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Reviews > Navigation and Map Gear > GPS > Bushnell Backtrack GPS PLF > Test Report by Brian Hartman

BUSHNELL BACKTRACK PERSONAL LOCATION FIN
TEST SERIES BY
LONG-TERM REPORT

INITIAL REPORT - August 22, 2009
FIELD REPORT - November 10, 2009
LONG TERM REPORT - January 10, 2010

TESTER INFORMATION

NAME: Brian Hartman
EMAIL: bhart1426ATyahooDOT com
AGE: 41
LOCATION: Noblesville, Indiana
GENDER: M
HEIGHT: 5' 9" (1.75 m)
WEIGHT: 145 lb (65.80 kg)

I have been hiking and camping for over 20 years and enjoy backpacking solo and with my kids in Scouting. I especially enjoy fall and winter backpacking and camping. My backpack and gear are older and weigh 40+ lbs (18 kg). This has limited the distances I have been able to cover while hiking. My goal over the next several years is to replace my existing clothing and gear with more suitable and lighter weight alternatives.


INITIAL REPORT

PRODUCT INFORMATION & SPECIFICATIONS

Manufacturer: Bushnell
Year of Manufacture: 2009
Manufacturer's Website: http://www.bushnell.com/
MSRP: US$ Not Listed
Listed Weight: Not Listed
Measured Weight: 3 oz (85 g)
Warranty: One Year

Additional Information:
Screen Type: Backlit Grayscale LCD
Battery Type: 2 AAA
Battery Life: 20 hours
Dimensions: 3 in (H) x 3.5 in (W) x 0.75 in (D) (75 mm x 90 mm x 19 mm)
Accuracy: +/- 3 meters (+/- 10 ft)
Waypoints: 3
Compass: Self Calibrating Digital Compass
Receiver type: Compact antenna SiRF Star III

Available Colors: Gray/Orange, Green, Tech Gray, Camo

Bushnell describes the BackTrack as "the world’s easiest-to-use GPS personal location finder for Peace of Mind, wherever you find yourself. Getting back at the end of the day is as easy as pushing a button and following an arrow. Utilizing GPS technology in its most basic format, BackTrack has only two buttons and stores up to three locations – just mark it and forget it until it’s time to return. At the end of the day, select your location and the BackTrack displays direction and distance to travel. Use it to find your car in a crowded parking lot, your treestand or the trailhead, even to rendezvous with your group. It’s extremely compact and stows conveniently in your pocket, pack or purse."


INITIAL IMPRESSIONS

IMAGE 2

The Bushnell BackTrack arrived in a plastic blister pack in excellent condition. Included with the BackTrack was an instruction booklet and lanyard.

Upon removing the BackTrack from its packaging, I immediately noticed how lightweight and compact it was. It can easily fit in the palm of my hand. The BackTrack is made of hard plastic with an eyelet for attaching the lanyard. It feels sturdy and appears to be very well made. I am very happy with my color selection of Gray/Orange. The contrasting colors look great on this GPS. The body of the GPS includes a large digital display in the center with two buttons which are located at the 11 o'clock and 1 o'clock position. These buttons can be easily pushed using my thumb and index finder. The eyelet for the lanyard is located at the 6 o'clock position just below the BackTrack Logo while Bushnell's logo is at the 12 o'clock position. Bushnell has done a great job designing this GPS in a very small housing and it appears to have a lot of great features including:

- Compact size with ease to carry lanyard
- Large digital display
- Simple two button control
- Self calibrating digital compass
- Operates on 2 AAA batteries with manufacturer estimated runtime of 20 hours
- Weather resistant; solid construction

Other features include backlighting so the unit can be used at night, an icon indicating when the BackTrack has locked onto satellite signals, and an icon for remaining battery life. The GPS receiver uses SiRF Star III technology for accuracy of +/- 3 meters (+/- 10 ft) according to Bushnell. Distances are indicated in miles with decimals and convert to yards when you're near your destination. The BackTrack can display distance in kilometers and meters as well, by holding down the Mark and Mode buttons. Bushnell states that the BackTrack is weather resistant.


