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Seeking advice on Satellite Messengers

I am considering the Garmin In Reach Mini vs the Spot X for backpacking.  I primarily want a device for emergencies and an occasional text (less than one per day.)  Spot has much longer battery life and doesn't need to be married to a cell phone.  Garmin has a better satellite system.  Reliability and ease of use are also critical for me (more so than cost).  I would like blunt advice on which device is better.  (Both have many bad reviews.)  Thanks!

15 Replies

@Eliot Thanks for reaching out!

We have had several threads around the topic of these products, I encourage you to check a couple of them out:

We're also going to tag some of our users so they can come give you some first hand knowledge based on their experience: @Russ1663@SSauter@OldGuyot@yodler, and @HikingGuy can you share your thoughts?

In terms of my personal experience, a lot of it depends on your needs and where you're located. If you're in the lower 48 and hiking and backpacking you're probably going to be fine with the SPOT X. If you travel abroad or in Alaska and you'll be in remote areas where the satellite system is more important then the Garmin will be a better option for you.

Personally, I've gone on trips with people who had both and from a platform and an ease of use standpoint the Garmin InReach performed outstanding in some very remote areas of Alaska. It connected to the satellites, sent updates, received text messages, and tracked our progress very smoothly. We were in a situation that was a non-life-threatening emergency with a broken ankle and it was great to be able to communicate with people to organize a pickup and transportation to the hospital that met us at the trailhead. The SPOT worked fine as well although we didn't really need it (partially because it didn't have features we needed at the time).

It appears that the SPOT now also offers a plan that you can turn on and off throughout the year like the InReach, which is very handy if you're only taking 2-3 trips per year.

Hopefully this helps and we get some more input from the community. Thanks!

At REI, we believe time outside is fundamental to a life well lived.

@Eliot Quick reply - I would purchase the InReach Mini over the Spot.  

I have not owned the mini - I own the larger InReach device so I can't speak to the interface but even with my larger InReach, it is much easier to utilize the device through the bluetooth integration to my phone.  Keep this in mind because using the device for an extended trip requires a back up battery and a cell phone (on airplane mode though).  

I'll share my experiences - I hiked the JMT (240 miles) in 2017 with my Garmin InReach and it performed very well and provided 2 way communications along the entire route.  I had a few other hikers that were on the trail with me utilizing a Spot device.  They could not communicate with their device to/from their families and only had preset messages to use on the rare occasions it worked.  Instead, they asked to use my Garmin to check in with their families in England.  The experience they had with that device keeps me from advising anyone to consider that device especially when compared with the very positive experience I had with my Garmin.  

I continue to use my Garmin InReach for dayhikes and even in my car if I am on a trip where I will be traveling in an area with little cell service.  As a trained wilderness first aid provider, I consider carrying the InReach to be essential. 

Good on you for considering this purchase - I think it is a fundamental backcountry tool.  



Thanks John!  I appreciate your advice, quick response, and links to other conversations.  I'll be making a decision in the next few days.

@Eliot Get the Mini 100%. I recently hiked with someone who had a SPOT X and they spent about twice as much time trying to send a message. And they burned the battery down in the process.

Some helpful resources:

@Eliot Garmin uses a satellite system that is theoretically available worldwide.  Last I checked Spot doesn't. I have no experience with Spot.

Once it is set up you can use the Mini without a cell phone to send messages to preset contacts but composing custom messages is a bit annoying using its simple interface.  You can also receive messages and weather reports and get a GPS fix without a cell phone to use with a paper map.  The Mini is small, light and easy to carry on any trip.  However it does require activation and a subscription to operate.  You can suspend this but then I think it will only give you a GPS fix.

Also Garmin had a couple of GPS units that include the InReach satellite feature and do not need a smart phone to use conveniently. 

I do not own an InReach device but as a family group we did use one to track location, get weather and exchange messages while backpacking in the Sierras and it worked well.

In most comparisons I have read the Garmin InReach system comes out ahead but I suspect that where they work both systems work well enough and it will come down to personal preference on price and specific features.  Personally I would get the Orange Mini

I have BOTH...

a Garmin InReach Mini, AND an ACR RescueMe. Here's why...

But first, if you're interested in emergency/survival electronics, you need to start with a SMARTPHONE!!! The best and biggest reason is phones are responsible for FAR more rescues than any other electronic gadget INCLUDING Personal Locator Beacons. Just keep it in a shockproof - waterproof case WITH a spare battery. You don't even need to have a service, you can still call 911 without it (and you still have all the advantages like GPS, fast and easy maps, etc.)

THE GARMIN INREACH MINI is great even without a prepaid plan, you still have GPS, "navigate", etc. (and you can pair with your smartphone to make it easier to use), but you can't use any feature that involves communication (ie weather forecasts, sending/receiving email, texts, etc.), and of course, send an SOS signal. For that you pay, but they have monthly, yearly and seasonal plan. BUT, you have to remember to activate, pay, and keep it charged while you're out.

THE ACR RESCUEME (which I keep with my survival kit), on the other hand, does one thing and one thing only, send an SOS signal. But it does that better than anything else. Once you buy it (and register your info'), that's it, you're done! Just keep it with you, the battery lasts about 6 YEARS.

If you plan on going out on the water, do NOT buy Spot!!!! The InReach uses the best private satellite system, the RescueMe uses a government satellite system, BOTH are superior to Spot.

Why two PLBs? Because I almost always go to the wilderness and I take my safety, and that of others, seriously! Besides, they are so small now, it's hard to make a case against it.


I've been reading quite a bit about those two options, as well as the Bivystick. That's the one I am leaning towards. Does anyone here have it?


- bob


My impression is that the 7oz Bivystick is good but the 3.5oz Garmin Mini ate its lunch.  They both use the Iridium satellite system but as far as I can tell the Bivystick will only operate with a working cell should check on that.  Once activated and subscribed the Garmin Mini can function standalone if required.   The Bivystick is not cheaper to buy but looks like it may be a bit cheaper to need to look at the details carefully because you still need to buy a month of coverage as far as I can tell.

Even though this thread is less than I year old, I'd like to resurrect it to ask opinions on the Zoleo. I've considered the InReach Mini as the optimum choice until now. Here are my thoughts:

Zoleo is heavier (5.30z vs 3.5), has better battery life (200hrs vs 50), and is slightly bigger.

Zoleo has a much better interface with smartphone, but for custom messages you must use your phone.

Zoleo has the advantage when moving to and from satellite to cell to wifi on the same message thread.

Zoleo is cheaper out front, but subscriptions may not be, because you're comparing apples to oranges among competition.

Zoleo is slightly more waterproof.

Zoleo is from a new company, Garmin has been around forever.

Zoleo doesn't support tracking where InReach does. However, according to the REI page, this is coming in spring 2021. I've not been able to find anything to back that up on Zoleo's site though.

Zoleo has a dedicated email and phone number, InReach doesn't. You can keep the email and phone number if you suspend your service for $4 month. 

Anyone have other thoughts? I'm seriously considering the Zoleo. 

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