Product Review: Is the Bushnell BackTrack GPS the Right Choice?

(Editor’s note:
Many people want the accuracy and security of a GPS in wilderness or urban areas, without the bells, whistles and expense of a more complex receiver. For some, all they want a GPS for is to get back to the rig at the end of the day.

If all you want from a GPS is directions back to the rig, you may not need a complex receiver. 

They may be knowledgeable about  wilderness survival and carry a survival kit, but they  aren’t into geocaching, aren’t particularly concerned about where they are at all times and don’t care how many waypoints the receiver will store.

I saw the new Bushnell BackTrack Bushnell 360053 BackTrack Personal Locator Tech Gray Kit With Bushnell 132514 Powerview 8×21 Folding Roof Prism Binoculars on sale at the local Costco, and wondered how good it could be. Would a simple receiver like this be a good addition to a map and compass in a survival kit? After all, the BackTrack is inexpensive and  looks very simple to operate. And isn’t simplicity important in survival situations?

So I asked GPS guru and navigation expert Blake Miller, of www.OutdoorQuest.biz, what he though about the product. In addition to his skill with complex electronic technology, Blake is also an avid backpacker, hunter and outdoorsman, and he thoroughly field-tests any product he recommends. Blake wrung out a BackTrack recently, and here are his thoughts!)

By Blake Miller

Suppose it’s been a long, cold day hunting white tail deer in the northwestern corner of Pennsylvania.  The late November snows and wind  blowing hard off Lake Erie made the day miserable. Now, it’s time to get back to camp; the sooner the better.  The snow is blowing sideways and visibility is down to about 50 feet.   It is bone cold. 

Simple navigation, a straight line back to the truck is all you want.  There is no time for a compass and the map is in the bottom of the hunting day pack.  The new, round GPS points to the truck, it’s not even a half mile away.  Simple and straight forward, the Bushnell BackTrack gives you a direction steer and distance.  The BackTrack responds quickly and gets you moving in the right direction.  Too bad that brook isn’t displayed, but you know that it’s only a short detour to the bridge.

There are any number of hunting, fishing, backpacking, hiking etc. scenerios where all you need is the way home. In particular, during stormy weather, wouldn’t it be nice to just hit the “home” or “camp” button and not worry about getting lost?

The Bushnell BackTrack is probably the most affordable (less than $60) and simplest GPS on the market.  But is it the right GPS for you? Here are some things to think about before buying one.

Bushnell’s informational  material and flyer tell you that:

  • The BackTrack  “remembers” where you have been.
  • It is the easiest to use GPS….”no maps required” (hmmm). (Editor’s note: Neither Blake nor I can let this “no maps” comment pass! Without a map and compass, and the knowledge of how to use them, you could end up in serious trouble!)
  • Provides direction and distance to your destination.
  • Rainproof. (Not waterproof. There is difference!)
  • Advanced GPS and digital compass technology.
  • Compact.

Well, great, is this product right for you?

After testing the Bushnell BackTrack GPS , there are a lot of the above statements I agree with.

The BackTrack is light, compact and an easy-to-use GPS receiver.  There are two buttons and three options to save waypoints, and only three.  Every new waypoint deletes a previous waypoint.  It is reasonably accurate.  There are no maps to down load and no complex menu functions to worry about.  If you can program your DVD or TiVo player, then this GPS is a snap.

I did several side-by-side comparisons using the BackTrack , my Garmin Map76S Garmin GPSMAP 76 with English and French manual/packaging and Map60CS. Garmin GPS 60CSx Handheld GPS Navigator
The information provided by the far less expensive Bushnell GPS matched exactly with Garmin units in distance data to a destination.  Bearing information provided by the BackTrack matched my two Garmins. 

But the  BackTrack doesn’t provide numerical return bearing/”GO TO” information, just a simple arrow icon.  That icon seemed to hop around more than did the bearing arrows in either Garmin.

If your GPS requirements are more complex, then perhaps  the BackTrack is not for you.  For example, if you want a back country GPS that allows the following:

  • Provide locating information (latitude and longitude) to Search and Rescue (SAR).
  • Pre-program waypoints for specific points of interest.
  • Interface with map software or up load/down load to a PC.
  • Share information with friends and family.
  • Waterproof.
  • Have a map page that displays waypoints and points of interest surrounding your general location.
  • Provide mundane information such as a digital display of sun rise/set, time, elevation, and latitude/longitude and GOTO bearing data.

Then the BackTrack is not for you.  It just does not have those capabilities.

As a backpacker, hunter and SAR team member I demand more from my electronics.  I want and require the details.  I would like to share information with my hunting party.  I also want to be able to see on my map display what is around me.  I’d like to know where streams, roads and trails are in relation to my present position.  And that doesn’t mean I want to spend a lot of money for the most expensive GPS on the market. 

The BackTrack is just fine for what it does.  But keep in mind what it won’t do and that is considerable.

Finally, there is always time for a map and compass.  My map isn’t at the bottom of my pack; it is in a zip lock bag in my pants cargo pocket!

(Another editor’s note: ANY GPS, no matter how technologically advanced or expensive, is only as good as its batteries. Replace batteries in all backcountry electronic devices regularly and always carry spares. Anything electronic can fail, and Murphy’s Law states this will happen when you need it most! NO GPS is a substitute for a map and compass and the knowledge of  how to use them!)

 

Blake Miller 

Blake Miller

has made a career out of staying found and knowing where he is at all times. His formal navigation training began when he joined the U.S. Navy in 1973.  He served as an officer aboard several Navy ships over his  twenty-year career; many of those tours included the duty of Navigator.  Blake began working with satellite navigation systems at sea in 1976, culminating with the then-new Global Positioning Systems aboard the Battleship WISCONSIN in early 1990.

In 1998 Blake started Outdoor Quest, a business dedicated to backcountry navigation and wilderness survival.  Blake has taught classes to wild land firefighters, state agency staffs, Search and Rescue team members, hunters, hikers, skiers, fishermen and equestrians.   He regularly teaches classes through the Community Education programs at Central Oregon (Bend) and Chemeketa (Salem, OR) Community Colleges.

As a volunteer, Blake teaches navigation and survival classes through the Becoming an Outdoor Woman (B0W) program, to students in the local school district, and conservation groups.  He is a member of a Search and Rescue team.

Contact Information:

Website: www.outdoorquest.biz

Phone: 541 280 0573

Email: [email protected]

Recommended Reading:
Surviving a Wilderness Emergency
Build the Perfect Survival Kit
GPS Made Easy (GPS Made Easy: Using Global Positioning Systems in the Outdoors)
Staying Found: The Complete Map and Compass Handbook

About The Author

3 Responses

  1. john hayes

    DO NOT BUY a waste of money not reliable would not take chance in woods with it

    Reply
  2. Jay Jay

    This item is going back to the store. Either Bushnell paid for positive reviews or thier quality control of the product needs improvement. This thing didn't work at all and I am not a novice user to such devices.

    Reply

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