Thomas Tabor likes a GPS in the palm of his hand
Bushnell learned decades ago that given the choice, most GPS users choose simple over complicated as for them what’s most important is being able to find their way out of the bush as safely as possible. The company took those wishes to heart years ago when they developed their BackTrack GPS and that first easy-to-use offering took on the somewhat unusual shape of a cylindrical disc about 7.5cm in diameter.
For effortless access to the unit some owners would use the supplied lanyard to hang it around their neck and while that unit performed its duties fairly well when facing modest tasks, like finding a stationary vehicle in a large car park, in my opinion it was just a little too rudimentary and not ideal for Outback use. Yet Bushnell continued their efforts to produce a small GPS which better targeted the needs of hunters and other outdoor enthusiasts without being too large and overly complex and I believe they’ve hit paydirt with their ot-so-complicated and not-so-basic BackTrack Mini. While this particular GPS doesn’t possess all the features of some other units it still allows you to monitor your travels and store those routes for future access.
It’ll be necessary to do some initial minor programming to the BackTrack Mini including setting it to your local time-zone, whether you want that time displayed on a 12 or 24-hour basis, temperature in Celsius or Fahrenheit, data in either Imperial or metric format and so on but these are easily done and once set can be forgotten about. The unit is powered by a built-in rechargeable battery charged using a standard (non-Apple/Lightning) mobile phone cable which comes supplied. Bushnell says the Mini can operate up to 24 hours on a full charge and I found recharging to be relatively quick.
While a rechargeable GPS is less costly to operate than having to replace batteries, in some situations this could pose a potential problem. A dead battery isn’t much good to anyone if you have no way to recharge it so if you typically face long stints outdoors and you’re relying on your BackTrack Mini GPS to guide you out safely, I strongly recommend some sort of auxiliary charging system like a portable power bank or small solar charger. Bushnell sell a tiny roll-up solar screen charger which might be appropriate in some instances.
Features and function
There’s a price to pay with any small electronics and in this case that comes largely in the form of its tiny 6.4cm screen. With my ageing eyesight I sometimes found it a little difficult to read its display without my reading glasses though I did find the convenient back-light function helped greatly in this. But when it comes to convenience the Mini’s small size allows it to be stored and carried in virtually any shirt, trouser or jacket pocket and when you attach the nylon tether and carabiner you can even hang it from your belt loop or dangle it from a backpack.
The whole thing is controlled by just four operational buttons, two each on the left and right. The ‘on/off’ button is top left and self-explanatory, to do so you hold it for three seconds and when starting this activation process a countdown appears after which the screen will display the date, time and temperature along with other useful information. In order for the Mini to function properly it must lock on to available satellites and the best way to achieve that is to be outdoors, free of major obstructions. Usually this only takes a few moments by holding it as level as possible in your hand and as it searches for satellites, a progress bar will appear at the bottom of the screen then disappear as it finds them (in most cases this takes just moments).
Lower left houses the ‘screen/select’ button which lets you toggle through the various choices and make a selection. It also doubles to access the trip mode and to enter that you again hold the button for a couple of seconds then you can access previously stored trips, begin a new trip, delete a stored trip and various other things. Top right you’ll find the ‘up/light’ button to access your selections as well as activating the screen backlight function which you turn on by holding hold the button for a couple of seconds and lastly the ‘down’ button on the lower right lets you make screen choices.
Barometric pressure, elevation, temperature readings, sunrise and sunset times as well as digital compass readings are also available and by setting up a Bushnell account and downloading the app even more options are available. When an active trip is under way the path you’ve taken appears on the screen as a simple line with your present location marked by a circle with a plus sign in the centre and the starting point showing as a house-shaped icon with the number 1 next to it (location coordinates are also displayed).
Along the way if you wish to highlight a particular spot for future reference you can do so using one of the 18 available waypoint markers and in order to always show your entire route on the screen that image will automatically shrink as your trip progresses. When it comes time to turn the Mini off, follow the same procedure you used to boot it up by holding the upper left button for a few seconds until the ‘Goodbye!’ message appears on screen. This time lapse feature to deactivate is likely a safeguard against the unit being accidentally turned off while being handled or carried.
Backtracking with the Mini
Unlike many GPS models the BackTrack Mini doesn’t include the typical ‘go-to’ feature but does have a couple of ways to track your travels. To ensure you don’t become an Outback casualty, I found the most reliable of those was starting a new trip then leaving the GPS activated and tracking your movements on your entire trip. In this way the GPS shows the route you’ve taken in addition to present location and starting point so when it’s time to head back you can follow that same trail in reverse or cut across and intersect the path.
The way I see it
The Bushnell BackTrack Mini does come with some limitations, most of which are tied to its small size. The fact it’s equipped with a rechargeable power source as opposed to throwaway batteries could be considered either a positive or a negative and I like the fact I don’t have to buy batteries, though that could also mean the battery may unexpectedly die on you at the worst possible time.
It’s been said the BackTrack Mini had to pass a test of being dropped from two metres on a concrete floor without damage and that being the case as well as 100 per cent waterproof should assure the user it can handle harsh Aussie conditions well. If you’re after a GPS with lots of bells and whistles the Bushnell BackTrack Mini may not be your best but if you want a basic, small, ruggedly built and fully waterproof version that won’t weigh you down ‑ or cost an arm and a leg ‑ this could be perfect. Distributed by NIOA.
Model: BackTrack Mini GPS
Display resolution: 128 x 128 pixels, transflective colour TFT
Display size: 6.4cm (2.25”)
Weight: 54g (1.9oz), with tether and carabiner 95g (2.3oz)
Height: 6.5cm (2.56”)
Width: 5cm (1.95”)
Depth: 2.5cm (0.98”)
Country of manufacture: Taiwan
Price: Contact your local dealer