Garmin Foretrex 701 & 601 Review
Getting from one place to another, especially over long distances, or to places you've never been, has become a piece of cake in the modern era.
Just use Google maps, right? Primarily, yes, that is an incredibly powerful tool, and should be your first choice in most situations, especially when driving.
What about areas that don't have cell phone coverage? Those areas a getting smaller each day but there are still plenty of them. So how to we navigate in those areas?
3 ways: Satellite GPS, Map, and Compass.
We're going to talk about GPS, and specifically one of the best wrist-worn options available, the Garmin Foretrex 601 (and the 701.) Using one of these, along with a backup GPS system, map and compass will give you the best of all worlds.
What Does a Garmin Foretrex 601/701 Do Exactly?
In a nutshell: the Foretrex can navigate you to and from places by using satellite guided positioning via a watch-like lightweight device that is worn on your wrist.
It accomplishes this by displaying either a pointer or compass which will guide you to/from your destination(s).
The Foretrex handles this in a couple of different ways. Let's start with Waypoints.
Waypoints are latitude and longitude positions stored in the Foretrex memory in three ways: you can pre-load them onto your device using the Garmin BaseCamp software and a computer, plugging them in manually via the buttons on the Foretrex, or creating them when you are at a physical location by saving it.
Here's a use case: you have a Bug-Out Location in the woods. Create it as a way point with the BaseCamp software. Plug in the Foretrext via USB and upload the GPS map file to it. Now if you need to hike to your BOL, the Foretrex will navigate you to that point, no matter where you wind up starting out.
Another case: you are hiking in a national park. Program in certain known landmarks within the park as Waypoints. If you ever get turned around or lost, just pick the nearest one on the Foretrex and head to it!
I have several local cities and friends and families houses plugged in as Waypoints. That way in a cell-grid-down situation I can still navigate to them using the Foretrex. (Assuming the satellites are still up, but that's why we have maps and compasses as backups!)
A Route is a sequence of Waypoints (or locations) that leads you to where you a trying to go. This is helpful if you want to go someplace via a certain route that you can map out ahead of time.
Another important feature are Tracks. A track is a recording of your path. The track log contains information about points along the recorded path, including time, location, and elevation for each point.
So lets say you are hunting. You save your base camp as a Waypoint. You start off into the woods looking for game.
The Foretrex records a Track log automatically, keeping a running record of your positions and elevations as you are moving around the woods. You can save the Track, if you've found a particular path that you might like to use in the future.
When you are ready to head back to camp, you can use the Pan and TracBack feature to navigate you back the way you came, using the same route you took to get back. If you want to head straight back, then plug in the Waypoint you created for base camp and the Foretrex will point you in that direction.
The Foretrex series has several important features we should call out:
Toughness: They’re built to military standards for thermal, shock and water performance (MIL-STD-810G), which means they can handle a pretty good deal of abuse, as they were designed to replace the venerable Foretrex 401 that's been used by the US military for years.
Multi-GNSS Navigation + Galileo: The Foretrex work with 3 satellite navigation reception networks, including GPS, GLONASS and Galileo. This is a big deal, as it provides several different (and more modern and precise) systems you can use to track your location.
Here is a very cool graphic which shows the orbits of the different satellite systems.
Altimeter & Barometer: In addition to geographic coordinates, the Foretrex can also tell you your elevation (altimeter) and the barometer can be used to predict weather changes by showing short-term trends in air pressure.
(As a loose rule, a change to a high-pressure area will bring clearer weather, and a change to a low-pressure area will bring clouds and rain.)
Night Vision & Backlight: If you are wearing NV goggles you can see the display in NV mode. For the rest of us there is a backlight for use in the dark.
Ballistics Calculator: On the 701 model, there is a ballistic calculator made by Applied Ballistics which calculates aiming solutions for long-range shooting.
Using the Foretrex
With a little bit of practice, using the Foretrex is not overly complicated. It will take a few tries to get used to which buttons do what but once you do, navigating the menus and screens becomes intuitive.
Since I mentioned the buttons, I should mention that they are easy to use, even with gloves. The power button is recessed somewhat, and this is a good thing, it ensures you don't hit it accidentally.
On the 601 are 5 main screens, which are cycled via the Go To Page button. From here you can get to all the other menus.
As I mentioned before once you get the hang of the menus you can get stuff programmed in pretty quick.
If you want the owners manual, you can download a copy here: Foretrex 601/701 Owners Manual
The Garmin Foretrex 601/701 is a very useful device, especially in the back country or during an emergency evacuation or serious bug-out situation.
There is a reason the military uses devices like this, and it's not just for jumping out of planes (that is a feature in here too.)
We've used ours on several different outings and it worked exactly as performed. We haven't done any durability testing, so I can't speak to that, but the word out on the street is positive in that regard.
If you can swing the $200 and you are rounding out your kit, it is a worthy consideration based on our experiences.
Where to get one:
Buy Direct from Garmin: free shipping on orders over $25
Garmin Foretrex 601: Wrist-mounted GPS navigator with smart notifications
Garmin Foretrex 701: Wrist-mounted GPS navigator with Applied Ballistics
BTW If you buy anything from the links we provide on this page we might get a small percentage of the sale. For more info click here.
NESWorkshop (based in Russia) makes a great wrist protector/pouch for the 601/701. You can pick them up on eBay for $29.99.