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The Best Satellite Messengers of 2023

Failure isn't an option when it comes to choosing a satellite messenger. When you absolutely need to get the word out, here are the best sat messaging devices in 2023.

A Hiker Holds The SPOT X Messenger While Navigating in Snow(Photo/Nick Belcaster)
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Satellite messengers started with the need for reliable emergency contact, but have expanded beyond emergency needs into full-blown two-way communication devices. While every satellite messenger remains focused on the original function, some have evolved to include peer-to-peer communications and additional features, whether GPS tracking or weather reports. 

In our search for the best satellite messengers we covered it all, but placed a focus on the keyword in a satellite messenger: messenger. With our extensive background testing gear in real-life situations, we put all devices through the paces over several months in differing situations — testing it all from typing ability to durability while getting dirty in the mountains of the Pacific Northwest. 

To better understand the ins and outs of satellite messengers, visit our buyer’s guide, FAQ, and detailed comparison chart. Or, check out some of the key categories that help you understand how a satellite messenger best fits your needs:

The Best Satellite Messengers of 2023


Best Overall Satellite Messenger

Garmin inReach Messenger

Specs

  • Battery life 28 days
  • Message composition On-device options/in-app
  • Weight 4 oz.
  • Water resistance IPX7
  • Satellite system Iridium
  • Subscription plan $11.95 /month for annual 'Safety' plan
The Best Satellite Messengers of 2023

Pros

  • Compact size and weight
  • In-depth functionality
  • Extended battery life with reverse USB-C charging

Cons

  • Small screen
  • Cost
Best Budget Satellite Messenger

ZOLEO Satellite Messenger

Specs

  • Battery life 200 hours
  • Message composition In-app composition
  • Weight 5.3 oz.
  • Water resistance IP68
  • Satellite system Iridium
  • Subscription plan $20 /month for 'Basic' plan
The Best Satellite Messengers of 2023

Pros

  • Combination of on-device and in-app functions
  • Ease-of-use
  • Stout Iridium satellite network reception

Cons

  • Limited on-device functionality
Best Feature-Rich Messenger

Garmin inReach Mini 2

Specs

  • Battery life 14 days
  • Message composition On-device options/in-app
  • Weight 3.5 oz.
  • Water resistance IPX7
  • Satellite system Iridium
  • Subscription plan $11.95 /month for annual 'Safety' plan
The Best Satellite Messengers of 2023

Pros

  • Compact size
  • Improved screen over predecessor
  • In-device navigation abilities

Cons

  • Cost
  • No cellular or WiFi coverage
Best On-Device Communicator

SPOT X

Specs

  • Battery life 240 hours in 10-minute tracking mode
  • Message composition On-device composition
  • Weight 7 oz.
  • Water resistance IP67
  • Satellite system Globalstar
  • Subscription plan $11.95 /month for annual 'Basic' plan
The Best Satellite Messengers of 2023

Pros

  • Familiar QWERTY on-screen message composition
  • Ability to compose messages on or off the device
  • In-device navigation capable

Cons

  • Bulky size
  • Globalstar network isn't the most robust
Best GPS Device Messenger

Garmin GPSMAP 66i

Specs

  • Battery life 200 hours
  • Message composition On-device options/in-app
  • Weight 8.1 oz.
  • Water resistance MIL-STD-810
  • Satellite system Iridium
  • Subscription plan $11.95 /month for annual 'Safety' plan
The Best Satellite Messengers of 2023

Pros

  • Communicates with other inReach devices
  • Predictive text
  • Compatible with Garmin Explore app

Cons

  • Larger overall size
  • Price
Best of the Rest

SPOT Gen4

Specs

  • Battery life 7 days to 156 days (dependent on tracking)
  • Message composition Pre-set messages only
  • Weight 5 oz.
  • Water resistance IPX8
  • Satellite system Globalstar
  • Subscription plan $11.95 /month for annual 'Basic' plan
The Best Satellite Messengers of 2023

