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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


Thanks for posting this!

I had not yet seen this product and, like you, find it really interesting. After trying to see if I could find the answer to your question about the 'tracking feature', I sent the company email through their 'contact us' page. 18 minutes later I received a response (on a Saturday morning no less!). Here is what they said:

'With ZOLEO you may share your location via a message or by using he check-in function. We are planning to release a tracking feature very soon. This feature is on our product roadmap that is currently under development, a launch date has not been confirmed as of yet.'

I'll keep you posted if I hear anything else. Thanks!

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@SILHiker Outdoor Research gave the Zoleo a good review comparing it favorably with the Garmin Mini and the BivyStick Blue although they rated those slightly higher.  If you like the price and the form factor you probably can't go far wrong..provided Zoleo stay in business.  One point to note is that for better or worse Garmin recently acquired GEOS, the emergency dispatch service that Zoleo and Bivvy Stick use for SOS.

The seamless messaging of the Zoleo seems convenient and something the other two don't have and since it seems they try your phone first it automatically saves you the cost of a received satellite message if you have phone coverage.  The separate SOS and "I'm OK" buttons are nice and similar to the BivyStick Blue.  No auto tracking is a negative but you do get manual tracking with the OK button and as you say it might get added. 

While the Garmin does not have the separate OK button,  its plans include 3 customizable preset messages which are easy to can set the message and a recipient list separately for each of these and you can send them unlimited with all the monthly plans.  They send your location too.  With some thought you can can use these for all outgoing messages and free manual tracking on the base plan ....say  OK,  Pick me up a planned,  I'm not OK pick me up ASAP....or you could set one up to ping a hiking partner with a Garmin InReach...although that would cost them a message since you with satellite messages you pay for messages you receive as well as send

It is unclear to me but I think Zoleo's OK messages count as a paid message.  They only say SOS messages don't. 

You can get a weather report on the Garmin Mini directly which is a big advantage.  You can only see these on your phone with the Zoleo

Although the device is cheaper to buy,  it looks like subscription plan pricing is swings and roundabouts similar to the Garmin Mini. 

For the basic plans pricing as of march 2021 as best I can tell  (prices and details may vary).  there are higher service levels that include more prepaid stuff and variously, additional features.

InReach vs Zoleo  basic plans

$35  vs $48  effective annual fee...Zoleo's is paid monthly and stops when you cancel.

$15 vs $20 monthly

2 month vs 3 month  minimum subscription

10  vs 20 prepaid messages 

unlimited presets vs no free messages? 

50cents vs 50cents  additional messages

50cents vs not available  auto tracking points.  These are unlimited in higher level plans

free logging points vs not available  Garmin can sync these to your shared map when you have cell service.

I'm not sure how weather is charged on either device.  I think on the Garmin that basic weather is a message and detailed weather is a $1

@SILHikerA few other features/advantages of the InReach Mini over the Zoleo and Bivy Blue that are worth considering... 

  • It has intrinsic locally logged GPS tracking as frequently as 2s
  • A track back facility which could be useful in a white out situation or for bushwhacking. 
  • You can get speed and distance calculations directly.  
  • It also has a GPS based compass and altimeter.  
  • None of that requires your phone.
  • Battery life of up to 24 days at 30-minute tracking power save mode. 

These, the size and the on device custom messaging make it worth the extra up front money to me.

Note: GPS altimeters are not that accurate compared to barometric ones but you don't have to calibrate them and they can give you a basic idea to around 50 feet.  The Garmin InReach Explorer+ has a barometric altimeter. 

Cost, whether up front or down the road, is not my biggest consideration. However, the $150 difference up front levels out the subscription for a while. My biggest concerns are in getting help if I'm outside of cell service, and sending my wife an "i'm ok" nightly along with my location. I pretty much always solo hike, and there have been times when I haven't seen a soul for a couple of days, much less someone who would notice if I fell down a hill or off a cliff. Cell service is iffy for about half of my normal hiking area, and I'm planning a trip this fall where I KNOW the cell phone service is really sketchy. I'd also like the ability without cell service to tell her where and when to pick me up if something goes sideways. If I go with the zoleo, I'd probably opt for the middle plan, and might upgrade to the unlimited plan if I seem to use it a lot. Thanks for your input!!

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Garmin pay as you go auto tracking points on the Safety (basic) plan are currently 10c not 50c as I previously stated.

I think I'm going to wait a couple of months and see what develops. Tracking is an attractive option, but I'm not sure I couldn't live without it. I seem to recall that last year the Mini was on sale for $250, maybe I should have got one then LOL. Subscription plans may change too, especially if Zoleo adds tracking. I like that you can get 24 days of tracking on the garmin in 30min mode, I'm old and slow, so 30 minutes equates to less than two miles usually LOL. I'd like to get one in time to take it on a few short trips and get acquainted with it before my long trip this fall.

Superusers do not speak on behalf of REI and may have received
one or more gifts or other benefits from the co-op.