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Garmin Foretrex 601

The Garmin Foretrex 601 is a long overdue upgrade to the Foretrex Series. This small wrist mounted device offers GPS, GLONASS and Galileo support for accurate and reliable GPS positioning, coupled with barometric elevation tracking, sunrise / set and tide almanac built in. Powered by two AAA batteries it can provide continuous GPS tracking for over 48 hours. The 601 is also bluetooth connected, enabling connection to the Garmin Connect app, and smartphone notifications; useful if your phone is tucked away in your backpack. There is also magnetic compass, the ability to connect wireless sensors (such as temperature), IPX7 rating (1m of water for 30 minutes) and MIL-STD-810 rated for thermal, shock and water protection. Overall the 601 is a simple unit offering the most basic and essential information for the keen civilian or military user. For the latter, there is also a JumpMaster feature for tracking HAHO, HALO or static line jumps. Full specifications can be found on the Garmin website here.

This is more of an overview than a review, but I will summarise my feelings on the Foretrex 601 at the end of the article.

The Foretrex 601 is tiny compared even to the already very handheld etrex Summit, with comparable features (now 15+ years old)

Uploading Waypoints

While the Foretrex is a great standalone device for reliable navigational information on the move, when used in conjunction with Garmin desktop software you can really enhance the usefulness, especially for a bit of exploring. I use the Defence of Britain database for a lot of initial searches when planning to visit somewhere new. The problem is, that finding a convenient way to take this useful data on the move is difficult. One way is to transfer a selection of waypoints to the Foretrex, and there are two ways to do this:

Connecting your Foretrex 601 to a laptop using USB will mount the internal memory as an external drive on your desktop (Mac OSX), albeit all 8Mb of memory. When you open the ‘GARMIN’ drive, you will see the following folders – into which you can drag any exported or saved GPX files into the GPX folder.
In Basecamp, when you connect the Foretrex 601 it should appear in the ‘My Garmin Devices’ menu on the left. When you view the waypoints on the map, you can use the select tool (arrow in the middle of the toolbar) to highlight the waypoints you want to transfer, then right click to bring up the ‘Send to Device …’ option. It is important to note that before you get to this stage you will need to export your DOB waypoints from Google Earth and import them into Basecamp – but I won’t cover this here.

Viewing Tracks

Following a days exploring along the White Cliffs of Dover, I was keen to see what information my Foretrex had captured. Mounting my Foretrex as a drive on yay desktop, I was able to import the GPX file into Google Earth, which then plotted my route, elevation and speed data. I can then save this route off the device, and when I want to follow it again in the future drag and drop to the GPS folder and my Foretrex will keep me on track.

While tracking, the GPS will record route and elevation information, as well as speed which can be imported into Google Earth to save and analyse at home.

Summary (mini-review)

My main motivation for purchasing this unit was to have a small and accurate GPS unit with no frills, but that was small enough to stow in a pocket or wear on my wrist and to use in conjunction with paper maps. I also wanted an outdoor unit that would track my walks and hikes, that was good value, and that had sufficient battery life for a weekend away without having to bring chargers and docks with me. I was a great fan of the etrex series, buying one of the first consumer units back in around 2000 when they were released, so I was comfortable with the simple menus and Garmin 5 button setup. The connectivity of the 601 is useful if you want to receive basic notifications, but you can’t open messages or reply, but I generally keep the smartphone function turned off; not only to save battery life, but I really don’t need it with my phone in my pocket. I did also buy the Tempe temperature sensor and set the temperature to display on my main navigation page – just because I can!

So why didn’t I save a bit more and get a GPS watch like the Fenix or Tactix? The prohibitive cost was a main factor, and after having an Apple Watch Series 1 for a couple of years, I really don’t use the smart features to their full potential. Small screens, short battery life, heavy form factor mean that I would probably not wear them on a daily basis, and when it comes to navigation and going out for the day or a weekend, I then need to bring external battery packs and chargers with me to keep them fully operational.

The Garmin Foretrex 601 is a simple but highly effective navigation unit for the traditional GPS user; by that I mean someone who used GPS to compliment paper mapping. The multiple navigation options and sensitive antenna mean accurate and reliable positioning and tracking no matter where you are. All in a suitably rugged form with a simple menu and operating system which can be operated with a single gloved hand. I am both pleased with the purchase, and look forward to bringing it with me on many more hikes and explores throughout the year.

What I plan to try next is seeing if I can find an easy software package that will let me extract locations from the GPX file and use them for geotagging timestamped photographs. Any recommendations?