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Reviews > Navigation and Map Gear > GPS > Bushnell Backtrack GPS PLF > Test Report by Kathleen Waters

BUSHNELL BACKTRACK
TEST SERIES BY KATHLEEN WATERS
LONG-TERM REPORT

INITIAL REPORT - September 06, 2009
FIELD REPORT - November 11, 2009
LONG TERM REPORT - January 18, 2010

TESTER INFORMATION

NAME: Kathleen Waters
EMAIL: kathy@backpackgeartest.com
AGE: 58
LOCATION: Canon City, Colorado, USA
GENDER: F
HEIGHT: 5' 4" (1.60 m)
WEIGHT: 125 lb (56.70 kg)

Living in Colorado and being self-employed, I have ample opportunities to backpack. There are over 700,000 acres/280000 hectares of public land bordering my 35-acre/14-hectare "backyard" in addition to all the other gorgeous locations which abound in Colorado. Over the past 15 years, my husband John and I have also had the good fortune to hike/snowshoe glaciers, rain forests, mountains and deserts in exotic locations, including New Zealand, Iceland, Costa Rica, Slovenia and Death Valley. My hiking style is comfortable, aiming for lightweight. I use a tent (rainfly if needed). Current pack averages 25 lb (11 kg) excluding food and water.


INITIAL REPORT

PRODUCT INFORMATION & SPECIFICATIONS

Manufacturer: Bushnell Corporation
Year of Manufacture: 2009
Manufacturer's Website: http://www.bushnell.com
MSRP: US $77.49
Listed Weight: N/A
Measured Weight w/lanyard & batteries: 3 oz (85 g)
Colors Available: Tech Gray, Gray/Orange, Camo, Green, and Pink
Color Tested: Green
Screen Type: Grayscale LCD
Battery Life: Over 130 uses /20+ hours
Dimensions: 3 x 3.5 x 0.75 in (75 x 90 x 19 mm)

Other details: from manufacturer's website

* Store and locate up to three locations
* Utilizes the latest digital technology:
* High sensitivity SiRF Star III GPS receiver
* Self calibrating digital compass
* Weather resistant
* Operates on 2 AAA Batteries (Not Included)
* Compact size stores easily in your pocket or purse
* Lanyard included for easy attachment

Made in China
Bushnell BackTrack
Picture Courtesy of Bushnell
.

INITIAL IMPRESSIONS

Bushnell's website provides plenty of details and specs; so there were no surprises when I received the BackTrack Personal Location Finder (hereafter, simply called the "BackTrack"). In addition to the clear text and graphics on the website, I was able to watch a short promotional video which explained the features and benefits of the BackTrack. When the BackTrack arrived on my doorstep, its appearance met all my expectations.

The Bushnell BackTrack Personal Location Finder is a GPS technology powered device stripped down to the most basic of functions. It has only two buttons and can mark only three waypoints; a starting location, an ending location and one in-between. Its intent appears to be simple, but effective.

The BackTrack looks like a large compass encased in dark green plastic with beige side accents and a beveled chrome edge encircling the actual LCD display face. The beige side accents extend downward and outward to form a loop through which the included black corded lanyard can be attached. The Bushnell BackTrack labeling is centered top and bottom in white. (see below graphic for clarity)
Holding the BackTrack
Comfortable Fit
The chrome ring around the display has 8 indented evenly-spaced black dots and 60 small "notches" use with the digital compass function. On the outer green facing there are two symbols, one designating the corresponding button as for "POWER/MODE" and the other for, "MARK".

On either side at the top of the unit are the nicely-sized function buttons. (see below graphic for clarity)

A raised embossed "B" covers the center of the back of the BackTrack and covers the battery compartment. Even with the batteries installed and the lanyard attached, the BackTrack is very lightweight. I barely felt it when I slipped it over my head and let it hang down on my chest. Holding the unit in my hand I found a very comfortable fit. With the BackTrack resting on the palm of my hand, the function buttons feel like they were custom-fitted for my fingers to, easily and without strain, activate.

