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Orbiting nearly 500 miles above out heads is a constellation of 82 satellites that make up the Iridium network, and these satellites allow you to stay in touch no matter where you are on the planet -- well, assuming you have a clear view of the sky.
By combining the coverage of the Iridium satellite network with a small, pocket-sized gadget called the Garmin inReach Messenger, you can stay in touch globally, sending and receiving messages, tracking and sharing your journey and, if things go south, sending an SOS signal to a global emergency response coordination center that's staffed 24/7.
Battery: Rechargeable internal lithium-ion allowing for up to 46 days of use (message or location sent every 30 minutes with full sky view)
GPS: Yes, compatible with GPS, Galileo, QZSS, and Beidou
Physically, the Garmin inReach Messenger is a small, rubberized box, but there's a lot packed into a small space. For starters, there's a really tiny display.
Underneath the display are three buttons that are used to control the on-screen inputs, even allowing you to type.
There's a USB-C charging port sporting a heft rubberized cover.
On the other side is the on/off button and a flap with the words SOS emblazoned on it.
Underneath the flap is the "forbidden button" that, if pressed, will summon rescue.
On the back of the unit are instructions on how to make use of the SOS feature.
On firing the inReach Messenger for the first time, you're prompted to download apps and sign up for the inReach subscription plans. Since you're connecting to satellites, this isn't cheap. Plans start at $12 a month (plus a connection fee), but the upside is that if you sign up for the "Freedom" plan, you can deactivate and reactivate to suit your needs.
Then you have to set up your all your contact details and such in the app, which takes a fair bit or time, but you only have to do it once.
With the boring stuff out of the way, it's time to communicate with satellites!
The best way to do this without eating into your plan is to send and receive some test messages (you get five per month). During this process the unit prompts you to position the unit so it has a clear view of the sky -- something that's important for it to have to be able to efficiently send and receive messages.
Doing this is where you discover just how hard inputting a message is on the inReach Messenger.
That tiny screen only has room to show you a ribbon of alphanumeric characters, and you have to go through them and select the ones you need using the arrow keys. Alternatively, you can use the Messenger app on your smartphone, but it's good to get used to using the unit itself as your smartphone might not be nearby in an emergency.
Even reading messages on that tiny screen is a challenge.
Oh, and since the weather was nice for once and it wasn't raining, I had to manually test the waterproofing of the unit. It just shrugs off water like a duck's back.
At $295, the Garmin inReach Messenger is one of the cheapest satellite messenger devices out there, and the screen, albeit being tiny, puts it a step ahead of the Zoleo satellite communicator, which doesn't have a display or a way to type or read messages without using a smartphone.
Garmin has packed the inReach Messenger with features that go beyond that SOS button (which, hopefully, you'll never have to press), and depending on what plan you sign up for, you can use it as a way to communicate when off grid or have it sending your location to an online map that others can view, so they can keep an eye on your route.
It can take some time to set things up, figure out how things work, and get your head around the different subscription plans, but once you've done that, you have a powerful tool at your disposal.
If you're someone who goes off on adventures, whenever on or off grid, this could be something that gives you -- or your loved ones -- peace of mind, and be used to summon help in the event of something going wrong.