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4.5 out of 5 stars
4.5 out of 5 stars
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Price:£120.13 - £159.22
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on 20 September 2010
This is my first walking/trekking GPS and I am generally very pleased with it. I'm glad I opted for a wrist worn device, rather than a portable brick, even if it does lack colour and mapping. For me a significant part of the enjoyment of trekking is the exploration and navigation and I want to use the Foretrex as a companion to a conventional map and compass. I don't feel ready for a Satmap Active yet and anyway, I've seen the price of the maps!

The GPS sensitivity is good and in the open the Foretrex normally reports a position accuracy of 3m. Before setting off I set it down in the open for a few minutes, so as to get good satellite locks.

Unlike some people I have no problem with the length of the Velcro strap. Perhaps I have a thin wrist or Garmin have simply designed it for the European rather than American physique! It's not uncomfortable to wear and the pins holding the strap are probably more robust than they look. It's not exactly a fashion statement, but then it's not supposed to be.

I bought the Foretrex 401 instead the 301 as I thought I'd like the ability to link to a heart rate monitor (see update below). The electronic compass, altitude and barometer functions are interesting extras but, if I'm honest, up to now I could have managed without them. I'm sure the altimeter and barometer would be more useful in the mountains than in the Suffolk countryside! I also considered the Garmin Forerunner series. Some of the Forerunners are quite cute but they are intended more for fitness training than navigation and the lack of an OS grid reference was the show stopper for me.

I find that it is necessary to manually calibrate the altimeter at the start of every trip as it takes about an hour for the auto calibration to take effect. I therefore wish that the altimeter calibration function were easier to access, perhaps from the Elevation page. Once calibrated, I've found the altimeter to be surprisingly accurate (within a couple of metres), at least at walking speed when weather conditions are stable. If there were rapid changes in barometric pressure it would probably take a while for the auto calibration to adjust. I'd like the barometric pressure to be shown as well as the altitude on the Elevation page and I'd also like to have a barometric pressure log, to help monitor weather changes.

You cannot use the Foretrex to replace a conventional compass. The electronic compass needs to be calibrated every time you change batteries. Even with careful calibration (I sit it as level as possible on an office chair and slowly rotate the chair twice!) it is usually several degrees out and a lot more than that if it isn't held perfectly level. Any error in the compass bearing affects the bearing pointer and if you're not careful it could send you seriously off course. At this price I really think Garmin should use a 3 axis sensor.

If you suspect the electronic compass is out of calibration you're better off turning it off and using the GPS derived compass, as long as you are moving. I now display the bearing to next waypoint field on the compass page and then sight this bearing using a conventional compass - it's a lot more accurate. It's also useful to monitor the bearing if your intention is head in a straight line to the next waypoint. In this case the bearing field should remain constant. If the bearing decreases you're moving too far to the right, if it increases you're moving too far to the left (the reverse if you're taking a back bearing).

I'm using Eneloop rechargeable batteries which give me adequate life for two or three decent walks - probably around 15 hours with the compass on. I've noticed that some people report battery life as low as 4 hours. If you use these batteries it's important to ensure you set the battery option in the system setup to NiMH, otherwise the Foretrex will probably give you a premature indication of the battery being flat.

When navigating a route I'd like there to be an optional beep alert as the next waypoint is approached. There is only a beep when approaching the final destination.

For a casual walk I don't always want to do a lot of route planning. To prepare a route with all the waypoints and download them to the Foretex seems to take as long as the walk itself! Instead, I like to use a paper map and compass and use the Foretrex as a track logger and navigational assistant. For this I'd really like to be able to mark waypoints on my route (which you can do) and have data fields for distance from last waypoint, bearing from last waypoint and perhaps time from last waypoint. I was really surprised that these data fields are not available. (Please note update 13 Aug 2012 below)

The addition of a thermometer might be useful, although it would probably be difficult for it to measure ambient air temperature accurately.

Not having used a Garmin GPS before it took me a while to understand some of the options settings. The owner's manual is very terse. It doesn't even mention all the options and those it does mention it doesn't explain fully. For instance, it would have helped to understand how auto route leg transitions work (eventually I found a description of this online).

There is no application software supplied with the unit and you are left to discover for yourself how to obtain BaseCamp and link into Google Earth. I enter waypoints in Google Earth and export them as KML files. I then convert them to GPX. Uploading walked tracks to Google Earth is great, although the current version of Google Earth seems to reduce the number of track points. This degrades the path accuracy and reduces the total track lengths slightly.

