There are quite a few GPS devices out there and several companies who make good ones. However good is subjective and dependent upon what you need it for. When it comes to a GPS unit I need something that is light weight. More so than that I need something that conserves battery power and can give me accurate readings quickly. I’ve found that the Garmin Foretrex 401 is largely without competition in these categories.
Prior to using the Foretrex 401 I was issued the Garmin eTrex 30 which does offer some advantages (detailed topographic maps installed on the GPS for example). However I found that for executing missions that required precision the unit was somewhat unwieldy despite some of the excellent holders and pouches that I tried. After moving to the Foretrex 401 I was immediately impressed with the weight (3.1 oz with batteries) and it’s ability to run on 2 AAA batteries for around 9 hours. Due to the weight I am easily able to attach the GPS to my wrist and can pull 10 digit MGRS coordinates whenever necessary.
This isn’t to say that I couldn’t do that with my eTrex 30, but rather that it took more time to take it out of my kit. With the Foretrex 401 I can do my map work and simply rotate my wrist to get coordinates that I need. I’ve found that the Foretrex 401 tends to acquire at about the same speed as my eTrex 30 (which depends on how long it’s been since it was last turned on). On average it acquires within 12-20 seconds and if left on will stay acquired unless bad weather or terrain prevents it from communicating.
The Garmin Foretrex 401 also allows you to track your elevation / elevation change which can be especially helpful when working with helicopters / aircraft. Another great feature is that you can send coordinates between other Garmin 401’s. I’ve found that the unit itself is well sealed against the weather and that the screen does not scratch easily at all. Punching in coordinates is mostly painless and perhaps slightly more difficult than the eTrex 30. Ultimately I believe that choosing a GPS comes down to what you need. The eTrex 30 is handy because you can store topo maps of the entire world, however if you need your GPS to be wrist mounted then the 401 might be more up your alley.
In the end I’m more of a 2 is 1, 1 is none type of guy and I carry the eTrex 30 in my pack. The 401 is a handy, easy to navigate by GPS that is dependable and reliable. I feel wholly confident in it. If you’re looking for a lightweight wrist mounted GPS I doubt you could find one quite as good as the 401 at a $150 price point.