I was especially happy to see the large display area which I am easily able to read outdoors in both sunlight and shade.

BackTrack function display
Picture Courtesy of Bushnell


READING THE INSTRUCTIONS

Upon prying open the plastic blister packaging, I found a small 8-page instruction booklet sandwiched between the product registration card and a brochure on Energizer batteries. Of those 8 pages, only two were devoted to actual directions for use. The other four consisted of button and display visuals (2 pages), "warnings and notices", warranty (one year) and the usual corporate logos, etc. on the front and back covers.

In the actual instruction section, Bushnell manages to breakdown the "Using Your Bushnell BackTrack" into 6 concise steps and I had no difficulty following them precisely. Having the graphics didn't hurt, either!

TRYING IT OUT

Now for the fun! First, I have to confess I actually had a quick demo of the BackTrack at the Outdoor Retail Show in Salt Lake City in July. I was simply handed an already "programmed" unit and told to "find the car". Yeah, right. With a huge parking lot and not knowing what kind or even color the car was, I was skeptical. I'm one of those people who park their car in the same parking lane of the mall parking lot no matter how far out the next available spot is, just so I don't have to remember where the danged thing is! Surprisingly, with almost no real instruction and certainly no instruction sheet, I was able to "find the car" AND the car wasn't even in the parking lot, but off in a totally different direction behind some of the vendor booths. Neat.

However, now that I had a brand-new BackTrack in my hands, I was going to have to do it all myself, starting with inserting the batteries.
Battery Compartment
BackTrack Battery Compartment
The battery compartment is accessed by turning clockwise the back of the unit [using my fingers to twist one of the two small raised nubs. Turning clockwise felt weird since for as long as I can remember, it's been "lefty loosey, righty tighty". After I almost broke a fingernail, trying to pry off the back, I found turning the BackTrack upside down causes the loosened back piece to fall off, revealing the empty battery compartment. Once I was able to open the case, the placement of the batteries was obvious and quickly accomplished. Replacing the lid just required a quick counterclockwise turn and I was ready to go.

It was a very bright sunny day here in Canon City so I was anxious to see if I would be able to even read the BackTrack display. So it was with minor anxiety that I powered up the unit for the first time by holding down on the right power/mode button. Wow! I could clearly see the large centered numbers, the full battery symbol and the flashing satellite icon. Being careful to hold the unit horizontally, since the mode was set as a digital compass, I knew I was facing due north by the clearly visible pointing arrow. Cool.

It took less than 30 seconds for the satellite to be locked in. The unit turned off automatically after about 10 minutes of inactivity. When I re-powered up the BackTrack again, the satellite ready icon was almost immediate.
Function Button
BackTrack Function Button

Next I decided to take a short walk down our very curvy driveway, about a 1200 ft (360 m) trek. As my husband joked about calling in the local SAR group after an hour's passing, I headed out...

First I turned on the BackTrack by holding the right POWER/MODE button. When the display had turned on and the flashing satellite icon settled in, I pushed on the POWER/MODE button until it selected the "home" icon. Bushnell's instructions are very clear on the difference between "Hold" and "Push". PUSH is briefly pressing and then releasing the button and "HOLD" is keeping the button pressed down for 2 seconds. To lock in my starting location, I held down the left MARK button until the distance indicator numbers changed to zero. And I was off!

When I reached my intended destination, I was feeling pleased and wanting to enjoy my walk further, I decided to check out our neighbor's new colt. This would put additional distance and a 90 degree turn into my walk. So, I held the right POWER/MODE button until the BackTrack powered up and then pushed it again to select the "car" location icon which is the next possible location selection. Bushnell explains the icons can be used for any three locations, as long as they are sequential (and I remember them). Again after I marked the spot, I was off.

