Garmin inReach Messenger Review [Play It Safe; Stay In Touch]

The Garmin inReach Messenger is a multi-tool for wilderness travel and safety. The self-contained satellite communications and SOS unit is a small 3-by-2.5-by-9-inch rugged waterproof (IPX7 rated) device that weighs just four ounces. It has a built-in 1-by-0.5-inch display, an SOS button, and a Bluetooth connection to the Garmin Messenger app on your Apple or Android smartphone. For $299 MSRP, plus a required annual subscription starting at $144 annually, you can stay connected anywhere on Earth, even in the middle of Antarctica.

Garmin inReach Messenger Review: For Motorcycles

For most Garmin inReach Messenger users, the SOS button will never need to be pressed. However, it is comforting to know the always-open Garmin Response, located in Texas, is only a button press away.

Pressing the SOS button triggers an alert to Garmin Response. Garmin acknowledges the SOS press and requests more information from you via messages shown on the device’s screen. If you do not respond, Garmin Response calls your emergency contacts to glean any helpful information from them. With no information other than your SOS press and exact location, the Garmin Response contacts the closest rescue/first responder agency in its worldwide database to assist you.

Garmin inReach Messenger Review: MSRP

If you can communicate with Garmin Response, you can do it through the screen and button presses on the inReach or through the Garmin Messenger app on your phone. It is 100 percent easier to type on your phone than on the Garmin inReach Messenger device, though the device is usable as a last resort.

When using the Garmin inReach Messenger app on your phone, the app will connect through Wi-Fi, cellular, or satellite. The inReach Messenger unit only communicates through its satellite connection. You can use the phone app to see how the message was sent, as each message details page has a Message Type field.

The Garmin inReach Messenger has a genuine long-life battery, as your life can depend on its ability to power the unit to give you access to the sky. Garmin claims up to 46 days of battery life, with a message or location sent every 30 minutes, but only with a full view of the sky.

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Battery life drops in half if you are in moderate tree cover. The more times the Garmin inReach Messenger has to try to connect to a passing satellite, the more power it uses.

I set the inReach Messenger on my desk, two feet from a south-facing window. With it reporting every 10 minutes—my test location is a severely worse transmitting location than tree cover —the battery lasted seven days. Backpackers claim their real-world experiences are to expect a battery life of about two weeks. My testing shows the Garmin inReach Messenger charges at the rate of one percent every two minutes with its USB-C cable.

Most of our smartphones have 8-to 24-hour battery life. When your phone battery has run out, but typing on your phone would be a better option, the Garmin inReach Messenger has a Reverse Charging feature that allows you to charge your smartphone for 20-minute stints from its battery. The inReach device charges your phone until its own charge level drops to 20 percent.

Learning your inReach key presses before going out in the wilderness is very important. When you are in an emergency situation, you will want to have found Reverse Charging in the System settings and tried it with the correct cable before having to search for it in the rain, at night, with your bike pinning your broken leg.

The SOS button is there if I need it, but so far (knock on wood), I only use the inReach to share my location and status with those friends and family that I want to know where I am. Even on the least expensive Safety subscription plan of $144 per year (or $15 per month), Garmin allows unlimited check-in messages to as many people as you can fit in the contacts field. The check-in messages are:

  • “I’m starting my trip.”
  • “I’m checking in. Everything is okay.”
  • “I’m ending my trip.”

Whenever one of these messages is sent from the inReach Messenger, it alerts your contacts to your position so they can see you on the Garmin Explore map.

If you are on the Safety subscription plan, you have 10 text messages included. If you are changing routes and want to save your texts, you can send a few check-ins on your new route. With pre-trip training of your contacts, they will understand what you are doing and not think someone ran off with your inReach. It is much more convenient to have the next-level Recreation plan ($35/month; $300/year), which allows automatic pin drops every 10 minutes with 40 text messages. Step up to the Expedition plan ($65/month; $600/year), and you get unlimited texts and pin drops every two minutes.

There is a one-time $30 activation fee when you first activate your inReach Messenger, and you can control your subscription through your Garmin Explore account.

When I am adventuring on the Ultimate Motorcycling Yamaha Ténéré 700 Project Bike, I carry the inReach Messenger in the inner breast pocket of my riding jacket, with the Garmin logo facing out. Garmin recommends confirming your subscription is active before starting out each day.

Garmin allows five Test messages per month; however, I find the best way to test is to send the “I’m starting my trip” check-in from the inReach Messenger mobile app with my own mobile number as a member of the check-in message group. If I get the text, I know my phone is connected to my inReach, my subscription is active, and my inReach is working. While this happens quickly in cell coverage areas, it can take up to 20 minutes using Satellite communication only.

If the GPS you use for navigation stops working, selecting the Trackback feature from the main menu screen will guide you back to a previously recorded tracking point. It will show you direction and distance using turn-by-turn arrows based on your tracking points, or via a straight line. Although it is primitive compared to GPS mapping, it could get you out of a jam.

Should your subscription run out, your inReach Messenger will still tell you exactly where you are by latitude and longitude coordinates. That is the only inReach Messenger function without a subscription.

You will want to train your emergency contacts on what your inReach texts will look like, and what to do if they receive a text from you or a call from Garmin Response. I was 20 miles inside Yellowstone National Park and had a full electrical failure on my Yamaha Venture. Although I was safe with a tow truck en route and the Park Ranger directing traffic around my bike—I was stopped on a tight two-lane uphill corner with no shoulder in the middle of a thunderstorm, and I knew I needed a motel room in West Yellowstone. This was the week before Sturgis, and I knew last-minute accommodations were scarce. I used the inReach texting function on my Garmin Montana 700i to text my daughter to secure for me what turned out to be the very last available motel room in West Yellowstone.

When you install the Garmin inReach Messenger app on your mobile device, it automatically searches your contact list for other registered inReach users. You will see all your contacts registered with Garmin in the Messages section of the app. They will also see that you are registered with Garmin if your mobile number or email address is in their contacts. You cannot turn off or opt out of this feature.

If you have the Garmin Zūmo XT2 GPS unit,  it will seamlessly integrate with the inReach Messenger to act as a remote control. From the glove-friendly XT2 screen, you can send an SOS, any of three check-in messages, any preset custom messages, or a text message to your contacts. It also works with the earlier XT1.

The newer iPhones have limited satellite 911 connectivity as a new feature. The inReach Messenger is a long battery life, purpose-built, emergency communication device. You buy it and pay an annual subscription to provide life-saving communications in the worst conditions. In the many years I have been using mobile phones, I have had my share of phone failures. Garmin has produced GPS devices since 1989 and their rugged, life-saving safety satellite communication units since 2017. When it comes to emergencies outside of civilization, I choose the Garmin inReach Messenger, with my Apple iPhone 14 as backup.