I had been putting off purchasing a satellite communicator for a few years as I just didn't see the need until my daughter and I planned a trip in 2014 to Washington's Pasayten Wilderness for 8 days. My wife would have no contact with us for over 9 days, and questions arise like, at what point do I get worried? At what point do I call someone? What if something happens to you on day 2....by the time I realize you are in trouble it would have been over a week? For various reasons I chose to purchase the DeLorme InReach over the SPOT, including the Iridium satellite system, subscription plans and customer reviews of both systems. Initially I chose the Safety Freedom plan for the InReach at $14.95/month, which gives the customer the option of suspending the plan at any time with no penalty and then reinstating it when needed. This would be good for people intending to use it say only in the summer months, but I have found that I've continued using the InReach through December. I recently changed the plan to an annual subscription (Safety) that costs $11.95/month based on the fact that I'll be skiing and hiking throughout the winter season. I find the very basic Safety plan adequate for my needs, in that I get unlimited preset messaging and 10 free text messages per month. Those wishing to take advantage of tracking and posting tracks for viewing would probably want one of the more expensive plans, so it all depends on your usage. Here's how I have used the InReach so far:
1. Start/Stop: I sent this report when I (we) set off for the day and when we reached camp.
2. Regular Tracking Point: approximately every 3-4 hours I would turn the unit on and send a report. This way my wife would know that we were progressing into the hike and provide a general idea if we were on schedule or not.
3. Off Trail Summit/High Point: I did some excellent off trail excursions this past year and this was a way to record summits and times and provide information as to my whereabouts had something happened and I was not able to use the emergency function.
• Text Messaging: I found that the 10 free/month were more than adequate for our use. We took advantage of this when in the Pasayten by texting my wife and checking on specific trail closures due to fires and updating the weather. This was invaluable in our day to day trip planning, enabling us to alter our schedule accordingly. I also used it to arrange for a pickup at a trail head by a friend. I figure that if a situation arises where I need to communicate with multiple text messages and it takes me over my 10 free, then at $.50/ea it's not a big deal.
• Battery Life: my particular usage, where I turn the unit on and off, allowed me to send all reports and texts over 9 days and come home with 87% battery power still remaining. When I go on a day hike I just leave the unit on all day. To note, if the unit is not on but you are able to press the "SOS" button, it will automatically power up.
• GPS: I had both the InReach and a GPS (Garmin 60CSx) on the Pasayten trip, and found that I much preferred the display I got by pairing the InReach with my iPhone 5S. Link up times were short and, assuming you have downloaded the appropriate maps to your phone using the free Earthmate app, the maps were superior. By also turning my phone on and off and using it only when needed, the 5S lasted the entire trip on one charge. However, the user must be aware that using extensive tracking modes and leaving your phone paired to the unit for long periods of time will significantly impact your battery life on both units.
SITUATIONS: On our first day of our 8 day trip, we soon ran into an individual who had been hiking all night. His wife had fallen and fractured her arm and he was hiking out to the nearest trailhead to get help. He had a DeLorme GPS in his hand. I offered the use of my InReach to contact authorities but after some discussion we determined that, with him being just 30 minutes to the trailhead which was right on the major road, that this wasn't necessary. In fact later we saw the helicopter that picked her up for a happy ending, but he did say he wished he had the InReach as this would have saved some time and he could have stayed with his wife in the campsite instead of leaving her alone when he left to get help.
In the Olympics this past season an overdue hiker launched a SAR operation. The individual had become lost for a short time but soon regained his situational awareness, but decided to hike out via a wash to a different trailhead. As it turns out this wash was extremely rugged and it took him 3 days to gain a road and walk into a ranger station, calling off the search. Being able to text your family in a situation like this would preclude SAR operations and assuage worry at home.
Ultimately we are responsible for making good decisions and being able to take care of ourselves in the wilderness, not counting on or relying on cell phones and satellite communicators in case of serious situations. However, a satellite communicator like the InReach takes an enormous amount of pressure off the hiker when it comes to the home front in that the worry factor is reduced significantly. If one's spouse or family can hear from the hiker periodically, especially on multi day trips, then the benefits far outweigh the cost. For this particular unit, I have experienced absolutely zero problems in either operation, pairing with my iPhone 5S and now 6, or function...every message I sent was received. All firmware and software updates were glitch free. In sum, my wife is the happiest and most satisfied beneficiary of my InReach. Is there a better reason when considering this purchase?