The Best Satellite Messengers of 2018

If you are hiking in the backcountry or other remote area and have an emergency, how do you call for help? Your cell won't necessarily work in those areas.

In June 2018, a college student named Amelia Milling became injured while hiking. She was rescued by a husky dog named Nanook and rescue personnel.

How? Milling was able to alert them to her location by pressing the SOS button on her satellite messenger.

For these situations, you need a satellite messenger. Read on to learn more!

What Is a Satellite Messenger?

A satellite messenger is a handheld device that transmits your coordinates directly to friends, family, and local emergency responders. It's GPS-based and developed for backcountry use in particular.

When you need it, you use it to transmit your coordinates. You can also send short text messages.

A satellite messenger is somewhat similar to a personal locator beacon (PLB). That said, there are some important differences between them that you should understand.

You should only use a PLB during an extreme emergency because it sends the signal directly to first responders.

On the other hand, you can use a satellite messenger to contact your family or friends--not just emergency services. You can also use it for non-emergencies, such as sending trip updates.

An example would be sending your best friend a message that you sprained your ankle and don't wish to return to your car on foot. You don't need an ambulance in this case--just a ride.

A satellite messenger gets that message across without unnecessarily alerting authorities.

The Difference Between a Satellite Messenger and Personal Locator Beacon

Satellite messengers are newer to the market than personal locator beacons. They cost more, largely because you have to pay for satellite service to go along with the device.

Another difference between a personal locator beacon and a satellite messenger is how each one works. A PLB uses the military's network. Satellite messengers use a commercial global positioning system (GPS) like Iridium or Globalstar.

Subscription Fees for Satellite Messengers

The subscription fee cost for satellite messengers varies depending on the device you own. On average, though, the service costs about $100-$200 annually.

While that costs much more than the personal locator beacon, you do have the added ability to send messages in real time. You can also track your route and drop waypoints on the digital map.

Satellite messengers can also initiate an emergency signal to first responders if needed. That feature is included in the subscription fee, which covers access to the satellite network.

Which Do You Need?

Before you start shopping for a satellite messenger, be sure that it's really what you need and want. If you know you want to send text messages and have a little flexibility, then you want a satellite messenger.

If you don't need that feature and you just want an emergency backup, then you want a personal locator beacon. Those don't require a subscription service. So, that's one less expense on your budget.

If you are in the market for a satellite messenger, there are a handful of trusted names out there. Below are the best messengers on the market. Which one will be the best messenger for you?

Garmin InReach Explorer+

Garmin has been manufacturing GPS-enabled navigation devices for a long time. They have a solid reputation for making quality personal locator beacons as well as satellite messengers.

The Garmin InReach Explorer+ is considered one of the best handheld navigation devices on the market.

The InReach Explorer+ works as an emergency broadcast device, meaning it works as a personal locator beacon. It goes far beyond that function too. It uses the Iridium satellite network to enable two-way texting.

Not only can you track your location, but you can share your location with your friends. It has on-screen GPS routing and pre-loaded topographic maps.

It also has a digital compass built in, along with an accelerometer and barometric altimeter.

Smartphone Pairing

Better yet, you can pair it to your phone to access more maps. You can also access your phone's contact list for easy messaging.

You don't have to look up your friends' and relatives' phone numbers and then transfer them manually to the messenger. Finally, you have the option of using an available weather report service.

Specifications

The messenger's body is rugged enough to keep up with you. It weighs 213 grams (or 7.5 oz) and is 16.4 cm (or 6.5 inches) long. That makes it the heaviest satellite messenger on the market today.

The battery life is good at 100 hours while at 10-minute tracking mode. It's not waterproof, but it is water resistant in the event the unit gets splashed or you're caught in a rain shower.

Price

This messenger is somewhat pricey, though you have some subscription options. You can choose from $12 per month to $100 per month. If your budget is flexible, this is an excellent choice.

It can do just about everything, which is why the InReach Explorer+ is the messenger of choice for serious backcountry enthusiasts.

Advantages

If you want a fully-loaded 2-way messenger, tracker, GPS navigation tool, and SOS device all rolled into one, then purchase the Garmin inReach Explorer+.

You can use this device just about anywhere, including your deep backcountry adventures. It boasts the most robust navigational assistance, user-friendly interface, and data tracking capabilities when compared to competitors.

Though it's one of the most expensive devices, you get the most out of your investment--especially when you pair it with a Bluetooth-capable smartphone.

InReach Explorer SE

If you don't need the added built-in TOPO maps and GPS navigation of the InReach Explorer+, you can opt for its younger cousin, the InReach Explorer SE.

It has the same features for the most part, like satellite messaging. It also has the same sturdy construction. It just doesn't have the navigation features.

You can pair it with your smartphone and use the free app Garmin offers called Earthmate. With that, you can then use the maps on your phone using InReach's GPS.

