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Monday, July 19, 2021

Review: Garmin InReach Mini

 I will admit that in all the times I've been backcountry camping, I've never actually needed an SOS device. That's a good thing --- there's actually a limited amount of help an SOS device can have --- for instance, a bear attack is going to happen too quickly for any amount of rescue to get to you. If you fall off a cliff or drown in a river, all a search and rescue service can do for you is to fish your dead body out of the water. And besides, Arturo carries one anyway, so I can mooch off him if I ever decide I need one. And for bicycle touring in Europe, your cell phone always works, so you don't care.

It turns out that the Garmin Inreach Mini will let you text message someone as long as you have a view of the sky. It also integrates with your phone and Garmin Fenix 5X, so if you're a Garmin user you're not even going to look at anything else, even though there are cheaper units out there. This past year, we've been doing quite a bit of mountain biking, and even some backpacking, and reading Garmin's 6000th inReach rescue made me realize that even people driving sometimes use it. With the memorial day sale at $300 each, the inReach Mini (which is the only one I really wanted because of its light weight), I decided the extra 3.5oz of weight on a backpacking trip is worth it.

The device arrived completely discharged, but after about 10 minutes of charging it responded, and powered on. Arturo helped me sync it with my phone, and then the computer to get the latest firmware and sign up for the plan, which was much more complicated than I expected it to be, but tolerable. I never figured out how to set presets, but a few test text messages worked.

This past camping trip, my wife got food poisoning at the last minute, so she had to stay an extra night at the hotel while I took both kids backpacking. The device worked in Yosemite backcountry, allowing me to text her at night when camping, and for her to ask questions (which I did not answer, since any overage would cost $0.50 per text). The one place it failed was when we got to the parking lot, I texted her that we were coming, and then put the backpack in the car. After we were all packed and driving out of the park, only then did the device complain that it couldn't send the text, because even inside an open car trunk wasn't sufficient for it to get signal. This is truly an outdoor only device.

The plan is expensive, but like all insurance, you carry it hoping never to need it. And if you're going to be in a national park with friends but not necessarily hiking together, it's useful for coordinating dinners or places to meet up, so this summer we might even pay up for the more expensive plan. Recommended.

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