Garmin inReach Explorer+
GPS, route tracking, satellite messaging, and emergency services all in one convenient 8 oz package.
Name: Garmin inReach Explorer+
Weight: 8.85 oz with attached included carabiner
Battery: Rechargable Lithium
Features: Satellite messaging (2-way, device-to-device, device-to-cell phone), TOPO maps, GPS, route planning, live tracking in preset intervals, weather data, compatible app for smartphone, interactive SOS with 24/7 SAR response.
What I Like:
Emergency Response: The biggest pro of this device is the fact that you can enable the SOS feature to launch communications with a search and rescue response center. Yes, you can also do this on a SPOT device or a PLB (some may argue with a better network), but with the Explorer+, you'll be able to communicate with SAR (granted, you'd have to be conscious) which can be helpful for you and SAR and give you a greater peace of mind that help is coming at some point. I have, *knock on wood*, never had to test this function, but I have read enough user reviews to have confidence in the feature. The newest models also have a tough outer cap to make it much more difficult to accidentally activate your SOS button.
Satellite Messaging: Being able to essentially text/ email anyone in the world (from anywhere in the world) with your device is pretty cool. You'll also have the option to make 3 preset messages that you can send with one click to a list of pre-selected people. I personally have my three as follows: 1. Starting my hike for today. 2. At camp, no more hiking today. 3. In trouble, activating SOS. 1 & 2 are to give my pre-selected humans (mom & dad) the piece of mind when I'm out of cell service. You can also type out regular messages if you need to communicate beyond the preset 3. You'll be able to send messages directly through the device, or you can use the compatible smart phone app to type out your message (so much better!).
Route Tracking: In tracking mode, your device will add waypoints at every tracking interval and use those to calculate your stats for the trip. It will also add them to your map, so people at home with your map URL can track your progress.
Weather Updates: Your device can give you a detailed weather report for the region you are in - you can pay for a weather plan, or you can use a "text message" to get a weather update.
Ruggedness: It's built for the outdoors. Impact, water, and dust resistant. Just don't throw it off of a mountain or into the ocean and it should be fine.
Smartphone Compatibility: The partnered Earthmate app is very handy, and makes it much easier to use this device (especially for texting).
Reliability: Probably one of the most important features for a SOS device. I sent out a preset message every night I didn’t have phone service on the PCT, and only once did my message not go through. I think this is pretty reliable.
What I Don't Like:
Weight: OK, its not that heavy. It's a half a pound, which is not a lot for what the device does and the peace of mind it offers. I will happily carry it when backpacking/ hiking by myself, but it always seems overkill to me otherwise. If you just want a PLB, you can find something lighter.
Cost: It's expensive. You also have to pay for a monthly subscription to use the device at all (including the SOS function). The month-to-month, flexible plans (where you can cancel/ change your plan at any time) start at $14.95/ month and go up to $99.95/ month, and you need to pay $24.95 yearly when you use a Freedom Plan. Annual plans start at a lower monthly payment, but you are locked in for a year, need to pay $19.95 to enable a yearly subscription, and you will pay a $24.95 fee every time you downgrade your plan. I'm on the lowest cost "freedom" plan, so I can cancel the subscription if I know I'm not going to use it for a month or so. The most important thing for me is you can send unlimited preset messages with this plan, and have unlimited SOS, which is just what I need.
Usability: If you remember old cell phones, you'll know what I'm talking about. It's not a big hassle to maneuver through the menus and "apps", but it is kind of annoying. Texting on the actual device is terrible, but if its an emergency and your phone is dead, it will do, it'll just take you a while to type it out.
Maps: I don't have much experience with the maps, but the pre-loaded maps are a much lower quality than what you can get on a smartphone app (like GaiaGPS), and are more difficult to zoom in/ out and see whats around you. It's great at pin-pointing you on the map (it better be), but I haven't found any use of the maps for myself. Others with previous GPS device experience may like this, but I'm coming from a GPS smartphone app, which is so user-friendly, so its very hard to beat that.
A GPS device is a huge investment, and proper research needs to be done before taking the plunge. For what I need (SOS, satellite communications) this device is great and it does the job and offers myself and my family peace of mind. If you have specific questions, let me know and I'll try to answer them or point you in the right direction!