Satellite Communicators Compared

When your adventures take you beyond the reach of mobile service, satellite communicators let family and friends know you’re ok or send emergency responders your GPS location, all at the push of a button. Add these pocket-sized devices to your essential gear and stay connected wherever you roam. The best satellite communicators give adventure seekers the ability to stay on track, stay in touch, and—if worse comes to worst—summon an emergency response team.

In recent years, satellite communicators have become a popular addition to peoples packs. There is no shortage of choice but rather than cover them all, I am going to compare a handful of the leading satellite communicators on the market, in no particular order.

Enter the Garmin inReach, Spot and Zoleo.

Garmin inReach Mini 2

Garmin inReach® Mini 2

This compact satellite communicator helps you keep home with you when you’re off the grid — adding peace of mind to every adventure, without adding weight to your pack. Global satellite coverage keeps you connected when mobile phones can’t. In an emergency, send an interactive SOS message to our coordination centre. You can still connect to the ones who matter, even without mobile phone coverage. With TracBack® routing, find your way back if you happen to get lost. Expand the capabilities of your inReach device by using the Garmin Explore™ app. Stay on adventures longer with up to 14 days of battery life in 10-minute tracking mode.

Recommended Retail Price: $599

Active satellite subscription required.

To access the Iridium network and communicate with your inReach Mini 2, an active satellite subscription is required. You can opt for an annual package or a month-to-month plan. Plans start at around $40 per month.

Features include:

TWO-WAY MESSAGING
Exchange text messages with loved ones back home, post to social media, or communicate inReach to inReach in the field.

INTERACTIVE SOS ALERTS
In case of emergency, trigger an interactive SOS message to the Garmin IERCC, a 24/7 staffed emergency response coordination centre.

LOCATION SHARING
Share your location with loved ones back home at any time using your MapShare™ page or with your coordinates embedded in your messages.

GLOBAL SATELLITE NETWORK
Instead of relying on mobile phone coverage, your messages, SOS alerts and location tracking are transferred via the global Iridium® satellite network.

COMPACT, RUGGED DESIGN
Don’t let the 4″ x 2″ size and 100g weight fool you. inReach Mini 2 is tough, durable, impact resistant (MIL-STD-810) and water-rated to IPX7.

TRACBACK ROUTING
The TracBack routing feature navigates you back to your starting point the same way you came, should you get lost — right on your device.

DIGITAL COMPASS
Get accurate heading information — even when you’re not moving.

BATTERY LIFE
The internal, rechargeable lithium battery gives you up to 14 days use at the default 10-minute tracking mode and up to 30 days in power saving mode.

  • Up to 14 days at 10-minute tracking send interval with standard activity recording with full sky view
  • Up to 4 days with moderate tree cover (default)
  • Up to 5 days at 10-minute tracking send interval with high detail activity recording with full sky view
  • Up to 2 days with moderate tree cover
  • Up to 30 days at 30-minute tracking send interval with standard activity recording with full sky view
  • Up to 10 days with moderate tree cover
  • Up to 1 year when powered off

INREACH WEATHER FORECAST SERVICE
Get detailed weather updates on inReach Mini 2 or a paired compatible device. You can even request forecasts for your current location or other waypoints or destinations on your itinerary.

UNLIMITED CLOUD STORAGE AND TRIP PLANNING
Get free access to the cloud-powered Garmin Explore website on your computer to plan your trips, create preset messages and quick texts, sync and manage your device settings, and much more.

GARMIN EXPLORE APP
Sync with the Garmin Explore website or the mobile app on your compatible smartphone for navigation, waypoints, courses, activities and collections. Also get access to trip planning and topographical mapping.

OTHER GARMIN DEVICES
Remotely control inReach Mini 2 to send and receive messages, start and stop tracking, and trigger an interactive SOS using compatible Garmin handhelds, wearables or other mobile devices.

