Garmin fēnix GPS Watch: Black Ops testing

OK so this was the most fun I have had with a GPS watch: navigating by following a Track. The idea is that you download a Track onto the device and then follow it using the features on the Garmin fēnix GPS Watch. Overall I think this is a phenomenal feature that allows you to download adventures and follow them safely with no need for maps and compasses, and will appeal to the more adventurous trail runner.


I chose a trail I had only ever run once. I ran it with a trail group about a year back, so was not really focussed on where I was going at the time. To ensure I would be extra reliant on the GPS, I did it at night, so apart from the trail illuminated by my Black Diamond Icon, I had no visual clues as to where I was.

I started my run from home which is a couple of kilometers from the start and end of the route. By zooming right out of the map I was able to use the map view and the compass view to navigate to the trail-head.

Map

Remember that there are no map overlays on the Garmin fēnix, so you are totally reliant on the Track which is a simple plotted line. If you are using Basecamp it is my understanding that you can add information in the form of Waypoints, but I was using a Track recorded on my Garmin Forerunner 910XT and then sent to the fēnix from Garmin Connect.

Compass

When you view the Compass it directs you along the Track you are on. This is especially useful when you stray from the Track and have to work your way back to get back on it.

The Compass did tend to flip around a bit, but it was still effective in giving the direction I needed to travel in.

Zoom

You are able to view the Map with a Zoom function. I found that a zoom level of about 100m worked best while running, and zooming out to 300m from time to time to get and idea of where I was on the Track in a more general sense. I guess it would take some practice to get these levels to an optimum, and also that it depends on how fast you are moving. It would be a nice touch to add the current GPS accuracy (which can be viewed at GPS Tools » Satellite) to the screen as an indication how accurately the Track is guiding you at any time.

Zooming in and out naturally requires the map to be redrawn during which time you cannot see the Track.

Accuracy

The tracking obviously relies on the accuracy of your position in terms of satellite signal. At times it was so accurate that it felt like a pair of invisible hands were resting on your shoulders guiding you like an attentive father guiding a young child riding a scooter.


Alerts

A range of Alerts can be set-up. The benefit of Alerts is in that you are alerted to specific conditions via alarm sound and / or buzzing which saves you having to keep looking at the watch: you only look when the Alert goes off.

The “Off Course” alert (Alerts » Distance » Off Course) allows you to set an Alert to let you know when you are a predetermined distance off your Track. I did not set this up so will re-test and update accordingly, but it sounds like a great idea as it will mean you don’t have to keep taking your eyes off the trail to check the Track visually on your wrist.

Garmin logo

Disclosure:

  1. the unit is being loaned to me for one month by Garmin SA
  2. I already own a Garmin Forerunner 910XT (and prior to that a Garmin Forerunner 310XT)

David

Outdoor adventure enthusiast living on the Garden Route.

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