This isn't quite as reliable as the full InReach Explorer version, especially when you're taking long trips to the backcountry and have no power access. It is, however, a good compromise when you have budget constraints.

Garmin InReach Mini

Even more budget friendly is the Garmin InReach Mini.

This unit is small but mighty. It fits in one hand, weighing only 100 grams (or 3.5 oz). It does feature two-way satellite messaging as well as serves as an emergency SOS device.

You can also pair it with the Earthmate app, though its smaller screen isn't quite as useful as the larger InReach models. If you want an efficient, compact satellite messenger, this is a fantastic option.

Advantages

The Garmin InReach Mini is a super-compact, satellite messenger with 2-way messaging. It's great for those backpackers and trail runners who wish to travel light but still want the peace of mind that a satellite messenger has over a PLB.

You'll get stable tracking and SOS capabilities anywhere you go. Also, if you have a compatible Garmin watch, the watch integration is a big plus.

Disadvantages

While it has the same basic functions as a standalone device, you may find it cumbersome when typing custom messages. You'll need to pair it with a smartphone for ease of use.

But, if you're planning on packing your cell phone anyway, then you're good to go.

SPOT Gen 3 Satellite GPS Messenger

SPOT was one of the forerunners of backcountry emergency response, and the company has proven its reliability with the SPOT Gen 3.

While it doesn't quite match the capabilities of the Garmin InReach Explorer+ or Explorer SE, it is a viable option.

This device doesn't have two-way communication. Further, it does allow GPS route tracking, though it is somewhat limited when compared to the InReach Explorer+.

You can change the signal frequency to conserve the battery life. You can also program the SPOT with preset messages and send them with a single push of a button. This gets the job done when it comes to letting a loved one know you're okay.

It's just as simple to activate the emergency response. Just push and then hold the SOS button. This notifies SPOT headquarters, who then notifies the emergency services in your area.

The SPOT 3 weights 114 grams (or 4.0 oz) and is 8.7 cm (or 3.4 inches) in length. The battery life is 150 hours, and the unit is water resistant.

Advantages

Unlike its competitors, SPOT offers its customers a rental service. SPOT will ship one of their devices to you. You can use it for a few days and then send it back to them.

This brings the cost down considerably, especially if you're not an avid backcountry user.

Choose the SPOT Gen3 if you want just the basic satellite communication device. The GPS tracking and SOS capabilities are enough to let your family and friends know you're doing okay (or if you need help).

The unit is compact, lightweight and the rental option is budget-friendly. In short, it offers simple peace of mind.

Disadvantages

This messenger is reasonably priced, though the annual subscription detracts from your initial savings.

All in all, the SPOT 3 is a decent satellite messenger. It doesn't quite reach the level of the Garmin regarding features. For example, it only has one-way satellite messaging.

It's a good choice for an emergency device, though the cost of the added satellite service is problematic.

DeLorme inReach SE

The DeLorme inReach SE enables you to send messages via satellite for a reasonable cost.

Those who like the inReach SE will also appreciate the DeLorme inReach SE. This GPS communicator is energy-efficient, durable, and reasonably priced.

Advantages

As with any good satellite messenger, DeLorme built this one to weather all kinds of accidents and other mishaps. It has an extended battery life that will run for as long as you need it.

Customer service is excellent. Should you have a question or issue, the DeLorme customer support team will have a ready solution. Plus, your registration process is quick and only takes about 10 minutes of your time.

You can receive and send messages from anywhere. You can send a message to anyone from anywhere in the world without paying an exorbitant amount for service.

In addition, you can communicate with rescuers if need be, which is above and beyond plain SOS capabilities.

GPS messaging services are usually on the expensive site. The DeLorme inReach SE is surprisingly affordable. The inReach SE's usage fees are far less expensive than most of the other satellite communication services.

Disadvantages

This messenger has a 160 texting character limit. This limits the type of information you can send to your contacts or rescue services.

Also, the inReach SE's keyboard is somewhat clunky. It will take you a while to familiarize yourself with it. Customers complain that the keys are clumsy and stiff.

Which Satellite Messenger Will You Choose?

The satellite messenger you choose will come down to two things--price and priorities. You'll have to balance the features of each model with your needs to find the best messenger for you.

For example, which is the most important: easy messaging, two-way messaging, or battery life? If you can get by with one-way messaging, you can go with a more affordable model.

Do you need it to be more compact than anything else? If so, then the Garmin InReach Mini may be just what you need.

On the other hand, if you want full functionality and two-way messaging, you can't go wrong with the Garmin InReach Explorer+.

If you only need a device for an annual trip, then perhaps you want to take advantage of SPOT's rental options.

Hopefully the information in this article has been helpful in your decision-making process. Please check out our more of our product review articles for other helpful tips.

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