Garmin inReach Mini vs inReach Explorer+

Garmin inReach Mini vs inReach Explorer
The Garmin inReach Mini (MSRP $350) and the inReach Explorer+ (MSRP $449) are satellite-based communicators that share a common set of capabilities in terms of emergency communication, two-way messaging, tracking, and navigation. Both units require the purchase of a satellite messaging subscription plan, which costs the same regardless of which unit you choose.  Despite their similarities, there are significant differences between the inReach Mini and the inReach Explorer+ which are important to know about so you can pick the right unit for your needs.

  • Physical Dimensions
  • Battery Life
  • GPS Navigation Capabilities
  • Cold Weather Use
  • Darkness

Physical Dimensions

The inReach Mini is much smaller and lighter weight than the inReach Explorer+, making it more suitable for trail runners, day hikers, and ultralight backpackers who want to minimize the weight and bulk of their gear. However, its small screen, touch-screen controls, and monochrome display can make it awkward to access its more sophisticated capabilities, including GPS navigation and ad hoc messaging. To use those capabilities, you need to connect the Mini to a smartphone with Bluetooth, much like a computer monitor, and use your phone’s display and controls.

  • inReach Mini+
    • Weight: 3.5 oz (100 g)
    • Physical Dimensions: 2.04” x 3.90” x 1.03” (5.17 x 9.90 x 2.61 cm)
    • Display Type: monochrome, transflective memory-in-pixel (MIP)
    • Screen Size: 0.9″ x 0.9″ (23 x 23 mm)
  • inReach Explorer+
    • Weight: 7.5 oz (213.0 g)
    • Physical Dimensions: 2.7″ x 6.5″ x 1.5″ (6.8 x 16.4 x 3.8 cm)
    • Display Type: transflective color TFT
    • Screen Size: 1.4″W x 1.9″H (3.5 x 4.7 cm); 2.31″ diag (5.9 cm)

In contrast, the inReach Explorer+ is entirely self-contained with physical buttons that can be used to control all of the device’s functions including a color map navigation screen. In the event of an actual emergency, you’re probably going to want to send and receive detailed messages with search and rescue. The Explorer+ is going to be easier to work with than the Mini and is not dependent on a second electronic device, your phone.

Battery Life

The inReach Explorer+ battery has an average battery life of 100 hours which is twice as long as the Mini’s average battery life of 50 hours.  While there are various tips and tricks you can use to extend the battery life of both units, there’s no getting around the fact that the Explorer+ battery is over twice as large as the Mini’s battery. In addition, if you use the inReach Mini in conjunction with a smartphone via Bluetooth (which is an energy hog) you also have to factor in the battery life of your smartphone.

  • inReach Mini Battery Life:
    • Type: Rechargeable, built-in lithium-ion battery
    • Capacity: 1,250 mAh
    • Recharging interface: micro USB
    • Average Battery Life: 50 hrs
  • inReach Explorer+ Battery Life:
    • Type: Rechargeable, built-in lithium-ion battery
    • Capacity: 3,100 mAh
    • Recharging interface: micro USB
    • Average Battery Life: 100 hrs

With its smaller battery size, the Mini is best used by day hikers and short overnight trips up to 2-3 days in length, while the Explorer is better for longer backpacking, bikepacking, or hunting trips lasting 4 days or more. While you can carry a spare battery to recharge both devices, you’ll have to do it a lot less often with the Explorer+.

The buttons and color screen of the Explorer+ and much easier to use and see than the monochrome touchscreen Mini interface
The buttons and color screen of the Explorer+ and much easier to use and see than the monochrome touchscreen Mini interface, particularly in low light.

GPS Navigation

The inReach Explorer+ comes with preloaded color maps for North America and Canada (1:24k) and Mexico (1:125k), and it’s GPS navigation capability is entirely self-contained with a built-in display screen, digital compass, barometric altimeter, and an accelerometer (so you don’t have to be moving for it to know which direction it’s pointing. While the Explorer+’s capabilities and ease of use fall short of more sophisticated GPS units, it’s still perfectly usable and makes a good backup for another navigation device, be it map and compass or another GPS unit. You can also control when its GPS tracking capability is activated to conserve battery power.

If you have an inReach Mini and you want to navigate with it, you need to download maps to your phone for offline use and link the Mini to your smartphone using Garmin’s Earthmate App and Bluetooth. This will drain the Mini and smartphone batteries at an accelerated rate. The Earthmate is also the worst popular phone navigation app available today and is very difficult to interface with other navigation tools.  I’d recommend getting the Explorer+ if GPS functionality is required.

Cold Weather Use with Gloves

The Explorer+ has a push-button interface that is very easy to use when wearing gloves in cold weather. This is a great benefit if you use the device in winter, especially in dangerously cold conditions or high windchills, where taking off your gloves would be dangerous. The Mini’s touchscreen interface is real liability in cold weather because you have to take off your gloves to use it or your smartphone if you need to have back and forth communication with search and rescue personnel.


Most search and rescue requests are initiated near sundown or at night when hikers realize that they’re horribly lost, that they didn’t pack enough insulation to weather the night, or they freak out because they don’t have flashlights and can’t see in the dark. While you can simply press the SOS button on the inReach Mini or Explorer+ and hope that help is coming, you stand a better chance at survival or rescue if you can communicate back and forth with rescue crews. However, the inReach Mini’s user interface is too dim to see in darkness unless you connect your smartphone to it and burn down both batteries, which you probably want to avoid in an emergency. The self-contained and brightly backlit inReach Explorer+ screen is a much better option once darkness has fallen.

The Bottom Line: Mini vs. Explorer+

If all you want in a satellite communicator is the ability to share your route with others so they can locate you in an emergency (tracking), send pre-canned status messages to your family, or send a pre-canned SOS message, on day hikes and short overnight trips in warmer weather, the Garmin inReach Mini will satisfy your needs.

If in addition, you want a device that you can use on much longer trips or in cold weather while wearing gloves, you need the more advanced capabilities provided by the Explorer+ such as the ability to easily compose ad hoc (not pre-canned) messages to send to your family or search and rescue services, if, for example, you need expert instructions to stabilize a patient; graphical GPS navigation; and weather forecasts; I’d recommend getting the Explorer+.

Why I carry an inReach Explorer+

I own both the Garmin inReach Mini and the inReach Explorer+ but I only use and carry the inReach Explorer+. I hike and backpack in mountainous terrain all year long and need a device like the Explorer+ that I can use while wearing gloves. I also want the ability to compose and send detailed ad hoc messages to my family or search and rescue, especially at night. I feel the latter is particularly important in the event of an injury to myself or a companion, in order to receive medical instructions that can be used to stabilize a patient until rescuers can arrive. Message composition is just too slow, battery draining, and awkward an activity with the inReach Mini or a networked smartphone.

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Last updated: 2020-11-27 12:31:43

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