Product Review – Garmin InReach Mini

Ruger and I go on searches all the time where we don’t have cell service. Occasionally we go on assignments where we don’t even have communications with our command post. That’s probably a bad idea but we do it because it has to be done. There aren’t always the resources to set up communication networks on the fly in remote areas.

After watching the development of satellite beacons and communicators for several years, I finally decided the technology was stable, and invested in a Garmin InReach Mini. I thought Mary Ann would be worried about the price – $350. To the contrary, she supports my having communications wherever I am.

Although it comes from Garmin, the king of GPS technology, the InReach’s main strength is as a communicator. It allows you to send text messages via satellite, transmit your location, and provides a rudimentary ability for others to follow your trip. It also has the ability send out an SOS that will bring rescue resources in your direction. All good tools to have in the wilderness, but the InReach is still not the tool you should use for finding your own way around the wilderness.

For starters, the screen is very small and the unit does not display a map. It can pair with a smartphone that has mapping capability, but smartphones and the wilderness don’t mix for me. Too many apps drain batteries.

The other reason for not relying on the InReach for navigation is that it’s not a very intuitive device. If you don’t have experience with other Garmin GPSs then you will struggle with the Mini. Carry the Mini as a communications tool, but do your navigating on a traditional GPS like the Oregon, Montana or 60-series.

Yes, Garmin does have other devices such as the 66i that marry the two functions. I will not opine on that because I have no experience with the 66i.

As for coverage, I couldn’t be happier. The InReach is able to communicate with satellites even in heavy western Washington tree cover. The only place where comms might be limited would be a canyon, because there’s not always a satellite directly overhead. But you can send the message and the unit will keep trying until it does acquire a satellite and then beep to tell you “message sent.”

The only down side is the cost of a subscription. But Garmin has several flexible plans that you can tailor to your needs. You can even turn your plan off if you know you won’t be hiking for a few weeks.

I bought my Mini because I already have a very specialized GPS that I use for both finding my way and keeping track of Ruger’s location. I only needed communications, which the InReach Mini provides in very good fashion.

The Bottom Line:

If you are an experienced user of GPS technology and find yourself routinely out of cell service then the InReach is a terrific add-on to your pack. It works as advertised and could be just the ticket for getting you out of a jam.

Stay Found.

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Meals – Ready for Prime Time

After a hard day on the trail you want a rich, hearty meal that will warm you to the core. To date, that’s meant freeze-dried food reconstituted with boiling water in a pouch. There are a number of good freeze-dried products out there and they perform as advertised. But is there a better way?

I think so.

I’ve switched to the military’s historically maligned Meal – Ready to Eat (MRE) for several reasons, including taste. That’s right, the old Meal – Rejected by Everyone is finally ready for prime time. There is a wide selection of entrees. They’re tasty. They fill you up without giving you an upset stomach. But here’s the surprise: in the long run these fully-hydrated meals are much lighter than the freeze dried stuff you’ve been carrying.

With a freeze-dried meal, you must use boiling water to rehydrate the product. That means you need:

  • Stove
  • Fuel
  • Vessel for heating water
  • Extra water dedicated to cooking, not drinking.

Although in a side-by-side comparison the MRE seems much heavier than its freeze-dried counterpart, when you add up the accessories the MRE concept is much lighter.

MRE Entrees

MREs can be heated with a special MRE heater that is about the size of a #10 envelope. But they can also be eaten cold and are still pretty darned tasty. You can’t eat a freeze-dried meal cold, and you can’t even rehydrate one with cold water. It takes hot water to do the job correctly.

Pro Tip: Don’t buy the full MREs. Just buy the individual components- entries, sides and deserts. They’re much cheaper and there’s less waste. You don’t need chewing gum and TP with every meal.  

Emergency Tip: If someone is hypothermic, don’t worry about heating the meal. While warm food or liquids provide an emotional benefit the majority of the body heating results from the calories consumed, not the food’s physical temperature. You’re much better off getting some calories, any calories, into the person quickly rather than setting up a stove, boiling water, and then waiting ten minutes to create an unnecessary “hot meal.”

In my rescue pack I now carry just MREs and the heater sleeves, along with a couple of sporks- one for me and one for whomever I rescue.

Stay Found.

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