READING THE INSTRUCTIONS

The instructions for the Bushnell BackTrack are concise and easy to follow. The 6 page manual includes a 3-step quick reference guide as well as more detailed instructions on how to operate the GPS and compass. It also describes the warranty and lists the return address for warranty claims. While reading the instructions I came across two things of interest. First of all, the BackTrack will remember the last mode and location used and return there on power-up. Second, the BackTrack automatically turns off after 10 minutes if no buttons are pressed during that time.

TRYING IT OUT

The BackTrack is pretty much what I expected after reading about it on Bushnell's website and watching a web video of it in action. My first order of business was to insert a new set of batteries. The battery compartment is located on the back of the GPS. I was able to access it without any tools by simply rotating the battery cover clockwise with my fingers. After inserting 2 AAA batteries, I closed the cover and pushed the power button. The BackTrack immediately powered up and the satellite icon flashed to let me know it was attempting to get reception. It took approximately 90 seconds for the BackTrack to lock onto a signal, at which point the satellite icon stopped flashing. Of note, I was inside my house while doing this. Based on my experience with other GPS units, I expect the BackTrack will 'lock on' much quicker outdoors. Bushnell also states in their instruction booklet that satellite lock will take longer the first time the BackTrack is used, but will be quicker on the next power up.

IMAGE 3 I turned the BackTrack off and headed outside for a second test. Once standing in my front yard I turned the BackTrack on again, and sure enough, it locked on its satellites within 35 seconds. The BackTrack allows you to enter the location of of up to three sites, such as your vehicle, campsite, and a point of interest, and then indicates the direction and distance to those sites. Three icons are designated to represent these sites: a house, a car and a star. I marked the front of my house as the first location, using the house icon. Next I headed around the house towards my backyard, all the while watching the display. The display was easily visible and the screen resolution was better than I expected, with large easy-to-read numbers. As it was overcast at the time of this test, I didn't have any trouble reading the display. It will be interesting to see how easy it is to read on a sunny day. After reaching my backyard I selected compass mode, and the center display immediately showed the direction I was facing in degrees. The compass appeared to be accurate. When functioning as a digital compass, north is designated as 0 degrees; east is 90 degrees; south is 180 degrees; and west is 270 degrees. This is more accurate than letter designations, such as W for west and S for south, but it will take me some time getting used to. When in compass mode, the arrow always points north. Upon returning to GPS mode and selecting the house icon, the center display showed a distance of 28 yards to the front of my house, which seemed reasonable. An arrow showed the direction I needed to travel, in this case directly thru my kitchen towards the front door.

In addition to the main readout, a battery icon is in the upper left of the display and shows battery life remaining. To the right of that is an icon indicating whether the BackTrack has locked onto its satellites. The On/Off button doubles as a mode select button to choose compass or location mode. The mark button stores the current location in the BackTrack's memory under the selected location icon. It also turns on the display backlight for approximately 20 seconds.

SUMMARY

The BackTrack Personal Locator is simple and easy-to-use with two buttons, an easy to read screen and the ability to save up to three locations. Once the locations are marked, just push a button to navigate back to where you started. In the compass mode, it will indicate the direction of travel in compass degrees and a reference to magnetic North. Just follow the arrows.

This concludes my Initial Report for the BackTrack. I will post a Field Report in approximately two months. Please check back then for further information. I would like to thank Bushnell and BackpackGearTest.org for providing me with the opportunity to test the BackTrack GPS.


FIELD REPORT

FIELD LOCATIONS AND CONDITIONS

During the past two months, I have used the Bushnell BackTrack on nine day hikes and five multi-day backpacking trips. For the purposes of this report, I will focus on my use of this GPS on the three trips mentioned below as they best represent how I have used the Bushnell BackTrack to date.