General Specs

DIMENSIONS: 51.7 x 99 x 26.1mm
DISPLAY SIZE: 23 x 23mm
DISPLAY RESOLUTION: 176 x 176 pixels
DISPLAY TYPE: sunlight-readable, monochrome, transflective memory-in-pixel (MIP)
WEIGHT: 100g
BATTERY TYPE: Rechargeable internal lithium-ion
WATERPROOF: IPX7 (1m for up to 30 minutes)
INTERFACE: USB-C

Garmin inReach Mini

Garmin inReach® Mini

inReach Mini is your go-to connection for maintaining off-the-grid contact. It’s a palm-sized satellite communicator for adventures where size and weight matter. inReach Mini lets you send and receive text messages, track and share your journey and, if necessary, trigger an SOS alert to contact the GEOS 24/7 emergency response team. With inReach connectivity, your family and friends will know they can stay in touch globally.

Recommended Retail Price: $499

Active satellite subscription required.

To access the Iridium network and communicate with your inReach Mini, an active satellite subscription is required. You can opt for an annual package or a month-to-month plan. Plans start at around $40 per month.

Features include:

TWO-WAY GLOBAL MESSAGING
Exchange text messages with loved ones, post to social media, or communicate inReach to inReach in the field.

INTERACTIVE SOS ALERTS
In case of emergency, trigger an interactive SOS message to GEOS, the Garmin-powered International Emergency Response Coordination Centre (IERCC) with professional 24/7 global monitoring and response centre.

LOCATION SHARING
Track your location, and share it with those at home or out in the field so they can see your progress or ping your device for your GPS location and more.

100% GLOBAL IRIDIUM SATELLITE NETWORK
Instead of relying on mobile phone coverage, your messages, SOS alerts and tracking are transferred via the global Iridium satellite network.

INREACH WEATHER FORECAST SERVICE
Get detailed weather updates on inReach Mini or a compatible device. You can even request forecasts for your current location or other waypoints or destinations on your itinerary.

COMPACT, RUGGED DESIGN
Don’t let the 5 cm x 10 cm size and 100 g weight fool you. inReach Mini is tough, durable, impact resistant (MIL-STD-810F) and water-rated to IPX7.

BATTERY LIFE
The internal, rechargeable lithium battery gives you up to 90 hours’ use at the default 10-minute tracking mode and up to 20 days in power saving mode.

  • Up to 90 hours at 10-minute tracking (default)
  • Up to 35 hours at 10-minute tracking with 1-second logging
  • Up to 24 days at 30-minute tracking power save mode
  • Up to 1 year when powered off

CLOUD STORAGE AND TRIP PLANNING
Get free access to the cloud-powered Garmin Explore™ website to plan your trips, create preset messages and quick texts, sync and manage your device settings and much more.

EARTHMATE APP
The app lets inReach Mini sync with compatible mobile devices for access to maps and aerial imagery. You can also use inReach features on the paired device.

OTHER GARMIN DEVICES
Remotely control inReach Mini to send and receive messages using compatible Garmin handhelds, wearables or other mobile devices.

General Specs

DIMENSIONS: 51.7 x 99 x 26.1mm
DISPLAY SIZE: 23 x 23mm
DISPLAY RESOLUTION: 128 x 128 pixels
DISPLAY TYPE: sunlight-readable, monochrome, transflective memory-in-pixel (MIP)
WEIGHT: 100g
BATTERY TYPE: Rechargeable internal lithium-ion
WATERPROOF: IPX7 (1m for up to 30 minutes)
INTERFACE: micro USB

Spot Gen4

Spot Gen4

SPOT Gen4 gives you a critical, life-saving line of communication when you travel beyond the boundaries of reliable cellular service. SPOT Gen4 lets family, friends, and colleagues know you are OK, or if the unexpected should happen, sends your GPS location to emergency responders all with the push of a button. Add this rugged, pocket-sized device to your essential gear and stay connected wherever you play or work.

Recommended Retail Price: $239

Active satellite subscription required.

SPOT Gen3 offers two different service subscription options. Choose between a 12 month contract plan or monthly flex plan. 12 month plans are around $15 per month, the Flex plan starts at around $18 per month.

Features include:

SOS
The SOS feature enables the GEOS International Emergency Response Coordination Center to detect your GPS coordinates and give the information to local response teams at the push of a button. The SOS button is for emergencies only.

VIBRATION SENSOR
The Gen4 also allows you to set up a vibration sensor that sends tracking updates when you stop and when you’re on the move.

CHECK IN
Send a pre-programmed text message or an email with GPS coordinates to up to 10 contacts with your location. Your waypoint is stored in your SPOT account for later reference. Your stored waypoints can be easily integrated into a Shared View.

HELP / S.O.V.
Alert your personal contacts that you need help in non-life-threatening situations or use SPOT S.O.V. for professional vehicular services on land. (Additional service required)

CUSTOM MESSAGE
Set up Custom Messages before your next adventure to send to your list of pre-determined contacts. Use this feature as a secondary OK message or transfer your personal help alert to this message function if you are using a SPOT S.O.V. service on your Help button.

TRACKING
CustomiSed tracking features take your adventure to the next level. Choose motion-activated tracking regardless of the level of service you choose and set up a vibration sensor to tell your SPOT to send track updates when you are moving and to stop when you do.

BATTERY LIFE
The SPOT Gen4 cannot be powered from external line USB power and requires 4x AAA Ultimate Lithium Included or 4x AAA NiMH Rechargeable batteries.

  • Run Time: With 100% view of sky − SOS: 13 days
  • Tracking @ 60 minute intervals 24hrs/day: 52 Days
  • Run Time: With 50% view of sky − SOS: 6 days
  • Tracking @ 60 minute intervals 24hrs/day: 26 Days

General Specs

DIMENSIONS: 23.6 x 67.6 x 88.3mm
VIBRATION RATED: Per SEA J1455
OPERATING TEMP: -30°C to 60°C
OPERATING ALTITUDE: -100m to +6,500m
HUMIDITY RATED: MIL-STD 810F, Temp. cycling from 20c to 60c while maintaining 95% RH
WEIGHT: 142g
MATERIAL: Rugged Plastic | Alloy Carabiner
BATTERY TYPE: 4x AAA Ultimate Lithium Included | 4x AAA NiMH Rechargeable
WATERPROOF: IP68 | Impact, Dust & Water Resistant − Up to a depth of 2 m for up to 30 minutes
INTERFACE: Line Power with 5V USB − Micro USB Cable | Used for firmware and settings updates

Spot Gen3

Spot Gen3

SPOT Gen3 gives you a critical, life-saving line of communication when you travel beyond the boundaries of cell service. SPOT Gen3 lets family and friends know you’re okay, or if the worst should happen, sends emergency responders your GPS location – all with the push of a button. Add this rugged, pocket-sized device to your essential gear and stay connected wherever you roam.

Recommended Retail Price: $239

Active satellite subscription required.

SPOT Gen3 offers two different service subscription options. Choose between a 12 month contract plan or monthly flex plan. 12 month plans are around $15 per month, the Flex plan starts at around $18 per month.

Features include:

SOS
With the push of a button, GEOS International Emergency Response Coordination Center provides your GPS coordinates and information to local response teams – for example contacting Australia Search & Rescue in Australia. The SOS button is for emergencies only.

CHECK IN
Let family and friends know you’re ok when you’re out of cell phone range. Send a pre-programmed text message with GPS coordinates or an email with a link to Google Maps™ to your contacts with your location. With a push of a button, a message is sent via email or SMS to up to 10 pre-determined contacts and your waypoint is stored in your SPOT account for later reference. Your stored waypoints can be easily integrated into a SPOT Shared Page or SPOT Adventure account.

HELP / SPOT ASSIST
Alert your personal contacts that you need help in non-life-threatening situations. Or, use SPOT Assist for professional services on land or water. (Additional service required).

CUSTOM MESSAGE
Stay in touch while off the grid by sending your custom message. Set up a message before leaving to send to contacts with your GPS location. Use this feature as a secondary OK message.

TRACKING
Allow friends and family to follow your progress online in near real-time and save waypoints so you can review your entire route at a later date. With Basic Tracking you will have to restart the Tracking after 24 hours.