After visiting with "Doc", I turned and headed for home. I followed the above steps and got a huge kick out of seeing the numbers decrease as I approached my mid-point. I'm not sure why, but I didn't get to zero, but only to "003". I did get to zero and the expected circle of pointing arrows when I reached home, however.

While, a walk down a section of my well-known (to me) dirt country road isn't much of a test, it is enough for me to be confident of and trust in the operation of the BackTrack. I will be headed out into unfamiliar territory shortly and will be testing out the BackTrack's ability to keep me on the straight and narrow even if the "straight and narrow" trail turns out to be twisted and non-existent.

SUMMARY

This concludes my Initial Report on the Bushnell BackTrack. The results of my first two months of testing the BackTrack are detailed below.


FIELD REPORT

FIELD LOCATIONS AND CONDITIONS

Autumn is one of my favorite times of year to hike and backpack. As usual, I made good use of the gorgeous weather to get in several day hikes in September and October. Aside from my almost daily hikes down to the mailbox - a 5 miles (8 km) trek - and weekly 4-6 hours hikes in the public lands behind our property, I spent 9 days hiking in various locations in southwest Colorado, the Mesquite, Nevada area and Zion National Park and Arches National Park in Utah.

Colorado one-day-each hikes took place in Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park near Gunnison and Mesa Verde National Park near Cortez. A total of 2.5 days were spent there. Mesquite hikes included trails in the Valley of Fire State Park and Desert National Wildlife Range where I spent 3 days checking out the scenery. Lastly, 2 way-too-inadequate days were devoted Zion National Park and 1.5 days in Arches National Park.

All of the above hikes were in desert and canyon conditions where the day time temperatures were between 30 F and 95 F (-1 C and 35 C). No significant rainfall was experienced, but we did have to wait out a shower under a ledge in Zion National Park one day.

PERFORMANCE IN THE FIELD

My hiking time these past two months was extensive but limited pretty much to well-marked and well-traveled National Park trails. I was (unpleasantly) surprised at the number of people on these trails despite the fact it was mostly mid-week and not summer. At times, it was slow going trying to avoid the crowd. But I digress! The reality in relationship to this test was, during most treks, I didn't NEED to use the BackTrack to find my way home. Even a lemming could have done it!

However, I was able to test the BackTrack for accuracy as I had known waypoints, ending destinations, mileage, etc. And accurate the BackTrack was!

It was interesting to see the BackTrack was able to find the satellites even in a moving vehicle and at no time - in the locations I hiked - was the signal unavailable. Upon start-up it did (and does) take quite a bit of time - up to 5 minutes - to lock onto the satellites which is a bit more than I would like. I've solved the time delay by turning the BackTrack on while I'm lacing up my boots. That way, it is ready when I am.

Using the BackTrack simply in compass mode, there was a less than 2 degrees difference between it and my husband's very expensive GPS. While over a great distance that might be a problem, it wasn't a hassle for me.

As for distance tracking, I found the BackTrack to be practically right on when compared to National Park published paper maps and signage (when available) on the trails. However, I don't have the same level of confidence when the BackTrack counts down the number of "steps" required for return to my start point. It was always 10-3 steps off, meaning the BackTrack would indicate I had to walk more than was necessary to reach my destination. As in all cases, my endpoint was clearly visible, that variance never really mattered.

As a battery saving measure, the BackTrack automatically goes dark after 20 seconds of inactivity. Starting it up again takes less time than initial start up, thank goodness, but care is necessary at this point to not mess up the waypoints. Using the BackTrack became intuitive after a bit - I'm slow, even with basic technology! On a couple of occasions, I pressed the wrong button and wiped out or wrote over one of my waypoints. But I'm much better now and haven't done that the last several times I used it. The BackTrack is not forgiving when a mistake is made. There isn't any "back" button, unfortunately.

Even in bright sunlight, I can operate and read the BackTrack. The screen is well designed and large enough for me to discern the needed data without strain. In the glare of high sun, simply turning my body to shield the face of the BackTrack is sufficient. No hunched-over, cupped hands or under the jacket contortions were necessary. This is good!