1. Mounds State Park, Brookville, Indiana: I spent the better part of the day hiking at Mounds State Park. The weather was cool and sunny with highs in the mid 60's F (18 C). The trails were well marked and not too difficult which gave me a perfect chance to become familiar with the BackTrack and its capabilities.

2. Oldenburg, Indiana: My family and I spent Labor Day weekend hiking, camping and fishing in the rolling hills and forests just outside of Oldenburg, Indiana. During this trip we used the BackTrack to mark our campsite before heading out to hike the surrounding areas. On day two I decided to mark the locations of three homemade geocaches so that my kids could try to find them. Afterward I let my kids hide the geocaches so that I could try to find them using the BackTrack. The weather was mild and sunny for the first two days with highs in the mid 70s F (24 C). It began raining during the early morning hours of the third day, so we slept in that morning and packed up around midday to head home.

3. Hoosier National Forest, Bloomington, Indiana: My son and I went to Ransburg Boy Scout Camp in Bloomington, Indiana for a weekend campout. Since the Boy Scout Camp is located right next to the Hoosier National Forest, I decided to use the BackTrack to mark our campsite and then try to find a Fire Tower which was located in a section of the Forest called the Charles Deam Wilderness Area, approximately 8 miles (13 km) away. The BackTrack proved to be incredibly useful on this trip as I had no maps to reference, simply an aerial photo I printed from Yahoo Maps and a general location of the Fire Tower based on my research. Again, I lucked out with the weather as it was warm and sunny with highs in the upper 60's F (20 C). This was about 15 F (-9 C) higher than the average temperature for this time of year. The terrain in this area is quite rugged and heavily forested. I spent the majority of this backpacking trip off-trail.

PERFORMANCE IN THE FIELD

The Bushnell BackTrack performed wonderfully during my Field Testing. It allowed me to mark important locations such as my vehicle, campsite and trailhead. It then displayed the direction and distance to return to those locations, simply and accurately.

For reference, the BackTrack works as follows: To turn the BackTrack on and off, hold down the Mode button on the right side of the GPS for approximately 2 seconds. The compass and location modes are selected by pushing the Mode button and scrolling between the compass and location icons. To Mark a location, simply hold down the Mark button on the left side of the GPS until the screen clears and then displays "0".

The first two hikes mentioned above were on well established trails, and so my main use of the BackTrack was as a final location marker to return to my campsite. I also used the compass function periodically to check my bearings and it appeared accurate when compared with the readings on my Silva compass. A pointer on the perimeter of the display indicates North while the bearing reading in the center of the display indicates how many degrees the BackTrack is pointed away from North.

During our family outing I also used the BackTrack to mark the locations of three homemade geocaches for my kids to find. Even my eight-year-old had no problems using this GPS and very quickly located the geocaches.

IMAGE 1
Yahoo map
The first critical test for the Bushnell BackTrack was returning me to Ransburg after wandering off-trail for ten hours through the Hoosier National Forest. In reality I was not wandering but rather searching for a Fire Tower which was located approximately eight miles Southeast of my campsite. Because my only map was an aerial photo I printed from Yahoo with no reference points, I was at the mercy of the GPS to find my way back. Of course I had told several people where I was going and had a backpack filled with essential survival items as well as a tent and sleeping bag just in case I ended up out there all night.

After marking my campsite, I hiked East over rugged terrain and eventually crossed route 446, where I recorded my second location point. This left my third and last reference point for the Fire Tower. I turned Southeast into the forest and trudged for several more hours before finally deciding to ditch my backpack and continue without it, as I could no longer carry it up and down the steep hills. This meant I had to use up the last location point on the GPS so that I could find my backpack later. As it turned out I never found the Fire Tower but made it safely back to camp that evening thanks to the BackTrack.

