Note: this article has been updated as of Nov 26, 2021.
In the past couple years it’s been really heartening to see pretty much every pilot on launch use an InReach or a SPOT satellite tracking device. And I’m seeing them more and more in the backcountry with skiers, mountain bikers, climbers and people playing in remote areas. This is a very good thing. What isn’t great is that many people are not really familiar with their device and not utilizing them properly for messaging, maps, and hardly know how powerful they are, and this can become a serious problem when things go wrong, which is when an InReach immediately becomes the most valuable thing you own.
So here’s a quick best-practices post on how to get familiar with your InReach. Knowing just a few things makes retrieves, communications and rescues when needed a LOT simpler. If you take a few minutes to get familiar with your device it could literally save your life.
If you haven’t decided between a SPOT or an InReach, read this then come back here. SPOT is better than nothing, but in my mind there is no decision here. Get an InReach and let’s carry on.
Grab your InReach and your phone and let’s get started.
- Download the Earthmate App on your Iphone or Android and connect it to your device via Bluetooth. This only needs to be done once. Apple instructions here. Android instructions here.
- Download the maps for the area you will be in to your phone (if you have the Explorer, this isn’t available on the SE). Instructions here (this video also shows how to navigate, enter waypoints, update mapshare page, etc- which is all worth knowing so watch it!). This is an important step- MAKE SURE YOU GET THE MAPS!
- Go into the settings of your device and make sure you’ve got your device set up like you want it. Go to SETTINGS then UNITS and put coordinates in DEGREES for example, which is what all pilots use (ie rather than Degrees, Minutes, or UTM). Whatever you choose, just make sure you and your group are all using the same so you’re speaking the same language.
- Log into your Garmin account and set up your mapshare page (instructions here) if you haven’t already and put this link somewhere in your phone for easy retrieval. Once you are under the “SOCIAL” tab of your InReach account you can configure what people see on your mapshare page and can connect it to your Twitter or Facebook account, etc. There are many things here that can be useful for the folks at home who need to know where you are. You can even allow anyone who has your mapshare page to directly message you when you are out playing!
- Sync your device.
- IMPORTANT– Make sure you know your device email (in the device go to SETTINGS -> ABOUT THIS DEVICE). Or you can see it on the ACCOUNT tab of your InReach account (that you have logged into above). This is how your friends who also have an InReach can reach you. For the outside world to reach you they can send you messages via your mapshare page, or they can reply to a message you send them. This is widely misunderstood- the email address for your device IS NOT the one people without an InReach can use to reach you directly.
Ok now for the fun stuff.
- BEFORE you head off on your adventure send everyone in your group, and your loved ones at home a message FROM your device. PILOTS- SEND IT TO YOUR RETRIEVE DRIVER! Then then can just reply back to you and presto- you now have everyone’s message thread that from now until eternity you can reply to and they will get it (and vice versa). Just use the Earthmate app and press the new message button in the upper right hand corner. The app acts exactly like sending a normal message from your phone (ie all the contacts in your phone will come up when you press inside the “TO” area). Instructions here. This is the step that most people screw up. If you don’t do this before you take off and you all get separated and DON’T have each others address, well now you can’t message one another (you can still send messages to anyone’s cell phone, but then they have to be in cell coverage!)!
- Here’s a trick most people don’t know about. Every message that you send out has your coordinates, regardless of whether it’s going to someone at home on their cell phone or email, or to someone in your group who has an InReach. If you send out a message to someone at home it will have the message, ie “Hi honey, I’m out having an awesome time in deep pow and I won’t be home til dark!” and then the coordinates AND a link to where you are on your mapshare page! Now even more cool- if you send a message to someone with an InReach that person gets the message in the device, as well as the Earthmate app (assuming they are connected) that looks something like this:
See that little icon next to the message?
Press it! This will bring you to another window that has all the details from EXACTLY where the message was sent from. ASSUMING you have done step 2 above and have your maps and BINGO- you now know exactly where your friend is, how far he or she is from you and in what direction! Pretty cool right?
Need to look up your location really quickly? Garmin has made it incredibly simple- just go into the menu of your device and scroll to “LOCATION.” Presto. They even have a little “Share Location” from this menu, but sending messages is MUCH easier from your phone with the Earthmate app, and when you send messages it has your location automatically so no need to use this.
Ok let’s summarize the important stuff:
- Get your maps downloaded to your device and phone. They are free and only takes a few minutes.
- Make sure the SETTINGS are correct (units- DEGREES or whatever your group uses)
- Know your mapshare address (very important) and your device address (ie email address- to be used to/from other InReach users) and have it in your phone. SHARE this with those you play with and those at home (send those at home a message and just tell them to reply to that message if they need to ping you).
- Message your friends and understand how to see where they are so you can get to them if they are in trouble.
If it all goes to shit? Hit that handy SOS button on the side of the device! Here’s what happens when you hit the SOS (this is a great article- READ IT). Then Read this article about insurance and search and rescue services to make sure you have what you need. And take 3 minutes to watch this video by my friend Chip Noble on tips and tricks on using your InReach.