Best Satellite Messengers of 2018

If you will be traveling to a remote part of the world, you will need a way to stay in touch with the rest of it. At times, your journeys may take you far outside the reach of cell phone signals—and that is where a satellite messenger can come into play. These compact, lightweight devices can allow you to send and receive messages, keeping in contact with family and friends no matter where you happen to be. That way you can send updates home, keep up with loved ones far away, and get help in case of an emergency.

Don’t know what to look for in a satellite messenger? In the table below, you can view a comparison of top products.

Garmin Inreach Explorer+Garmin Inreach Explorer+Check Price on Amazon
Garmin inReach SE+Garmin inReach SE+Check Price on Amazon
Garmin inReach MiniCheck Price on Amazon
SPOT Gen3SPOT Gen3Check Price on Amazon

Still feeling a bit lost? In the guide below, you can discover features to look for and important considerations when shopping for the best satellite messengers.

What is a Satellite Messenger?

A satellite messenger is precisely what you would expect given the name: it is a messaging device which transmits and receives via a satellite network. Using a satellite messenger, you can send and receive brief messages. Since GPS is included, you also can send your coordinates if you need someone to come out and assist you.

How Satellite Messengers Work

Satellite messengers are able to communicate through a commercial network such as Iridium or Globalstar. Since these networks offer extensive coverage around the world, you can send and receive in most locations which offer a view of the sky.

How is a satellite messenger different than a personal locator beacon (PLB)?

Satellite messengers offer broader functionality than personal locator beacons. They are similar devices in that both are intended for communication in remote areas, and both allow you to signal for help. But they are different in that you are only meant to use a PLB in the most dire of circumstances. Satellite messengers are okay to use for smaller emergencies or even just for casual messaging back and forth.

What happened to DeLorme?

If you have researched satellite messengers at some point in the past, you might be aware that DeLorme was a big name in the industry. DeLorme still exists, but it has been acquired by Garmin. So if you are talking about DeLorme nowadays, you are talking about Garmin.

Which Garmin satellite messenger is right for me?

There are several Garmin satellite messengers which may interest you. If you are trying to figure out the key differences between them, this rundown should help.

Garmin inReach Explorer+

This version of inReach has a focus on navigation, with enhanced mapping and GPS features. This product is a great choice for backpackers, climbers, and others who are looking for a messaging product which doubles as a powerful navigational aid for exploring distant places.

Garmin inReach SE+

This is a less expensive alternative to Explorer+. While it lacks many of Explorer+’s advanced features, you can still use waypoints and other helpful GPS features to help you get around.

Garmin inReach Mini

Those who want to save space and weight in their packs should take a look at the 4.23 ounce “Mini” version of Garmin inReach. Even with its small size, it offers functionality comparable to the SE+. It features GPS, the ability to send and receive messages, weather updates, SOS, and added functionality through the Earthmate app.

The best way to choose the Garmin product which will suit you is to make a list of your needs. Think about the locations you plan to take your satellite messenger, and what kinds of functions you need for the activities you enjoy. Based on that, you can figure out if the SE+, Explorer+, or the Mini will best fit your requirements.

What plan should I choose?

There are two types of plans available for Garmin’s satellite messengers: personal and professional.

If you choose a personal plan, you can opt for an annual contract, or you can just pay month-to-month through one of the Monthly Freedom plans. There are four tiers available: Safety, Recreation, Expedition and Extreme.

All plans included unlimited SOS. The higher tiers allow you to send more text messages. At the highest tier, tracking intervals are reduced to 2 minutes + (as compared to 10 minutes +).

For the professional plans, the tiers are Basic, Advanced, Unlimited and Unlimited+. While these plans are similar to those discussed above, they are aimed at teams rather than individuals.

The price range from the lowest to highest tier is pretty wide. So you can easily pick a plan which will meet your budget and provide you with the functionality need, whether you are a casual user just looking for a month or two of basic service, or you are shopping for a year-round plan with unlimited texting.

