Because I enjoy still hunting for whitetail deer, I usually follow where ever they take me… and that means sometimes straying off course into territory I am not totally familiar with. Without a visible horizon landmark for 360 degrees to orient from, even a relatively small flat area of land covered with thick understory on a cloudy day can have me quickly asking myself “Now where am I ?” Even after 40 years of experience in the woods I still have not developed an internal biological compass.
With today’s technology we can take navigating around in the backwoods to a new level…turning a past task into a fun experience. I always carry a handheld GPS (Global Positioning System) device when hunting or scouting in the woods. It not only helps to keep me on course and from getting lost, but makes the most efficient use of my time spent in the outdoors. There’s nothing more frustrating than wasting time and energy roaming around in the woods trying to find your way back.
For years now I remain satisfied with my Garmin eTrex Legend which has just about all the features I will ever need as well as those that I don’t. While I do take advantage of some of the non-essential and accessory features found on my Garmin, I find its most very basic functions to be those that I use all the time. Finding my select stand before sunrise, the trail back after sunset when legal shooting hours are over, or the spot where my harvested deer lay under a sky of darkness are just a few of my essential uses. Simply put, returning to Point A or getting from point A to point B or point C and backtracking to either again is where my GPS routinely and unquestionably gets its heaviest use. Since I have been spoiled with the convenience of a hand-held GPS unit, I thought I’d look for a relatively inexpensive back-up GPS device to keep my carefully planned hunts on schedule. Here’s what I found to fill that void.
It’s called the Bushnell BACKTRACK
, and here are the key features found on this GPS device:
• Store and locate up to three locations
• Utilizes the latest digital technology:
o High sensitivity SiRF Star III GPS receiver
o Self calibrating digital compass
• Weather resistant
• Operates on 2 AAA Batteries
• Compact size stores easily in your pocket or purse
Dimensions (3.54”(H) x 2.95”(W) x 0.75”(D)
• Lanyard included for easy attachment
My first instinct after I removed the BACKTRACK
from its packaging was to compare its physical size to that of my Garmin.
shown in CAMO color scheme, 360065)
As you can see the BACKTRACK
is a little wider, but overall it's smaller than the Garmin. As far as weight goes, my Garmin (with 2 AA batteries) weighs in at 5.3 ounces, and the BACKTRACK
(with 2 AAA batteries) weighs in at a lighter 2.8 ounces. Because of its depth I usually carry my Garmin in a loose front pants pocket for comfort reasons rather than around my neck with a lanyard. But with the BACKTRACK’S
flatter design it can comfortable be worn inside my zipper jacket with a lanyard around my neck. The BACKTRACK’S
round shape also allows it to easily be slipped-in and removed from pockets, and given it’s light weight I barely know I’m carrying it. The BACKTRACK’
s physical dimensions appear to have been carefully thought-out as it fits comfortably in my size XLarge glove hands… as well as my wife’s size Small glove hands.
Operation of the BACKTRACK
GPS device is incredibly simple and easy to do. The 8-pages of actual user instructions from the on-line manual
( http://www.bushnell.com/manuals/gps/BackTrackManual.pdf )
are straight-forward and user-friendly having many product pictures and large font lettering I can read without my glasses. My Garmin’s user manual had 64 pages and required not only my reading glasses, but a good night’s sleep in order to grasp the general idea and filter-out what features and menus I only want and needed to know.
All modes and functions on the BACKTRACK
are controlled by only two push buttons anatomically spaced to operate with either the thumb, index finger or both. The buttons are also large enough that you could even operate them with bulky gloves on. Like the Garmin the BACKTRACK
has a backlight that allows you to see the display face at night. Once you turn the backlight ON, a timer automatically turns it OFF after 30-45 seconds. BACKTRACK
is on the left, Garmin on the right.
is capable of storing and locating up to three separate “Locations” displayed one at a time as icons(a “Home”, “Car” and a “Star”) on the Grayscale LCD screen . Although these icons are fixed and cannot be changed, they can still represent whatever location you want them to. Once you “MARK” a desired icon location with the press of a button, it is saved until it is automatically replaced when you MARK a new location for that particular icon. (i.e., you don’t need to manually “delete” the previous location yourself before MARK-ing a new one…the device will delete it for you). In order to navigate back to a MARK-ed location, all you need to do is re-visit that icon and it will indicate the direction by arrow and distance in yards/miles or meters/kilometers back to the most recent location entered. ( I noticed the BACKTRACK seems to automatically change units from yards to miles somewhere between 0.4 and 0.5 miles
) Once you return back to your MARK or destination, the display dial will show a full circle of arrows as it did when you first MARK-ed its location.
I found the BACKTRACK’
s screen display designed in such away that it can be read while holding it out horizontally in front of you. This is important as it not only keeps the device facing towards the sky, but there is no need to tilt the device towards you to read the screen. I also like the fact that when navigating back to a MARK-ed location, the BACKTRACK
stays pointed in the direction you need to go regardless of whether you follow the directional arrow precisely or not. This is helpful especially when obstacles like terrain, topography, or a large swamp/waterbody prevents you from heading in a straight line to your MARK-ed location. If you do need to go around an obstacle, the numerical distance readout to the MARK will continue to register differences in distance and will let you know whether you are getting closer, or going away from the MARK.