Pros

  • Simple to operate
  • Minimal size
  • Inexpensive

Cons

  • Lack of functionality
  • No two-way messaging
  • Not rechargeable

ACR Bivy Stick

Specs

  • Battery life 120 hours
  • Message composition In-app composition
  • Weight 3.3 oz.
  • Water resistance IPX7
  • Satellite system Iridium
  • Subscription plan $14.99 /month for annual 'Basic' plan
The Best Satellite Messengers of 2023

Pros

  • Lightweight, easily stowable
  • Ample app features
  • USB-C charging

Cons

  • Limited battery life
  • No on-device messaging ability

Satellite Messenger Comparison Chart

Satellite MessengerBattery LifeMessage CompositionWeightSatellite SystemSubscription Plan*
Garmin inReach Messenger28 daysOn-device options/in-app4 oz.Iridium$11.95 /month
ZOLEO Satellite Messenger200 hoursIn-app composition5.3 oz.Iridium$20 /month
Garmin inReach Mini 214 daysOn-device options/in-app3.5 oz.Iridium$11.95 /month
SPOT X240 hours On-device composition7 oz.Globalstar$11.95 /month
Garmin GPSMAP 66i200 hoursOn-device options/in-app8.1 oz.Iridium$11.95 /month
SPOT Gen47 to 156 days Pre-set messages only5 oz.Globalstar$11.95 /month
ACR Bivy Stick120 hoursIn-app composition3.3 oz.Iridium$14.99 /month
*Subscription plan amount given for annual ‘Basic’ or ‘Safety’ plans
Satellite Messengers Round Up
(Photo/Tim Newcomb)

Why You Should Trust Us

We’d be lying if we said we’ve never gotten ourselves lost. But thankfully, the crew at GearJunkie is a savvy bunch, and our trials and tribulations have led us to be big proponents of carrying along a satellite messaging device when headed out into the backcountry. Here, we’ve compiled our collective knowledge around the little life-savers and called out the best of the best sold today.

All devices detailed in our selection were tested over multiple months, by multiple gear experts and in varying conditions throughout the Pacific Northwest, and the American Southwest. Whether hiking, biking, climbing, ski-touring, or simply putting the devices through their paces, the satellite messengers underwent a mixture of experiences to test them in real-life use cases. 

While checking out the satellite messengers in the field, we assessed durability, connectivity, ease of use, functionality, and battery life. Beyond our team’s experience, we also considered the most popular and bestselling devices on the market, as well as a broad range of price points and features. And rest assured, as new devices hit the market, we’ll continue to put them to the test to see if they have what it takes when it matters.

From the mountains of the Pacific Northwest to the deserts of the American Southwest, we sought out the remote in order to test these sat messengers; (photo/Nick Belcaster)

Buyer’s Guide: How to Choose a Satellite Messenger 

Every satellite messenger features a mixture of different functions and designs. Users may find some fit their expected adventures better than others, so it isn’t always a one-size-fits-all approach to selecting the best satellite messenger. 

Before you dive into a satellite messenger, be careful to go over features and functionality to see what you think you’ll need for how you expect to use the device. You also should keep in mind that the cost of ownership of a satellite messenger is more than the initial purchase price. While you can get a device for as little as $150 and spend up to $400, each one requires a subscription service to allow it to connect to satellites for communication, even emergency communication. 

Once you’ve narrowed down your top satellite messenger selections, we suggest looking over the company’s subscription plans to see what’s included in the differing options. Features you may find essential may come at a steeper per month price than you want to pay. 

Garmin GPSMAP 66i Mapping While Ski Touring
With a wide variety of devices available, keying in on exactly what you want to do with a satellite messenger will help you decide which one is right for you; (photo/Nick Belcaster)

Emergency Support and Messaging

Know that a satellite messenger’s main goal is to provide emergency support when needed — every messenger comes with an on-device SOS button, but they also can help keep you connected to friends and family in non-emergency situations when cellular coverage is not possible. 

