I have an older handheld Garmin navigation unit that is about twelve years old. A number of trails in the Whiteshell and Riding Mountain National Park are loaded on it and I have carried it with me in the past. The unit itself works well for navigation even though the mapping technology is out of date compared to what is on the market now. Lakes and land forms have not moved and as long as the GPS coordinates are accurate and up to date for the current route of the trail, the unit will aid in navigation just fine.
The first time I knowingly hiked with someone who had a satellite communicator was when I was on the Appalachian Trail. My friend has a Spot and I chipped in some funds to add my husband as a contact while we were on trail. It gave me good piece of mind knowing that we had a device within the group that could call for help if we needed it.
With the amount of hiking that I do now, it was time to update my handheld navigation unit and I wanted to include satellite communication in the update. I asked my husband for a Garmin inReach Explorer+ for my birthday. My birthday present came early this year, just in time to kick off the spring season.
I chose to add the Garmin inReach to my gear list because it is a smart decision to carry it. It is as simple as that. Not only do I solo hike but I also hike with my 8 year old daughter by ourselves. She has a solid, rugged streak but there is vulnerability that comes with taking a child into the woods. Having the Garmin inReach makes sense for my style of hiking.
If we are out of cell service range and my daughter needs help, I can get her that help sooner rather than later. I like to daydream about taking her off the beaten path and exploring more challenging trails, both terrain and remoteness. She already has a day hike on Mantario and Hunt Lake under her belt and this summer, I hope to take her overnight on Mantario.
I have come to realize that I have a caregiver mindset for others as well. I think about complete strangers who may benefit from me having a satellite communicator. I would not hesitate to use it to call for help for someone else within the hiking community.
The hope is that I never need to send a distress call and I only ever use the pre-set messages to stay connected to my husband back home. A satellite communicator is an expensive investment. In ways, I relate the Garmin inReach to the yearly $300+ investment of Epi-Pens that my daughter and I carry. I hope we never have to use the Epi-Pens but they are with us just in case. Both investments can save a life.
I chose the Explorer+ unit over the Mini so that I had an all-in one unit. In addition to offering communication on the Iridium satellite network, it is a handheld GPS navigation unit with built-in topographic maps. There are a number of other features on the unit that I can use if I want to upgrade my subscription. For now, my primary reason for purchasing this unit is for the satellite communication abilities and basic navigation.
I have the monthly safety plan that costs $19.95 per month. I opted for the freedom plan instead of locking in for an annual contract. The freedom plan requires a 30-day commitment and I have the ability to suspend service when I don’t need it. This service includes 10 text messages (receiving and sent), unlimited preset messages, and unlimited SOS in case of emergency. Other functions on this plan such as tracking points, weather, and location pings cost extra.
The unlimited pre-set messages can be updated at anytime by easily connecting the unit to the app. For right now, I have:
- “I am at trail head” – this can be used for beginning or ending my hike and my husband can figure it out based on the time of the day.
- “I am at camp and everything is swell”
- “I am running late but on my way” – within the message that my husband receives is a link to my location shown on a map. He can see the rough estimation of how much longer I will be on trail.
Out of curiosity, on a couple of different Facebook groups, I asked what others have as their pre-set messages:
- Stopped for lunch
- Breaking camp. It’s going to be a great day on the trail!
- Stopping for an extended break.
- Checking in. Everything is good.
Safety precautions are non-negotiable for me. The outdoor survival skills that I received as a teenager in Sea Cadets are embedded into me. I load my pack to prepare for the worst but plan for the best. I may be over-prepared for a simple day hike and some people might giggle as they pass me in their Crocs and one bottle of water. I hike my own hike and for me, except for a few select trails within 15 minutes of my house, I am prepared to spend the night if needed.