Garmin’s inReach Mini 2: Constant Contact In The Backcountry

No matter how far off the grid your roam, the small, light, and ultra-durable Garmin inReach Mini 2 will keep you connected to family and friends, and in the event of an emergency, it’s worth its weight in gold.

by Mark Kayser

In this world of smartphone convenience, you seldom think of being without communications or even online assistance. And that is a good thing as service expands across the country to make communicating and keeping in touch with the outside world easier. And remember the enormous importance and responsibility of Google to track your every move (wink, wink). Thank God for cellular service! 

Even with this expansion, certain areas still suffer from dead zones. Some of these areas experience blackouts due to missing towers, presumably from less service, because building a tower in a remote area is not economically sensible for a monetary return. In many instances, blame your geography teacher. Geographical features limit the basic line-of-sight ability of a tower to connect with your smartphone device, leaving you communicatively vulnerable. 

This may not be a considerable inconvenience. However, the reliance on a smartphone becomes something akin to it being your best friend and then some. No bars are increasingly an irritant for most. I am shocked at how many of my hunting partners flip out when bars do not show on their phones. 

Safety First

Aside from not being able to access your Instagram account or watch the latest YouTube viral event, communication can be a safety concern. Consider these scenarios. First, you have backpacked into the mountains with no line of sight to connect to the outside. Then you have a debilitating accident. The accident leaves you stranded in need of extract. Or how about this more common scenario? You hike into your favorite whitetail property and dive into a dead-zone coulee to hunt. You know that stand surrounded by a trio of mighty acorn-producing oaks is hot. On your way up the tree, you slip off the frosty ladder and find yourself unable to walk out. How do you alert family and hunting partners to your predicament before a freezing downpour starts in mid-morning? 

As primarily a solo elk hunter for the past decade or more, I am a gambler. My smartphone dates back to a flip phone (a.k.a. burner phone). Often, the phone stares blankly back at me with no willingness to work in remote terrain. Through the years, I have scrambled up mountains and around precipices to gain service when possible. Nevertheless, I always told my wife to send search and rescue only for at least three days. That was always my communication window. I would strive to get a message out every three days. This year, I am changing my ways. 

A New System

Already out for several years, Garmin’s inReach compact GPS and messaging device provides a way to get messages out daily via satellite communications in an affordable manner. The model I chose to team with is the inReach Mini 2. The inReach Mini 2 provides you with emergency messaging, and the GPS side of the device also helps you with navigation. Even if you rely on your smartphone hunting app, having a backup device that weighs a mere 3.5 ounces with a dimension of 4″ x 2″ gives you confidence when your iPhone goes blank because you TikToked too much.  

Instead of relying on a line of sight to an earth-based tower, GPS units, like the inReach Mini 2, rely on satellite communications. Although your smartphone also links with satellites for offline mapping locations, it does not yet offer the ability to communicate when a line of sight lacks. Here are some additional highlights of the unit that could make you think the $399.99 price tag is an economical way to achieve peace of mind. Better yet, subscription services are offered in a myriad of options. Subs start at $11.95 per month and increasing depending on the service length and options included. 

Messaging is the actual reason I looked at the inReach Mini 2. The smartphone-paired messaging service gives you an avenue to not only communicate with the outside world but allows you to post to social media without cellular service. Combined with messaging is the capacity to share your location with others. Using an innovative mapping program or simply with global coordinates embedded in messages, family and friends can track you. And say you and a friend split up on a mountainside. If you both have the inReach Mini 2 devices, you can communicate between them. That could be useful if one of you falls into a herd of rambunctious elk or falls off a cliff.

Place yourself in an open area, even an opening in timber, and the device easily links with the metal satellites circling above. It is true peace of mind in the palm of your hand. 

It Will Save Your Bacon

In addition to messaging your significant others, the device includes a built-in SOS messaging option that sends an emergency notification to a Garmin coordination center. For a solo hunter like me, it provides another realm of confidence to take off into the backcountry without a backup partner. 

Say you wander off the trail; the inReach Mini 2 includes a TracBack system that traces your original route to follow back to your home base. A digital compass is included to always give you assurance that you are headed in the right direction. 

I have lost count the number of times low clouds confused my direction. Again, it offers backup if your cellular device refuses to work and you find yourself without a compass. 

The final main point of the device is weather forecasting support. If you do not have a line of sight, you could be surprised by a storm. Weather forecasts and alerts keep you advised to make the right decisions outdoors. So far, I have not been stranded by a surprise snowstorms in the backcountry but have narrowly escaped many.  

Powering the unit is a lithium battery tested to provide 14 days of service in the 10-minute default tracking mode. You can extend life to 30 days by opting for the 30-minute tracking mode. That may not be ample power if you end up on the hit show Survivor, but it is power-a-plenty for an extended hunt in the backcountry.

I Love It

You will be impressed with the armor-like construction of the unit. It takes the bangs, knocks, and abuse of hunts in the worst environments. Not only is it military-rated to take extreme impacts, but it is also waterproof. The texture ensures a firm grip in any weather. I keep my unit in the waist-zippered pocket of my ALPS Elite backpack for convenient access when needed. From the White Mountains of Arizona to the Bighorn Mountains in Wyoming, the messaging services kept me in contact regardless of the remoteness. My self-assurance was at an all-time high, especially solo in the Wyoming backcountry.  

Team up with the Garmin Explore App, and you can expand the mapping capabilities of this rugged, compact device. The list of attributes for this tiny digital device goes on and on. Regardless, if you want communication with excessive navigation capabilities,  a primary communication device or backup, check out the Garmin inReach Mini 2. You cannot order delivery from Grubhub, but you can let your loved ones know not to cash in the life insurance policy just yet. 

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