I spend a lot of time cycling in the mountains and other areas without cellular service coverage. The potential to be stranded and unable to communicate my condition or whereabouts is always in the back of my mind. Frankly, it is also something that troubles my wife as well. So, I decided to get a satellite communicator, and I ended up getting the new Garmin InReach Mini 2, which was released earlier this year.
Limitations of Garmin’s LiveTrack
My wife and I use Garmin’s LiveTrack all the time. My Garmin Edge 1030 Plus is configured to automatically start LiveTrack and send a link to my wife and other contacts. Usually this enables her to keep tabs on my location, for peace of mind and for planning purposes. Since LiveTrack relies on my mobile phone’s data connection, however, there may be long periods of time during my ride when LiveTrack is not updated, particularly if I am in the mountains. Thus, my wife is unable to determine if I am stopped or still moving. Of course, if I am still moving, then it means I am probably doing okay, but if I have stopped, then it may be a sign that there is a problem, particularly if I am stopped for a long time. More importantly, if the LiveTrack data is not updating, it is a good sign that I cannot communicate with my mobile phone either.
A satellite communicator seemed like just the thing we needed to alleviate our concerns and to provide some peace of mind. I did not want a satellite phone; I just wanted something that would enable me to communicate my whereabouts and other information in the event of an emergency.
In addition to being able to send and receive messages and provide others with my current location, I also wanted a device that would integrate with my other Garmin devices—the Garmin Edge 1030 and the Forerunner 945. The Garmin InReach Mini 2 provided all of the features I was looking for. Although the price of the unit itself was more expensive than some of the other units I was considering, the monthly service fee seemed reasonable.
Another device, the ZOLEO, appears to have some compelling features, but I ultimately decided to go with the Garmin InReach Mini 2, primarily because of the InReach integrates with my other Garmin devices. Additionally, the ZOLEO weighs 150 grams (50 grams more than the InReach Mini 2).
Things I Like About the Garmin InReach Mini 2
I have used the Garmin InReach Mini 2 for a few weeks now on several rides, and while it is not perfect, it definitely does what I expect it to do. It tracks my current location and provides a way for me to stay in contact with my wife and others when I am out riding in the wilderness. To date, we have not experienced a situation when either one of use was unable to contact the other through the InReach.
Easily Send Messages from Garmin Edge 1030 Plus
Importantly, it is really easy to send messages, read messages sent to me, and reply to those messages all from the widget on the Garmin Edge 1030 Plus. To make communicating “on the go” easier, up to three (3) “Preset Messages” and an apparently unlimited number of “Quick Text Messages” can be configured on the Garmin Explore website. A “Preset Message” allows you to define both the text of the message and a list of recipients. On the other hand, a “Quick Text Message” defines the text of the message only and it can be sent to anyone with whom a conversation is initiated (or to initiate a conversation). Using a combination of these, I can effectively communicate with others from the InReach widget on the Garmin Edge 1030 Plus while I am riding, without pulling out my mobile phone or the InReach device.
The same functionality is available through the InReach widget on the Forerunner 945, making it just as easy to use on runs or hikes in the backcountry!
For more specific or detailed conversations, you can send messages through the InReach device using the Explore app on your mobile phone. I have used this feature quite a bit when I am at a rest stop. It is easy to use and the interface resembles a typical chat interface, similar to the Messenger app on iPhone.
Dedicated MapShare URL for Location Tracking and Messaging
Another feature that I really like is called “MapShare.” As the name suggests, “MapShare” shares information about your activity on a map. If you have enabled tracking on your InReach device, the MapShare will display all the track points that have been sent from your InReach device. In addition, the MapShare website provides a facility for the user to send a message to your InReach device or to request your current location. The latter is useful if you have not enabled tracking on your InReach device, as it will still enable a person to obtain your current location (assuming your InReach device is powered on).
Another feature of MapShare that is quite nice is that you can send messages to your MapShare, and these messages will be shown on your MapShare page, along with the date, time, and location from which they were sent.
The InReach Mini 2 Is Lightweight and Compact
I really like that the InReach Mini 2 is very small, lightweight, and compact. It weighs just 100 grams and easily fits in my jersey pocket (or in the radio pocket of my bibs), and I barely notice that it is there.
Flexible Service Plans
Garmin offers a variety of service plans, including month-to-month options with no long term commitment. These plans are great if you plan on using the device just during a few months out of the year, as you can pay only for the months that you intend to use the InReach. Alternatively, if you plan on using it year-round, you can sign up for a monthly service at a lower cost.
The Explore App Is Great!
I really like the Explore app on m iPhone. It allows me to access all the features of the InReach Mini 2 from my phone, without having to actually get the device out of my pocket. This is particularly helpful when I put the device in the radio pocket of my bib shorts, which is difficult to access without assistance.
