in touch with friends and family back home.
  • Lightweight & Compact – The inReach Mini is very small and lightweight. It’s possibly the most compact satellite communicator on the market today.
  • Handy Mobile App – The Garmin Earthmate mobile app is very easy to use with the inReach Mini. The Garmin Explore website is likewise intuitive and helpful.
  • Made for Outdoors – This device is rugged and built to stand up to the wear and tear of regular outdoor use.

What I Dislike

Here’s what I don’t really like about the inReach Mini:

  • Slow GPS – The GPS can take a heck of a long time to connect, especially if you’ve just turned the device on. This makes for slow messaging, sometimes up to a half an hour per message, especially in poor weather, heavy vegetation, and or steep terrain.
  • Not for GPS Mapping – The inReach Mini itself is just for satellite messages (with GPS location), not for actual GPS mapping or navigation. Basic GPS mapping is possible if you pair with the Garmin Earthmate app.
  • Slow Texting – Typing a custom message on the inReach Mini itself is possible, but it’s incredibly time consuming due to the lack of many buttons. You must use the up and down buttons to select one letter at a time. Luckily, you can pair it with the Garmin app and type out messages from your smartphone instead.

How to Use the inReach Mini

Here’s a basic overview of how to use the Garmin inReach Mini.

The Hiking Guy has an extensive how-to guide (plus a video overview) that breaks down how to use the device in minute detail.

inReach Mini Buttons

The inReach Mini consists of a small but detailed screen with big simple buttons on the sides as well as a power button on the top.

Once on, cycle through the menus with the up/down buttons on the left side of the device. Press the “OK” button on the right side to select. A back button, also on the right side, lets you go back to the previous screen.

The SOS button is hidden on the right side underneath a protective cap so you don’t accidentally press it. Pull back the cap with your finger nail to access.

Whenever using the inReach Mini to send a message, first find the clearest line of sight to the sky as possible.

Preset Messages

Preset messages are the easiest way to send messages on the inReach Mini. Set these up on the Garmin Explore website before your trip along with preset contacts.

You can create three preset messages ahead of time. Each message is limited to 160 characters.

You can send these to as many preset contacts (SMS, email, or another Garmin device) as many times as you want with no extra charge.

I like to use preset messages along the lines of “Just checking in. All is well.” and “Camping here tonight.”

Your exact GPS coordinates (to within a few feet) are automatically sent along with each preset message.

Custom Messages

These are messages that you type while in the field.

This is quite difficult if you’re only using your inReach Mini since you have to select each letter separately with the up/down buttons.

Quick text messages (predefined basic messages such as “I’m starting from here.”) make this a little easier if you can find one that fits the bill.

If you’re only using your inReach Mini, then you can only send custom and quick text messages to your preset contacts.

Custom messages are much easier when the device is paired with your smartphone via Bluetooth. Use the Earthmate app to type messages on your phone and then send via your Garmin device.

Using the Earthmate app also allows you to send messages to contacts from your phone’s contact list or even enter in a different phone number manually.

Custom messages do cost $0.50 each to send or receive over a certain amount (10 or 40 depending on your plan). Unless you choose the top-level “Expedition” plan which allows you to send unlimited custom messages.

Receiving Messages

Your inReach Mini will receive incoming text messages and emails.

Know that all incoming messages are counted towards your custom message allotment. Even responses to your free preset messages are charged.

To make sure I’m not charged, I tell all of my preset contacts not to message me back when I send a preset message, unless there’s an emergency at home.

SOS Feature

The SOS feature is one of the best features on satellite communicators and personal locator beacons.

In the event of an emergency, this allows you to send your exact GPS coordinates to search and rescue professionals, even when you’re completely off the grid.

However, it’s very important that you only ever send an SOS message in the event of a true emergency.

Wilderness rescue is not only time-consuming and very expensive, but can also be dangerous, even potentially fatal, for the first responders.

Only use the inReach Mini’s SOS feature in life-threatening situations. Luckily, two-way messaging allows you to communicate with emergency professionals to decide whether you should attempt to self-evacuate or stay and wait for help.

The SOS button is tucked away under a small rubber flap so that you never accidentally press it.

Other Features

Personally, I only use my inReach Mini for two-way messaging (usually preset messages) as well as the ability to use the SOS button if ever needed.

But the device does boast a wide range of additional features, including weather forecasts (powered by Dark Sky), GPS tracking, and basic navigation features.

Tracking, for instance, sends out your GPS location at regular intervals (you can change the spacing of these intervals as desired), allowing friends and family to track your location.

The tracking feature is popular with hikers, backpackers, and others venturing off into the backcountry.

Unfortunately, the tracking feature is quite expensive to use (on the basic plan). It also drains the inReach Mini’s battery very quickly since the device must be turned on the entire time it’s in use.


Garmin inReach Mini Services & Plans

Garmin inReach subscription plans

You can’t use the Garmin inReach Mini without an active satellite subscription plan. I repeat – the device, including the SOS feature, won’t work without a subscription.

Garmin currently offers three different subscription plans for personal users (plus several plans for professionals).

The most affordable plan – and the one which I personally use – costs $11.95 per month.