Recommended Features for Satellite Messengers

Reading this far, you should have some idea what kinds of features are included with many satellite messengers. But let’s break it down so you know exactly what to look for while you are shopping.

Two-way Messaging

With two-way messaging, you have the ability to both send and receive texts. This allows you to communicate with family and friends, finding out how they are doing and providing them with updates on your trip. It also lets you engage in a two-way dialogue with emergency workers, which can be vital in helping them find you.

Interactive SOS

In fact, while you are shopping, you can look specifically for a feature called “interactive SOS” (as it is marketed by Garmin). This literally just refers to the ability to carry on a two-way conversation with an emergency team.

This is very different from simply being able to send out an SOS, and then being stuck sitting on your hands and waiting, hoping for the best. Instead, you can receive updates from the team, which can alleviate a lot of stress and anxiety. You also can send updates on your situation and location. Through this collaborative process, you can help the workers get to you faster.

GPS

GPS is important in a satellite messenger for a couple of reasons. Firstly, it helps emergency workers pinpoint your location if you need help. Secondly, it helps you find your way around. If navigation is one of your principle reasons for buying a messenger, then you may want to choose one which includes extra features like topographical maps.

Weather

One of the values of having an always-connected device with you while you are on the go is that you can keep up with the weather forecasts wherever you are. Some messengers may even send you alerts when hazardous conditions are on their way. This helps you to stay safe as you hike, climb, sail, and explore.

Mobile Functionality

Quite a few satellite messengers include the option to extend functionality by linking up to a mobile device such as a tablet or smartphone. You will need an app to do this. Different apps provide different features and tools for you to use.

For example, one popular app which you can use with some satellite messengers (such as the Garmin models discussed previously) is Earthmate. Through this app, users can download aerial images, NOAA data, and more charts and maps to enhance GPS functionality. Earthmate also provides access to social features such as texting and social media posting. So it is one little app which provides a lot of great extras to improve and extend user experience.

Rugged Design

Finally, while you are focusing on what is inside your satellite messenger, do not neglect the casing. You will likely be taking your messenger with you to harsh climates and terrains, and you may very well drop it or expose it to rough weather.

It would be a tragedy if your messenger broke or stopped functioning when you needed it the most—which may well be under just such harsh circumstances. Check to see what kind of weatherproofing a messenger has before you purchase it, and find out whether it can stand up to shock.

You now are acquainted with some of the most important features to look for when you are shopping for a satellite messenger. Scroll back up to our comparison chart at the top of this page to see our suggested products. Pick a product and a plan which fit your needs, and you will be able to travel with peace of mind, knowing you are connected no matter where you go.

1. Garmin Inreach Explorer+: A Satellite Communicator Equipped with GPS

Garmin Inreach Explorer+ is a two-in-one device aimed at consumers who are looking for a product that combines the features of the satellite messenger with a GPS navigator. Whether you need to find your way from A to B or stay in contact over a long distance, the Garmin Inreach Explorer+ does it all. Looking for something more basic? Try the Garmin inReach SE+.

Good

  • Iridium satellite network. This satellite network is known for its widespread, reliable coverage (note that you do need a subscription).
  • Interactive SOS. In an emergency, you can signal a 24/7 search and rescue center and deal directly with GEOS.
  • Navigate and share. The device comes with DeLorme TOPO maps loaded in, so it is a breeze to get started with the GPS feature. This also comes with a barometric altimeter, a digital compass, and an accelerometer. Track where you are using the GPS, and send your friends and family updates on the go.
  • Expand functionality with the Earthmate app. This app makes it possible to download additional maps as needed. You can even use it to download aerial imagery or charts from NOAA. This app works with both Android and Apple mobile devices.
  • Stay ahead of the weather. You have the option of signing up for the weather forecast service provided by inReach, also through Earthmate. This can help to keep you safe, making it less likely that you will need to send an SOS.
  • Water-resistant. This sturdy satellite communicator has an IPX7 rating. It can also hold up to impacts.

