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On a recent camping trip, I was having great difficulty sending messages with a Garmin InReach. I was in a woods with a moderately thick canopy overhead, but next to a small river so I could step out into the clear to get at least some view of the sky. Even in the semi-clear, the connection to the Iridium satellites was very spotty.

I have scoured the web looking for advice about how to best hold the InReach for optimum transmitting power, and there’s nothing out there. Not even basic advice of whether it’s best to hold it horizontally or vertically oriented. Other factors, like the distance it is held away from the ground, may affect it as well (extrapolating from ham radio antenna theory).

So, does anyone have knowledge (either from experience or from radio theory) that could help out with making the InReach more effective at reaching its satellites?

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next to a small river so I could step out into the clear to get at least some view of the sky

That's really the bare minimum for good signal. This will have much more impact than how you hold it. If you can go to a clear high ground not too far away, it will help. If not, there isn't much to do but try until you get good signal.

  • Agreed that clear high ground would be optimal - unfortunately, that would have been miles away where I was. And the river was in a valley, which effectively narrowed the portion of sky I was able to access. Still, I'd like to know how to optimize signal strength. If I had to call SOS because I broke my leg, I want it to still work, even at the bottom of a valley. – Dr Marble Jul 9 '18 at 17:22
  • Had another idea - to use a phone app to help me track the paths and the timing of the satellites. There's a great free one for iOS called Orbit - Satellite Tracking. You can select to view just the Iridium constellation, and thereby see when the next close flyover will occur. So far the Orbit app seems to work fine offline. I'll have to try sending some test messages with the Inreach to test its accuracy. – Dr Marble Jul 9 '18 at 18:03
  • Trees + valleys is close to the worst you can get. I was surprised, though, by the performance last november when on a 3 week raft down the Grand Canyon, a friend in the group was able to use his inReach daily without any connectivity issues. I did not expect that at all. – Gabriel C. Jul 9 '18 at 20:27
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As I cannot find the exact specs of the type of antenna they use I can only speculate.
My guess is that the antenna is either unidirectional or placed along the length axis of the device.

If the antenna is not (completely) unidirectional it should work best when the device is laying on it's back.
This way the radio waves will definitely radiate upwards out of the device.
And besides that, it's meant to be used being held in such a position anyway.

  • That would have been my guess as well - that the antenna's gain would be unidirectional in the horizontal field when held upright. In the vertical field (when held upright), it may have some nulls. And therefore, laying it on its back would get that nice, even unidirectional gain looking skyward. However, although the InReach Explorer+ manual doesn't say anything about antenna orientation, the previous InReach version says to "point the antenna up toward the sky and position the face of the device away from your body". See: static.garmin.com/pumac/inReach-Explorer-Manual.pdf – Dr Marble Jul 9 '18 at 18:14
  • Found this tip regarding working satellites with a handheld ham radio: "If you are using a handheld device, you will need to rotate the rig (and antenna) for the best orientation. Experience shows that horizontal polarization, with the axis of the antenna perpendicular to the satellite gives the best reception." So that would mean holding the device laying on its back, and NOT pointing the tip of the antenna up towards the sky. From: k0lee.com/ao27tip.old.html – Dr Marble Jul 10 '18 at 19:56
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I have used a Garmin inReach for many miles, and your location will be more important than how you hold it.

Deep canyons with throw off the GPS Signal and sometimes being under thick trees will prevent the signal from going through the first time. I have also had trouble when under trees plus a tarp with a shiny reflective side.

The good thing is that the inReach will flash when a message doesn't go through, and while I have had to wait for the inReach to try again, I have never been unable to send or receive for an extended period of time.

It's worth pointing out that the less things between you and the sky the better, and higher ground with less obstructions is also better.

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