Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Travel, accessory, Bushnell Backtrack

Normally I'm not one to worry about where I am even in a foreign place. There have been a time or two when I've been out of the line of sight back to my car. You know you go out and you see something interesting and go look at it. Then you see something interesting a little further away. Next thing you know you've wandered a bit further afield than you anticipated. It sometimes takes you a bit longer to get back than you had planned.
Here is a little thing that helped me with that situation during the trip I took in Europe. I searched around thinking I'd like a GPS of some kind because lets face it most of the time you have no actual idea where you are. I do photography and even when I'm going out I carry a compass and a stop watch. Anyhow as I checked the small GPS systems used for backpacking here in America they didn't have maps for Europe programed into them. For an additional price I could download a map of Europe. The backtrack was cheaper than the additional price of a new map. That and the three or four hundred dollars and the price of an additional map sort of tilted the scales to this.
Anyhow you are in a new place and you have in your pocket a business card for the hotel you are staying just in case you don't remember where it is and either a taxi or bus driver can help you find your way back to where you are staying.
So now you've taken the train and you are out seeing the sights and now several hours later you've wandered farther than you thought and you have no idea where the train station is to get back to your hotel.
Here's where this Backtrack shines. You have the ability to set three separate locations and little icons for house car and other. You can cycle through these to get back to the one you are trying to find.
I used this often and there were two separate times this device got me back to where I needed to be.
There is no map with this device. After you have set your location it keeps track of where that was with an arrow and in the center there is a counter with the number of yards you are away from that position. I used this in London, Koblenz, Rothenburg and München and it worked fine. It did take a few minutes to locate enough satellites sometimes. It seems when you move a couple hundred miles it takes a little while for this to find where it is. If you stay in the same location for a while then the device seems to locate the satellites more easily. The device worked between tall buildings and even in the mountains. Also I used this during the winter when the conditions outside were normally in the - Celsius range. The batteries held up well and the device performed even in the cold. The Backtrack comes with a lanyard so you can wear it around your neck. In the winter I kept it beneath my jacket but much of the time I carried this in my pocket also. I take pictures so I am use to carrying a few extra pounds of gear and this is small enough that it doesn't really make any difference.
Having said that there are a few things this device won't do. It isn't something that will work well in a car. I've tried it and it will get you back to the general area but it doesn't process info fast enough in a car. There is no map to see you just follow the arrow back and watch the distance decrease. It won't tell you if where you are walking isn't the greatest street to be on. You just have to realize that major train stations in large towns tend to be in rougher neighborhoods. Not always but often. So if you end up in a seedy part of town then use your best options.
I like the fact that this device is not very big. It is a little bit bigger than a stopwatch. It is powered by three AAA batteries. When you remove the batteries you naturally lose all your data. There is a battery save mode built in that shuts the Backtrack off after about twenty minutes.
As a travel aid you really can't pass this up. For me it took away that anxiety about getting to far away from the hotel or train station for fear that I couldn't find it again. You just have to get in the habit of setting the location before you start off. I had a little trouble outside of Piccadilly Circus getting the device to find satellites but I moved to a slightly open area and a few minutes later I was locked in. I was glad I waited because we got on the wrong tour bus and had to walk back to the station. This device got us back just fine and I was very glad it did.

So here are a couple tips for this;
Keep the batteries charged. I use rechargeable batteries in all my gear.
Make sure you get in the habit of 'locating' your position before you set off on your daily adventure.

Like I said this is a good thing to have when traveling. During my trip the Backtrack twice managed to get me back to a train station. On the second occasion I thought I turned the right direction and began walking down the street and the counter started going up after a few paces so I turned around and a block later there was the train. To me that makes this device priceless.
Remember take your time. Even if you aren't exactly sure where you are there has to be some interesting sights around you, enjoy them.

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