The evolution of hand-held GPS units for hunters truly is a back-to-the-future story.
Early GPS Research Showed Hunters Wanted an Arrow Home
In the late 1980’s, hand-held GPS (Global Positioning Systems) units for sportsmen were being researched by several large companies. One of them was Motorola.
Focus group studies conducted by the company, with hunters, identified the key feature they wanted from the new-age navigational aids, if they came to market. The most requested feature was a simple arrow that pointed the way home.
Today, GPS is an everyday term and hand-held units have been used by hunters for mapping waypoints (exact site locations) for stand locations, deer rubs and scrapes and other wildlife sign posts, back-country base camp locations and more. But, it’s taken decades to give sportsmen what they wanted, at the price they were willing to pay.
Original Hand-Held GPS Units Were Expensive
Initially, the cost to produce hand-held GPS units that would simply point a hunter home was prohibitive. Providing an arrow-home function required tons of technology. So manufacturers felt they needed to give users lots of bell and whistles to warrant the $700-plus price tags. Early designs offering lots of navigational function. Today they offer even more. But the units are still pricey.
Bushnell and Garmin Offer Arrow Home GPS Units Under $100
Two decades after the initial research by Motorola, the exact product that sportsmen requested is on the market. Bushnell’s Backtrack GPS System and Garmin’s eTrex H are simple, affordable systems. Backtrack is about the size of a large compass — quite different from the early products that could hardly be called hand-sized. eTrex is about twice the size of Backtrack. Both are priced under $100. Depending on the store or online retailer, Backtrack sells for approximately $65 – $75 and eTrex goes for $88 – $105.
Backtrack and eTrex GPS Unit Comparison
Don’t look for extensive color or topographical maps, touch screens, uploading and downloading capabilities, digital cameras or recording capabilities on these units. Those features come on the high-end designs, which still carry prices tags upward of $450.
With the Backtrack and eTrex H units, users simply store a starting point into the unit with a few button clicks then hit the trail. When ready to return to the starting point, another few clicks and the unit shows the way back.
The primary differences between the two products are how many waypoints can be stored. Backtrack stores three, where eTrex H stores up to 500. Backtrack operates for approximately 30 hours on two AAA batteries, where eTrex operates up to 17 hours on two AA batteries. Both units are WAAS-enabled receivers, making them accurate to three meters 95 percent of the time.
Although no GPS product should be wholly relied up for safe wilderness navigation because mechanical, battery-operated products can die or fail, these two units are just what the wandering sportsmen ordered. Get lost. Get confused. Get back home easily.