Words and photos Dean Mellor
For those who occasionally travel outside of mobile phone range, the Garmin inReach Mini is an affordable alternative to a satellite phone that provides two-way text messaging from anywhere on the planet.
You don’t have to travel far out of major population centres to lose mobile phone reception in Australia and when you’re four-wheel driving this can be a major issue, especially if you have a mechanical breakdown or a medical emergency.
In the past the only solutions have been HF radio, satellite phones and EPIRBs (Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacons). For the occasional traveller, HF radios and satellite phones are a big investment, while more affordable EPIRBs can only be used to alert emergency responders to your location, and this one-way communication capability results in a full-blown rescue effort being launched, which could result in a hefty bill for the party being rescued.
These days there’s another remote area communications alternative: the two-way satellite communicator. These small devices use the same satellites employed by satphones to send text messages or emergency signals from anywhere on earth. And while you still have to subscribe to a satellite service, the plans are much more affordable than satphone plans, as is the initial purchase price of the unit.
Garmin inReach Mini
I do a lot of four-wheel drive testing which occasionally takes me into the bush on my own, as well as into remote outback areas with colleagues and other travellers, so carrying a reliable communications device is mandatory in case something goes wrong. I also like to keep in touch with my family, to let them know I have reached my destination at the end of each day and that all is safe and well.
I recently purchased a Garmin inReach Mini, which is a lightweight, rugged and compact satellite communicator that allows for two-way text messaging using the Iridium satellite network, so it truly offers comms capability from anywhere on earth so long as there’s a clear view of the sky.
The device itself retails for $499 (although I picked mine up from Wild Earth for $460 with an eBay discount) and there are several Iridium satellite subscription options ranging in price from $25 per month through to $149 per month, and these can be suspended indefinitely if you don’t plan on travelling for a period of time.
The inReach Mini measures just 99mm x52mm x 26mm, and weighs just 100g. It’s supplied with a carabiner clip, so the device can be easily attached to your belt or a backpack. An IPX7 water rating means it can withstand the harshest weather conditions and its internal lithium ion battery, which is recharged via a micro USB cable, will last up to 50 hours with 10-minute tracking intervals and up to 20 days in power-saving mode.
Send and Receive
Before you can use the inReach Mini, you have to set up a subscription plan at explore.garmin.com, and then you simply head outside, turn the device on wait for it to begin communicating with the Iridium satellite network.
Navigating through the device’s various functions is achieved via up and down keys on the left side of the unit and ‘OK’ and ‘Back’ keys on the other. You can then navigate to preset messages that are already loaded on the device or you can set your own preset message on the Garmin website, but the best trick up the inReach Mini’s sleeve is its Bluetooth connectivity, which allows texts to be sent using a compatible Apple or Android smartphone.
With the Garmin ‘Earthmate’ app installed, you can easily send and receive messages using your phone. Simply connect via Bluetooth, select a recipient, key in your message and hit send. The person you sent the message to will then receive a message with a link that will take them to a website on which they can easily reply to your message. Messaging back and forth is not always instant, but it’s pretty quick.
You can also track your location using the ‘Earthmate’ app; you can see your position, speed, heading and elevation, and you can allow other people to also track your route. Other accessible information on ‘Earthmate’ includes waypoints, routes, history, weather and SOS.
Speaking of SOS, in an emergency you can pop open the SOS cover and hit the button and the inReach Mini will trigger an interactive SOS to the GEOS 24/7 search and rescue monitoring centre, which will alert emergency responders in your area and confirm your message has been received, as well as update on the status of the response team.
On a casual basis, the basic $25/month Safety Plan includes unlimited SOS messages, 10 text messages per month and unlimited preset messages. If you want the device to track your route it will cost 0.15c for each point.
The $55/month Recreation Plan includes unlimited SOS messages, 40 text messages per month, unlimited preset messages and unlimited tracking at 10-minute or greater intervals.
The $99/month Expedition Plan includes unlimited SOS, text and preset messages, and unlimited tracking at 10-minute or greater intervals, which is upgraded to unlimited tracking at tw0-minute or greater intervals on the $149/monthExtreme Plan.
Regular travellers can save money by subscribing to an annual contract, and plans can be quickly set up or changed online at explore.garmin.com.
With much of Australia still devoid of mobile phone coverage, having a reliable communications device is a must for four-wheel drivers. The things I most like about the Garmin inReach Mini include its affordability, its reliability, its ease of use (with a smartphone), its two-way comms capability, its rugged construction and its impressive battery life. Well, I actually like everything about it.
Details What: Garmin InReach Mini Price: $499 (with Iridium plans from $25/month) Where: garmin.com.au