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Garmin Inreach subscription plan analysis

Posted: Mon Mar 04, 2019 8:41 pm
by maiathebee
I have a PLB that I carry for my parents peace of mind, but the tech has advanced a lot since they gave it to me 5 years ago. The Garmin Inreach Mini is teeny tiny and has the ability to 2-way text with first responders and with family. With dividend / coupon season coming up, I decided to have a look at the costs and do a little analysis of the various plans. You can read the full report over on my blog here, but here's a flowchart that summarizes the basic conclusions between the four most likely options.

garmin (2).png

What do y'all think about the Garmin Inreach Mini? Does anyone have one?

**minor edit to correct a little thing in the flowchart

Re: Garmin Inreach subscription plan analysis

Posted: Fri Mar 08, 2019 7:29 am
by TurboHike

I do not own one, but I've ready many many online reviews since I too am thinking about making a purchase. The one thing that has held it up is reports of poor battery life. For the larger Inreach Explorer, people report using about 10% of the battery during a 8 hour day with tracking turned on. For the Inreach Mini, battery usage is more like 40% per 8 hour day. So basically you're getting 2.5 days if you leave the device on. The most popular way to use the device, from reading the reviews, is to leave it off, then turn it on as you're setting up camp, send your pre-programmed "I'm OK" message, maybe leave it on for a couple of hours to get a reply, then turn it back off again. I mention this because if you are really planning on sending a lot of messages, you might want the Explorer, or at least you'd want some way to charge the Mini.

For me, if I buy one, I'd use it the most popular way, described above. This would save as much battery life as possible by mostly keeping it turned off. This makes it a nice substitute for the ACR device. The upside is the nightly "I'm OK" message which keeps your loved ones in the loop. Plus if you ever need to use the SOS, you would have the ability to send and receive texts, which the ACR cannot do.

Given the way I'd use it, I would buy an annual safety plan. My $0.02. Cheers.

Re: Garmin Inreach subscription plan analysis

Posted: Fri Mar 08, 2019 9:00 am
by AlmostThere
I have one, and it has so far on the 15 days I have used it carried a charge all day, tracking, setting waypoints, using the map for navigation, occasionally texting (you can text other people who have similar devices and this came in handy on a backpacking trip where someone had to be flown out - I sent the group ahead of me, waited with the person, and hiked forward to rejoin the group, using text to let them know and they told me where they camped). In the evening it gets to about 20% and I recharge it with the Anker I bring to recharge my phone, which has been my camera and links with the Mini for ease of use. I de-activate the subscription in the months that I do not plan to use it. It's handy, let me keep in touch with my bf when he had to be helicoptered out of the wilderness as he progressed from the helo pad at Shaver Lake to the ambulance to the hospital, then interface with the FS supervisor who went to see him in the hospital and drove him home. The high band FS radios are not for such purposes. I have also used it to drive up to TIoga Pass and snag a FC/FS campsite then text everyone else to tell them come on ahead and where.

Re: Garmin Inreach subscription plan analysis

Posted: Fri Mar 08, 2019 9:08 am
by bobby49
Yes, that seems to be an accurate analysis. I've used mine for several years, and this is the way that I use it. On a trip, I sent a preset message at the start and finish, and then in camp each night. Once in a while there will be a custom message on some summit or other spot. Once in a while I will need to arrange for a shuttle ride pickup, but it is too difficult to have a full-fledged discussion and transaction with a shuttle company. So, I arrange it with a trusted family member. Then when I need the shuttle, I send a custom message to family, then they negotiate it with the shuttle company, then confirm back to me. So, it is really handy to have that two-way capability. Trusted family can see my progress on the map, so they can make estimates about my finish date or time before I get there. I leave my subscription active year-round, because I never know when I am going to need it. When I power it up only sporadically, I can go for a long time without any battery charging.

Another situation is when some backpackers are heading along the JMT and need a resupply drop somewhere like at Charlotte Lake junction. They send trail progress messages each evening, and I am holding their food box, so I can roughly estimate when they will reach the drop point. I can drive to the trailhead and confirm the updated date and time for the handoff. Then I carry the box in to them. Without two-way satellite communications, none of this would work correctly. Fortunately, I can carry to Charlotte Lake junction and get back in one day.

It does take a little practice to use the thing unless you are in the desert with unlimited view of the sky. When I am someplace and want to send a message, first I power my inReach up and go to Location on the menu. I let it get a GPS fix, because it must have that in order to send a custom message or preset message or SOS. It really helps to be away from trees, but if thick trees are there, it might be very slow to get the GPS fix. Last year I was deep in a redwood forest, and could not get any GPS fix because of such a poor view of the sky. So, I walked uphill to a small clearing, and there it worked perfectly. If I had a broken leg and needed to send the SOS, I could have crawled up the hill. If I was unconscious from a head injury, then probably nothing will work.

