Back in July of 2017 I bought a Garmin InReach explorer after not having used a gps for hunting for the last 5+ years prior to that. In short, my summary would be that I would recommend this device to anyone looking for a backcountry GPS for extended trips and/or when communications in off grid areas is a priority.
At the time of writing this I have about 18 months of use and several thousand messages sent/received on the device. I’ve had a couple issues with ATT and messaging, but those have occurred both with standard sms messaging as well. I’ve yet to experience and problems or issues with the InReach itself.
- Great Battery Life
- Sufficient pre-loaded topi map
- Satellite text messaging
- Good integration with smartphone
- USB chargeable
- Lack of ability to accept mapping chip
- Inconvenient to use without smartphone
- Screen Scratches easily
GPS units seem to be losing their relevance fairly quickly these days as smartphones continue to improve, and as their navigational applications continue to evolve. However, the InReach may be the most relevant product currently with its satellite communications. This, along with the great battery life are really the only things that set it above a smartphone, at least in my mind.
The battery usually will get me about 4 days of use without shutting the device off, and I do message with it fairly often during the day to keep in touch back home with family and work. It also takes around 30% of the power to charge in comparison to my iPhone, which helps extend the life of my Anker 10k powerbank.
Texting when using the free Garmin smartphone app is incredibly easy, and is no more complicated than a standard text message. You have access to all your contacts stored in your phone, and with good view of the sky the messages send quickly. On the flip side, texting without a smartphone is doable, but is slow and cumbersome as you must select one letter at a time by scrolling with the directional keys.
I will take a moment to mention that while this is slow, I believe this ability is important. The fact that the unit functions stand alone without a phone is the primary reason why I would choose the full size device over the mini, which is mostly 100% dependent on a smartphone. While messaging is slow without it, there are still many times that I do not pack my phone when I know it will be otherwise worthless to me.
The map included on the explorer+ is decent, and has served me well for general wilderness navigation. However, it would be nice to have the ability to add a micro as card for land ownership maps in certain scenarios. For me, this usually isn’t an issue where I hunt, but this could be a dealbreaker from some users.
The smartphone app also allows you to view the basic loaded topo map along with all your waypoint data on your phone screen. This is convenient as a smartphone screen is larger and of much better resolution than that on the InReach itself.
Over time, the screen on my InReach has become scuffed and scratched fairly significantly from being in my hip belt pocket on my backpack. It still functions fine, but it’s something I would watch out for if I were buying a new one again. I doubt it scratches any more than other garmin units though.
All in all, I would recommend this GPS if you’re looking for the satellite communication ability. It’s far more price effective than a sat phone, and lets you stay in touch from anywhere in the world. If you’re not as concerned with the messaging however, there are more capable gps units, in addition to smartphone applications available.
As far as I know, this is the only satellite messaging option available currently, so it’s hard not to recommend it for its intended use, especially with the use and lack of problems I’ve had with it. Also, if garmin is listening, I’m waiting for the day when one of their gps watches integrates the ability for satellite messaging and replaces the InReach in the process.