Great Battery Life!
The battery life on the InReach Mini 2 is exceptional, but how long the battery lasts depends on a number of factors including the tracking interval (2, 5, 10, or 30 minutes) and whether there is a clear view of the sky, among other factors. Garmin claims that the battery on the InReach Mini 2 will last for up to 14 days at 10-minute tracking intervals. I have no reason to doubt the estimated battery life described by Garmin. When I used it to track my location on the Mulholland Challenge, the battery indicator registered a drop of just 14% (from 100% to 86%) for the 8 hours that I had the InReach Mini 2 turned on in tracking mode, sending my location every 2 minutes. For my purposes, the InReach Mini 2 provides adequate battery life, even at 2-minute tracking intervals, as it would appear to be more than sufficient for a 24-hour or 48-hour event.
Of course, it is comforting to know that if more battery life is needed, I can simply change the tracking frequency to 5- or 10-minute intervals.
Things that Could be Improved with the Garmin InReach Mini 2
Integration with LiveTrack
One of my biggest gripes with the InReach is that it operates in a completely different Garmin universe than Garmin’s “Sports & Fitness” lines. The InReach does not interface with Garmin Connect, but uses Garmin Explore—Garmin’s Outdoor Recreation interface—instead. Importantly, because LiveTrack is a feature of Garmin Connect, but not Garmin Explore, InReach does not interface with LiveTrack. Instead, it provides its own mapping and tracking interface through Garmin Explore, specifically MapShare.
The practical implication of this is that people who want to follow my activities in real time now have to look at two maps if I am riding in an area without cellular service. My wife has said that she really likes the LiveTrack interface because it not only shows my current position, but it also shows the Course that I am following, and provides details like my current speed.
I would really like to see Garmin add support for LiveTrack to the InReach devices.
Integration with Garmin Edge’s Incident Detection
Similar to LiveTrack, Garmin’s incident detection relies on a mobile phone connection. If you are not familiar with incident detection, it essentially detects if you have been in a crash and sends a text message to a pre-defined list of contacts alerting them that you may have been involved in an accident. Since it relies on a mobile phone connection, however, this feature will not be of any assistance if the incident occurs outside of your cellular coverage area. It would be great if this feature could send a message through the InReach device!.
Dedicated Phone Number
One of the downsides to the InReach is that the user is not assigned a dedicated phone number at which to receive text messages. This is one of the characteristics that distinguishes the InReach from the ZOLEO communicator. Instead, SMS messages to or from an InReach device appear to be routed through phone numbers that are shared with other InReach users. Accordingly, the only way for a person to send an SMS message to an InReach device is to reply to an existing (recent) conversation started by the InReach user. If no such conversation exists, then the person would have to go to the MapShare page for the InReach device and send a message from there.
Importantly, because the shared phone number through which messages are routed is subject to change, Garmin advises that these phone numbers should not be stored in phone contacts. Doing so may cause messages not to be delivered.
In practice, this is not a big problem in my view. Prior to using the InReach for the first time, I provided some training to the individuals who would be receiving messages from me or who may need to contact me. In addition, I have set one of my preset messages to send out to my contacts, “I am starting my ride from here.” That message also provides a link to my MapShare page, and the message itself is also sent to my MapShare page. Subsequently, my contacts can simply reply to that message if they wish to contact me. Alternatively, anyone who is concerned about my whereabouts or current status can navigate to my MapShare page view my tracking, request my current location, or send me a message.
From the InReach user’s point of view, there is not much of a learning curve associated with activating and using the device. It is all pretty straightforward. However, as noted above, there are some things that the individuals who may need to contact and/or locate you should be aware of.
My wife and I needed to play around with the device over the course of a few rides to get accustomed to how best to use the device. My wife expressed some frustration over the different mapping platforms (i.e., LiveTrack versus MapShare), and noted that she had a strong preference for LiveTrack, which she has been using to track my rides for several years. She does not like having to look at two different maps, although she admitted that it is definitely worthwhile to be able to locate me in the event of an emergency and to ensure that I we can stay in touch, even when I am riding out in the wilderness.
In addition, it probably takes a half dozen rides or so to refine the list of “Quick Text Messages” and “Preset Messages,” based on the types of communications that occur frequently. For example, my wife and I decided we should have one message that says “Dispatch SAG (food/water/gear); Acknowledge and send ETA” and a different message that says “HELP! Need Ride/Pick-up!!”
The Garmin InReach Mini 2 is a great device to carry along on rides in the mountains, deserts, and other places where cellular coverage is not likely to be available. Despite the lack of integration with Garmin Connect and LiveTrack, the InReach Mini 2 is easy to use and provides a way for you to stay in touch with your contacts as necessary, and particularly in emergency situations. I recommend it. 👍
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