Field Tested: Garmin GPSMAP 66i

It’s early March 2021 and there’s more snow than they’ve had in 50 years in the mountains southeast of Whitehorse, Yukon. I’m alone, exploring the area around the off-grid log cabin where I’m living for a couple weeks along with my wife and our toddler. I’m well into a mouth-long trip in the Yukon where I’ll winter camp, snowshoe, and snowmobile extensively in remote areas.

It’s windy, and I’m snowmobiling through a large stretch of alpine tundra. The trail I’m on is blown over and hard to follow. I’m returning to the cabin where I’d told my wife I’d be home for dinner, but I’m already running late and losing light. Trying to make time, I go off the hard-packed trail and my machine starts to sink in the deep snow. I pin the throttle to compensate and buzz through the deep powder, putting both feet on the inside runner to steer the machine back onto the packed snow of the trail but my turn is a little too tight. That’s when I run up on top of some dense bushes and get stuck. Hopping off, I fall up to my waist in fluffy sugar snow. Pulling out my shovel, I know it’s going to take me a while to get out; even after I’m done shoveling, I’ll have to start cutting away at all the branches underneath the machine’s track if I want any chance of getting traction.

Jim Baird tests the Garmin GPSMAPS 66i while snowmobiling in the Yukon.
Jim Baird

With a Garmin GPSMAP 66i in my pocket, before I start digging, I pull it out and shoot a satellite text message to my wife: “I’m fine but I just got stuck so I’ll be late.” My wife is back at the cabin (which is also out of cell phone range) and she pings me back using her InReach satellite communication device. She says she’ll wait up. Relieved she doesn’t have to worry, I take off my parka and start shoveling.

Using the shovel and a folding saw I always bring in the snowmobile, it takes me a half-hour (and a lot of elbow grease) to free the sled—somehow still making it back in time for tasty moose burgers gifted to us by a local hunter.

 

What It Is

Having significant experience using handheld GPS devices and sat communication equipment over the years, I was excited to discover the 66i before heading off on this Yukon adventure. What makes the 66i so good is that it has all the capabilities of a high-end handheld GPS device, merged with those of a sophisticated satellite-messaging device.

 

Jim Baird tests the Garmin GPSMAPS 66i while snowmobiling in the Yukon.
Jim Baird

Why We Like It

This device has many features but below I’ve included a list of the main 66i features I used most.

1) Maps

The device comes with preloaded topographic maps, but you can also load satellite imagery and additional topographic maps into the device.

2) Tracking

In the field when I have ample battery power, I leave tracking on. This means the device will keep a record of my progress, which always gives me an easy breadcrumb trail to follow back home. After a few days of exploring a given area, the multiple tracks saved in the unit create an accurate trail map as well.

3) Waypoints

I mark a waypoint to get me to (or back to) something specific like an ice fishing hole.

4) Sat Comms

The 66i has satellite-texting capability that allows me to not only communicate with my wife’s InReach device, but I can also engage in two-way text messages with any cell phone, and send and receive emails too. Emails and texts to cell phones are sent with an accompanying link that allows the receiver to view the exact location of the sender and follow his or her progress on a map. The 66i can even send a map link and text post to Facebook and Twitter, allowing others to follow your progress as well.

6) SOS

Potentially the device’s most crucial save-your-bacon feature happens to also be the one you never want to have to use. If and when shit truly hits fan, you’ll need the interactive SOS button. This sends a signal to an emergency monitoring station that can facilitate a rescue anywhere in the world.

 

Jim Baird tests the Garmin GPSMAPS 66i while snowmobiling in the Yukon.
Jim Baird

Nitpicks

This is a rugged outdoor device and because of that ultimate durability, its interface isn’t as user-friendly as a smartphone’s, for one. That drawback is mainly because it doesn’t have a touchscreen, so texting and map panning take longer. There is also an odd glitch in the firmware, which means that every once in a while, you need to turn it off and on to reboot. Note that this issue will likely not persist as new firmware updates become available.

This device offers more piece of mind, but don’t let it give you a false sense of security while you’re in the backcountry. No device (or piece of gear for that matter) should take the place of experience and skill.

[$600; garmin.com]

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