The Delorme inReach SE Satellite Communication device is close to having a real “trail Angel” along with you on all your back country remote trips.
I must admit I was hesitant to purchase the Delorme, and roughly $300 it was an expensive piece of gear. While preparing for my Mt Whitney Summit, I was thinking a lot about safety in the final weeks leading up to the trip.
What was the deciding factor that made me finally pull the trigger on this expensive piece of gear? Peace of mind.
Hiking 75 miles from Sequoia National Park to the Summit of Mt Whitney, with only one other buddy, made me think a lot about safety. I had a map and compass and the training to navigate the back country with ease, I was not looking for a GPS device to fill a whole in my experience. GPS should never be your primary means of navigation or communication, if it is you should think twice about your plan.
You can plan every last trip, but as they say no plan survives first contact. If something did go wrong, if we got hurt I wanted a life line a last ditch effort to survive. Delorme gave me that peace of mind on the trail.
With over 100 hours of continuous battery life, an SOS feature, the ability to send text messages back to friends and family, and the ability for my family to track my progress was more than I could ask for.
In the picture above, you can see a button labeled SOS, to use it you must slide it to the right and then press. The slide prevents you from accidentally placing an SOS call. What separates the Delorme inReach from other SOS devices is it doesn’t just send out an SOS call, it allows you to communicate via text messages to the authorities which allows you to give them vital details of your injury or situation while they are en-route.
To way satellite communication is what sets the Delorme apart from its competitors. From the Delorme website you can set up contacts, by typing in your parents family, friends or co-workers numbers and or email addresses. You can also create pre-set messages so you can send quick updates without having to type out a message on the device itself.
Yes, its not exactly elegant to type on the Delorme, you use the direction pad and the check button to slowly pick out each letter as you type your message….
There are two to options that can make communicating easier, the first as previously mentioned is you can pre program phrases so its just one click to send. Examples are, “I am ok”, “I have arrived at camp for the night” etc.
Although the second option is much easier to type, I didn’t use it more than once on my trip. I honestly go backpacking to get away and enjoy being at peace in the outdoors. I had no intention of tweeting and texting ever detail, and honestly some parts were dangerous and like driving you should not be texting while usign an ice axe… Secondly power needs to be managed on a week long trip, and I found it easier to manage power while having to only charge my Delorme, and not my Delorme plus a cell phone. After some practice, I had no issue punching out quick short messages on the Delorme SE.
The Earthmate App offered by Delorme, has a whole host of other features, including a map, and you can even synch trips via the companion Delorme Website for planning purposes. Call me old school but I didn’t use this feature much either, I planned my trip all on paper maps and navigated using mostly a paper map and compass. Therefore I can not fairly comment much on the other features of the Earthmate app or the trip planning tools on the Delorme website.
On the home screen above, you can see another feature, social… You can Facebook or tweet your entire hike to! Yeah no I didn’t use that feature at all, but I could see that it could be fun if I had a lot more blog followers but again I get outdoors to get away.
I just mentioned a whole bunch of features other than chat the the Delorme has which I didn’t use… so what features of the Delorme did I actually use other than chat?
First off, thankfully I never had to use the “SOS” feature, but again it was great peace of mind knowing it was there!
Weather, was one of the most useful features for the hike. With one click you can request a weather report for your current location, along with a forecast. This proved invaluable as we slowly made our approach to Mt Whitney.
On the second day of our Mt Whitney hike, we had our first day above 11,000 feet and had a grueling day of climbing. We were spent by the end of the day and were not going to make it safely to our planned camp site before dark. Given the ice fields and the darkness setting in, we decided to search for a sliver of flat ground to set up camp. This is what we found:
Before we unpacked and set up shop, I pulled out the Delorme and requested a quick weather report for our current location. I was able to pull a weather forecast and saw no crazy weather (rain wind etc.) and no crazy cold temps were rolling in that night. Knowing that information it helped me fall asleep soundly knowing I wasn’t going to freeze to death or be blow off the mountain side. I also frequently checked the weather at Mt Whitney as we got closer, to make sure our summit day would be safe. Weather was truly one of my favorite features.
The other great and more obvious feature of Delorme is the tracking feature. With tracking turned on, it will record your location every ten minutes, shoot it back up to a server and then onto a map you can share with friends and family. This allows people to essentially watch your hike live with updates roughly every ten minutes. This is the feature my family loved the most, I left my itinerary with my family and they were able to see my progress each day live.
On that second day when we didn’t reach our planned camp site, I knew my family was watching me online. I was able to quickly send a text to my dad, letting him know we were ok and that we were making an earlier than planned stop for the night.
So how accurate was the Delorme during my trip? Pretty impressive actually.
I left my Delorme on 24/7 during my entire trip, I charged it with a battery pack that I brought and a solar panel. Surprisingly the battery lasted pretty great which was another reason not to text via my cell phone; I had Bluetooth off the entire time conserving battery.
After my trip, I logged onto the Delorme website to relive my entire trip. Just about 99% of the trip looked like we were directly on the trail, which was amazing.
There were very few times off the trail and most were not because of the Delorme being off but were times when the trail was covers in snow fields or washed out by rivers.
After analyzing my entire trip, there was only one point at the very end that was off, it was here:
Not sure what happened there, but we did not run across the canyon in a zig zag right at the end. I was to tired to go anywhere other than straight down. For a 5 night 6 day trip, I was utterly impressed that only one point was off.
With my entire Delorme InReach experience there was only one aspect that I was disappointing with and that was the build quality. When I took this $300 device out of the box for the first time I was disappointed with the feeling in my hand.
It felt like a hard cheap plastic, that would not last. I was expecting the back to be more like a hard rubber. In addition to the cheap plastic backing, the clip on the back also didn’t impress me much.
The clip never broke off, but I was extremely careful when trying to detach it from my pack. I wore it on the shoulder strap as shown in the picture above, and I am afraid after continued use it may snap off. Even the port cover that covers the micro USB charging port is cheap feeling plastic which I also believe may break off with continued use.
Despite the cheap plastic feeling of the expensive device, It lasted and I had no issues while on the trail. I would just recommend being very careful and never drop or fall on it. Overall I still highly recommend the product!
As I finish up typing this review it looks like Garmin just bought Delorme, and is releasing the Delorme InReach SE+ and Delorme InReach Explorer+. At first glance they look like just updated buddies, and has a sleeker design. Hopefully Garmin fixed the cheap plastic feel on these new models! I am excited to see what Garmin has in store for Delorme!
Update ( 7 January 2017):
Forgot to talk about monthly plans. After the initial cost there are different monthly plans you can select, like a phone bill but for your satellite communicator.
There are two types of plans, annual contract plans and Freedom plans. The freedom plans do not tie you into an annual contract and can be easily canceled after one month. The annual contract plans tie you into an annual contract, but are cheaper monthly. The plans look a little like this:
I am currently signed up for the annual recreation plan. It is the cheapest plan with unlimited tracking. If you go on one or two big trip a year I would recommend the Freedom Plans, I use the annual plan because I use my device as a safety net in my Jeep when I go off roading in the desert when I am not camping.