Garmin InReach

Discussion in 'Reviews' started by Jeff Randall, May 27, 2018.

  1. Jeff Randall

    Jeff Randall ESEE Knives / Randall's Adventure & Training Staff Member

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    GARMIN INREACH EXPLORER+

    I recently acquired a Garmin InReach Explorer+ with the ultimate goal of being able to replace my PLB and GPS unit with one device, not to mention being able to communicate in a 2-way text conversation should something go wrong in an area with no cell service. Here’s my take on this unit after using and testing it for a few days:

    SHORT VERSION:

    It’s an excellent 2-way communications device when there is no cell phone coverage but the GPS functions lack a lot for folks who really like to use a device for true nav functions. It appears Garmin has built more of a “social experience” device and gotten away from hard skills, accurate navigation work.

    LONGER VERSION:

    Our land nav courses are built on NAD27 CONUS datum, and while the InReach has that datum available in the unit, when you try to manually enter a waypoint to travel to, it refuses to save it as entered. Using the UTM coordinate system and NAD27 datum setup in the InReach it changes the coordinates when saving (see pics). For example, if I try to enter 16S 0574654, 3764278 it will allow me to enter this exact set of coordinates, however when you save it, it changes the coordinates to 16S 0574657, 3763293. While the saved waypoint will be accurately represented on the map (in both the InReach unit and the EarthMate app), the coordinate display for the waypoint on the device is inaccurate if you wanted to call it out for someone to plot on a NAD27 map with a roamer. The waypoint should show the coordinates as being 16S 0574654, 3764278, not 16S 0574657, 3763293. The funny thing is if you look at the waypoint in the EarthMate app after syncing, then it shows the correct coordinates. It’s only on the InReach unit that it displays the wrong coordinates for the waypoint, and these wrong numbers continue to show up for the waypoint even after syncing. So, if I tell someone I want them to physically plot a distant waypoint on a paper map, then I cannot pull the coordinate from the saved waypoint in the InReach unit since it saves the numbers differently than what needs to be plotted physically. However, if I open the EarthMate app on my phone and look at the waypoint information it will be correct.

    coordinate-enter.JPG
    Coordinates Entered

    coordinates displayed.JPG
    Wrong coordinates displayed after entry

    Garmin has also done away with the ability to select reading your distance in meters and your elevation in feet. The InReach only allows Statute Miles, Kilometers and Nautical Miles. Once you choose one, then all the information displayed on the unit will be what you chose, so there is no splitting distance measuring in meters and elevation measuring in feet like the cheaper Garmin units allow. So, if you want to know the distance to a waypoint then you can read it in meters but if you also want to know your elevation then it will also be in meters. On my older GPS units I have the ability to read distance in meters and my elevation in feet and that’s how I have always had my units setup.


    The InReach only allows the following datums to be used on the device itself: NAD27 CONUS, WGS84 and NAD83. Many places we go in South America have different datums (such as Provisional South America 1956) so how much datum shift am I going to have? If I want to enter a waypoint into the InReach from the paper map to a point I want to head to, then the waypoint I would be entering would be for Provisional SA 1956 datum since that is the datum the map is printed in, so I’m not real sure how much shift would be recorded in the actual InReach since it does not support this datum. However, the iPhone app does have a lot more options, so if you use the app to navigate instead of the unit itself, then you have more options available.

    coordinate-choices.JPG

    datum-selections.JPG

    measurement choices.JPG

    ACCURACY:

    I compared the InReach to three other Garmin GPS units (not InReach units) and a Suunto Ambit3 GPS watch. All of other Garmin units and the Suunto watch read almost exactly the same when placed together at a location. The InReach averaged about +7 meters on Easting and +16 meters on Northing in difference from the other GPS units. I can only assume that Garmin is using the Iridium satellite network to determine location rather than the regular satellite network that standard GPS units use. Again, an assumption since I do not know what satellites systems do what when it comes to determining location.

    comparison.JPG

    BOTTOM LINE:

    It appears Garmin has cheapened the GPS unit capabilities in an attempt to force people to use the InReach unit with the phone app. Maybe this is to make it more of a social experience by allowing connection to social media accounts. While all of this is great, I could care less about connecting my GPS to Twitter or Facebook. My goal for buying the InReach was to do away with carrying two devices: a PLB and a GPS. I was hoping the InReach would be a “one device does it all” type of deal, and while it’s good enough for that, I’m very unimpressed with what Garmin has done to cheapen the actual GPS functions on this device.

    On the bright side, the InReach is very user friendly. Real easy to operate, quick to lock on and the accuracy seems “good enough” (not as good as my eTrex units or Suunto watch though). The unit is also lightweight but I suspect this comes from not having the weight of standard batteries, which brings about the largest downfall in my opinion on this device: you cannot carry extra batteries like you can with other Garmin units. This device has to be charged, so if you’re doing an extended expedition, then make sure you carry a solar panel or portable battery to plug into the USB cord and charge the device.

    As far as the EarthMate app goes, it’s a good app that allows you to navigate without cell service. With that said, Avenza Maps (free app) and sartopo.com are way, way better phone apps for navigating without cell service. The EarthMate app has a some catching up to do to be comparable to Avenza when it comes to real land navigation capability.