In all of my trips, I found the GPS was accurate, the display was easy to read and the buttons were intuitive and simple to use. In addition, the BackTrack always powered up and obtained a satellite signal in under two minutes and it maintained its signal in heavily forested areas and deep ravines. On my trip to the Fire Tower, I found myself wishing I could save more locations and change the icons that referenced those locations. I also wished I had a GPS with terrain mapping software so that I could easily plot courses around the steep hills and deep creeks I encountered. I wished it had the ability to leave "breadcrumbs" so that I could return on the easier path, rather than stumbling up and down steep hills. However, this is not what the BackTrack is about. The BackTrack does everything it advertises, nothing more and nothing less. Battery life is excellent. Although I brought an extra set of AAA batteries on my search for the Fire Tower, the GPS showed no signs of running down after ten hours of hiking. I know this because I diligently watched the battery icon and it kept me informed of battery life during my trip. Another nice feature of the BackTrack is that it conserves batteries by automatically switching off the backlight after twenty seconds and shutting off the GPS's power after ten minutes of inactivity.

SUMMARY

The BackTrack is a well thought out GPS. Bushnell obviously designed it to serve a specific purpose and it does that remarkably well.

Please check back here in approximately two months for my Long Term Report of the Bushnell BackTrack.


LONG-TERM REPORT

LONG-TERM TEST LOCATIONS AND CONDITIONS

During the past two months I used the Bushnell BackTrack six times. The first two times were during day hikes in Cleveland while the other four times were during a backpacking trip in Florida. The terrain included well established trails as well as off trail bushwhacking.

1. North Chagrin Park, Willoughby Hills, Ohio: While visiting family in Cleveland, Ohio I went on two day-hikes. The first was a 3 mi (5 km) hike while the second was a 6 mi (9 km) geocaching adventure. The park elevation is 669 ft (204 m). The temperature both days was in the upper 20's F (-2 C).

2. St Cloud, Florida: Daytime temperatures during this four day backpacking trip ranged from 60 F (15 C) to 82 F (28 C), with night temperatures around 50 F (10 C). The first day and early night were rainy and windy, but after that weather conditions were dry with light breezes. During the following three days the sky was clear and sunny. The trails were well maintained with minimal elevation changes.

PERFORMANCE IN THE FIELD

IMAGE 1 My biggest challenge during the past two months was finding locations where I could use the BackTrack to its full potential. It worked great when I hiked off-trail in remote locations to the extent that it led me safely back to civilization, but I haven't found much use for it when hiking in familiar places or on well marked trails. Before setting out to hike in North Chagrin Park, I used the BackTrack to set the location of our vehicle and the trailhead. As it turned out, the trails were well marked and our car was one of three in the parking lot when we returned so the BackTrack didn't get much of a workout. While in Florida, I used the BackTrack to mark my vehicle's location at the beginning of the trip. I would have liked to use it more during this outing but the routes I hiked were circular and so I did not "backtrack" over previous ground.

During all of my testing the BackTrack performed flawlessly. It feels solid and durable due to its well-thought-out design, although I have yet to drop it accidently or on purpose. Looping the lanyard around my neck gives me quick access to the GPS while allowing me to keep my hands free. Once powered up, it is quick to lock onto a signal and is accurate for the locations I mark. Cold weather has not affected the battery life or readability of the screen. In short, it does what it was designed to do very well. With all of that said, I can't help but think that adding a few additional features would greatly increase the BackTrack's appeal to the broader market. In particular, I would really like to see Bushnell add the ability to download waypoints to the BackTrack. Of course, doing so would most likely increase its cost and complexity. And that in turn may very well alienate the original market that Bushnell intended for this product.

SUMMARY

I have enjoyed using the Bushnell BackTrack during the past five months. It is rugged, offers great battery life and has proven itself accurate. Although it lacks the features of costlier GPS units, such as mapping and the ability to record my route, it offers the most useful features in a small, affordable, easy-to-use package that I don't mind tossing in with my supplies.

This concludes this test series. Thanks to Bushnell and BackpackGearTest.org for the opportunity to test this GPS.

This report was created with the BackpackGearTest.org Report Writer Version 1.5 Copyright 2010. All rights reserved.

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