Garmin Foretrex 101 Review

Going for long hikes many years ago had two guarantees, the first was that it was going to rain, even if the forecast called for sun, and the second was that once I was put on point, we were getting lost...without fail. Well, in the end, instead of doing the right thing and brushing up on my land navigation, I went and bought a Garmin Foretrex 101.

Before investing in one, I borrowed a buddy's to try out on a day hike, and I loved it; it was easy to use, takes AAA batteries, and best of all: I didn't get lost! This allowed me to spend less time off our planned route, and more time traveling efficiently (albeit more time looking at my wrist than at the amazing forest I was hiking through).

The 101 is definitely not a luxury model. It has a modest black and white screen, and most of the operation of the unit is performed with the up/down and enter buttons. Entering coordinates at home takes a few minutes, since there's no number pad, though it's really not bad once you get used to it. When you turn the unit on, it can take a few minutes to acquire satellite connectivity, but when it's done, and assuming you've enabled WAAS (spell out abbreviation), it's usually accurate to a few meters.

When you start walking with the map view on your screen, you will see an animation of a man walking, as well as a trail behind that will help you if you want to backtrack. From the data view, you can set the fields to display your speed, ETA, sunrise, sunset, max speed, distance to destination and many other useful calculations. You can change the map settings so that north is always at the top or your screen, or you can opt for the map to orient itself on the fly in the direction in which you are traveling (which I find a little disorienting because the 101 has a fairly slow framerate).

Here you can see the buttons, and one of the buttons that fell off after using my pouch too much.
It still works, but I have to shove a stick or pen in there to operate it now.

When you come to a stop or change direction, it sometimes takes a few seconds for the map to rotate on the screen. For the unit to orient itself again, you need to walk in a straight line until you see the map snap into a new position. This can be frustrating sometimes when the trail is winding, or if there is no trail at all! Another weak point is that the antenna is located within the unit, causing reception to be lost easily...especially if there are dense trees above...or if it's (yup!) raining.

If you have it on your wrist facing out, you shouldn't have too many problems. However, if it's rotated in and touching your body, or if you've mounted it to something that is in close proximity to some of your other gear, you might get annoying beeps notifying you that you've lost reception. So your best bet is to only check it from time to time and set visual waypoints such as trees or other features instead of always trying to keep your 101 perfectly aligned to your route.

The 101 comes with a velcro strap, and an extension for when you are wearing it over thick clothing. It's attached like a watch with two pins which are unfortunately very weak. I was lucky on one trip to find it dangling on its last pin, the other one lost in the bush somewhere. I know I'm not the only one with this problem either. A lot of my buddies have purchased pouches with plastic windows that hold it much more securely.

Apparently the 101 is submersible up to a few feet, but I wouldn't recommend that. The battery compartment is not sealed and the serial port has a small rubber cover that easily comes off.

I had to adjust the levels a bit to get this photo to work, but this should give you and idea of what to expect.

After almost losing mine, a buddy gave me a pouch he didn't need anymore, which was great, because I had a big hike coming up. So I shoved it in, and off I went. The buttons were still easily manipulated through the window, but the plastic fogged up easily (and not with water vapor, mind you; it was some mystery substance that I haven't identified yet). Regardless, it was secure, and was definitely more reassuring than the stock straps.

I had fun one day bringing the unit to the ski hill with some friends. We found a nice, clear, open hill and took turns using it to find out who could set the best top speed. I think around 70kph was the record, which isn't bad, considering we all have trick boards.

In the end, I'd advise bringing and using a good compass and map for navigation. But the 101 is nice to have for "oh crap" situations. Also, since I got the 101, Garmin has released many new models with internal batteries and USB options, rather than a serial connection. If you want to export your trips to your computer to see where you've been during the day, I recommend trying to find one with the USB option. I tried to buy adapters to make it work, but success was inconsistent, at best.

Here's the pouch a friend gave me. Unfortunately I have no idea who makes it, but it's sturdy,
and much more reliable than the Garmin strap.

Overall, I've been pretty happy with this little GPS for the few years I've used it. It's small, compact, and can be had for about $100. Even though I don't use it as much as in the past for land navigation, it's still great to use for tracking distance and time when running and biking.

Please don't hesitate to post any questions or comments on how to make these reviews better!

• Takes AAA batteries, which are easy to replace.
• Is small and attaches to your wrist securely, once you have the aftermarket pouch.
• Has a back-light option if you need to use it at night.
• Works reasonably well in the winter.
• Reasonably priced compared to other GPS units.

• Very poor strap that should not be trusted.
• Weak reception under trees and during rain.
• Uses old serial connection technology rather than USB.
• Battery life is about 5-6 hours.


  1. Good review! You are correct to warn people not to rely exclusively on GPS. A good Topographical Map and lensatic compass will save your rear end when the satellites get knocked out by an EMP or strong Solar flare.

  2. Good point James! I could only imagine what a nightmare it would be to rely on a GPS then have it conk out when you are in the middle of nowhere.

  3. Eagle Ind. or LBT makes that pouch.

  4. This framework is intended to ascertain the separation between the satellite or a couple satellites and the particular beneficiary so as to arrange the previously mentioned estimations with incredible exactness. GPS following units come in different structures with an assortment of employments so how to pick GPS beacons for your particular needs?