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Reviews > Navigation and Map Gear > GPS > Bushnell Backtrack GPS PLF > Test Report by Ralph Ditton

BUSHNELL BACKTRACK PERSONAL LOCATION FINDER

TEST REPORTS BY RALPH DITTON
INITIAL REPORT: 29th AUGUST, 2009
FIELD REPORT: 6th November, 2009
LONG TERM REPORT: 5th January, 2010

Personal Information
Name: Ralph Ditton
Age: 58
Gender: Male
Height: 1. 76 m (5 ft 9 in)
Weight: 71 kg (156.5 lb)
Email: rdassetts at optusnet dot com dot au
City: Perth. Western Australia. Australia

Backpacking Background
My playgrounds are the Bibbulmun Track and the Coastal Plain Trail. I aim to become a sectional end-to-end walker of the Bibbulmun Track. I am nearly there as it is 964 km (603 mi) long. My pack weight including food and water tends to hover around 18 kg (40 lb) but I am trying to get lighter. My trips range from overnighters to five days duration.

Product Information
Manufacturer: Bushnell Corporation
Year of Manufacturer: 2008
Manufacturer's URL: http://www.bushnell.com

Model: BackTrack GPS
Model Number: 36-0060 - International
Colour: Gray/Orange
Made in: China
Listed Weight: Not listed
Measured Weight: 72 g [2.5 oz] (including batteries)
Measured Weight with lanyard: 84 g [2.9 oz] (including batteries)
Batteries: 2 AAA
Battery Life: Over 130 uses/ 20+ hours
Listed Dimensions: 75 (H) x 90 (W) x 19 (D) mm [3 (H) x 3.5 (W) x 0.75 (D) in
Waypoints: 3
Compass: Self calibrating digital compass
Antenna: SiRF Star 111 GPS receiver
Screen type: Grayscale LCD
Backlight: Blue
Warranty: One year
MSRP: USD79.49 (for International version)

Product Description
What does it do
The BackTrack unit can store up to three locations for the user to navigate back to.
There are three icon symbols, house, car and a star.

Depending on the icon being displayed at the time, that icon will indicate a location that I have marked and stored in the BackTrack. E.g. I would use the house icon to mark the position of my home or someone else's home when visiting an area I am unfamiliar with so that I could find my way back again after say going down to the shops.

N.B. It does not necessarily have to be a home. It can be any location that I choose. All I have to do is remember what is the location that I have marked under that icon.
This is true for all of the location icons.

To find my way back to a marked location, the display shows the distance from the location and an arrow head shows the direction.

The car icon I would use when leaving the vehicle hidden in the bush when setting off on a backpack. I would mark the car's location.

The unit is incapable of displaying actual co-ordinates that would assist with map reading.

The only way to change a marked location is to override it with a fresh marked location.

As there is only three spaces for numerals, the distance display automatically changes from metres to kilometres (yards to miles) up to a maximum distance of 999 kilometres or miles.

What happens after that if I exceed the magic numbers of 999 is anybodys guess as the Instruction Booklet is silent.
Does the unit throw a hissy fit, or does it store the actual distance whilst displaying the numerals 999 and then starts to countdown as I return and move under 999 kilometres (620 mi) from say 3,000 km (1,864 mi).
I will be traveling to Sydney next month which is on the other side of Australia, some 3,000 km's (1,864 mi) distant. This will be a little test.

Another feature is the digital compass. In the Compass mode, an arrow head points North and the display shows the direction that I am facing in degrees.

There is a fixed graduation ring with 60 markings around the circumference on the bezel edge.

Expectations from the Web Page
What I received was what I expected from the outward appearance as depicted on the manufacturer's web site. However, I was a little surprised at the apparent conflict of model numbers.

The main web page that deals with the item and which has the video on its uses has a button to choose the colour choices. When I clicked on and I made a colour choice selection, the model number was 36-0050 for the Gray/Orange.

                                  trapezium box
                                                        trapezium box

The trapezium shaped box it arrived in had a model number of 36-0060 on the base.

After much searching of the manufacturer's web page I discovered that my model was an International model. The "Features" description does not mention what is different and it cost USD2 more.

I took the matter up with the Product Line Manager GPS who advised the following: "The 36-0050 comes in an English only clam card package. This unit is primarily sold in the United States. The BackTrack units are set to a default of Yards/Miles.

The 36-0060 comes in a 6 language paper box. The SKU (part of the full model number description SKU #: 36-0060) also includes a storage pouch. The included BackTrack is set to the default of Metres/Kilometres. This SKU is primarily sold by our International subsidiaries.

