Posted by Miles Arbour
Earlier this month, SPOT and Garmin both announced exciting new products that should appeal to bikepackers seeking a two-way communication and navigation device for remote excursions beyond the boundaries of cellular reception. In January of last year, we saw Garmin’s acquisition of Delorme and their inReach technology, which resulted in the now readily available Garmin inReach devices. Although this was a step in the right direction for an all-in-one navigation and communication device, there are still a few hitches – such as the 500 point tracking limit and map compatibility issues – that raise some concern.
It was only a matter of time before SPOT, best known for their personal tracking and S.O.S. technology, made the jump over to two-way communication with the new SPOT X. The Garmin inReach, although incredibly capable on its own, is still a fairly sizeable tool to bring along into the backcountry. The Garmin inReach Mini weighs half as much, takes up about half as much space, and still boasts two-way messaging, access to the Iridium satellite network, and a battery life of up to 20 days.
Tiny Gadgets For Everyone
It’s not just us bikepackers who are putting pressure on manufacturers to create the lighter and smaller alternatives of tomorrow. Ultralight thru-hikers, trail runners, and outdoor enthusiasts all benefit from shrinking devices. When it comes to electronic gadgets like GPS devices and satellite messengers, things that might simply stay strapped onto a piece of webbing or zip tied onto a handlebar, there are definitely some advantages and disadvantages to having the “mini” option.
SPOT has actually had a mini version of their latest Gen3 Satellite Messenger available for a while now, the SPOT Trace. However, the Trace is only a GPS tracker, and it doesn’t offer any form of communication (other than relaying the device’s position to a phone or computer) or navigation. This is why the SPOT Gen3, and previous models, have been the go-to communication and GPS tracking tool for bikepackers and races for some time now. They’re smaller than most cell phones, the batteries are replaceable and long-lasting, they offer one-way communication via several predetermined messages, and the S.O.S. feature offers riders, friends, and family great peace of mind.
The original Delorme inReach was actually a bit smaller than the new Garmin inReach, but the updated model boasts a larger screen to accompany the navigation features that Garmin users have grown to love. Which brings us to the newly announced Garmin inReach Mini, a truly minimalist two-way communication and navigation device that is sure to appeal to a lot of people out there. Straight out of the box, the inReach Mini offers a lot of the same features as the larger inReach Explorer+ and SE+ models. While it is small enough to fit in the palm of your hand, it still offers interactive S.O.S., easily downloadable maps, the option to pair with a smartphone using the Earthmate app, and up to 50 hours of battery life from the rechargeable internal lithium battery. It’s cool to see gadgets packed with so many features getting so small. It’s definitely a trend we’ve been following, and one we think makes these newer and revised models so attractive for bikepacking.
The new SPOT X is an exciting addition to the SPOT family of devices, especially considering their popularity among bikepackers, endurance racers, and event organizers. The new device takes the tracking features of the SPOT Gen3, and adds in two-way satellite messaging, simple navigation tools like a compass and programable waypoints, and a QWERTY keyboard to complete the design. Even with all of these added features, the battery life is still impressive at 10 days when tracking is set to 10-minute intervals. Unlike the Gen3, the SPOT X uses a rechargeable lithium battery that can be charged via an included micro USB or AC wall adapter.
- Exchange messages with any cell phone number or email address from virtually anywhere in the world.
- Send an S.O.S. to the 24/7 search & rescue center, message back and forth about the nature of your emergency, and receive confirmation when help is on the way.
- Live tracking. Select from 2½, 5, 10, 30, or 60 minute tracking intervals.
- Built-in compass and programmable waypoints to help you navigate.
- Up to 240 hours of battery life when using 10-minute tracking intervals.
- Size 6.54 x 2.9 x 1.75” (16.6 x 7.4 x 4.4cm)
- WEIGHT 7.0 oz
- BATTERY Rechargeable internal lithium
- SCREEN SIZE 2.7″
- BATTERY LIFE 240 hours in 10-min tracking mode
- SENSORS Digital Compass
- PRICE $249.99
Garmin inReach Mini
The inReach Mini is impressively tiny and still offers the majority of the features found on the first Garmin inReach models. It’s capable of messaging, location tracking, and sending out an S.O.S., as well as the ability to take advantages of smartphone screen sizes by pairing via Bluetooth by using the Earthmate app. The internal rechargeable lithium battery will last anywhere from 50 hours to 10 days depending on the tracking interval. Just like the SPOT X, it requires a subscription plan to access any communication features.
- Send and receive messages using the device or when paired wirelessly with another device.
- GEOS emergency response during an emergency situation, proven in over 140 different countries.
- GPS based location tracking lets you share your whereabouts with family at home or others in the field.
- Access to a wide range of downloadable maps using the Earthmate app.
- Up to 20 days of battery life when using 30-minute interval extended tracking mode.
- Size 2.04 x 3.9 x 1.03” (5.17 x 9.90 x 2.61 cm)
- WEIGHT 3.5 oz
- BATTERY Rechargeable internal lithium-ion
- SCREEN SIZE 0.9″ x 0.9″
- BATTERY LIFE 50 hours in 10-min tracking / up to 20 days in 30-minute interval power save mode
- SENSORS Digital Compass
- PRICE $349.99
Gadgets like the SPOT and inReach devices are evolving, and fast, but will they be appealing enough enough to encourage non-racers to bring satellite communication devices along on remote bikepacking trips? The Garmin eTrex is still likely one of the most popular navigation tools out there, not to mention clever apps like Gaia GPS that make use of the powerful GPS found within our phones. Although these new devices have plenty to offer, it seems the subscription plans still are sometimes a bit hard to swallow.
What’s your go-to communication/navigation setup, and why? Let us know in the comments below!
Information and photos on the SPOT X and Garmin inReach Mini provided by the manufacturers.