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Need advice before purchasing a GPS.

I am interested in a handheld GPS unit with maps and emergency communicator. I primarily do solo strenuous hikes in the Smokies out of cell range.  I currently use a Spot Gen3 but would like to have GPS map capability. Makes sense to have one unit. Garmin InReach seems like a reasonable choice unless there is a significant advantage to more expensive units. The 66i has a larger screen but largely negative ratings, and the product support comments are consistently poor. I would appreciate any input before I make the investment. Thank you.

11 Replies

@cuttingpj Thanks for reaching out!

We've had several conversations revolve around this topic. Feel free to check these out for some really good information.

Feel free to tag any of the users in these posts with an @ symbol and their username if you want to ask them specific questions about their experience.

Hopefully this helps!

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

@cuttingpj  Hi!  I recommend separating the gps from the rescue device altogether.

You're probably carrying a cell phone, so just get a map app, like gaia (for the iphone).

You can download your maps to the app before you leave home, so you'll have them when out of service range.

One of the bonuses here is the viewing is much clearer on the phone vs a gps device.  And the operation and features are so much easier.

You can then use a free service such as (created by the california fire fighting community) to view the same maps before you go, and draw a line of your future route, then export that line to your phone so you can follow your planned route much easier.

good luck

REI Member Since 1979

@Philreedshikes  Don't necessarily agree with that... although I use a cell phone, have an InReach Mini and typically use paper maps as a backup pretty much as you suggest.

However, there is definitely some advantage to having the redundancy of the mapping on the Garmin inReach Explorer+ and a smart phone that could be worth the extra $100 and 4oz to some people.   You have to pair a phone with the Mini to use it easily so if your phone fails the messaging feature becomes harder to use.  The Explorer+ has the maps built in so you can't forget to cache the map like you can with a phone and the Explorer+ is more rugged than any smart phone.

However, I am not convinced the 66i is worth the extra money.   It's mapping is probably better than the Explorer+ because it is supposedly a true Garmin device where the Explorer+ is really a Garminized DeLorme device...not sure how much difference it really makes but I suspect the new Garmin stuff is a bit more polished and up to date...make sure to apply any updates before use though.


Dyed in the wool trad here.  Paper maps are all you need.  Treat them with a waterproofing compound and you can trim the margins to use as emergency tinder for fir starting (best done only in an emergeny).  Try that with your electronics!

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

@hikermor I like them and prefer to have one but I find paper maps are not very good at satellite messaging...if we need a rejoinder to "try doing that with your..."

They are also much less convenient for getting a position fix and tracking your actual path.  

Generally where I go there are plasticized maps available and I would not recommend trying to use them as fire starter material.  While it is nice it can be done printing ones own maps if far too tedious unless there is no other choice.

What paper maps excel at is giving an overview of the area...particularly useful for when you want to decide what to do next.

All these things combine to provide an enjoyable experience imo. 



Total agreement about paper maps giving a good overview of the area.  That is often the critical need.  "I know where I am...What is the best way out?"

As for satellite messaging, who really needs it?  For significant emergencies, yes, but just for chatting with folks back on the farm??  There is such a thing as too much technology (TMT).

Technology is also useful.  I started using GPS in 1990.  There is absolutely nothing better for fixing locations - in my case, archaeological sites in the park where I was stationed.  Just be aware that you are using the proper grid system for your application.

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

Think you answered your own question there...emergencies...when it happens you can't run to the store and get a messenger. You have to have it along. Two way messaging allows you and the responders to cope with the emergency more effectively. Automatic tracking helps find you if you go missing.

But actually who really needs it is my wife...she insists I carry one and that is why I eventually got one.

That said, we used one as a group on the JMT last year and it was fun and useful for the people at home making them feel involved and allowed various things to be coordinated.

Another reason is general disaster preparedness.   PG&E cut the power for a large area of northern ca for several days last year resulting in an almost complete communication blackout as  batteries on cell tower and cable repeaters ran out. Apparently even some land line exchanges were effected.  Coupled with no gas because of no power at gas stations it was unfamiliar territory.  Having an Satellite messenger could be useful in a natural disaster where other infrastructure gets compromised.


just a thought - maps do not send emergency signals 🙂


Yup, I’ll probably get a mini in the very near future, but it’s .9x.9” screen for viewing maps? I prefer my iPhone screen, ‘been there-done that’ with my earlier garmin gps,  And from a few yrs ago, and I hope they’ve changed, their map download interface (basecamp?) was horrible and expensive. But it’s the larger screen I prefer. Just my op-ed.

REI Member Since 1979