The actual BackTrack's are exactly the same, with only the default units settings differing."

The Bushnell BackTrack Personal Location Finder comes in other colours: Green, Pink, Tech Gray and Camo.

                                  rear of trapezium box
                                                      rear of trapezium box


The face
The round viewing face has a diameter of 37 mm (1.5 in) which is a very good size to view the displayed information. This allows for large icons eliminating the need for me to wear glasses.
The numerals are 8 mm (0.3 in) high and 5 mm (0.2 in) wide. Nice and big.

                                               digital compass
                                                                         digital compass

The satellite, battery, location modes and digital compass icons are much smaller but very visible without my need for glasses. The smallest icon is 3 mm (0.11 in) including the Directional Arrow point. (See above photo)

Hard up against the transparent face around the circumference are 60 graduation markings and at each 7 graduation marking there is a recessed red dot, giving a total of eight around the circumference.
These markings are there to assist with the unit in compass mode.

The buttons

                                 features of backtrack
                                                        (Acknowledgment) photo of manual page

There are two buttons, one between the 1 and 2 o'clock position and the other between the 10 and 11 o'clock position. For ease of description I will use 2 and 10 o'clock.

The 2 o'clock position button is the MODE/Power button. It turns the unit on/off and switches between the location icons and digital compass.

To turn the unit on, I have to hold the button in for a few seconds then it will then search for satellites.

When I want to scroll through the icons, I have to just quickly press the MODE button and an icon will show up. I just keep scrolling until I find the one I want.

The 10 o'clock position button is the MARK/Backlight button.

To mark a location, I press the MARK button and hold the button in until the distance indication changes.

In addition, in poor light or darkness I press the MARK/Backlight button and a blue light illuminates the face from what I believe are two LED sources that are in line with the two buttons as they are hidden under the casing. It does not appear to be an
electroluminescent source.
It illuminates the face for about 20 seconds.

The amount of light given off is 0.5 lux (as measured by my light metre) at a distance of 3 cm (1.2 in). By way of comparison, a Quarter moon gives off 0.01 lux and a full moon is 1 lux.

The blue light is very good for scotopic (night) vision as human vision has increased sensitivity to its wavelength.

Battery Compartment
On the reverse of the unit is the battery cover which takes up most of the rear.

To open I have to twist the round battery cover clockwise which is quite difficult to do as there are only two small lugs to use for my fingernails.

There is an O ring recessed in the body of the unit to give it a weather seal.

Inside and above the battery recessed slot is a label with the model number and what appears to be a serial number and bar code.

Lanyard
A lanyard is supplied and it attaches to the big eyelet at the base of the unit. (See above photo on the reverse of the box).

The tail of the lanyard, which has a thin cord loop, can be separated from the actual cord by pressing in the lugs in and pulling apart.

Also supplied is a soft material storage pouch with a draw cord.

The Instructions
I found these very easy to understand.

The Instruction booklet has sections devoted to English, French, Spanish, German, Italian and Portuguese.

The English section has only 6 pages and the first two pages have good illustrations with lots of arrows pointing to various parts of the unit indicating their function.

The next two pages devote themselves to the various functions and how to operate the buttons.

The last two are housekeeping ones detailing "Warnings and Notices" and the "One Year Limited Warranty"

The instructions can also be downloaded from the manufacturer's web site.

My Initial Impressions
I was pleasantly surprised to receive a packet of 4 AAA Lithium batteries.
The box stated that batteries were not included and that I only needed two. A real bonus.

The feel of the unit was comfortable as it sat in the palm of my hand. Its casing is plastic with the orange edge slightly frosted for better grip. A nice touch.

Opening the battery compartment was a tad difficult as there is very little to get a purchase on to rotate the back cover. There are two very slightly raised lugs 33 mm (1.3 in) apart in an east/west position. I had to use my thumb fingernails against the side of the lugs which are about mm (0.02 in) high and push against them in a clockwise direction.

This aspect really needs some attention, perhaps a reinforced centre for a coin to be inserted into a slot which can then twist it open or two slightly rounded finger/thumb recesses.

Once open, the batteries were easy to install. I just followed the + and - symbols stamped into the battery well.
The batteries are a very snug fit and I had some difficulty in trying to remove them as an exercise. Perhaps a little ribbon underneath them would assist.

The buttons are a good size with a diameter of 8 mm (0.3 in). Plenty of surface for my fingers to operate on. The top surfaces are stamped in a fine grid pattern to make them non-slip.

I went outside and powered up the unit, locked onto the satellites and scrolled through to my home icon. I then proceeded to change the units from Metric to Imperial by holding in both the MARK and MODE buttons, then back again to Metric as I wanted to test the ease of operation of switching between units.
It was very easy.

