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Photo credit: Colin Dale

Garmin InReach Mini Review

23-May-21

Editors foreword:


Part article, part review, this is something different to what we normally offer. Mountain safety is very important to runners, and incidents like the terrible accident last year when runner Chris Smith went for a run in Scotland never returned are shocking and, thankfully, rare. We all know we should carry extra kit but it’s always possible something could happen beyond our control and a personal safety device could be a life saver.

Although not a runner, Colin participates in several extreme endurance sports, including regular trips to the Arctic Circle, to follow his passion of backcountry skiing. He took the Garmin InReach Mini on his latest adventure; paddleboarding from Inverness across Scotland to Fort William and because we felt a review of this device would be of interest to RunUltra members, he kindly agreed to write one for us. 

By Colin Dale

Like a lot of people during lockdown, I thought I would try my hand at a new sport that gave me plenty of challenges while not being able to travel overseas. I decided that paddle boarding seemed like a good idea especially as I live close to the Ouse and the Leeds-Liverpool canal.

My latest trip was a four-day, self-supported paddleboard from Fort William to Inverness (75 miles) taking in the Loch Ness which is 23 miles long and nearly two miles wide. Loch Ness is so big that it does have a tide which is something we found out to our cost when we didn’t drag the paddleboards up the beach enough and found them the next morning 100m down the Loch, trapped in some trees.

Features

  • Wireless compatible
  • Trigger an interactive SOS with 24/7 search and rescue monitoring centre
  • Send and receive text messages to SMS and email
  • Send and receive messages with other inReach users, exchange locations
  • Track and share location with friends and family on web-based MapShare® portal
  • Request weather forecasts for current location and planned destination
  • Virtual keyboard for custom text messaging
  • Send waypoints to MapShare portal during trip
  • Send route selection to MapShare portal for friends and family to see progress
  • Size 5.17 x 9.9 x 2.61 cm
  • Resolution 128 x 128 pixels. Sunlight-readable, monochrome, transflective memory-in-pixel (MIP) display.
  • Weight 100 g
  • Battery; rechargeable lithium-ion. 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; and up to 1 year when powered off
  • RRP £299.99


I knew that mobile coverage could be an issue and that 4 days would require a device that had a long battery life and wouldn’t need charging as I was only taking a solar charger and a small power pack to keep weight down. It also needed to be waterproof as there was every chance I’d end up in the “drink”, and it needed to be wearable so that in the case of an emergency the SOS button was easily accessible.

I chose the Garmin Mini. It’s tiny coming in at 5.17 x 9.9 x 2.61 cm and weighing 100 g. Also (according to the spec sheet) on 10 mins location fixes I should get 90hrs of battery life if it’s left on for 24hrs a day and it comes with a carabiner clip allowing it to be securely fastened to my buoyancy aid.

The Vismo Support Team plumbed the tracking into our secure portal allowing anyone within my team to live track my journey, and the panic alert we routed to one of our Operation Centre partners who could escalate to 999 should this be required.

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The original plan was to paddle from Fort William to Inverness which psychologically seems a little strange as it almost feels like you’re paddling “uphill”, but there is some reasoning behind this. The prevailing winds in the UK are south-westerly meaning we would have a tail wind. Unfortunately on the day we were due to set off, the winds were gusting to 20mph from the NE and looked like they would be for most of the next 4 days. This meant a sudden change of plan and we headed off to Inverness to start the opposite way around from the normal convention.

Having negotiated the first large Caledonian Canal sea locks in Inverness, we very quickly found ourselves on Loch Ness. I cannot describe how small you feel on a paddleboard when you leave the Caledonian Canal on look down the Loch.  You cannot see the end and with 20mph gusts of wind there was a significant swell even at the beginning of the Loch.

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The good news is that we made good progress and after 6hrs of paddling (and a few coffee breaks brewed up on a beach) we hit a spot that looked good to make camp for the night. The first night wasn’t a great night sleep as we’d camped in a picnic site at Loch side which although was off the road in a layby seemed to be a popular spot for the local to enjoy some night-time activities.

We broke camp early the next morning having found our paddleboards and still with a strong NE wind rattled off the remaining 14 miles of Loch Ness, stopping in Fort Augustus for fish and chips (I know…not completely self-supported) and paddled on through to Kytra Lock where we pitched out tents for the night. This was a far better night sleep. A great location with no main road access and very scenic.  With the winds still blowing from the NE at a fair old rate we didn’t have to deal with any midge issues which is always a curse in the Highlands.

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The 3rd day was a bad one. The wind swung round to the south, so we ended up sitting on the boards and paddling “kayak” style. Fortunately, we had made the decision to take the second blade for our paddles so the could be clipped together to make a double bladed paddle.  We only managed to average 1.5 mph over the who 7hrs of paddling, which was fairly demoralising, however, our spirts were lifted the following day with more NE winds blowing us along at a healthy 4mph down through Loch Lochy and into Fort William and the Thomas Telford engineering masterpiece of Neptune staircase consisting of eight locks lifting boats 64 feet into the main Caledonian Canal.

Journey’s end was very typical Scottish weather which had obviously kept the welcoming crowds away.  All in all an epic trip and one I can thoroughly recommend and one I’d be happy to give any advice on to anyone wanting to take the same route. 

I tested the SOS on the Garmin Mini in the middle of Loch Ness and I had a response within seconds which I cleared down with a “testing” message, and as you can see from the trail it performed faultlessly and still had 15% battery remaining at the end of the trip.

All photos courtesy of Colin Dale.

About the author: Colin works for Vismo, a company that tracks people heading off to remote or high-risk areas and if they find themselves in trouble, they can activate a panic button on their satellite device which will send an alert to a Global Operations Centre.

Have you tried the Garmin InReach Mini? Don’t agree with this review? What’s your opinion? Add your own comment to this review and share your experience and passion for running with others.

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“I tested the SOS on the Garmin Mini in the middle of Loch Ness and I had a response within seconds which I cleared down with a “testing” message, and as you can see from the trail it performed faultlessly and still had 15% battery remaining at the end of the trip.”

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