General Specs

DIMENSIONS: 25.4 x 65 x 87.2mm
VIBRATION RATED: Per SEA J1455
OPERATING TEMP: -30°C to 60°C
OPERATING ALTITUDE: -100m to +6,500m
HUMIDITY RATED: MIL-STD-810F, Method 507.3, 95% to 100% cond.
WEIGHT: 114g
BATTERY TYPE: 4x AAA Energizer Lithium Ultimate or 4x AAA Energizer NiMH Rechargeable. Line power with a 5v USB connection
WATERPROOF: IPX7 (1m for up to 30 minutes)
INTERFACE: USB

zoleo

ZOLEO

Unlike the other satellite communicators, ZOLEO connects with your phone or tablet to provide seamless global messaging that follows you in and out of cell coverage — plus added safety features you can count on worldwide including industry-leading SOS alerting features. It is worth bearing in mind that if your phone battery is dead, which is often the reason people get into trouble, the messaging feature will not be accessible. ZOLEO allows you to message anywhere over satellite, mobile network and Wi-Fi. The device provides SOS emergency alerting with 24/7 monitoring and progress reports. ZOLEO allows you to check-in to let others know you’re OK and share your GPS location.

Recommended Retail Price: $345

Active satellite subscription required.

The ZOLEO device is connected via a smartphone app and requires an active subscription plan. Plans start at $32 for a basic plan, $55 for an In Touch plan and $80 per month for an unlimited plan.

Features include:

SOS
Wherever you go, ZOLEO provides SOS alerting with 24/7 monitoring, check-in and weather forecasts. Featuring the industry’s first progressive SOS, you’ll receive timely status updates throughout your emergency via the free app. ZOLEO offers peace of mind for you and for everyone waiting at home. The SOS button enables users to send their GPS coordinates to their monitoring/dispatch partner, with confirmation it was received and the option to cancel in the case of a false alarm.

CHECK IN
Easily check in with one button press to let others know you’re OK. Your check-in message will be sent to your check-in contact(s). You can also include your GPS coordinates if desired. ZOLEO makes it easy to let them know you’re OK so they rest easy.

LOCATION SHARE+ (add-on subscription)
Location Share+ enables ZOLEO users to share their location with their check-in contacts, on a user-selected interval from every 6 minutes to 4 hours. ZOLEO users and check-in recipients will be able to use the free ZOLEO app to view the current location and breadcrumb trail on a map. ZOLEO users can start/stop location sharing any time, and also download maps for use offline. Location Share+ is an optional add-on subscription* that includes unlimited check-in and location share messages!

MESSAGING
ZOLEO coverage is unique. Because only ZOLEO transmits messages over satellite, mobile network and Wi-Fi for a truly seamless global messaging experience. That’s beauty of using ZOLEO, it takes advantage of mobile and Wi-Fi when it is available, and transmits over the Iridium satellite network when it isn’t! You enjoy a truly seamless global messaging experience that simply isn’t available using other satellite communicators.

BATTERY LIFE
Rechargeable lithium-ion battery that lasts for 200+ hours.

General Specs

DIMENSIONS: 91 x 66 x 27mm
LEDS: For messages, SOS, check-in, and power
SHOCK RESISTANT: MIL-STD 810G
OPERATING TEMP: -20°C to 55°C
STORAGE TEMP: -20°C to 60°C
WEIGHT: 150g
MATERIAL: Rugged Plastic | Alloy Carabiner
BATTERY TYPE: Rechargeable internal Lithium Ion. Charging time: 2 hours using 1.5A charger
WATERPROOF: IP68 | Dust and water-resistant (to 1.5m for 30 min)
INTERFACE: Micro-USB Type B connector
CONNECTIVITY:

  • Satellite network: Iridium
  • Connects via Bluetooth LE (one connection at a time; range of up to 50 m (164 ft))
  • Global Navigation Satellite System: GPS, GLONASS
  • GPS accuracy: 2.5 m (8.2 ft) under ideal conditions

What satellite communicator is right for you?

Choosing a satellite communicator can be a daunting task. New devices are added and upgraded at a pace that makes it difficult to decide, especially if you are an early-adopter like me. I’ve spoken with a lot of other adventurers including mountain bike riders, hikers, bushwalkers, and trail runners. At this very point in time, the general consensus seems to be the inReach Mini 2. A lot of it comes down to personal choice, the features you want, the features you actually need, and your budget. From the sounds I hear in the great outdoors, if you want the best of the best, the inReach Mini 2 is the way to go right now. But who knows what new device might be just around the corner.

Hero image: Garmin

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