You likely won’t use your satellite messenger as you would a smartphone—and if you don’t expect to, you can select something such as the ZOLEO or SPOT Gen4—but understanding the capabilities of your device can help with expectations. For example, messages sent via satellite may well take up to 20 minutes to send, even in ideal situations with the best on-device communicators the Garmin inReach Mini 2 and SPOT X.

Differing Styles

There are three main styles of satellite messenger, although overlap does exist. The most basic offers a simple SOS function and pre-set messages, all sent from the device without tethering to a phone, such as the SPOT Gen4. These devices are best thought of as a ‘set it and forget it’ option, and you’ll be limited to sending messages that you’ve pre-written at home.

The next type offers these same functions, but then includes an app — think ZOLEO and Bivy Stick — that connects via Bluetooth to a smartphone for additional messaging and functionality. This is a great step up in terms of functionality in our opinion, and being able to craft custom messages has often gotten us out of a jam when outdoors, like changing itineraries or rendezvous points.

The third style includes the aforementioned features, but then also offers on-device functionality, from message composition to weather forecasting, as seen in the Garmin inReach Messenger, Garmin inReach Mini 2, and SPOT X. These messengers are best for folks who want it all, or want the ability to leave their phone at home. Because they operate independently of a separate device, these messengers also have the most built-in safety of the bunch.

SPOT Satellite Messenger Devices Side By Side
The SPOT Gen4 is just about the most basic style of satellite messenger, while the SPOT X offers on-device and app-assisted messaging; (photo/Tim Newcomb)

Satellite Messenger Networks

First, it’s important to make a distinction between the two types of satellite systems that a satellite messenger will depend on. Global Navigation Satellite Systems, or GNSS, are satellite networks that provide location and speed information to devices like handheld GPS units. The most well-known of these is the GPS system which is managed by the U.S. government, though other international systems exist.

Satellite messaging systems, like Iridium and Globalstar, provide communications information between the transmitter and receiver, and each service features Low Earth Orbit satellites covering much of the Earth. In fact, the polar orbit of Iridium satellites allows it to cover even the poles, while Globalstar has points on Earth it doesn’t reach. 

Iridium has more satellites than Globalstar, but Globalstar sends them higher to provide additional coverage. Another key difference is Globalstar relays with Earth-based transmission stations, which can cause a greater delay in messaging than the satellite-to-satellite relays from Iridium. No matter the device you choose, check the coverage areas of their satellite provider to ensure it covers your planned adventures. 

When you send a message, your device will queue it up for the next time that is it in contact with the Iridium or Globalstar network. While these systems offer broad coverage, it may take a few minutes for a satellite to pass overhead and into view of the satellite messenger. Finding a clearing or promontory can greatly improve your reception.

Zoleo Sat Messenger Beside Cactus
The ZOLEO Satellite Communicator uses colored LEDs to relay its current satellite connection status; (Photo/Nick Belcaster)

​​Emergency Coordination

For obvious reasons, we didn’t test the response time of emergency responders. But every satellite messenger comes with an SOS button that summons emergency help. Each company contracts with a service provider to coordinate a response, and while we don’t have data from every one, we do know that those buttons do get pushed a good bit: Garmin recently fielded its 10,000th inReach SOS call.

Garmin recently purchased GEOS, now owning one of the leading emergency operations. ZOLEO contracts with GEOS. ACR’s Bivy uses Global Rescue and SPOT contracts with FocusPoint International. All of these services are on the other end when you trigger an emergency call.

What Happens When You Trigger an SOS?

When you make the call to trigger an SOS, you’ll need to uncover and depress the SOS button to summon help. This will send a message to the emergency service provider that you have contracted with through your subscription. It’s important to know that without a current subscription, SOS service does not work.