Now comes the BACKTRACK
’s field tests… Does it really work? The answer is YES. After playing around with the BACKTRACK
, I found the accuracy to be within the manufacturers specification of +/- 3 to 5 yards/meters (9 to 15 feet), with closer to 15 feet being the norm. Compared to my Garmin I find this accuracy VERY acceptable. According to my Garmin manual its GPS Accuracy is to be within 49 feet (95 %), and within 10 feet (95 %) when Wide Angle Augmentation System ( WAAS ) is enabled. My experience over the years using my Garmin averages between 14 feet and 27 feet, with single number accuracy clearly the exception rather than the rule ( even when WAAS is enabled ).
As far as being able to first fix onto satellite signals, the BACKTRACK
has my Garmin beat hands-down when it comes to speed. The BACKTRACK
appears able to grab onto satellite signals, determine their initial positions, and maintain a signal lock almost immediately when the device is turned ON. Something my Garmin cannot do without first taking the time to power-up and search for a bit. As a little “timed” test, I took both my Garmin and the BACKTRACK
outdoors at around 10:00 p.m. on a clear cloudless night . Before comparing their satellite locking times I first powered them both ON at the same time, and allowed them each a few minutes to warm-up and find all the over head satellites in the area. The BACKTRACK
was ready to use when the satellite icon stopped flashing, and the Garmin was ready to use when it said it’s ready to navigate. My Garmin displayed that there were five satellites overhead in the sky at the time, and accuracy for the Garmin registered between 21 and 23 feet. I then turned both devices back OFF to begin the timed series.
Five times I turned both the Garmin and the BACKTRACK
ON at the same instance, and timed how long it took each device to stabilize and acquire a fixed signal ready for use and navigation. The BACKTRACK
was ready for navigation use in 2 seconds
or less every time. The Garmin took between 33 and 35 seconds
every time. Need I say more?
I’m not sure what kind of receiver the Garmin has in it, but the BACKTRACK
contains a receiver called a SiRF Star III which is said to be optimal for GPS sensitivity and tracking capabilities.
Next, I also wanted to be absolutely positive the BACKTRACK
knew where magnetic North was, so I lined it up against two different quality mechanical compasses and here’s what I found….it passed with flying colors.
Knowing the BACKTRACK
North arrow is right on, the other main feature I really like about the BACKTRACK
is that it has a self calibrating digital compass which it defaults to when the device is turned ON. In this Compass Mode the display screen shows an arrow which always points to magnetic North, and also displays an accurate heading in degrees (i.e., East = 90 degrees) for the direction you are facing… even while standing still. What I especially like about the Compass Mode is that it displays the direction (degrees) you are facing in large digital numbers that are easy to read, which is much easier than trying to accurately read a conventional compass dial...especially in low light conditions. I also like the BACKTRACK’s
ability to easily switch from Compass Mode to Location Mode with just a few presses of a single button.
As far as battery life goes, my Garmin is good for up to 18 hours in “Saver” mode, which means that it will actually be less when this mode is turned OFF. Bushnell states the BACKTRACK
’s battery life will endure 100 uses, and estimates each use to be equal to 10 minutes or less. This equates to: 100 uses x 10 minutes/use = 16.6 hours.
’s on-line specifications list 20+ hours). The BACKTRACK
also has an automatic shut OFF if no buttons have been pressed for 10 minutes, which keeps the batteries from going dead if you forget to turn the device OFF.
To sum it all up, I found the BACKTRACK
to be well-designed and a great GPS tool for the novice as well as the experienced outdoors person. While it would appear to be a toy GPS because of its simplistic operation, it performs like anything but... as it is capable of displaying a distance up to 999 miles. The only thing I can think of to improve upon in the BACKTRACK
would be to have the option to allow the back light to remain ON, with the understanding that it would likely affect battery life.
Before doing this Review my intended use for the BACKTRACK
was simply to have it as a backpack back-up GPS device for my Garmin when hunting. Whether hiking, scouting or hunting I typically carry two mechanical compasses and my Garmin. Of my time spent actually navigating in the big woods, a mechanical compass gets about 70 % of that time, and my Garmin gets the other 30%. Although I will still carry both mechanical compasses and my Garmin with me, the BACKTRACK
will probably steal at least 90% of that combined navigation time.
According to the Bushnell literature, the BACKTRACK
device is intended as a supplemental handheld navigation aide only. Although the BACKTRACK
will not replace my Garmin eTrex Legend, it is now high on my list of essentials when I enter the woods. Bushnell’s BACKTRACK
advertisement heading “NEVER GET LOST AGAIN
” pretty much sums-up this product’s objective. For more information and uses for the BACKTRACK, visit their website at:
http://www.bushnell.com/products/gps/backtrack/SAFETY NOTE - If you’ve spent any amount of time tromping around in the big woods or back country like I have, experience will eventually teach you or remind you never to venture out without a quality, mechanical compass. When all my electronic devices fail I can always rely on this type of conventional compass to keep me from either getting lost… or from getting lost even more. For this reason I never venture off into the woods without one and a flashlight.