Once done, I then marked my home position.
Then I went for a little walk around the block and used the unit to direct me back home.

When I got back home to the spot where I marked it, the display numeral went to 0 and I got a star burst of arrow heads.

                                                 arrived at location
                                                                             arrived at location
As can be seen in the above photo, the numeral and icons are nice and big and I did not need to use my glasses.

I then tried out the digital compass mode. I wanted to check it for accuracy against my base plate compass for magnetic north.
What I found was that it was spot on, but I had to take it slowly as the unit changed numerals seconds after I stopped rotating my body trying to line up magnetic north. There was a lag time so it took a little time finding magnetic north.
As this was my first time using it I put it down to inexperience and unfamiliarity with the unit. Hopefully I will get better at getting a fix with more experience.

The arrow head always points magnetic north.

The other pleasing aspect was that it is self calibrating. Unlike my GPS, I did not have to rotate it twice to achieve a calibration when I installed the batteries.

There is no means to manually delete a marked location. The only way around it is to override it with another marked location. I'll have to be careful not to override the wrong one when out in the bush taking my waypoints.

Maybe there should be some warning flash on the screen along the lines of "Are you sure that you want to override this location icon?"
Just a thought.

As the unit is still new and I have unused icons, the display shows three dashes in lieu of numerals.

                                        unused icon
                                                                          unused icon
The battery icon shows that they are still full and the satellite icon is steady and locked on. The directional arrow is immobile as it has no reference.

When writing up this report, I had the unit switched on looking at its various features and the satellite lock stayed on even though I was indoors in front of a window with a small eave.
The unit was still locking onto satellites through the window. Very impressive.

Summary

Overall, the BackTrack is very easy to operate, just a two button operation and the numerals and icons are large enough without me requiring my glasses to see clearly.

The soft storage pouch is a nice touch. It gives protection to the display face.

I would like to see maybe more than the ability of just three waypoints. Perhaps a maximum of six especially when bushwalking so that points of interest can be marked for a future return.
I do tend to return to the same area when leading/assisting with Introductory Walks for my Bushwalking Club.

There is no facility to display the GPS co-ordinates which is a pity. I do like to use the co-ordinates and look them up in Google Earth.

Things I like
  • Lightweight but solid
  • Large numerals and icons
  • Self calibrating digital compass
  • Simple to operate
  • Good backlight
  • Battery metre
  • Satellite icon locks on quickly
Things that could be improved
  • Battery cover needs a better feature to open it, like a reinforced coin slot or finger/thumb holes
  • Easier removal of batteries
  • More waypoints
  • Display of GPS co-ordinates
Field Report
Date: 6th November, 2009

My first test was on a wildflower trip north of Perth to the Moganmoganing Nature Reserve and Rica Erickson Nature Reserve.
They both sit at an elevation of 300 m (984 ft).
The weather was overcast but fine with an average temperature of 16 C (61 F).

When I turned on the unit, it took about three minutes to lock onto the satellites.

I have no way of knowing how many satellites the unit requires to lock on to stop the Satellite Icon from flashing. The instruction book is silent.

I marked the spot at the Rica Erickson Nature Reserve as I wanted to measure out 5.5km's (3.4 mi) so that our group could leave some cars there and we slowly walked back to the starting point taking photos of wildflowers along the way.
The nature strip is up to 60 m (196 ft) wide.

Whilst looking at various wildflowers members of the group would call out (as we were spread out) and say that they had found a good specimen and we would all go over and have a look.

I also came across specimens that I wanted the group to look at. At times this happened when others made discoveries and I had a difficult time in trying to find them again amongst the grass and shrubs to show people after I had been to look at the other peoples discoveries.

I hit on the idea of "way pointing" the flower and I used the "star" icon for this.

To mark the spot, I held the unit over the flower and held the "MARK" button until the distance indication changed to "0".

I did this for a number of flowers and I had no difficulty in locating the flowers using the directional arrow to lead me back to them with the distance decreasing back to "0".

                                                         spider orchid

The photo above is of one such flower, the Spider Orchid.

Sometimes I was able to spot the flower a few metres (feet) away so I did not need to get to absolute zero.

As I was progressing along the Nature Reserve I overrode marked locations with fresh discoveries.

My next use was on a 6 day bushwalk along the Cape to Cape Track of 135 km (84 mi).
We started off at the Lighthouse at Cape Leeuwin and I took a way point at the start.

This starting point became the marker to calculate how far the next campsite was away and to confirm our position on the map by giving me a distance from the Lighthouse at Cape Leeuwin.

