Contributors to this thread:
Looking at doing a Blacktail hunt on Kodiak in 23 or 24. I’m from Wisconsin and here at home while I do hunt solo most often you’re never really “to far” from help if your smart and let someone know your general location and expected time back.
I like the idea of the inreach for here at home if you have an emergency and out of cell range. But Kodiak is a whole different scale in my book. The right equipment can be critical. I’ve seen enough negative comments on the communication aspects for the Inreach like taking a day or two for messages to be received once sent. That concerns me with a SOS signal not being received. Also seen mention of acquiring a signal can be sketchy even with the slightest overhead cover. Which seems odd to me being a hound big game hunter I have lots of experience with the Garmin tracking equipment in the woods and it’s been rare when I couldn’t acquire a signal.
A PLB once setup you bring it along and push the button if the need arises and pretty bullet proof. Replace the battery every 5 years.
Looking at the brain trust here to see what your experience has been with this type of equipment.
I purchased an inreach this year after years of using a spot. Being on Kodiak and being able to text back and forth with the pilot was worth every penny. If you turn the service off and on and only pay for 3 or 4 months a year, it ends up being about the same price as the Spot with the texting option. I don't regret it.
I’ve been using an InReach for 3 years now and have the annual safety plan. I use it when hunting, hiking, backpacking and fishing/ice fishing year round and have never had any of the problems you mention.
InReach for sure!
Inreach Mini paired with the smartphone. I activate it for 4 months with the basic plan, send lots of free presets, and occasionally I go over the text limit and pay .50 for each additional text, but still come out ahead of the more expensive plan with more texts.
After four years with the Inreach Mini from AZ to northern most BC I'd choose it again. Had a Spot before that.
Was on Kodiak last month and we all had InReach with the exception of one Zoleo. They all worked great. If I was buying new, I'd probably go with the Zoleo. Cheaper up front and cheaper plans.
Used inReach on Kodiak last year with no problems
So I will be the outlier and say I have a PLB that I've had for about 10 years. I've never needed it, thankfully, but know it will work 100% when the need arises. I see no need to change to the InReach. Bill
InReach for 5 years....love it. Polar bear hunting to Coues deer hunting, it always works for me. Turned up to unlimited messages for May, August-September and again in January. The rest of the year is on the most basic plan. And at least on my plan, a month is prorated by the day so I can minimize my cost by turning it off asap when an off the grid hunt is over.
You are missing the most important part- how to communicate with your air taxi?
A PLB is only to save your butt. How are you going to schedule a pick up if you tag out early? If the weather goes bad and no one is flying for days?
For the one neg vote I guess they haven’t flown into the bush…..
Inreach mini paired with my smartphone.
The huge advantage of two way communication is you can tell people what the problem is.
Your life may not be in eminent danger, but if you're broke down twenty rough miles from anywhere, you still need help.
100% Inreach. I had no problem with mine and never had a signal issue on Kodiak. Where I’ve had problems with texts coming through is when you don’t have clear line of sight to the sky. If you turn it on, establish a connection, and have a reasonably good line of sight to the sky from then on, you should have no problems with the signal.
I carried a PLB for 12 years. Only once did I ever think about possibly needing to use it. I resisted the SPOT and original DeLorme inReach units for years. I finally got an inReach unit in 2021 and used it in Alaska this past fall. I personally had no problem with messaging....this being in an area where I would continually lose sat phone contact on calls. Sat phone text messages were clumsy and took excessively long times to send and receive. I'm completely on board with the inReach unit and my PLB is a relic now.
One thing: A PLB is an all-or-nothing deal. Push the button and the cavalry is coming to extract you. Period. The inReach will bring the same result if necessary, however the ability to text-communicate your problem allows for a much broader scale of responses. You might be sick and need help...text your pilot instead of going full-on 'rescue me'. Same with some injuries. If rescue is needed, the ability to communicate the nature of the problem can be a huge advantage to the responding team...perhaps helping save precious time by sending the right people and equipment.
I read an article recently that said SARs are being overwhelmed in some areas by inexperienced hikers punching the PLB or SOS for things like running out of water on a hike, being "tired", or hearing a noise in the bushes.
I'm sure too many people look at their device as some sort of personal OnStar connection.
Love my InReach, works great everywhere and has for 3+ years. As Midwest said above though if I were buying now I would take a long hard look at Zoleo. Works just as well and cheaper options.
On our group hunt in Kodiak last month, both inReach and Zoleo worked great
Inreach or Zoleo, I prefer the Zoleo, generally faster texting and it doesn't try to hijack your phone's GPS like the inreach can. both also offer weather forecasts which can be pretty helpful as well.
Inreach. I still have one of the big heavy yellow models...and use it every year. Best piece of equipment I've ever purchased.
Inreach for last several years. Finally paired it to my phone this year & much easier to send a text when needed. Really nice to let the wife know I'm OK & find out all is OK at home.
Being able to get a weather report is worth the price alone.
I nreach. I pair it with my phone and use it for navigation too. I download the USGS maps-the same as the paper maps. Great for map scouting and navigation.
I purchased a Zoleo for a backcountry elk hunt this Fall. I was very happy with the way it preformed.
