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The Garmin InReach Explorer+ (available on Amazon) is one tool I no longer leave home without when I’m going hiking or biking. It serves as both a hand-held GPS as well as a subscription-based global Iridium satellite communication device. It allows for 2-way messaging from anywhere in the world without a cell connection.
The service also provides 24/7 SOS monitoring to activate search and rescue. In most of Alaska where I live and hike, there is very little cell coverage once you are off the road systems making this an incredibly handy device! As it turns out, the primary way this has helped me out is to let people know that I’m totally fine, but going to be later than planned, so that no one is calling for search and rescue when it’s not needed.
Maps and GPS Functionality
It uses preloaded Delorme topo maps that are much better than the old Garmin worldwide base map, which was practically useless for Alaska. It also pairs with a free app called Earthmate that you can use to download additional maps or imagery. This feature is awesome because I can download multiple maps of a particular area right before a trip. Many areas even have the USGS topos available.
Battery and Power
The internal, rechargeable battery lasts approximately 100 hours using the 10-minute tracking mode and 75 hours with 1-second tracking. This will be reduced if you are also using it as a GPS and frequently using the screen.
I keep mine on only while I’m actively moving and use the 10-minute tracking. I’m pretty confident that my battery will get through at least 3-4 days without getting worried about it dying. I usually end up sending a few texts per day. It’s USB rechargeable, so it’s pretty easy to go for a long time if you have a battery bank or a solar panel.
Earthmate app and Bluetooth and sharing
Through that same Earthmate app, you can text through your Bluetooth paired phone to send and receive texts, much easier than using the joystick to find and select letters. Although, you do need to be able to keep both devices charged for the duration of your trip.
Before starting your trip, you can send a message via e-mail or text and include a link to a map that tracks your location and even send messages to social media accounts. Posting to social media isn’t a feature that I’m into, but I’ve seen people use it to significant effect for notable ascents and trips.
To use the Iridium network, you must purchase and activate a plan. One benefit to the Garmin plans over others is that you can choose to have an annual plan or a “freedom plan,” which allows you to only pay for the months you need to. Although paying for a yearly subscription does reduce the monthly cost.
There are currently three different plans available, the main difference between plans is the number of texts you can send/receive per month. They start at $11.95/month (with annual subscription). I’m pretty sure these rates have been unchanged since I purchased my first InReach years ago when Delorme owned it.
There are a plethora of other features that I don’t typically use, but may be handy for others. You can receive weather reports and forecasts, load three preset messages that don’t count against your plan. It does come with an attached carabiner that makes it super easy to clip to my backpack shoulder strap, so it’s always handy.
InReach Explorer+ Specs from Garmin
|2.7″ x 6.5″ x 1.5″ (6.8 x 16.4 x 3.8 cm) with keypad and SOS door bump
|1.4″W x 1.9″H (3.5 x 4.7 cm); 2.31″ diag (5.9 cm)
|200 x 265 pixels
|7.5 oz (213.0 g)
|Rechargeable internal lithium-ion
|Up to 100 hours at 10-minute tracking mode (default)
Up to 75 hours at 10-minute tracking with 1-second logging
Up to 30 days at the 30-minute interval power save mode
Up to 3 years when powered off