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September 2023

Gear Review: Garmin InReach Messenger


Guest Authors: Nathan Slater & Sanesh Iyer from @alittlepaddle

It really is the future. This little 3cm x 3cm x 1cm device—along with a phone to pair and a subscription plan—allows me to talk to anyone in the world, from anywhere in the world. The Garmin InReach Messenger provides a completely different experience in the backcountry.

Early in the trip planning, Nathan and I decided we'd be bringing two Garmin InReaches. Nathan has an older Garmin InReach Mini (1st gen), and I'd be getting something new. The Garmin product has a strong reputation. Nathan's had his for 2 years, and has organized emergency pickups in remote parts of Haida Gwaii with it. I previously owned a DeLorme InReach (an earlier iteration of the technology prior to Garmin's acquisition) which I'd bought used, though I've never had to use it in an emergency. It's a brand we trust.

The InReach Messenger allows for tracking, messaging, and SOS functionality. It does not have mapping functionality, and is not compatible with the Garmin Explore App like the other current gen InReach products. It's also the least expensive model.

Use Cases for the Garmin InReach:

Now, there are two ways to use an InReach. Nathan uses his sparingly, only turning it on in the evening and texting his partner, parents, and a few friends. He's charged his under 10 times over 3 months and it lives sheltered away in his Guide Bag.

I use mine the complete opposite way, a lot.

A big reason we brought the InReach Messenger is to live track our trip. On our website, you can see exactly where we are at 10 minute intervals. This feature is loved by our friends and family. In one case, one of our friends watching the live tracker had a good chuckle when he saw us getting sucked sideways during a crossing by an unmarked current in the Broughton before we noticed it. This has meant my InReach lives in my PFD or Drysuit pocket—both not dry places—for 3 months. I've had a couple unintentional swims, and the InReach Messenger has been right there with me in the Pacific. And it's in great shape, with no visible damage or corrosion anywhere. Hats off to Garmin for the weather sealing.

Now, as much as I've wanted to disconnect on this trip, 140 days is a long time to not talk to loved ones. I've been staying in touch with some friends, trying to figure out where I'm going to live and work in September, and even played a little bit of Wordle via InReach. I've also been coordinating on-trip meetups with Ken, pickups with Maša, and coaxing Jordan—also on an InReach, in Chile—to join us on trip. It's been well used. The texting was often fast enough to have live text conversations with friends from the comfort of my hammock.

I go through substantially more battery than Nathan, on the order of about 10-20% a day, depending on the number of texts I send and receive. I've noticed battery life is far better when I send texts in the morning or afternoon. I suspect this is because the InReach has a clear view of the sky from a kayak, but at night when I'm in my hammock under the trees, it uses more energy trying to connect. Live tracking with 10 minute intervals, I use about 10% over an 8 hour paddling day, which I think is pretty good. I found it very easy to keep the InReach charged via solar panel, and would highly recommend grabbing a similar solar setup to keep your InReach and any other devices charged up during your trip. An afternoon of charging could easily add 50% charge to the InReach.

I've also made use of the weather forecasting features. You can request a land and/or marine forecast via InReach. Just remember to have the Explore App & offline maps downloaded to your phone beforehand, otherwise this feature won't be particularly useful. The marine forecast requires an off-shore location, meaning you need to use Explore to create a waypoint to request a forecast at if you're currently on land. I could not get the Marine forecast features to work at all in Canada, but they do work well in many (but not all) of the US waters we transited.

Be aware that the Messenger lacks mapping functionality. That's why it is the least expensive InReach. This makes it a great option if you're using another tool such as physical maps or a standalone GPS unit. For us on our trip, this was perfect, since we were using the Navionics phone app for navigation. However, on the couple bushwacking hikes we did in Glacier Bay National park with no marked trail, I found the Traceback feature challenging to use without a map overlay. This feature is available in every other InReach model. I prefer having separate SOS, messaging, and map functionality. It means that the battery won’t die on my emergency SOS button because I'm navigationally challenged.

The only complaint, why is this thing black?! It's a small safety device. It should be orange, or red, or some other high vis colour. It should also have either a small LED or AirTag like feature in case it falls out of your pocket in the woods. I do appreciate that Garmin included a hole for a tether, though.

So my verdict, I think this is a great product. I'm impressed by the durability, texting functionality, and battery life. Having access to this in the backcountry is a slippery slope—it's hard to disconnect when it's so easy to remain connected. For this very long trip, I was grateful to have it. And I will use it on shorter trips, but mostly as a safety device rather than for continuous communication.