By Michael Deming
Imagine that you have just been successful on an early season archery elk hunt and you are 4 miles from the trailhead and in grizzly country. You have buddies that owe you bigtime and you just need to get out to the trailhead where you get some service and let them know where you are so that they can come help. You hang the elk quarters high in a tree and load up your pack and head for the truck. A mile into your hike back, a sow grizzly and two cubs smell you and your pack loaded with fresh elk meat. She charges you and knocks you to the ground. You play dead while she rips and pulls at your pack while standing on your head. As quick as it started, it stops and you are laying there without your pack and a gushing head wound. If you don’t make it to the truck where you have service, this might be your last elk hunt ever.
This sounds like a horrible experience from a movie, but this has played out in the Rocky Mountains on numerous occasions. If the hunter had just been able to communicate with his buddies or even emergency services once the attack had happened, he wouldn’t be in a life-threatening situation.
Thanks to Garmin and the InReach Explorer+, you never have to put yourself into this type of situation ever again. This is a handheld GPS unit, which has the ability to utilize satellites to communicate with society. You can also pair it with your standard smartphone and text just as you would any other time when you have an assigned monthly service plan.
Sat phones and these types of devices have been around for numerous years and we have tested them regularly; however, their connectivity and operation has left a little bit to be desired in all of our testing. This year we decided to give the new Garmin inReach Explorer+ a thorough field testing and this is what we found.
Whenever we test a product like this, we always read all the marketing materials and website to see what sort of claims the companies make about their products. Garmin claims 100% global service with Iridium and no cellular coverage needed. My intent was to get the unit set up and pair it with my smart phone so that I could use all of the bells and whistles available with this nearly $500 piece of equipment. I’m fairly tech savvy for someone fifty years old, but I wouldn’t say that the directions to accomplish the initial setup were very comprehensive. After reviewing a few tutorials on YouTube, I was able to get the unit registered with Garmin as well as paired with my phone and an active service plan.
There are numerous different service plans to choose from whether you are an occasional user or a professional guide who is in the field all the time. You also have the ability to choose from monthly services, which all allow you to cancel after a few months service that will cost you a bit more money every month, or annual plans that offer you much more and at a less expensive monthly price. There are plans that run as low as $20 per month all the way up to $150 per month. The more you pay, the more unlimited kinds of services you have available. With this unit, you can send preprogrammed texts to loved ones saying you are okay and all good or I’m ready for pickup. Regardless of your service, these are unlimited. Every time you send a text, you will also be sending the receiver a pin of your location. When paired with your smart phone, you can send custom texts just as you would with your regular cell phone. This also sends a pin of your location. The lower priced plans will provide you with 10 texts a month and then you will pay for additional texts. Premium plans have unlimited texts. This unit will send tracks every ten minutes, so that family can check your location from time to time.
Having dialed in a Freedom Expedition monthly plan, we were just over $100 for our first month’s service and we were ready to hit the woods for some hard-core testing. The back woods of Utah while scouting for deer was a great start. The Earthmate mapping is some of the best and detailed that I’ve ever had the pleasure of using. The trails and road systems which are on this preloaded software is far superior to anything I’ve ever used in the past. This unit has all the bells and whistles of all the top of the line Garmin GPS units and marking way points, checking trip data, and compass types of stuff is just as you are used to. It has NOAA weather on this unit and your service plan allows you a certain amount of detailed weather reports, which is a huge asset if you are traveling to the extreme north country where getting picked up by a bush plane is the difference between life and death. Once you have initially paired the unit with your smartphone, doing it again is extremely simple. Our communications back to home were flawless. This wasn’t just the case on our early testing in the lower 48, this was the case in all of our field tests in Alaska and Canada for early season sheep hunts. The SOS feature on this unit is something hopefully you will never need, but with the push of one button, you can notify emergency services that you need help. It will send them your location and scramble the necessary people to get you the help you need. This SOS button is secure so that it isn’t accidentally pushed as well.
Overall, I would say that Garmin has definitely succeeded in building a communication device that is pretty bulletproof and dependable. Although the service is a bit pricey, I only need to keep it active for a few months out of the year and I’m sure that if what happened to the hunter at the beginning of this article ever happens to me, I won’t be sorry for having the Garmin inReach Explorer+ and the service that goes with it.