Bad

  • There may be problems with activation. Some customers encounter difficulties that this process, and unfortunately customer service is not always all that helpful.
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2. Garmin inReach SE+: A Simpler Alternative to the InReach Explorer+

If you like the idea of a satellite communicator which includes GPS, but you do not necessarily need all the bells and whistles included with the Garmin Inreach Explorer+, the similar but simpler Garmin inReach SE+ may be just the alternative you are looking for.

Good

  • Uses the Iridium satellite network. With the extensive coverage this network provides, you should be able to send and receive just about anywhere. The service is subscription based. Both month-to-month airtime plans and annual contracts are available.
  • GEOS answers your call. If you send a distress signal, you will be able to receive support direct from GEOS. Emergency responders are standing by 24/7.
  • Two-way communication. You can continue to send and receive communications with the emergency team as they work to find you.
  • GPS. There are DeLorme TOPO maps loaded in when you buy your satellite communicator. You can also download more maps through the Earthmate app if you have a compatible Android or Apple device.
  • MapShare. This is a portal which lets you send updates to family, friends and followers on your location as you travel.
  • Weather updates. These are provided through the EarthMate app if you opt to receive them.
  • Sturdy and reliable. This unit has a water-resistance rating of IPX7. It is also impact resistant.

Bad

  • This product may suffer from activation issues. These are not all that common, but you should attempt to activate your device well in advance of actually needing to rely on it.
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3. Garmin inReach Mini: A Satellite Communicator You Can Fit In Your Pocket

When you are exploring remote locations, you want to keep your pack as light and comfortable as possible—and that means shopping for a satellite communicator which will take up as little room as possible. For that, you will want to consider the Garmin inReach Mini, which was designed for just that purpose.

Good

  • Lightweight, compact design. This device measures a mere 4” in height and 2” in width, so it literally can fit in the palm of your hand, or you can stow it in your pocket. It weighs only 4.32 oz.
  • Runs on the Iridium network. This network is known for offering great coverage. Just keep in mind that a subscription is required.
  • Rugged build. This satellite communicator meats MIL-STD-810F durability standards and has earned the IPX7 water-resistance rating.
  • Download additional content and tools. Using the Garmin Earthmate app, which is provided for free, you can download maps, imagery and charts.
  • Keep up with the weather. Opt into weather updates if you wish through the InReach forecast service.
  • Messaging included. Along with the SOS you can broadcast, you can also perform two-way messaging using this unit in conjunction with compatible devices from the brand.
  • Long battery life. When you run the communicator in 10-minute tracking mode, you can expect the battery to last for up to 50 hours.

Bad

  • It is hard to get a signal without a line of clear sight to the sky.
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4. SPOT Gen3: Provide Your Rescue Team With Detailed Info

SPOT Gen3Sometimes a simple beacon just isn’t enough. With the SPOT Gen3, you can provide your rescue team with extra info they need to make the best decision possible if you ever find yourself in need of help.

Good

  • Rubberized shell. If you manage to survive the accident, so will the SPOT Gen3.
  • Small size. The Gen3 is ultra portable and small enough to fit in your pocket.
  • Excellent battery life. A single charge will last for at least 100 hours.
  • Fast signal acquisition. The SPOT Gen3 only needs a few seconds to determine where you are.
  • Four message options. You can send a simple “I’m OK” message, a custom message, a help message or a SOS emergency distress signal.
  • Your sent messages reveal your location. Every satellite ping leaves a breadcrumb that rescuers can use to help determine where you are.
  • Water resistant. As long as you keep USB port closed shut with the stopper, the SPOT Gen3 does a great job of resisting water.

Bad

  • Many people who bought this device had billing issues. Surprising charges often appeared on SPOT Gen3 customers’ credit card bills.
  • The SPOT Gen3 is pretty energy efficient, but other GPS messengers have even better battery life.
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