Delorme InReach SE Review

By Tim King

Back in January 2014 I began planning a backcountry elk hunt in the Mt. Zirkel wilderness area of northern Colorado. I planned to backpack roughly five miles off the road and set up a spike camp to hunt from. I had not intended to go alone and was confronted with a big dilemma when my best friend and hunting buddy told me the sad news that he would not be able to go. I did not want to go on the hunt by myself for safety reasons and could not bring myself to cancel the hunt altogether. I began frantically looking for another hunting partner but was unsuccessful.

It was at this time that the Delorme InReach line of satellite communicators first came on my radar. I had seen satellite SOS beacons before but never really considered purchasing one because I never saw the need. Now I saw the need… Every time I thought about solo hunting second rifle season in the Colorado Rockies all I could think of was the story of Aron Ralston, the climber who was pinned by a bolder and eventually had to amputate his own arm to survive. I didn’t want to end up like that and I also didn’t want my wife to worry over me for a week wondering if I was dead or alive.

Delorme has produced a unique and interesting product in the InReach line of satellite communication devices. I began comparing the different models and their features and weighing the features against the prices. This led me to the InReach SE, it seemed to be the best bang for the buck. I didn’t need the GPS feature of the Explorer and wanted more than the basic model had to offer; naturally the SE seemed like the only way to go.

I know what you’re thinking. Does it work, or not? The answer is yes. After roughly 5 weeks and 50+ miles of hiking through the Black Hills of South Dakota I can say that I’m pleased with the performance of the InReach SE. I hike and jog in the Black Hills often for fun and conditioning and because they are literally in my backyard. However, I lose cellphone reception almost instantaneously once I step off of the paved road and onto National Forest land. The lack of cell reception makes life difficult for someone of my generation, mid 30s, seeing as how we seem to be tethered to technology. The InReach allows someone like me to stay connected to the outside world while being far from cell service. Don’t get me wrong. This will not replace your work computer or allow you to function in a work capacity while off the grid. The available plans are very limited in the number of text messages that can be sent and overage charges are pretty high. This is strictly a survival device. Or it could also be considered a wife anti-anxiety device. I, like most married hunters, have a wife that tends to worry, and I found the InReach SE most helpful in letting my wife know that everything was okay.
The InReach SE has three basic features that I found useful.

First it can obviously be used to send text messages outside of cellphone service. I was not sure how this function would work because I had read about the device pairing with a smartphone via. Bluetooth. I did not know how a message was sent or received, whether the InReach simply became an antenna for the phone or if it worked independently. The answer to that question is yes. It does allow the phone to send text messages, however it must be sent through the Delorme InReach Earthmate app. The phone’s regular texting app will not work with the InReach. Also the text message is sent from a different phone number designated by the InReach, not the phone. This is okay as long as the person to whom you send the message knows that it will come from a different number.

These messages can be sent to preset contacts that you add on the Delorme website, or contacts you have on your phone, or just a number entered manually at the time of the message. These messages can also be sent as emails which I thought was nice, since some folks may be able to receive an email at work but not a text message. I found the preset messages to be rather useless. I liked the idea of having free unlimited preset messages to send, but you can only have three preset messages. You must set those messages from a computer when you set up your Delorme InReach account.
We sell these plus satellite phones in the LRH Store.

Our wives are much more supportive of our wilderness adventures because of the safety provided by these tools.​
-Len Backus-​
The messages can be changed at any time, but must be done from an internet connection. Also the InReach device itself does not display the content of the preset messages, so you must remember what the messages are, because they are just labeled “preset 1, 2, 3.” The ability to pair with the phone in sending messages is a godsend because the InReach SE is slow in messaging. I tried sending messages both with the InReach SE by itself and with the phone. Both methods worked, however it was much faster with the keyboard of the phone than the arrow buttons of the InReach SE.

Delorme InReach SE Review

The second feature of use is the most obvious and the only feature I was unable to test. I’m going to be honest, there were times during my hikes that I hoped to see a 4x4 turned over in a ditch needing help just so I could push that button to find out what would happen. Luckily that moment never came and I never had an opportunity to try the SOS feature. I have no reason to believe that it wouldn’t work judging from the way the rest of the unit functioned. I did like that the SOS feature is not just a button. It has an on/off toggle that must be switched to the on position before the SOS beacon can be activated. I found this to be a very useful feature for a dad of a three year old, as I found my daughter walking around pressing the red button.

The third useful feature of the Delorme SE is the automatic tracking. I think I liked this feature more than all the rest. I started tracking myself every time I set out and noted my treks along the way. This is very different from plotting a course with a handheld GPS receiver. The Delorme InReach SE is not a fully equipped GPS. It does however pair with the Earthmate app on the phone to do some useful GPS functions. A basic map is available for download to be used in the app on the phone, but it is not a very detailed TOPO. The auto tracking points are displayed on this Earthmate map while the tracking takes place and after the tracking is turned off. The tracking feature can be viewed by anyone you wish as long as they have a computer. Each time you initiate the tracking feature you are given the option of sharing your location. Sharing will send a message with a link and a password to whomever you choose. They will then be able to log in to the Delorme page and view your progress. I enjoyed sending my location to my wife because it allowed her to watch as I went along. I think it put her mind at ease knowing that she could see the exact coordinates of my location. I am not much for social media but this device also has the capability to send messages to social media to allow the whole world to track your progress… Not exactly my cup of tea so I only sent it to my wife.

The Earthmate app is pretty useful, it has a built in compass, altimeter and shows a simple base map while listing your approximate coordinates. I used the app to help a friend survey a fence line and it ended up being very accurate; I was quite impressed. The map that shows up in the app is quite useless for navigation because of the lack of TOPO detail. The app displays all tracking points like a string of bread crumbs which would allow you to find your way back if need be. It also displays tracking points from previous trips until you turn them off. The tracking points are not continuous it marks a point every 10 minutes and sends it out to the Delorme webpage. I had no problems using the app and the InReach SE together, they always linked automatically via Bluetooth after the initial set-up.

Design and construction
The InReach SE is a robust handheld device about the size of a regular GPS or UHF radio. The unit seems to be well made and durable. I took it jogging with me and let it swing back and forth in my sweat soaked pocket for over an hour, a feat that has ruined several of my cell phones, and it had no problems. The buttons are firm to the touch and are not activated on accident, but are still easy to use when desired. I did not try the InReach with gloves on but feel confident there would be no problems using it with gloves. Where the design struggled was in the user interface. The use of the buttons to navigate the menu and select items as well as type messages seemed outdated and frustrating at times. I think it could benefit from a center select button like on my TV remote… The InReach SE did have a predictive text feature that helped speed up sending messages, but not enough to make me want to use it instead of the phone. The battery lasted a long time on a full charge. After about four hours of hiking it had only used 5% of the battery. I left the unit turned on but not tracking and the battery lasted nearly a full week. It uses rechargeable built in batteries that feed off of a USB port. It had no problem charging from my standard phone charger transformers in the wall or truck or on my portable solar powered battery charger. It only takes a couple hours to go from 0% to 100% charge.

All things considered the Delorme InReach SE is a well-made useful emergency communicator and locator device. If you have proper expectations of its functionality you will not be disappointed with its performance.