I can't speak from a hunting perspective about either. I do however run my boat 70+ miles offshore fishing and am fully responsible for the safety & well being of my crew. I have 3 forms of GPS enabled sos equipment. #1 an internal GPS vhf with position transmitting sos, #2 a p,perb. (Personal position emergency response beacon) #3 a garmin inreach mini. The garmin gets used a lot via sending & receiving text messages. Myself personally would go with the garmin because not only is it a personal locator beacon but also you can communicate via text with others.
Life or death - which is what you are asking - PLB no doubt. It is not even a question - based on what you asked for. I have never carried anything else. I am looking at an inreach for "easier" hunts like 3-4 miles in CO or WY. AK, solo (which I have done 3 times) PLB. Just got my battery changed. Waited 7 years. No other fees is nice. You register the beacon and can give your personal info. I list that I am experienced and hunt remote areas alone often. If I set it off I am DYING, not scared, not hurt, dying.
Kevin Dill, and others I think, it is my understanding that inreach does not do the same thing as a PLB?
Not sure what you mean by “does not do the same thing,” but inreach has an SOS button that will notify search and rescue in the event of an emergency. Beyond mobilizing the authorities, if you have the ability, you can communicate with them about specific details related to your emergency. So IMO it does everything a PLB does and more.
I thought a PLB notified different levels. I know it transmits your gps location, emits a homing signal when rescuers are close and permits (actually requires) you to fill out your info on the NOAA website. I am not sure about all this and following this closely because I scared the piss out of my significant other while packing my caribou in AK this year. She was sure I was dead. Being able to look up my location and see me moving would have saved her 10 hours of hell. And increase my odds of getting permission to go again:)
I guess that if I mash the SOS button on my Inreach, I've got a situation I cannot handle without help. It is also supposed to transmit your coordinates at the same time. The communication (text) feature allows you to respond and inform first responders of the issue. I've always been of the mind that I need to be prepared to get my butt out of whatever situation I've managed to get into. That comes from many years of hunting before cell phones, etc. I've never even come close to mashing that button, but if I do, I'd like to think it would be a serious issue. Scared, turned around, temporarily lost-never.
Laughing about Don's comments on buying an InReach for "easier" hunts. Some of us use an InReach for harder hunts too and find the IR doesn't know the difference and still communicates fine in the NWT, Nunavut, Northern BC, the Yukon, etc.
So let me give you my opinion from a small boat captain that plays 70 + miles out in the ocean. It costs $500 a trip. I have easily $15.000 in tackle (gear) 5k in electronics. 70k in a boat & on & on. The $1.200 for a life raft the $300 something for inreach & $300 something for p.perb is a drop in the bucket to cover my part of keeping my crew safe. If your going to Alaska to hunt you (PROBABLY) have deep enough pockets to afford both an inreach for communication purposes & a plb for emergency purposes. Perhaps my way of thinking is wrong but as the captain of an offshore fishing vessel I'm responsible for more than just myself & if you have a family ultimately you are also responsible for more than just yourself. I'm guessing but you dumping 10 k on a hunt & worried about $600 for peace of mind for yourself & family. I'd buy both & problem solved.
An Inreach is like a PLB on steroids.
We had a situation two years ago where a Buddy had borrowed a Spot from another Buddy. One way communication. The SOS button gets activated which also sends an e-mail to me and the owner and well as search and rescue. Half hour later we get the "I need help" message. Ok, what does that mean?? Then another SOS, then another "I need help". Then a check in "OK" message. Then repeat.
Turned out he was stuck on the mountain in deep snow in a sudden, massive snow storm. He was under geared, wet and needed rescuing. But so did a whole bunch of other guys. They finally got a chopper to him the next morning.
If he'd had an Inreach ( two way communication) he could have saved a lot of people a lot of anxiety and helped the S&R guys too. At least we wouldn't have had to wonder if he was bleeding out from a grizzly attack, fallen off a cliff or had just run out of Skittles.
inReach and a PLB are essentially equal in terms of SOS notifications. Push the button and rescuers are coming....period. From there it's all about the advantages offered by the inReach units. Ability to text with SAR responders can be huge. General texting with others has many potential advantages and uses. Weather reports. GPS/Map capabilities. The PLB is a safety valve but it is one-dimensional. That's perfect IF you don't see any value in the inReach capabilities.
An example might be an SOS notification for someone with a medical emergency at camp. With a PLB the responders have no clue what's happening. With the inReach you can advise them of the nature of the problem. Now imagine a hard fall in a steep mountain chute with someone who has skeletal injuries and maybe a head injury. Being able to text-communicate what happened can help responders send the right people, gear and rescue/transport vehicle.
If you see a real need for something year round, get an InReach. If when it really comes down to it this is a one-off, rent a satellite phone. You can text (old school T9), have voicemail, and make calls.