On Garmin devices, these SOS messages are given a higher priority in the Iridium satellite system to ensure that they get to where they need to go. No matter the service, the functionality is similar, with the company working with local search and rescue teams to coordinate a response to your SOS call. 

Some devices, like the Garmin inReach Messenger, SPOT X, and ZOLEO Satellite Messenger, allow you to send custom SOS messages to the emergency response service. This can be incredibly helpful when coordinating a rescue, and often an emergency coordinator will put you in contact with the local Search and Rescue (SAR) to better assist you. Response times can vary from a few hours to a few days, depending entirely on terrain, weather, and resources.

Garmin inReach Mini 2 in Joshua Tree
No need to call the calvary — having the ability to send custom messages greatly simplifies letting others know your status; (photo/Nick Belcaster)

Messaging, Weather Updates, and Tracking

Thankfully, the majority of us will never need to hit that SOS button, instead relying on our satellite messengers to communicate with others, seek out weather updates, and track ourselves on excursions. Most all devices offer two-way messaging, with the exception of the SPOT Gen4, meaning you’ll be able to both create, and receive messages from abroad.

A 160-character limit is typical of most SMS and email messages sent from satellite messengers, with slight variation from provider to provider. These messages can also be appended with your GPS location, giving those on the outside some peace of mind knowing where you’re at.

Types of Messages

Messages fall into one of two categories: Preset, Predefined, or Check-In messages, and Custom messages. Messages in the Preset category are those that are arranged before setting out on our trip, and typically relay messages such as “I’m Okay,” “I’m Starting My Trip Here,” or “I Made it To Camp.” These messages are very often unlimited and don’t count against your subscription allotments.

Custom messages are those that are created on-the-fly, and can either be produced on-device or through an accompanying app. These messages are not limited to who they can be sent to, but they will count against your subscription if you have a messaging limit. Don’t fear if you go over, however, all providers will spot you extra messages, at a typical 25-50 cent rate per message.

Bivy-Stick-Searching-for-Satellite-Conection-1
With a phone, the ACR Bivy Stick can type and send custom messages, but without one, you’ll be stuck with your preset messages; (photo/Nick Belcaster)

Weather Forecasts

Certain satellite messengers, like the Garmin and ZOLEO devices, also utilize their satellite connections to deliver weather forecasts directly to your messenger. These forecasts will display the high/low temperature, conditions, wind speed and direction, and precipitation chance of either the location you are currently in, or a location of your choosing.

Garmin devices also offer an extended forecasting option (at $1.00 /per), which bumps out the forecast window from four to eight days, and offers a finer interval of forecast reporting. There is also the option to request a marine forecast, which includes information on wave height, currents, and visibility.

Tracking

Tracking your progress can be a handy tool for both yourself, as well as those following along at home. This tracking is most often broken down into different intervals, allowing you to adjust the frequency at which a location is recorded. SPOT devices provide tracking at all levels of subscription, whereas Garmin offers it unlimited at the mid-tier subscription rate, and ZOLEO offers it as a ‘Location Share+’ add-on for $6 /month extra.

When it comes to the pay-to-track crowd, we will note that the Bivy Stick is a particularly poor deal when it comes to tracking: A monthly basic plan allows 20 credits, which are shared between messages and tracking and can quickly be chewed up at one credit per 30 minutes at the five-minute tracking interval. You can par down your tracking interval to once every hour, but functionally we find this to be too coarse for accurate tracking.

A Hiker Navigates to a Location in Joshua Tree National Park Using the Garmin GPSMAP 66i Satellite Messenger
Being able to track and share your location to a phone number, email, or even another inReach device makes backcountry rendezvous a breeze; (photo/Nick Belcaster)

Applications

We can’t go too far without needing an app for that these days, and it’s the same in the world of satellite messengers. A few of the key devices tested, such as the ZOLEO and Bivy, require you to connect via Bluetooth to your smartphone to use the app for custom messaging, and most of the functionality (really, anything other than the SOS or “Okay” message.) 

