When we bought our PLB in 2011, we also I looked at the Spot Satellite Messengers as a possibility for sending messages home when were were out of cell phone coverage. The reviews for Spot were so bad we decided not to buy one. Since then, Delorme has brought two-way messaging to the market.
This is the last in a series of four related posts on the comparison of PLBs and satellite messengers. To follow the entire discussion, this post is a continuation of the following articles:
- Are Satellite Messengers a Good Alternative for PLBs?
- Comparison of One and Two-Way Satellite Messengers to PLBs
- Are Spot Satellite Messengers Good Alternatives to PLB?
I have used Delorme’s 3-D TopQuads program and gazetteers for many years, so it is a familiar name to me and I had high hopes for the two-way messaging ability of both the InReach SE and the Explorer models.
Delorme Customer Ratings
Out of 97 reviews, The Delorme In Reach SE received an average rating of 3.6/5.0. Not a resounding endorsement, but most people (62.9%) gave scores of 4 or 5, 13.4% gave a score of 3 and the rest (23.7%) gave it low scores of 1 or 2. One reviewer even wished they had stayed with Spot. Wow! That’s not good.
Most of the bad reviews are from people unable to get the device to boot up the first time. It is unfortunate, but probably should be expected from new technology. Delorme has updated the software so most of these early issues seem to be resolved.
The InReach model worked as advertised for most people. The most common complaints are the device is clumsy, slow to acquire satellites and to send messages, the monthly service fee is too expensive and about the lack of customer service. The pros were that most people were able to send and receive messages and their contacts could follow their tracks or ping their locations.
The new Delorme Explorer includes GPS functions and received an average rating of 3.7/5.0 from a total of only 20 reviews. Again, most people (61.1%) gave scores of 4 or 5, 27.8% gave a score of 3 and the rest (22.2%) gave it low scores of 1 or 2. The most common complaints were poorly designed GPS for those used to using real GPS and included comments like “weak navigation” and “white grid background, no real map”. Like the InReach SE, most people were able to send and receive messages, but it may take 10 minutes or more each way.
Appeal of Delorme Two-Way Messaging
Since I have a PLB and GPS, I would not leave them at home and take the Delorme Explorer with me. I have no interest in spending the extra money for what some describe as a poor GPS, so I have no interest in the Delorme Explorer.
The appeal to me is the two-way messaging ability of the Delorme InReach SE. This ability could be very useful for keeping in touch.
I could let my wife know I was not coming home tonight or I could ask her to pick me up on the other side of the mountain from where I parked my truck or I could ask friends to meet me at a certain place to help pack out an elk. Two-way messaging could also be invaluable for communicating with rescuers in the event of a real emergency.
Delorme Service Plans
As for different service plans, If I can send a message, I can also send coordinates of my location, so I also don’t care about sending lots of tracks or sharing my location with friends on Facebook, though I admit it may be simpler (and cheaper; 10 cents vs. 50 cents) to sent a track with GPS instead of a message if that were the only information that needed to be being sent.
The Delorme In Reach SE costs about $299 and with the activation fee of $19.95 and the minimal “Safety” subscription of $11.95 per month, my total costs (not including batteries or tax) over 5 years would be $1,116 or 18.6 per month (See comparison Table in previous post). The “Safety” subscription charges 50 cents for each message (and evidently about $10 worth of unexplained taxes), so if you sent many messages, the costs would add up. It will also cost you 10 cents each for tracking point and location ping if you use that service and those costs would also quickly add up.
The only way to avoid per message charges (and tracking and ping charges) is to upgrade to another plan. the “Expedition” plan which costs $49.95 per month. So for an extra $38 per month, you get unlimited messaging. To make that worth the money for messaging alone, you would need to send 76 messages each month. The upgraded plan also allows unlimited pings and tracks and a 10 cents each, to justify the extra cost of the “Explorer” plan for tracking and pinging alone requires 380 track and/or ping points each month. For equal messaging and tracking, that would be 38 messages and 190 track and/or ping points each month to justify the extra subscription.
Personally, I would never send enough messages or track points for any single month, let alone every month, so the minimal “Safety” plan would be my choice.
Delorme also offers a “Freedom Plan” that allows you to “…suspend your service on a monthly basis at no charge…” The cost of the Freedom Plan is between $3 to $20 more for each plan per month and also includes an activation fee of $19.95 and an annual fee of $24.95, but could save lots of money if you only need the service a few months per year.
For example, the Safety Plan would cost $14.95 per month instead of $11.95, but at 4 months per year the, including the annual fee, the total cost would be $105 per year instead of $163 for a savings of $58 per year. Four months per year of the Freedom Explorer Plan would cost $305 instead of $619 on the annual plan for a yearly savings of $314 per year. If you only needed the service for two or three months a year, the savings would be even more.
So my choice would be the Delorme InReach SE with the Safety Freedom Plan. So, if I use the service four months per year, the cost of the InReach, the activation fee, the annual cost of the Freedom Plan and total cost of the Safety Plan the first year would be about $400 (excluding tax, costs of batteries, messages and tracks) and would cost $85 each year after that (plus 50 cent per message, an unknown amount of tax and 10 cent per track or ping and the cost of batteries).
So I asked my wife what she thought about buying the Delorme InReach SE and the Safety Freedom Plan. After asking what it would cost, she said two things:
- She is with me most of the time we are in the back country, so who would I message?
- The few times I decide to stay out an extra day doesn’t worry her enough to justify spending over $400 the first year
It’s true, when we are hiking or camping, she is always with me and she also goes with me about half the time during the hunting seasons. The only times I really need to send a message is 6 or 8 times a year when I want to spend an extra night out and want to let her know or if need help packing out an elk.
So, I was thinking of buying the Delorme InReach SE primarily for her peace of mind and she doesn’t think it’s worth the cost.
Is Delorme InReach a Good Alternative for PLBs?
To answer my original question… No! Satellite Messengers in general are not good alternatives for PLBs. Satellite Messengers, especially the Delorme InReach may be good additions to PLBs, but not an alternative.
Remember, the main purpose for having any of these devices should be for the ability to send an SOS from almost anywhere that does not have cell service and with nearly 100% chance of the signal being received by the satellites so rescuers know where to find you.
PLBs are the only devices that reliably do that and except for very special situation, like being stuck in a north-south slot canyon (read more about PLB testing), the satellites will usually be able to receive the SOS with GPS coordinates in just a few minutes. PLBs send very powerful 5 watt signals that have a better chance than weaker signals from Delorme or Spot satellite messengers to contact satellites when near cliff faces or under tree canopies.
If you already have a PLB and if you also have few extra bucks burning a hole in your pocket so you can send messages and let your friends or family track your movements, then I recommend that you spend a little more money and buy a Delorme InReach SE, so you will at least have two-way texting and in case of emergency, can text back and forth with rescuers.
Just make sure you have a registered PLB and carry it with you anytime you are off the grid. This is for your safety, the safety of anyone in your group and the safety of anyone you pass along the trail.
This is the last in a series of four related posts on comparing PLBs and satellite messengers. To follow the entire discussion read the following articles:
- Part 1: Are Satellite Messengers a Good Alternative for PLBs?
- Part 2: Comparison of One and Two-Way Satellite Messengers to PLBs
- Part 3: Are Spot Satellite Messengers Good Alternatives to PLBs?
Read more about PLBs: