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Reviews > Navigation and Map Gear > GPS > Bushnell BackTrack D Tour > Test Report by Derek Hansen
Photo courtesy Bushnell
Bushnell — BackTrack D-TOUR
Test Series by Derek Hansen
23 Jul 2013
The Bushnell BackTrack D-TOUR is a small, handheld simplified GPS unit that can store and then navigate back to five waypoints, and can save trip data (up to 48 hours). There is no mention of memory storage space. Essential to the device is the free software for both Mac and PC that is used to download and save trip data. The software also adds map and chart functionality.
The device is designed for simplicity with minimal buttons and simplified display graphics. The company states implicitly that, "The less you have to learn, the shorter your path to success. Simply put, GPS equipment that's easy to use can be critical to ensuring a successful hunt or hike--and for guiding you safely back home."
The device has four buttons, two located on each side. A covered mini USB port is on the right side, just below the buttons.
Image courtesy Bushnell user guide PDF.
On the top, right corner of the device is a plastic lanyard loop. No lanyard is included with the D-TOUR device. Four metal hex screws are visible on the face of the device.
The back of the device has a user-accessible battery plate. The plate has a thumb screw that is easily twisted to unlock and access the battery compartment. The D-TOUR accepts three AAA batteries. There is no mention on battery type (e.g., alkaline or rechargeable) for optimal performance or otherwise.
I generally prefer simple, straightforward design, especially with gear, as it can often be more versatile and easier to use. However, one of the challenges with electronic devices (especially in the era of touch screens and mobile apps) is that something too simple looks more like a toy and not a compelling digital outdoor product. With electronic component miniaturization, a lot can be "crammed" into a small space such as a wrist watch or even a smartphone.
To me, the D-TOUR device walks a fine line between elegant simplicity and a toy. The outer plastic casing feels inexpensive and doesn't inspire confidence if accidentally dropped or if used out in wet weather. The form factor is basic and uninspiring and feels a little too big and thick and for what it can do. Granted, it is lightweight, which is a plus, but it feels almost "hollow" inside.
To Bushnell's credit, I was able to startup and navigate through the device without looking at the manual, I was even able to mark locations. I also changed the basic user settings (units and time) without any help. In order to begin tracking, however, I had to read the instructions. I discovered the backlight by accident.
When I went back and reviewed the packaging and quick-start guide, I couldn't find any claims or measurement about the "weather resistant construction." This left me wondering how "outdoor friendly" the D-TOUR would be, and whether it would withstand being exposed in the rain, or if I should store it in a plastic bag. Looking deeper on the Bushnell website I found a promotional website just for the Backtrack device that had a lot more information. According to http://backtrackgps.com/features, the D-TOUR is rated to IPX4, which means "splash resistent" (specifically, "the equipment has been splashed from all angles for at least 5 minutes at water pressure of 80-100 kN/m^2"). In other words, the D-Tour can handle being rained on, but if I drop it in a stream, there's a good chance it will fail.
Another part of the device that didn't make sense was the memory capacity. The basic material claims the D-TOUR will log "up to 48 hours of trip data," but there is no mention of storage space. On the track screen there is an "MB" icon plus a progress bar labeled "memory" that has ticks at "0" and "100" but there is no indication that this means 0 to 100% capacity or 0 to 100 megabytes. Digging into the online manual again, I discovered that the icon represents the percentage of the trip memory used. The total capacity is only 2 MB.
Why Bushnell didn't include the full manual with the device, or at minimum the IPX rating in or on the packaging bewilders me. An IPX rating is an important selling point, if not a necessary component for outdoor gear.
Trying It Out
In the past few days I've been trying out the D-TOUR to get a good feel for it. First, I tested its speed accuracy while driving in my car. It seemed to be right on target with my car's speedometer and the routes were in line with the roads on Google Maps.
Next, I did a side-by-side comparison while driving with a GPS app on my smartphone to see how close they both were. The main difference was the smartphone app showed the elevation 20 meters (66 ft) higher than the D-TOUR, which when compared with a topo map, was more accurate than the D-TOUR. However, at home, the D-TOUR measured the elevation exactly to what I observed on the topo map. From what I understand of GPS technology, accuracy is variable depending on how many satellites the device is using at the time, but it is good to understand there is a margin of error.
In looking at both devices, I wished the D-TOUR would display more data on the screen, like current elevation, elevation gain/loss, and pace (as opposed to speed). The only data displayed on the track screen is related to speed and distance. Current elevation and temperature is listed on a separate screen. In other words, for a dedicated GPS device with simplicity in mind, I wish the data was more consolidated and presented in a well-organized manner.
There is no mapping on the device. In a nutshell, this device can help me know where I've been (if I mark a location) and can track what I'm doing, but it can't really tell me where I am, unless I have a map with me and can use the lat/lon data to determine my location. I can't enter lat/lon data and have it take me there. I have to get to a location first and mark it before the D-TOUR can help me find it (read: no geocaching or location look-up).
The only adjustment I can make on the device is to recalibrate the compass, which involves holding the device flat and turning it on a plane in a figure-8 pattern a few times.
The real winning point so far for the D-TOUR is the companion software. I've used other simple GPS devices and the support for Macintosh was lackluster. Bushnell, in contrast, has developed native software using the Adobe(R) Air(R) platform, which offers a very native-looking desktop app. It is essentially a web-based application wrapped in a shell that runs on the desired platform.
The installation process was quick and easy, and after updating Adobe(R) Air(R), I was up-and-running within minutes. Plugging in the D-TOUR with the included USB cable was clean and the application immediately recognized the device and downloaded my tracks without so much as an eye blink. No software configuration and no device plug-ins to install; it was fantastic.
The software provides visualization and organization of all the saved tracks. I can view and overlay multiple tracks at a time and toggle between different metrics that the D-TOUR saves, such as temperature, elevation, and rate.
The application uses Google Maps to provide mapping data, which is a big plus as most people are familiar with that interface and the different tools to switch between different map views. I can export the map as a JPG, email a link, or share via Facebook.
When sharing via Facebook, I had to log in to my account and authorize the app. The result is a link to my saved route on the web.
In the settings, I can switch languages and pick either English or Metric measurements. The application allows me to organize my routes in "folders" that I can rename. I noticed that when I changed a name on the desktop app, it was also changed on the shared version online, meaning they share the same database.
With this discovery, it is clear the software is web based, so all my routes are saved to a centralized database somewhere, not on my local machine. This means that the software is nothing more than a web viewer. I don't know how secure the data is or what layers of authentication are behind the scenes. There is no mention of a requirement for needing the internet in the manual, but it is essential to download and install Adobe(R) Air(R), the Bushnell software, and to use the app once installed.
It is entirely possible, then, that in the future Bushnell could upgrade or discontinue the service making the desktop application no longer function: the pros and cons of a web-based desktop app.
The only negative I could find is that there is no way to load waypoints onto the device. Nor do the waypoints tagged by the device transfer over to the computer. This is unfortunate because I cannot visually indicate where I marked a nice camping spot or other locations. The waypoints on the device get overridden, so I lose any data on past events or locations I may have visited and marked. I really wish there was a way to at least download the waypoints.
I'm surprised the D-TOUR doesn't come with some sort of lanyard or strap, especially considering it has a lanyard loop. I'm glad I found the IPX rating, but I'm disappointed it isn't made more clear in the product packaging. I had to do some sleuthing to dig out the IPX rating. The device is certainly easy to start up and use and the software really helps improve its usefulness.
With only two major functions (waypoint marking and route tracking), the D-TOUR has limited usability. I should mention that the waypoint marking is "temporary" at best, since those locations are lost and overwritten and are not transferred along with the route tracking data. For me, it will be interesting (fun) to track my backpacking and hiking routes and get more detail on distance, speed, and elevation. The temperature gauge is a nice touch too and seems to work even if there is no satellite connection.
PRO—Easy-to-use interface. Great software addition for route tracking.
CON—No waypoints saved to computer. No lanyard. Plastic casing doesn't feel durable.
29 Oct 2013
FIELD LOCATIONS AND CONDITIONSUnfortunately, I've had a few of my backpacking trips canceled in the past few months so the majority of my testing has been day hiking and bicycle riding. And, regrettably, on one backpacking trip I completely forgot the BackTrack, which has become a recurring theme, I'm afraid.
Aug 17: Old Caves Crater, Flagstaff, AZ. Elevation was 7,030 ft (2,143 m) with a temperature of 66°F (19°C). I did about two miles (3 km) of day hiking.
Aug 23-24: Marshall Lake, Arizona. This was an overnight camp with the scouts with minimal hiking. Temperature in the evening was 55°F (13°C).
PERFORMANCE IN THE FIELD
Usability - I'll be honest: The novelty of the BackTrack has been wearing off on me the more I use it in the backcountry. I think the primary reason for this is its limited usefulness combined with carrying "yet another" digital device. As I mentioned in my initial review, the software functionality is really limited compared with what I can get on my mobile phone, for example. I hate to say it, but I've actually forgotten to take the BackTrack on a few trips, which is nearly inexcusable for a gear tester, but I think speaks volumes for how much attention this device demands in my mind (very little).
The start up process is a little slow, and when I'm in a new area, it can take several minutes before the device has acquired enough satellites to begin tracking. I've hiked a mile before the device was ready to track, which really annoyed me. However, there have been times when acquiring satellites was quick and only took moments.
I'm finding that the main function I'm using is the tracking followed by the pace screen. It has been useful to periodically glance at the device and see how quickly I'm hiking and to set my pace.
Weather Resistance - I've used the BackTrack in a few sprinkles and rain storms where the unit has become wet or even splashes of water on the top. I've not noticed any damage or decrease in performance and I'm pleased that it is holding up to outdoor conditions without "babying" the device.
Software - The real winning piece for this device has been the desktop software. The syncing process has been very easy, for which I am very glad and appreciative to Bushnell for making sure this device worked seamlessly on a Macintosh. The tracks seem fairly accurate when mapped on the computer and it has been enjoyable to see some of my trips "recorded" via maps.
One thing I really wished got transferred was the waypoints. Currently, I cannot save or see waypoints that I marked on the map. This is one feature I really wish existed because I would like to visualize where on the map I marked a key location, for example.
Speaking of the waypoints, I haven't found much use for them besides wanting to see them on the map once I get home. When I am trail hiking, which is my most common backpacking experience, marking where my car is located or the trailhead is not much use since the route is easy to follow and find. Since this isn't a geocache device, I don't use it to go off trail or bushwhack so finding my way back through the brush is not something I've ended up doing. As of now, my most common use of waypoints is to mark interesting areas, but then since I can't review them later on a map, it becomes a least-used feature for me.
I also wish I could add waypoints from the computer to then be loaded onto the device. In this way I could mark areas I want to explore and then use the BackTrack to guide me off-trail to find them.
FIELD USE SUMMARY
The main thing going for the BackTrack is the weight. Even though I find its usefulness and functionality limited, it is so light that I tend to forgive its shortcomings. I typically set the device to track once I begin hiking and stow it in a pocket.
1 Jan 2014
FIELD LOCATIONS AND CONDITIONS
I've taken the BackTrack on one additional overnight trip and multiple day hikes, totaling more than 30 miles of hiking and backpacking. Here are two highlighted trips:
Nov 8: Picture Canyon, Flagstaff, Arizona. I did multiple day hikes here, each about 3 miles (4.8 km) in length.
Dec 26-27: Snow Canyon Red Mountain Trail, Utah. My annual Christmastime trip into Snow Canyon with my family. We backpacked a total of 5 miles (8 km) with an elevation gain was 400 ft (122 m) and an overnight low of 30°F (-1°C).
PERFORMANCE IN THE FIELD
On a recent trail run, I set the GPS at the start and let it run. I placed it in an outside pocket in the small daypack I used to run with. Getting home later, the results looked very accurate and I was pleased to see the results. I also used my mobile phone app to track my run and the results were very similar.
On another day hike, I took my kids to summit Mount Elden, a 3-mile (4.8 km) hike up with an elevation gain of 2,400 ft (732 m). I had one of my kids in charge of holding the D-Tour and we checked it often to gauge our progress. About halfway up the trail, the device seemed to "stall." We were looking for a stopping point for lunch but we never seemed to reach the point, based on the D-TOUR. It was frustrating to find that the device wasn't working. We were in the clear and everything indicated that it was functioning properly, but the distance refused to change. I restarted the device and tried to get it to track as we went downhill, but it wouldn't track. I ended up with half a trip.
The device decided to work again (thankfully) on a recent backpacking trip into Snow Canyon. Again, we used the D-TOUR, primarily, to monitor our pace and progress and the elevation gained. The device did a great job tracking us this time.
Using the Software - I've been prompted to upgrade the software (at least the Adobe side of the software) a few times, but nothing has changed on the interface and functionality of the software. I still cannot see any of my marked locations, nor can I add waypoints to check out on a hike.
Battery Usage - I've been using Ni-MH rechargeable batteries mostly when using the BackTrack and it appears that after two or three uses the battery indicator dips to the halfway mark and remains there until the device is drained. There isn't a lot of warning when the batteries are going low and I've made a practice of using freshly recharged batteries at the beginning of each trek to make sure the device will make it through.
The most use I've found with the BackTrack is the metadata: temperature, elevation, and pace information. However, the most useful data isn't available until I get home and use the mapping software. For example, it would be nice to scroll through saved or old trips (e.g., the previous day's hike) and review elevation gained, average pace, etc., but once a trip is done, I can't access that data on the device.
Some data, such as elevation changes, must be extrapolated from the software as it isn't summarized by trip.
I'm disappointed that the device doesn't provide better at-a-glance metadata or the ability to save or add basic waypoints.
I rarely hike off trail so the vista marking function was rarely useful. I wish that I could at least see the places I marked on the computer once the track was downloaded, but it doesn't. Very disappointing.
PRO—Lightweight. Companion software really helps.
CON—Can't add or save waypoints. Limited metadata on screen. Can't review previous trips on the device.
I would like to thank Bushnell and BackpackGearTest.org for providing me with the opportunity to test this product.
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