A couple of tips about creating and navigating routes. It appears that when setting the Foretrex to start navigating a route it ignores the first waypoint in the route. Bearing this in mind I define the first waypoint as my starting point. I've found Foretrex to be pretty intelligent and if you enable navigation in the middle of a route it understands where you are on the route and navigates you to the correct next waypoint (I imagine it would have difficulty understanding what you want to do on routes that wind back tightly on themselves). For a circular walk define the first and last waypoints to be the same, eg WP00, otherwise when you start to navigate a route Foretrex may immediately declare you've arrived at your destination! When you start the circular route navigation you'll then be asked if you want to Follow to WP00 or if you want to Follow to WP00, which isn't very helpful. Select the second option if you want to follow a route from the first waypoints to the last waypoints on the route.

Overall I do like the Foretrex 401. There are some extra features I'd like, the manual could certainly be a lot better and it should be supplied with at least some application software. However, it ticks all the main boxes and works well, although the compass is a bit iffy. I do think that it's expensive for what it is and I feel it should be about half the price - i.e. around £100 list, £70 discounted but then I guess it's quite a specialist market.

4 stars does seem a bit mean and if Garmin were to address a few things I'd be happy to rate it 5 stars.

28 June 2011 - Update
I today received the Garmin Premium Heart Rate Monitor and have just reviewed it. Whilst it appears to do the job of measuring heart rate the software support for the Foretrex 401 is pretty dire. I've found that the heart rate data is only saved correctly in the ACTIVE LOG tracks and not in saved track data. Then if you use Garmin Connect to upload the activities you have to manually upload the Current.gpx file otherwise it doesn't include the heart rate data. On top of this you can't use BaseCamp to edit the ACTIVE LOG tracks if you want to preserve the heart rate data. It's all very unfriendly and severely limits the usefulness of the heart rate monitor. I get the impression that Garmin don't want to support the crossover market between navigation and fitness training.

27 July 2011 - Update
I recently removed the strap for the first time in order to clean it. I then noticed that the two lugs that house the nut inserts for the strap screws were badly cracked. It looked as if they'd soon split completely and the strap would detach. This may be a weakness in what is supposed to be a robust case design. Has anyone else noticed this problem? To their credit Garmin promptly replaced my Foretrex with a new unit. I just hope the same thing doesn't happen again next year.

13 August 2012 - Update
After a year with my replacement 401 I've noticed that one of the fixing lugs is starting to crack. Although nothing too severe it puts me off removing the strap for cleaning. I've just uploaded a photo of one of the cracked lugs on my first 401 which Garmin replaced.

I've found a useful undocumented feature which allows you to measure quickly distance and back bearing from your last waypoint. Press and hold the Mark button as you would normally to mark your current position as a waypoint. Then instead of confirming 'OK?' press and hold the Goto button. This saves the waypoint and immediately starts to navigate to it (you'll probably get a friendly beep and message telling you you've just arrived at your destination). You can then read the distance and back bearing from the 'Next Dest' and 'Bearing' fields.
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on 5 September 2012
I bought this item to log how many miles I was doing when training for a cross-channel sea kayak trip and it did the job perfectly. I had considered the 401 version which has features concerning height climbed/descended but as I hadn't intended making any steep descents off waterfalls I opted for the cheaper version.

This device would best serve the following people:

Runners, Orienteerers, Cyclists, Canoeists wanting to measure their performance
Ramblers, Hikers et al wanting to get a quick grid reference to support navigation
Military Patrol Leaders

Some of my observations:

Seems to be well constructed and splashproof. I didn't try submerging it whilst kayaking.

The battery life is very good and uses two AAA batteries, easy to change them too.

Strap is very small, it does come with an extension strap and for anyone but those with the most skinniest wrists I would recommend using it.

Night light is good and screen is easy to read in low light/no light conditions

Satellite acquisition time is very quick (about 5-10 secs) or slightly longer if in a new location

It has a standard mini-USB connection for use with your computer. It easily sync'd up with Base Camp (Garmin's free software) where you can plot out your waypoints on a digital map and then upload onto the device. It also allows you to download all your track data from the 301 onto your computer. I used this feature to then plot my tracks in Google Earth and make a video.

