Talk about a game changer. Not only can this palm-size device send text messages, post to Facebook and Twitter, signal rescuers, and track real-time progress on an online map, but when paired with DeLorme’s Earthmate PN-60w ($350, a 2011 Editors’ Choice Award winner) or an Android phone, the inReach also lets you receive messages. “During treks in the Tetons and Andes, the two-way texting enabled me to maintain a running dialogue with friends and family,” says our editor-in-chief.
And testers weren’t the only ones who welcomed the interaction. “My kids’ classes followed my progress in Chile and fired me questions,” says our gear editor. That’s the fun side. In an emergency, the SOS feature allows you to text info back and forth with responders. (When used as a standalone rescue device, the light above the SOS button blinks faster to show that help is coming.)
Setup is hassle-free. Create an account at explore.delorme.com, enter a list of contacts, and write three predefined messages that can be sent via the inReach alone. Sync it with the GPS or DeLorme’s Android app, both of which allow you to write many more preset messages. Testers said that the intuitive interfaces make the system a snap to use in the field: Select the inReach icon from the menu screen to enable tracking, type or read messages (you’ll receive confirmation when your message is sent), post social media updates, or initiate the SOS.
When operating the inReach by itself (you’re limited to sending predetermined messages, but friends at home can still follow your progress on a map) testers could power the unit roughly five days on a pair of lithium AAs.
Caveat: Sharing your adventures in real-time can lead to substantial jealousy. Our editors were pinged with messages ranging from “Wish I was there!” to “As I sit here staring at spreadsheets, I must say that I hate your guts.” $250, plus a $12 activation fee (Earthmate PN-60w sold separately); monthly data rates range from $10-$50 (SOS messages don’t count toward your monthly allotment); 8.2 oz. (inReach only); delorme.com