Garmin, while allowing for on-device messaging on both the inReach Messenger and inReach Mini 2, has a strong app that makes messaging much simpler than on the device. We’ll note that even some Garmin smartwatches integrate with the devices for easy wrist-triggered SOS messages.

The SPOT X doesn’t rely as much on an app, but it is there for additional functions. And it works just swell. The SPOT Gen4 is the only device we tested that doesn’t tie into an app for its in-field functionality. 

The Functionality You Need

What you need out of a satellite messenger depends on the adventures you’ll go on. Are you a one-day or weekend trip adventurer who is generally in cellular coverage, but wants access to the SOS function for those emergency situations when cellular coverage might not be available? If so, going basic may be enough. 

Are you planning multi-day trips out of cellular coverage and want to not only have emergency functions, but also messaging capabilities? That will require a device that can handle your plans. Understand what type of adventurer you are and select a messenger—and service plan—to fit those needs. 

Zoleo Satellite Communicator Ski Touring
The ZOLEO Satellite Communicator lands at about the middle of the spectrum when it comes to functionality, and serves most adventurers most of the time; (photo/Nick Belcaster)

Satellite Messenger Subscription Plans

Beyond your one-time purchase price, you’ll also need to select a subscription service to render the device useful. Typically offered as monthly plans, you can select how many messages you can use, how much tracking you can do, and so forth. Carefully look through service plan options before you buy so you don’t get stuck with a device you don’t want to pay to stay active. 

Garmin inReach Plans

The Garmin plans offer great flexibility in pricing (as low as $15 and as high as $65 per month), which also impacts what you get. The plans are broken up into two tiers: Consumer and Professional, as well as two different types of payment structures: Freedom Plans and Annual Contracts.

The most basic monthly consumer plans allow for 10 text messages, tracking intervals of every 10 minutes and an activation fee of $30 with overage charges for additional text messages, weather services, and location requests. The $65 monthly plan offers tracking every two minutes and unlimited tracking points, text messages, location requests, and more. 

ZOLEO Plans

ZOLEO ranges from $20 to $35 to $50 per month and steps from 25 messages to 250 to unlimited along the plan choices. You can add $6 per month for location shares and get unlimited check-in messages. Overages for each message is $.50 for the first two plans. ZOLEO has a $20 activation fee. 

SPOT Plans

The SPOT X plans range from $12 to $40 per month with six different plans. Expect to get anywhere from 20 custom messages to hundreds or even unlimited messages. The SPOT Gen4 features two plans, either $12 or $15 per month, depending on if you sign up for a year or go month-to-month. The nearly identical plans both come with unlimited check-in or help messages and basic tracking. SPOT has a $30 activation fee. 

ACR Plans

The Bivy Stick has four plans—all available at a discount for a yearly contract or more expensive for a month-to-month contract—ranging from $15 per month to $65. The basic plan includes 20 credits, which can be used as a message or tracking, with overages of $.75 per credit. Each step up includes additional credits and services until unlimited credits with group tracking. Bivy has no activation fee, instead differentiating the monthly price based on contract length. 

Garmin Messenger Beside Climbing Gear
The Garmin inReach Messenger sports an impressive 28-day battery life when sending a message every 10 minutes, and can reverse charge other electronics; (photo/Nick Belcaster)

Size, Weight, and Batteries

While most satellite messengers are compact, some do come lighter and smaller than others (here’s looking at you, inReach Mini 2 and Bivy Stick). And that may be great in certain situations. If you’re lugging tons of equipment with you, a few ounces or an inch or two in size may not matter and you can embrace the SPOT X, but if you want something you can carry in your hand while you run or clip to a small pack while you bike, for example, these specifications will hold extra importance. 