You can't put maps on this device (just in case anyone thought you could).

As well as coordinates and time it collects, altitude, speed and heading data when logging tracks. Great for analysing performance.

Interface is really intuitive, haven't looked at the instruction manual and was easily able to navigate all the different menus and change settings

Supports Great Britain Ordnance Survey Coordinate System
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on 17 May 2010
I bought the Garmin Foretrex 301 as a basic navigation device and to help me keep a track on my walks. I'm training for the Three Peaks Challenge in Yorkshire and wanted a way of working out distance, elevation gained and avearge moving speed etc - the Foretrex does this and more.

As a GPS unit - it is very basic. You enter waypoints manually into the unit or download GPX files and copy them into the appropriate folder in the unit then just navigate from waypoint to waypoint. The onboard trip computer gives you the statistics you need, at least those I need. When connected to a computer (and I would like to say this unit works perfectly with a Mac running Snow Leopard), you can upload details of your latest walk into MyGarmin, where your route is transposed over a Google map along with terrain etc. Graphic representations of altitude are shown (GPS altitude readings are perfectly satisfactory) and all of your trip time, walking time, speeds and averages are displayed and saved for future reference.

With mapping applications such as RouteBuddy and Anquet (this works with Anquet - Mac version coming soon), you can plan your walks on your computer at home then upload all the waypoints straight into the Foretrex through the USB port. I really like this gadget - it does what it says on the box without any fuss at all. GPS accuracy is really good and while everybody says always use a map and compass, I'd say, take them as a backup because using a Foretrex really makes the aforementioned items redundant in most cases.

Battery life is good with rechargeable or Duracell batteries, my only complaint is that the wrist strap is a little harsh - velcro thingy and gets a little uncomfortable sometimes. Even with this minor complaint I award 5 stars for this great little device. I had never used a GPS unit before but this adds a whole new interesting dimension to what would be a walk on the tops. Recommended.

UPDATE 25/3/11 I've been using this product for nearly a year now and I'm aware of the sudden interest in using Smartphones for outdoor use. While this means more functionality and full colour OS mapping on the device - do you need it? To be honest navigation is achieved on the Garmin by means of an arrow pointing you to the next waypoint. Having an on-screen map wouldn't really be necessary (for me anyway). You should really have a paper map with you as a safety back-up anyway and you can always refer to that if needed - 90% of the time I don't need it. With a smartphone, battery life will be limited whereas the Foretrex will keep going all day.

The other thing I'd like to mention is that the altitude display is remarkably accurate so much so, that I would rather rely on GPS altitude rather than barometric altitude data (available on more expensive units) since the GPS is accurate within a few feet and isn't subject to air pressure variation. These units are so cheap now because I think people want something more flashy. I'd get one cheap while you can!
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I Spent a while on the Garmin website looking at the foretrex gps devices. Garmin's target market for this is all over the place; If you are in the military there are options for programming in your parachute jumps! If you are into running then the garmin connect website will let you track your exercise and plan more. I wanted a gps logger for my camera so I can record where photos were taken. I was not concerned about the size of the GPS; i would never wear a digital watch. It very big for a watch though; about the size 1/3 height of an iPhone and twice as thick which definitely prevent me from wearing it. i am going to leave it in my camera bag as a walk about. The Foretrex devices are small and the 300/400 use standard AAA batteries (Sanyo Eneloop AAA 4 Pack Batteries; i highly reccomend eneloop rechargeables as they keep their charge.) If i am visiting another city or wondering the country side the track back feature is also a big plus if you like to explore without a plan.

The benefit for me of the 3/401 over the 1/200 series is the integrated USB and the easy way of synching the data back onto your Mac (or PC.) The Foretrex 401 mounts itself as a hard drive and you can copy the garmin track files onto your hard drive. If you are using google earth these import straight in without any utitlies which is another great feature.

