All photo credits: Josh Kirchner
More and more, as time goes on, the word "backcountry" is thrown around in the hunting community. Getting far away from roads and immersing yourself in the wild is a welcome change of pace these days by many hunters. However, with those types of hunts also comes a bit of risk in terms of safety. This risk is elevated even more when you are hunting solo. Not only can this mentally affect the hunter, but also the hunter's loved ones. Not being able to communicate with them for days—or even weeks on end—is sort of terrifying. You don't know if everything is peachy or if they are injured somewhere unable to move. Fortunately, there is a device that can make you and your loved ones rest easy: the Garmin inReach Explorer+ Satellite Communicator.
The inReach device has been a wildly successful addition to backcountry enthusiasts' packs around the world. For this review, I will be talking about the Explorer+ model; however, Garmin also offers an SE+ model. The Garmin inReach Explorer+ is a satellite communication device that allows you to send and receive text messages. With every text message you send, a GPS marker with coordinates is also sent to the person receiving the message. This is the ultimate peace of mind when you are on a long trip away from home without cell service. Your loved ones not only can get regular updates from you, but they can also know your exact position at the time of sending the text. The days of running around with your cell phone in the air looking for a signal are in the past. You can use this device anytime, anywhere, without having to hike to the top of a mountain to get service. All you need is a clear line of sight to the sky and you are good to go. You can check out the inReach in the goHUNT Gear Shop here.
The most popular feature of this gadget, if you haven't guessed, is going to be the ability to send and receive text messages. You can send texts to any cell phone or email address of your choosing. This works off of a monthly plan so make sure to text accordingly. It counts each time you send a message as well as receive one. The plan I use gives me 40 messages per month and I have found that to work just fine for me. The numbers of texts can be monitored via the device. As far as a signal goes, I have never had an issue getting one and have sent messages successfully in the thickest of dark timber.
The Explorer+ is named just that for a reason—because of its GPS functions. This device is going to come pre-loaded with topo maps to aid in your navigation, giving you the ability to drop waypoints, follow routes, and find your way back to your truck or camp. I find this to be super beneficial as an avid backpack hunter. We are always measuring ounces/space in our packs and being able to condense navigation as well as communication down to one device is huge to me. For those conscious about weight, this is going to set you back 7.5 ounces. Note: you cannot add landownership map chips to the inReach, but you can download some of inReach's landownership maps. Another note on navigation is that this also comes equipped with a digital compass, which I have found to be very accurate.
Social media has become a huge part of everyday life for most of us. Before work in the morning, I am sitting at my dining room table eating breakfast and scrolling through my news feeds on Instagram and Facebook. It has become a normal way to stay in contact with friends and hugely beneficial to business owners looking to connect with their customers. The inReach Explorer+ acknowledges that with the ability to share your trip with friends, family, and followers on social networks.
If you are anything like me, you are constantly checking the weather around your hunts. Not only for hunting purposes but for your overall trip in general. I always pack my gear according to the weather I see beforehand. Once you are out of cell range, though, getting the weather report can prove difficult. Luckily, the Explorer+ gives you the option to request a weather report for your current location via text message. Normal text rates apply to this feature (more on that later). You can also request the forecast in the coming days. Options include a Basic and Premium. The Basic is going to give you a three-day forecast reported in six-hour intervals. Premium will give you a seven day with one to two-hour intervals the first day, three to six for the next, and 12-hour intervals for the remaining days of the week. Basic will set you back a text message each time. Premium will run you $1.00 per request, which will be automatically added to your inReach bill. This is a small price to pay, if you ask me, for valuable information in the backcountry.
This is the big one: the one that can save your life should you get yourself caught in a sticky situation. This device comes equipped with an S.O.S. button that will directly connect you with search and rescue and give you the ability to communicate with GEOS via your inReach. They will get an exact GPS coordinate of your location and make sure that help is on the way. I can't stress how much of a big deal this is. My friends and family can rest easy knowing that if something were to happen to me and I couldn't walk, help is going to be there. With that being said, make sure that you don't accidentally press this button without needing to. You could be left with a pretty hefty bill for no reason. Luckily, I have never had to press this button and, hopefully, you’ll never have to either.
I have had the pleasure of using an inReach for the past few years and have been very pleased with it. The same can be said for my wife who can sit back and get a text from me every night giving her the status of my trip. A simple message is all that it takes: "Back at camp. I love you and goodnight." Aside from the few downsides it has, which I will get into shortly, my inReach is always in my pack. I have taken it on multiple out-of-state hunts, more in-state hunts than I can count, and it has been through its fair share of unfavorable weather with no hiccups. From scorching hot weather to below freezing, it has never missed a beat. In my opinion, having something with that functionality and reliability is invaluable. I don't see myself getting rid of this thing anytime soon.
Even though I believe this to be a no-brainer in anybody's pack, there are some downsides to the inReach. For me, they are not deal breakers by any means, but definitely deserve mention. Here they are below:
It seems that gear is just getting more and more expensive and the inReach is no exception in that category. The SE model is going to set you back about $400 and the Explorer about $450, but if you’re a GOHUNT INSIDER, you’d get 28 points or dollars back. Yes, it’s expensive, but this is your safety we are talking about. We will spend twice that amount of clothing and weapons. That pro definitely outweighs the cons.
When it comes to typing on the device, things are a bit slow. There is a digital keyboard that you have to scroll around choosing letter by letter to write what you want to say. I don't find this to be a big deal, but some folks complain about it. I don't use this as a cell phone and am not typing huge messages out so it is a non-issue for me. You can apparently connect your inReach to your phone so you can actually type with your phone, but I have never felt the need to do so. If it is that important to you, though, consider that option, which can be done via the Earthmate app.
Of course, there is a subscription, right? Yes, unfortunately, there is. There are a few different plans to choose from here. I find the Freedom plan to be more than enough for my needs. That gives me 40 text messages per month along with Unlimited Pre-Set messages, which you can set up beforehand. That particular plan runs around $35 for monthly service or about $25 annually. There are other plans above this rate that will offer you even more text messages per month if you wish. The good thing about that is I can turn the subscription off at any time if I am on a monthly plan. If I want it on for the month of September, due to elk season, then once I am back from hunting, I can turn the subscription off so I’m not continually getting charged every month. The same goes for turning the device on. Just go into your account online and turn it back on whenever you want. Easy as pie. So, unfortunately, you will have to pay monthly for this, but who is really benefiting here?
A lot of folks are always complaining about advancements in technology today. Whether it's rangefinding binos or bows shooting 380 fps, this Garmin inReach is definitely an exception and not something to shake your head at. As I said above, I think owning one of these devices is a no-brainer and something that all of you should definitely consider. Giving our loved ones the mental comfort that we are indeed alive and kicking back there is monumental. On top of that, having the confidence to know that if things go south you are going to be OK is nothing short of incredible. Ever since I got one of these, my family has been way more at ease when I go into the field, especially when I am alone. Yeah, it's an investment, but an investment in your safety. How much is that worth?