There is a difference between activating a PLB and using an InReach. The PLB is a direct message to government SAR. With an inReach, your message goes to the private company monitoring those signals, who then (hopefully) relays your message to SAR. Of course, this service is generally reliable, but read the fine print in your contract with them and you will see they plainly state they have no OBLIGATIION to forward your message to SAR. Practically speaking, there should be no difference in service, but there is a middleman with the InReach. As stated earlier, I purchased my PLB long before InReach or other devices were available. In fact, my first purchase was over 20 years ago. This was long before sat phones, common cell phones, or other ways to communicate with your bush pilot, SAR, etc. I've spent hundreds of days hunting solo in Alaska, or fishing off shore in Alaska, often 30-50 miles. I did this before PLB's, InReach, etc. I generally don't feel a need to communicate with the outside world when I am on these remote, solo hunts. That is part of the point of these trips. I refer to the PLB as my "idiot beacon" when discussing it with my family. I say it is for when I do something really stupid, and it should most likely make recovering my body a bit easier. There are more recent trips when I have paired the PLB with a sat phone, when I could foresee a need to call a pilot, etc., or didn't have a planned extraction date. Anybody who has used sat phones much will testify that sat phones are far from 100% reliable, although you can usually get a connection eventually. PLB's are the gold standard for true rescue. If what you want is a way to send updates and messages to the wife, etc., still with a high degree of reliability in an emergency, then the InReach is probably for you. I understand why many choose that option, and it is a valid choice. But the PLB still remains the Gold Standard for ultimate SAR notification. Bill
I’ve never heard of an inreach SOS signal not being followed up on by Garmin and ultimately search and rescue if needed. PLB SOS signals are monitored by NOAA (which is why you provide NOAA with information). At the end of the day, both signals go through a middle man (Garmin vs. NOAA) before being handled by SAR. Once things reach this point, the inreach really shines. You now have the ability to communicate with search and rescue about the nature of your distress signal. You can also cancel your SOS if needed. A PLB is a one and done deal - no way to communicate, and no way to cancel your distress signal if needed.
Lastly, not all SOSs require search and rescue. I read an article about someone who was out camping and a wildfire sprung up around him while he was in the backcountry. He used his SOS signal to check with authorities on his proposed path out of the woods to make sure it wouldn’t get him into trouble. They confirmed his path was away from the fire, and he made it out safe. Obviously, this couldn’t be done with a PLB.
llamapacker THANKS! That was what I thought, most likely the same but if you are in a life or death situation PLB is the best. Even if by 1/10 of 1 percent. If you have to mash that button and, knowing this, you have an inreach you are NOT going to feel as good about living as with a PLB. I have spent time without it also - but it is good to have. I rarely laugh out loud but actually did from your comment below, FUNNY!!!
" I refer to the PLB as my "idiot beacon" when discussing it with my family. I say it is for when I do something really stupid, and it should most likely make recovering my body a bit easier. "
Some good points here about the advantages of inreach. I am getting one, but, until things change, when weight is critical - like solo AK, the PLB will be going.
A PLB alert will go (via satellite) to the RCC (rescue coordination center) where the position will be plotted. Inland SAR is handled by the Air Force, and Maritime SAR is handled by the Coast Guard. This doesn't mean the Air Force or Coast Guard are going to show up...it means they 'coordinate' rescue by determining which local or regional authorities (responding) to notify. Essentially they hand the ball off. In Colorado it would likely be a county sheriff dept. Inland Alaska it's almost 100% going to be state troopers.
The inReach distress signal is transmitted through the Iridium satellite system and monitored/received by the International Emergency Response Coordination Center (IERCC). The same basics are true for SPOT, Zoleo, Iridium GO and other devices. GEOS Worldwide owns and operates the IERCC which does essentially the same thing as the Coast Guard or Air Force RCCs....they monitor for and receive distress signals, then hand things off to the appropriate agency. By using the 2-way Iridium system, communication is possible between the device and the IERCC.
I have no opinion on whether one device is 'better' than the other. I know the inReach offers vastly more functionality...if you want and can utilize it. As for whether one device exceeds the other for SOS distress monitoring, SAR response and so forth...I don't personally see an objective advantage to either system. I was a PLB devotee for a dozen or more years but the inReach has an outstanding track record and now has supplanted my old PLB.
One other note or two: The inReach battery is rechargeable at home or in the field. You will receive confirmation of your distress signal from the RCC with the inReach. Firmware updates to the inReach are free online.
Just to update I went with a Zoleo. Camofire had them for $149.00 so I jumped on it.
I want to thank everyone that replied and gave excellent information.
The inreach allows satellite communications to occur anywhere in the world. Your phone paired with it allows a much handier tool for typing than the IR buttons where it may take quite a few key strokes to enter one letter. However the IR does have some pre-written messages that are easily sent along with the one button SOS feature.
And of course your phone will do great as a stand alone gps with GAIA (or another navigation package). The IR also has a gps chip in it but I find my phone is much better for routine gps use than the IR…same as typing out texts.
Bottom line, I carry both. Sure wish they would build the iPhone with the IR satellite communication features built in. I suspect it will happen and am surprised we are still waiting.
I love my IR….for off the grid communication and a potential SHTF situation that has never come up. That is what it is and it is excellent at at. It certainly isn’t designed to replace your phone. And the Mini is a very small package to do that (I have the old yellow bigger Garmin Explorer unit).