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The Garmin InReach Mini Is the Responsible Way to Be Irresponsible – Beta Editors’ Choice

Sending it before I send it

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Say what you will about the oppression of constant connectivity, but I think the pros far outweigh the cons. Yes, my editor knows that if she sends me an email at 6 PM, even if I’m not at my desk, I will probably read it. But eventually, I’ll need something from her at 6 PM, so all’s fair. The way I see it, the constant stress of being unable to immediately complete a task would be worse than the occasional stress of being forced to. It’s made us a less patient society, but a more efficient one. And anyway, we can’t put that genie back in the bottle, so there’s no use in wishing we could.

I experienced a similar but more overwhelmingly positive paradigm shift when I got my first satellite messenger. Before, when I would go into my largely service-free mountains, it wasn’t even an option for me to check in with the outside world. Civilization had no business being on my mind because I wouldn’t be back in it for several hours. For some, that’s the entire point. Being out of cell service is their only way to feel truly liberated from all that connectivity. But again, I believe that connectivity itself can be liberating. I happen to be lucky enough to have someone in my life who demands to know approximately where I’ll be whenever I disappear into the forest for several hours. A satellite messenger allows me to send her my location at any moment during my ride, not just before I leave. If I have a reason to change my plans, I can. Or better yet, I can go out with no plans at all. Never mind the satellite messenger’s ability to call in potentially life-saving emergency assistance, these little devices make big, remote rides feel more free. If you’re not sold on the concept, buy one anyway. You will be.

But most messengers fall into two opposite categories. They’re either feature-packed, full-service devices with a full-sized form factor to match, or they’re bare-bones survival tools that feel a little clumsy. The latter category was my first experience, the SPOT Gen4. Like any technology, if you’re starting from zero, even the most basic entry point seems almost futuristic. The SPOT Gen4 allowed me to check in, but it has no screen, relies on a few simple on-device command buttons to send one of a few preset messages, and can’t receive messages if someone wanted to reply. It requires about a $144 yearly subscription (or $15 if paying monthly), just like the Garmin InReach I now use, but the Gen4 costs only $150. Then there are the $200 devices from Zoleo and ACR, which also have no screen, but allow you to type custom messages through a smartphone app and, more importantly, receive them as well. Any of these options will offer the basic freedoms I already outlined, but the tiny screen on the already tiny Garmin InReach Mini 1 is why I was happy to pay $350 to own one.

There’s also now the $400 InReach Mini 2, which is the same size and shape, but boasts some better battery life, cleaner interface, faster USB-C charging port, refined (but still kinda useless) navigation functions, and a far better smartphone app. I’d have gone that route if it were available when I got my InReach Mini 1, but I don’t feel like I’m missing out on much. Even though I usually interface through the app, having a screen on the device itself adds all the peace of mind I need, which is what this is all about.

For one thing, if I want to make sure a message was sent, I don’t have to decipher what a particular beep or blinking light might mean. The screen tells me. And if I want to send a quick pre-set check-in, I can navigate to it with a few buttons and, again, I can see with certainty that it said what I need it to, and actually made it out. And if I lose or break my cell phone or if its battery dies (which is apparently something I’m kinda known for), there’s still a way (albeit a time-consuming way) to type a custom message from the device itself. For an accessory that, by its nature, is meant to keep you prepared for the unexpected, the self-contained functionality that the screen adds just seems like a no-brainer to me. Sure, if everything goes like it’s supposed to, a more basic device will check all the important boxes just fine. But I like knowing this tough, little, generously rubberized piece of technology has everything I need.

That is, as long as I have that paid subscription. Garmin’s site outlines what you get out of each of their three options, but that $144 yearly one is plenty. I only get 10 total custom messages, and received messages count against that as well, but it’s just $0.50 for each text past that, and I’ve never had enough to justify bumping up to the $300 per year plan. But if I had a long trip in mind, I could opt in to an unlimited plan for one month at a slightly higher rate and go back to my basic plan after. 

Every plan also comes with SOS capability, and there’s an option to sign up for an $18 yearly membership plan with GEOS who manages the International Emergency Response Coordination Center (IERCC, though I couldn’t find out what the hell GEOS means) that should cover search and rescue fees. But that’s not nearly as fun a perk as being able to go out for an extra three hours if the conditions are just too good to walk away from. I won’t hesitate now that I’m able to check in. Though I probably won’t tell my editor how to reach me.

Photos: Travis Engel