4 Stars because it wont do live GPS over the USB cable which would have allowed it work with google earth on the move, the menu system is a bit crazy and the supplied manual is terrible - doesnt explain all the options under setup for a start.
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on 17 December 2010
I have previously had Garmin Etrex and Foretrex 101. I decided to sell these and go for the updated Foretrex 301. At first I thought on purchasing the Foretrex 401 but after reading reviews I decided that I didn't need or want a unit with an altimeter and compass. I mainly use the 301 for running with but occasionally for walking. As far as I am concerned it performs perfectly and I can download my routes on to my Memory Map system. It also seems to be more sensitive when going through forest etc than my previous gps units. I could have picked a unit eg from the Forerunner models specifically designed for running but discovered earlier that they do not do o.s. grid references which the Foretrex models do and this was a feature which I most definetely did require on the unit.
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on 9 September 2009
I had Foretrex 101 for the last 5 years and put it through its paces. It was great to have navigation data right at your fingertips with a fairly good ability to get a lock quickly (although it sometimes had to work hard when the signal was blanked by the vehicle body). It did basic navigation on a level with the Geko 201 (effectively the same unit). It was pretty robust (and cheap to get fixed by Garmin - £30 fixed fee). However, the Foretrex 101 had a number of problems:

a) The strap was fixed to the unit by a plunger style watch strap pin. This could easily be depressed leaving the GPS hanging in the wind. The Foretrex 401 has a more secure, screwed-in pin.

b) The unit only had a bespoke serial connection facility which required the purchase of a £25 Garmin lead and a £15 USB-to-serial connector. It was also really slow to transfer navigation data such as tracks. The Foretrex 401 has a mini-usb connection with included lead. REally quick and convenient.

c) The Foretrex 101 took a long time to get a signal in challenging conditions such as in a forest or in an aircraft. No such trouble with the Foretrex 401. <5 secs for the initial search out of the box and only just a little more when I moved 2000 miles.

The foretrex 401 is still conveniently powered by AAA so you can change them on the move (BIG disadvantage of the 201).

The 401 has an electronic compass and a barometer which might be nice for some, might just mean you get through your power faster. Can be turned off though.

Finally the 401 is fractionally shorter. Still sticks out from your wrist but not too much. I think you'd need to get a new handlebar mount if you already had the 101 mount. The unit is waterproof still and has an easier opening for the battery (needed a pen to open the 101).

So worth the extra? If you don't want the compass and the barometer, probably the 301 which is almost the smae unit without those bits!!
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on 29 March 2010
I bought the 401 a month ago.
Since got out of the box put the batteries and I was amazed of how easy to work it was.
Good controls to operate when running or walking with one hand.
Good fit in your wrist small enough to have it in your wrist but big enough screen to follow yourtraks, and bignumber easy to read.
Very easy to download or upload traks from websites like wikilok or gpsies.
You will need probably an accesory program like easy gps (you can download free from the web into your computer)
Batteries last really more than 15 hours.
So a great piece of gear very usefull for walking in the hills running, cycling,geocatching,etc.etc.
And even indoors at home the signal is very good.
I would recomend it.
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on 1 April 2011
Bought this mainly for running, so I can see where I've been and how fast I'm going. I've also taken it cycling and go-karting (outdoors).

Works well for logging where you've been for later review / plotting on computer. You may need to adjust the logging settings for best results. The default settings work fine for walking, running and cycling, but for go-karting I needed to set it to plot position more often.

Navigation is basic but just about good enough for most outdoor activities. It's easy enough just to set off and plot where you've been so you can get back to your start point, but more complicated navigation is hindered by the small screen size and lack of maps. But if you only need basic navigation then this watch is a good choice.

Feels OK to wear as a watch for running, if a little on the chunky side. If I'm just tracking position / speed for later analysis then I prefer to stick it in a pocket.
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on 23 August 2010
I bought this GPS for my vacation in Sweden as we planned to do a fair bit of walking. The Garmin 301 is easy to operate, reliable and accurate. I would have given five stars but it is a bit bulky to wear on the wrist all day, it gets through a pair of AAA batteries in one day and the GPX file format (for exchanging waypoint info with the PC) is really not very handy- Google Earth can read it but it is not easy to create routes for later use.

However, it is a very good GPS unit !
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on 27 September 2011
I had previously had two Foretrex 201 watches and really liked the concept of being able to be active with a GPS and not have to hold it while climbing, walking rambling etc. I was therefore disappointed that Garmin no longer make the 201.

I upgraded to the 301 and find it slightly more intuitive to use. The model finds the sat nav quicker than the 201 and holds much more information.

Overall the biggest difference is that the 301 uses batterys rather than holding a charge from the mains. Batterys are more expensive but for a weekend away, a long trek or camping when it is difficult to get a mains supply being able to carry some spare batterys does have my vote - just.
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