Another specification to watch is battery life, especially if you plan on long adventures or already have a set routine for charging devices (will micro-USB or USB-C require you to bring an extra cord?) while on an adventure. Most satellite messengers aim to provide extended battery life for long trips into the backcountry, but it’s important to remember that this battery life can be limited by the number of messages sent, tracking intervals, and active screen time.

Almost all sat messengers today, with the exception of the SPOT Gen4, sport an integrated rechargeable battery that can be juiced up in the field from a solar panel or power bank. Some, like the Garmin inReach Messenger, even offer reverse USB-C charging that can perk up your other electronics if needed.

Garmin GPSMAP 66i Recharging From Solar Panel
While most satellite messengers sport a long battery life, be mindful of having a backup power source to keep them juiced up when it counts; (photo/Nick Belcaster)

Durability

New brands need to start somewhere but decide if you’re willing to start with them. The likes of Garmin and SPOT have led the satellite messenger categories for years, so have built-in dependability in terms of quality of product. But that doesn’t mean that ACR or ZOLEO aren’t there yet. All the messengers we tested, except for SPOT-branded devices, use the trusted Iridium satellite system for reliable coverage, so we don’t expect issues there. 

Then there’s the durability of the device itself. Each device has undergone testing to earn an international IP number. Both the Garmin devices nor the Bivy Stick weren’t tested against dust and earned a 7 for water (an IPX7 rating represents this), which allows for water immersion protection up to three feet for 30 minutes. 

The SPOT X earned an IP67, which offers complete dust protection with the same level of water protection. 

The SPOT Gen4 and ZOLEO devices are rated at IP68, complete dust protection with water immersion protection for long periods of time under pressure, the most durable of the devices tested. 

Understand how you plan to use your satellite messenger and then choose a device that fits your personal needs. 

Garmin Messenger on Splitboard
The IPX7 rating of the Garmin inReach Messenger means that it’s protected from ingress of dirt, water, or blowing snow; (photo/Nick Belcaster)

FAQ

What is a Satellite Messenger? 

A satellite messenger, which requires a subscription service to operate, connects to a satellite system to send and receive messages. This process is different than the near-instantaneous response of a cellular or WiFi network. The device uses this satellite capability to keep you connected to others when cellular coverage is not available.

Satellite Messengers Line Up
(Photo/Tim Newcomb)
Should I Get a Satellite Messenger?

If you plan to adventure beyond cellular coverage, you may want to consider having an active subscription to a satellite messenger. The only reliable way to call for emergency services or let loved ones know you’re in a safe place is by relying on satellite messenger coverage.

Does Garmin Make the Best Satellite Messenger?

It is hard to argue that Garmin doesn’t make the best satellite messengers, whether the inReach Messenger or the inReach Mini 2, but that doesn’t mean Garmin is the only manufacturer of quality satellite messengers.

We can recommend Garmin products based on our independent testing, but were also impressed with a mixture of additional satellite messengers from a variety of companies.

Is On-Device Messaging Needed for a Satellite Messenger?

In short, potentially. You want to ensure that you have the SOS option on your satellite messenger — a standard feature in the industry — and the ability to send an “I’m okay” message when needed. 

How much additional functionality you want to have on your device is up to you. Relying on tethering to your smartphone via Bluetooth requires that your phone doesn’t lose connectivity to your device and your phone stays charged and accessible. The more on-device message composition functionality, the less you need to rely on your smartphone and the device’s app to stay connected.

SPOT X Sending Message Beside Lake
Being able to write a custom message adds a great deal of flexibility to your communications; (photo/Nick Belcaster)
How Quickly Does a Satellite Messenger Send a Message?

Be patient when it comes to satellite messages. It may take just a few minutes to send a message, especially with a clear sky and no tree coverage. But getting a connection to a satellite may be tough in some locations, and even the positioning of satellites or heavy cloud cover can alter the timeline of your message. 

Keep in mind, there’s no guarantee you can get a signal to a satellite, so some cases may require a high level of patience or willingness to move in order to connect to the satellite.

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