|Name||Outdoor GPS: Garmin Montana 650t|
|At a glance:||Pre-loaded with NZ and AU topographical maps,Large, daylight-readable 4-inch display,Dual power – rechargeable Li-Ion pack or 3x AA batteries|
|Summary:||An essential tool for the enthusiastic outdoorsperson.|
Garmin’s Montana 650t is a high-end outdoor GPS aimed at hikers (trampers, in New Zealand parlance) and off-roaders.
In August’s ‘Tech vs Wild’ rugged gear roundup, I tested out the midrange Oregon 550 model; a similar device with fewer features. Still, the Oregon scored an ‘excellent’ four stars. The Montana 650t is, I’ll say up front, superior in many ways and inferior in practically none.
‘Practically’ none? Well, it’s a little bulkier than the Oregon, at 7.5 x 14.4 x 3.6cm – and a little heavier at 289 grams with its Lithium-Ion rechargeable battery. However, you get a whole lot more for your dollar.
The ‘t’ in 650t means, for us Kiwis in particular, pre-loaded topographical maps for New Zealand and Australia. These sit in the Montana’s 3.5GB of internal memory, which can be extended with an optional microSD card. Also pre-loaded is a global base map that provides simple topographical information and outlines major roads around the world.
On the subject of roads, the Montana 650t is not designed for in-car use in towns or cities. It can create routes for you that ‘stick’ to roads included in its maps, even providing turn-by-turn instructions. However, it doesn’t do this nearly as well as a dedicated in-car unit. It’s great for off-roaders to find their way off the road and into that nicely elevation-mapped terrain, but do not buy the Montana to find your way around suburbia. That’s like using a four-by-four to drive in city traffic.
Designed for adventurous outdoor use, the Montana features a beautifully bright 4-inch touchscreen display, well suited to viewing in full sunlight. The display is a reasonable 272x480px – enough to give you adequate topographical details without packing in pixels for the sake of pixels. It helps to avoid pushing up the price and the processing power necessary to update the screen.
The unit is rated IPX7 for water resistance, capable of immersion for 30 minutes at one metre. This is more than enough to survive an accidental drop into water, or anything but the most extreme stream-crossing during a hike.
Battery life is up to 16 hours with the included Li-Ion rechargeable pack. The battery charges within the GPS, via a Mini USB cable. A wall charger is provided in the box. For multi-day trips where you won’t have access to mains power, a clever dual-power system lets you swap the Li-Ion rechargeable for three standard AA batteries. This pushes the weight up to around 333 grams, depending on the batteries you use. Life is rated at up to 22 hours with AAs – as usual, the more you spend on those batteries the longer they’re likely to last.
The touch-based interface is easy to navigate, and doesn’t rely on gestures that – while convenient on smartphones and tablets – can be difficult to accomplish one-handed through gloves while scaling a rocky mountainside.
GPS reception is great, the maps appear highly accurate and the in-built compass is tilt-compensated on three axes – that means you get an accurate compass reading whichever way you’re holding the device, which is rarer than you might think.
In addition to hiking, apps are included to support activities such as hunting, fishing and geocaching. Track information can be uploaded to Garmin Connect – see our fitness tech feature on page 58 for more on the online service.
If you love the outside world, the Montana 650t is one of the better investments you can make. The price is steep at $999, but it’s a one-off fee far eclipsed by the setup costs, passes or rental fees you’ll find with many outdoor sports and recreational activities. For something that at best could save your life, and at worst could save your time, it should be a pretty easy decision for any enthusiastic outdoorsy person.