Known as the Safety Plan, this basic subscription gives you unlimited preset messages plus unlimited SOS use.

It’s perfect for those that want to send occasional messages to loved ones (I do so two or three times per day) plus the ability to send an SOS in case of emergency.

For those that want to use the GPS tracking feature, I recommend the Recreation Plan ($24.95 per month).

With this plan, you’re able to send unlimited tracking points. This is overkill for most dispersed campers, but perfect for backpackers. Of course, unlimited preset messages and unlimited SOS use are also included.

The top-level Expedition Plan ($49.95 per month) gives you 2-minute tracking intervals (versus 10-minutes), unlimited weather reports, unlimited custom messages, and a few other small features.

Also know that these subscription plans are available as annual plans or freedom plans.

An annual plan lowers the monthly cost (the prices mentioned above are for annual plans), but locks you in for a full year.

A freedom plan allows you to cancel your subscription at any time. Pay slightly more for 30 days of use at a time.

The annual plan makes the most sense for me personally, since I camp year-round. But the freedom plan is a great choice for those investing in an inReach Mini for one-off adventures and for those that only camp for a few months each summer.

Learn more about Garmin’s inReach subscription plans.


Who is the inReach Mini Best for?

Garmin inReach Mini outside

The Garmin inReach Mini is my top pick as the best satellite messenger for 2022.

Anyone and everyone that spends a lot of time outdoors, especially off-the-grid in the backcountry, will benefit from adding this device to their gear list.

This is the perfect satellite communicator for campers, backpackers, hikers, and hunters who want to stay in touch with friends and family back home while traveling in remote areas without cellular reception. Plus, the ability to contact search and rescue services in the event of an emergency.

The fact that it’s extremely lightweight and compact is just the icing on the cake for this reliable and rugged device.

However, the Garmin inReach Mini isn’t always the right choice for those that also want GPS navigation, such as GPS mapping, built into the same device.


Other Garmin inReach Mini Reviews

I’m far from the only person who loves the Garmin inReach Mini.

Countless other campers have used and reviewed (almost always positively) this satellite communicator.

Although we’ve made our own review as thorough and honest as possible, it’s always smart to look at multiple reviews to make the most informed purchase possible – especially on a device as expensive as this one.

Outdoor Gear Lab is one of the absolute best resources for outdoor gear reviews online – and their Garmin inReach Mini review is no exception.

For possibly even more detailed breakdowns, I encourage you to check out this review from the Hiking Guy and this review from The Broke Backpacker.

These three reviews and our own review will give you an extremely detailed understanding of the inReach Mini’s overall capabilities.

The video review above (from the Hiking Guy’s YouTube channel) provides a great visual breakdown of everything this device can do.

Finally, I encourage you to poke around on Reddit for even more opinions. Oftentimes, Reddit threads are even more unbiased than website and YouTube reviews. Start with these threads in r/Camping Gear, r/CampingandHiking, and r/Ultralight.


Other Satellite Messengers to Consider

Garmin inReach Explorer+

A GPS navigator/tracker, two-way messenger, and SOS personal locator all rolled into a compact and easy-to-use package.

The Garmin inReach Explorer+ shares many of the same features as the inReach Mini, including two-way messaging, GPS navigation, and emergency SOS.

But it also packs in an array of additional features, most notably preloaded color topographical maps of the United States, Canada, and Mexico.

Not only that, but the Explorer+ has a longer battery life (roughly 100 hours versus the Mini’s 50 hours), a larger screen, and more buttons.

The Explorer+’s main downside is its increased size and weight. It weighs 7.5 ounces to the Mini’s 3.5 ounces and is several inches larger to boot.

Perhaps the biggest advantage of the Explorer+ over the Mini is that it’s easier to use as a standalone device. Most users pair the Mini with their smartphone but use the Explorer+ by itself.

For example, in an emergency situation, it’s much easier to use the inReach Explorer+ to send detailed messages to first responders.

While it’s just as easy to use the inReach Mini to send an SOS with your exact GPS location, it’s very time-consuming to send a detailed custom message, unless you have the device paired with your smartphone.

The Garmin inReach Explorer+ is overkill for my personal needs. I much prefer the lightweight, compact inReach Mini since I really only use it to send preset messages to friends/family with the SOS feature as an emergency backup.

Outside of Garmin, SPOT is another popular option. For example, several campers and backpackers I know swear by the SPOT X. I don’t have personal experience with the device. 

REI has a wide range of other personal locator beacons and satellite messengers to choose from if you prefer to weigh all of your options.


Where to Buy the Garmin inReach Mini

Garmin inReach Mini

Garmin inReach Mini

A palm-sized satellite communicator with two-way messaging, GPS location tracking, and emergency SOS feature.

The Garmin inReach Mini is all but a must if you regularly venture off the grid.

In my opinion, it’s the best satellite messenger currently available – despite a handful of minor flaws (discussed above).

You can buy the Garmin inReach Mini now at REI as well as on Amazon or directly from Garmin.

For more great camping gear suggestions, check out my dispersed camping gear guide.

And if you still have questions about the Garmin inReach Mini, shoot me a line at: jake@campnado.com