    CONCLUSION:

    I do not rate the InReach as a tool for someone who is serious about the finer points of land navigation, especially for people who work off of a paper map and want to enter waypoints they are headed to from the paper map. It’s absolutely fine for telling you where you are, logging that information, and then tracking back to the point you located with the InReach and logged into it. However, it does not do well translating between points taken with a regular Garmin (or other) GPS and then attempting to enter those points into the InReach. It’s also a cool novelty item for folks who want to communicate while on the trail, be able to toggle to their phone, and do basic navigation from the GPS and the pre-loaded maps. It’s also great for the “look at me” crowd who wants everyone to know where they are and what they’re doing – simply hit the share button and the unit will share your location to Twitter, Facebook or the Garmin public map page. The unit is not designed to work well with paper maps since it lacks a lot of datums that are used around the world, not to mention the way it changes the coordinates on saved waypoints within the unit. The much cheaper eTrex is a far better GPS unit. At this point, all I can assume is 1) the InReach I have is faulty is some way, 2) needs a software update (I updated it before testing), or 3) just simply built this way and the location shifts and inability to save a coordinate as entered is just part of the device. I have contacted Garmin about these issues and awaiting their reply. When they reply I will post their replies here. It could be I simply don’t know what the hell I’m doing with the InReach.
     
    Last edited: May 27, 2018
  2. Reno Lewis

    Reno Lewis Knot-A-Challenge Champion

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    We recently started using a few of the InReach devices on my squad. We've been doing some training with them and the idea for us is that a TL or designated team member would be able to carry one of them, and our managers back at command could track the various teams in the field in real time. Also useful for open grids, if each end person carries one, it becomes very easy to visualize what areas have been searched back at command, as it's actually happening.

    It also provides a backup to radio/sat phone/texting/calling, which is nice, especially in our mountainous terrain.

    That said, I agree with your listed concerns. Personally, I wouldn't purchase an In Reach device over a normal GPS such as the 62s or newer 64s for personal use (which is something I still really need to buy).
     
    Last edited: May 27, 2018
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  3. Jeff Randall

    Jeff Randall ESEE Knives / Randall's Adventure & Training Staff Member

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    Reno, I can see real potential for the InReach in that capacity. The tracking capability is pretty good on this device.
     
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  4. Bushman5

    Bushman5 Member

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    think this unit would be ideal for a 75% highway/Forest Service Road , 25% open terrain desert, open forest tramping usage? (ie to keep track of persons daily walking and route during a trekking cart trip)
     
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  5. artigas

    artigas Member

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    Great write-up. Thanks for sharing that.
     
  6. Jeff Randall

    Jeff Randall ESEE Knives / Randall's Adventure & Training Staff Member

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    I think it's fine as a stand-alone GPS or tracking device for most anything, especially if you use it to log your points and not trying to enter waypoints into it that were logged by another GPS. This 20 meter or so difference between the InReach and standard Garmin GPS units is what gets to me, even though it's not that big of a deal.
     
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  7. BigJake

    BigJake Member

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    Good review. I've been trying to decide if I need one of those or not.
     
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  8. Jeff Randall

    Jeff Randall ESEE Knives / Randall's Adventure & Training Staff Member

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    If you're a land nav snob like our crew, then I wouldn't suggest it. If you're looking for a good device to tell you where you are and be able to communicate without cell service, then it's good to go. Point is as long as you're not looking for all the finer details of land navigation on a GPS device or need something you can put fresh batteries in, it's great.
     
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  9. Bushman5

    Bushman5 Member

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    is the battery built in? USB charge i assume? deal breaker for me. My old Etrex took AA's. lithium AA's or niMH AA's.....I like that option....
     
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  10. McKROB

    McKROB Member

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    I’ve got the same inReach Explorer + which I just purchased a couple of months ago. I’ve been a long time Inreach user and have several of the older original Delorme units I still use for work. I thought I’d try the Explorer + as it seemed like a good idea to consolidate devices. I’ve only had it a month and already replaced it with the new inReach Mini, and have gone back to the the far superior Garmin 64sc for nav.

    So far I’m really liking the Mini, going to give it a thorough test this coming week in the field, but the small size is a real bonus.



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  11. Jeff Randall

    Jeff Randall ESEE Knives / Randall's Adventure & Training Staff Member

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    Used the InReach for our canyon trip last Saturday so all the wives could keep up with our progress. I was not expecting it to work in the narrow slot sections of the canyon but I did expect it to work good in the open areas. Bottom line is it worked but bounce made the actual location compared to the real location a pretty good distance from each other. It took me about an hour to finally get a message out to Wendy on our ETA for finishing so she could pick us up. I am not impressed at all with the InReach. It's ok for unobstructed skies but the Iridium satellite network flat sucks for navigation and good service. I doubt this thing will work in heavy canopy jungle but we shall see in October. As a side note, Garmin never replied to my questions.

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  12. Reno Lewis

    Reno Lewis Knot-A-Challenge Champion

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