July 12, 2022
Years ago I’d disappear into the wilderness to hunt elk for 10 days or two weeks at a time. No one would know where I was, or even if I was still alive. It was awesome, but it was also dangerous and stressful for my family.
Those times have changed. Now I carry one of Garmin’s inReach satellite communication devices anytime I venture afield. With it I can text my friends and loved ones, check the weather, navigate, mark waypoints, save tracks and much more. And should I become seriously ill or injured I can, with the push of a button, summon search and rescue directly to my location.
My go-to inReach device has been the standard Explorer unit, except during hard-core backpack hunting. For that I carried a superlight Mini device. Both have served me well, but now there’s an even better option. Garmin’s new inReach Mini 2 offers enhanced interface, location tracking, battery life and capability. The Mini 2’s updated features can change the way you hunt in the backcountry.
User interface is a big deal for me since I’m somewhat technologically challenged. The interface has been updated and is more intuitive, both when using the handheld unit alone and when it’s paired with a mobile phone or other device. Garmin’s free Explore mobile app makes it easy to map, track, sync and share your trek via your phone. You can use your device to type messages, get up-to-date weather information, download maps, review your trips and so on.
The unit’s tracking feature is a favorite among spouses and loved ones. Your Mini 2 will send your location to anyone you wish at selected intervals ranging from 10 minutes to four hours, updating them to your whereabouts and enabling them to digitally follow along on your adventure. Furthermore, the Mini 2 makes communicating from the backcountry easy. Let’s face it, we’re all hopelessly addicted to texting with our buddies and families.
However, in many backcountry settings cellular service is non-existent. Not to worry, just pair your phone with your Mini 2 and carry on. The Garmin sends and receives messages via satellite; no cell service needed. If you don’t have your phone along you can still text, but it’s a bit laborious to compose a message using the toggle buttons on the inReach unit. Considering that, it’s a good plan to create some preset messages on your Garmin account. That way you can select and send “All’s well honey! Love ya.” within a matter of seconds. No matter which method you use, it’s comforting to be able to stay in touch with family, friends and loved ones while in the wilderness.
You can embed GPS coordinates in your messages so recipients know exactly where you are. Or you can simply share your location through the inReach MapShare page. Pretty cool feature, especially when you and your hunting buddy are trying to find each other in a sea of wilderness.
In addition to your phone, the Mini 2 will pair with more than 80 different Garmin devices ranging from smartwatches to aviation systems. You can message, track, trigger a satellite-relayed SOS and more from the paired device.
The Mini 2 allows hunters to quickly mark waypoints, and I use this feature like a borrowed tool. It’s great for marking the location of a hidden spring or elk wallow, or camp, or that big bull you just killed deep in the black timber. Once saved, the waypoint enables you to navigate to that location from any angle. It’s visible on your maps as well, giving you a birds-eye perspective of the area.
The ability to pull up an accurate weather forecast through the Mini 2 is a priceless feature when you’re deep in unforgiving wilderness territory. Several times my inReach device has forewarned me of massive storms about to hit the high country where I was hunting. I was able to batten down the hatches and ride out the storm safely and in good style.
A new feature of the Mini 2, TracBack enables you to backtrack along your route at any time. You don’t have to worry about setting up the track or programming the Mini 2; it automatically remembers your recent travels and can produce the track upon demand. This is a great feature if you are navigating new territory or are a directionally challenged hunter.
The Mini 2’s SOS capability is the most important feature and, hopefully, the one you will never need. Should the proverbial poo-poo hit the fan, you can hit the dedicated SOS button and your inReach will summon the Garmin International Emergency Response Coordination Center, which will then notify search and rescue. Communication is interactive so you can stay in touch with rescuers to update them and keep them apprised of the situation. It’s a feature that’s saved thousands of lives and counting.
One of the big challenges associated with inReach devices has been maintaining battery life through the duration of a 10- or 14-day hunt. Say goodbye to that predicament. Set on the default 10-minute tracking mode, the Mini 2 will last for two weeks of continuous use; on the 30-minute tracking mode, it will run continuously for 30 days. When the unit is turned off and stored in your car, boat, plane or emergency duffle, the battery will remain charged and ready to go for up to a year.
The Mini 2 is two inches wide and less than four inches tall, and it weighs just 3.5 ounces. It has a waterproof rating of IPX7 and is virtually bombproof. The unit’s MSRP is $399.99, and like all inReach devices, the Mini 2 requires a satellite subscription. A variety of plans are available starting at about $12 per month. To my way of thinking, that’s a small price to pay for a tool that can save your life.