We did not return to our starting point. We just went end-to-end.

I had no need to take any additional way points. All that I was interested in was:
a) How far we had traveled.
b) Where were we in relation to the map by how far we were away from Cape Leeuwin
c) How far to the next campsite when having a rest/meal break.

My walking companions asked me at various times as to how far we had come and they could then work out how far to the next camp.

I assisted with an Introduction Bushwalk in Kitty's Gorge south of Perth. The weather was fine and warm with an average temperature of 22 C (72 F). The gorge floor sits at an elevation of 100 m (328 ft).

At the car park I took a way point. The Backtrack took about four minutes to lock onto the satellites.
This walk was a mixture of off track and on track and I was tasked at certain points of the walk to take the lead.
In conjunction with the map and the Backtrack I got the group back to the cars safe and sound. As luck would have it, I was given the final section to lead. In all, I led for three sections of the walk.

The photo below shows the distance to Kitty's Gorge car park from my place.

                                  distance to Kitty's Gorge                                                      

The final time I used the Backtrack was on a recent trip to Sydney.

I used it to mark various locations in the city so that we could navigate our way back to the hotel after a day of sightseeing.

One thing that I noticed was that it took a good six minutes to lock onto a satellite when I first switched it on for the day, which surprised me. I would have expected a quicker response time in a major capital city.

As Sydney is over 3,000 kilometres (1,864 mi) away the Backtrack only shows 999 km (620 mi) and the direction.

                                            direction and distance to Sydney

The compass heading for magnetic north is a little bit out when compared to my compass. I am unable to judge the variance but the photo below shows the slight difference.

                                            comparing backtrack and compass

Summary
To date I have found the Backtrack fun and it is easy to use. The only irritating aspect that I have with the unit is the very slow lock on time to the satellites when doing a cold start most of the time.

Today, I was pleasantly surprised as it only took a bit under two minutes to lock on.

Long Term Report
5th January, 2010

Since my last report, I have only used the BackTrack twice on day walks with the Perth Bushwalkers Club.

One was an Introductory Walk for new members in mid November and the other was to Wooroloo Brook in the Walyunga National Park.

Both of these walks were approximately 15 km (9 mi) in length with an elevation gain of 150 m (492 ft).

Temperatures averaged 32 C (90 F).

In the metropolitan area I used the BackTrack at our suburban shopping centre at Boorogoon a few days after Christmas for the post Christmas sale so that I could locate the car in the massive car park.

Field Report

On the Introductory Walk I was an assistant to the leader and we went to an area that I was not fully au fait with.

I took a reading where we parked the vehicles in the bush as a safety precaution in case I had to either take over as leader, or I had to escort an inductee back to the cars in case of an emergency, such as if the person found the going tough and it was beyond their abilities. That is why we have Introductory Walks to sort them out.

Fortunately, on this occasion nothing untoward happened so I just cruised along talking to the potential club members and checking on the Bushnell to see how far we were getting away from the vehicles and then the pleasant experience of seeing the distance drop as we returned by another route, heading to the parked cars in the bush.

Did the same thing for the second walk. On this walk I was the Tail End Charlie, so I had the luxury of following the crowd with an eye on the Bushnell when we started to return off track for part of the way.

With the shopping experience, I marked the car then went with my wife for her to shop.
On two occasions my wife gave me packages to take back to the car whilst she went on her merry way in shoe and clothing shops.

Now, I am usually pretty good at remembering roughly where I park my wife's vehicle, but I invariably come unstuck as to what row it is in. These are long rows and there are lots of similar shape/model/colour cars like the wife's, so it is a case of looking at the number plate.

With the Bushnell I had no worries. Straight to it.

Summary
The Bushnell is very basic with only three way points.
It does not give out any co-ordinates or indicate how many satellites it is locked onto.

I found that the Bushnell BackTrack locked onto the satellites from a cold start quite quickly when there are 4 or more in the area and very clear skies.
How do I know?
Because I checked it against my GPS which has a satellite display page. Sometimes the BackTrack beat my GPS in getting a fix from a cold start by as much as 1 minute 9 seconds.
This did surprise me considering in my Field Report that I experienced slow lock on times.

Thinking back, there was some cloud about and it was spring with occasional rain. I did not check it against my GPS in that phase.

My "Likes" and "Dislikes" remain unchanged.

This concludes my test series of reports.


Thank you to Bushnell for making this unit available to test.


Read more reviews of Bushnell gear
Read more gear reviews by Ralph Ditton

Reviews > Navigation and Map Gear > GPS > Bushnell Backtrack GPS PLF > Test Report by Ralph Ditton



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