Re: Garmin Inreach subscription plan analysis

Posted: Fri Mar 08, 2019 11:38 am
by grampy
One other point about ANY of the Garmin 2-way devices; per their user literature, the device actively “listens” for incoming messages at 10 minute intervals, rather than continuously, as a battery-saving measure. My wife likes to have a short bedtime conversation (no, not THAT kind ;) ) with me. Which is great, but had a hard time convincing her that if she sends a couple text strings to me all at once, these may overwhelm the system’s capacity (if my “sky” coverage is limited) so that my outgoing reply gets pushed back to the NEXT 10-minute interval. She thought I wasn’t paying attention, when really my replies simply weren’t going through as fast as her “sends”. Explaining this system limitation to your loved ones in advance may preclude any similar misunderstandings. With (hopefully) the exception of SOS messages, the InReach system is by no means “instantaneous” communication, even with “full sky” coverage.

Re: Garmin Inreach subscription plan analysis

Posted: Fri Mar 08, 2019 11:53 am
by bobby49
Last summer there was another example of how handy these things are. I was camped at Crabtree Camp, and some Boy Scouts came in with their two adult leaders to camp before heading up the west side of Whitney. Before they left home, they told all of the families that they would be sending SPOT tracking out, so all of the families were tuned in for that. Then they lost their SPOT device, and they realized that the families might get worried. So, I offered to send the inReach message out by text that told one of the wives to phone all of the families not to worry. Done.

I keep my own inReach device in a bright orange bag, so it is unlikely that I will misplace it.

Re: Garmin Inreach subscription plan analysis

Posted: Fri Mar 08, 2019 12:03 pm
by rlown
Mine is kept in the top area of the pack. Can't find a good strap to put it on a shoulder strap, but I haven't looked much. When away from basecamp and fishing, it is the first thing transferred to the daypack first.

I have the freedom plan and only enable the device when I know I'll be using it.

Trying to convince my backpacking partner to get one for when we get separated.
I don't use tracking. Did once so I could see the results, but only turn it on when I want to text or know where I am. Lasts 10 days that way and no recharge. Came home with 50% still on the battery. It is an inReach Explorer and not the mini.

Re: Garmin Inreach subscription plan analysis

Posted: Fri Mar 08, 2019 1:31 pm
by maiathebee
Cool, thanks everyone for the input! Some things to think about re: battery life vs # of texts. hrmm hrmm

Re: Garmin Inreach subscription plan analysis

Posted: Fri Mar 08, 2019 4:59 pm
by bobby49
Battery life is kind of a tricky thing to predict. If the device is simply turned on, then there is a fairly low battery drain mostly to the display, so getting the display turned down low is a good idea, and using the Location function (GPS) is low power. Listening for an incoming message takes a bit more battery, because most of the power is from the satellite in space. Transmitting an outgoing message takes more power. However, the message length is so short that it only has to transmit for a matter of seconds, assuming that the view of the sky is good and constant and the satellite can get it in one pass. If the view of the sky is obstructed, then the thing can't get the outgoing message out on one pass, so it has to keep trying to transmit to different satellites as they come into view. If you have to send the SOS, then that takes power also since it has to get to a satellite in high earth orbit. Of course if you are in a situation and you send the SOS, you probably aren't too concerned about saving battery power. On the other hand, that is why I conserve the battery power for routine stuff so that there is plenty of power for the SOS, should that ever be needed.

Re: Garmin Inreach subscription plan analysis

Posted: Fri Mar 08, 2019 5:15 pm
by bobby49
Something to consider. Some people like the one-way devices, and some like the two-way devices. Several years ago, some of my friends got into trouble and one person had all of the symptoms of altitude illness and was not recovering. A stranger came by, found the situation, and offered to use his own one-way device to do the SOS message. That was nice and helpful. The SOS was sent, so my friends were hoping for a helicopter within some hours. [Critical part] Then the stranger took off with his one-way device to continue his own trip. The problem is that when the device sends the SOS message, it locks ON into SOS transmit mode, so here the stranger is moving up-trail and his position is moving. Meanwhile, the county sheriff's dispatcher had gotten the SOS and the initial GPS position, and they were just ready to launch the helicopter when they saw that the GPS position was moving at a good speed up the trail, so they figured that it was a false alarm, so they scrubbed the flight.

Now, if you have a two-way device and send the SOS, then there is a good chance that some sheriff's dispatcher will send a text message back to you soon, something like "What is your emergency?" Then you can have a fruitful text message discussion about your emergency or injury, and they can decide the best solution about a helicopter rescue or something else. They might even ask you if you can wait safely until the next morning, or something like that. So, yes, the two-way solution is more complicated and more expensive, but it might turn out to be very important.