I found I don't like using the lanyard looped around my neck. Even a moderate walk causes it to bounce around on my chest and with any kind of scrambling, I run the risk of strangling myself if the lanyard gets caught on a branch or the like. I tried wrapping it a couple of times and wedging the BackTrack under my pack chest strap, but that didn't work for me either. My solution was to fasten the lanyard to my waist belt. There, the BackTrack rests on my hip and doesn't move much at all. I've found the BackTrack is perfectly positioned there for quick and easy data retrieval, too.

As a result of my usage of the BackTrack over the last two months on established trails, I now have confidence it will get me back to where I want to go, even if the trail is not visible. Winter is a time when my husband and I love to snowshoe through the mountains behind our property and often follow wildlife tracks, meandering here and there. The BackTrack will definitely be relied on completely these next two months.

SUMMARY

See below for the results of my last two months of field use.


LONG-TERM REPORT

LONG-TERM TEST LOCATIONS AND CONDITIONS

With the Christmas holidays and then a bout with a nasty cold, I was only able to use the BackTrack on 3 day hikes during these last two month. Oh, and just for fun, I used it at Walt Disney World one day in Orlando, Florida!

All the day hikes were in the mountains behind my land in Canon City, Colorado with the elevation upwards of 5600 ft (1700 m) to 5800 ft (1770 m). The weather was generally sunny to partly cloudy with temperatures from 38 F (3 C) to 65 F (18 C). The terrain is rocky to muddy with lots of ups and downs and scrubby pine to juniper and cactus vegetation. While I didn't hike in snowy conditions, I did encounter snow on the ground in patches.

PERFORMANCE IN THE FIELD

I continued to use and enjoy using the BackTrack. But, its use is not warranted for most of the trail hikes I've encountered. When the trail is marked and either a circular route or a straight in-and-out hike, the BackTrack is unnecessary.

Where the BackTrack shines though is in the trackless Bureau of Land Management (BLM) land behind my home. The terrain is varied with lots of hills, ridges and canyons. It is fairly heavily forested with pinyon pine and juniper trees and the "trails" are simply clear pathways between the trees. My husband and I love to just walk through our property line and head up into the mountains. Within a very short distance, I get totally disoriented as to where north, south, east and west is. My sense of direction gets skewed and one ridge begins to look very much like the other. With the BackTrack I may not go back home the exact way I went came, but darn close and I've yet to get very far astray of the way. I also particularly like how the BackTrack counts the steps giving me an idea of how much farther I have to go to get back to my starting point.

Using the BackTrack has gotten easier (not that it wasn't easy to start) as I've become accustomed to marking my position and it has definitely improved my compass skills due to the large clear screen. While I might have to shield the face from the sun, there was never a time I couldn't read the numbers on the face.

The battery hasn't yet needed to be changed and the body and face of the BackTrack still look like new despite a decided lack of coddling. I have been wearing the BackTrack outside of my outer clothing, usually hanging on my belt loop. There it has been exposed to the elements, including whatever prickly vegetation is around. It has also suffered an occasional whack against a rock. I dropped the BackTrack on one trip into the snow where it got wet and then muddy as I dropped it again, clumsily stepping on it while trying to retrieve it. A quick wipe with a tissue had to suffice until I could get home where I used a wet cloth to further clean it up. No harm done that I could see. It is certainly a durable, useful device.

SUMMARY

I really like the ease of use and the accuracy of the Bushnell BackTrack and will continue to use it on every occasion where I am on unmarked and unfamiliar territory. I, most likely, will not carry it when hiking circular trails and straight-in-and-out well-marked trails though.
The BackTrack is a handy device and I heartily recommend, it especially for GPS novices!

Thank you to Bushnell and for the opportunity to explore with this neat navigational tool!

Kathleen (Kathy) Waters

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

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