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Garmin GPSMAP 66i Review

If you want full handheld GPS functionality with your satellite communications, this is the product and service for you
garmin gpsmap 66i personal locator beacon review
Credit: Garmin
Price:  $600 List
Manufacturer:   Garmin
By Jediah Porter ⋅ Review Editor  ⋅  Jan 19, 2023
74
OVERALL
SCORE


RANKED
#5 of 11
  • SOS/Emergency Messaging - 30% 7.0
  • Non-Emergency Messaging - 25% 9.0
  • Signal Coverage - 20% 8.0
  • Ease of Use - 15% 7.0
  • Portability - 10% 4.0

Our Verdict

The Garmin GPSMAP 66i is two devices in one. It offers both full-function navigation and satellite communication attributes. One way to look at outdoor electronics is to consider four major uses. Most people use electronic devices in the backcountry to take pictures, communicate with cell signal, communicate with satellite, and navigate. Each can be done with a dedicated device, and each can also be done on a device that does at least one of the others. Your smartphone has cell signal, photos, and pretty good navigation function. Satellite signal (for the most part) requires a standalone device. At this point in history, dedicated wilderness travelers will carry at least two devices to accomplish the above four tasks. If the navigation attributes of your smartphone are not good enough, you can choose a standalone GPS device or mash together your navigation and satellite communications. In this lattermost (and albeit rare) case, the GPSMAP 66i is your best bet.
REASONS TO BUY
Long battery life
Good button navigation
REASONS TO AVOID
Bulky and heavy
Expensive
Editor's Note: We tested this device through the early winter of 2022-23. In writing this, we call on actual use of the GPSMAP and deep experience with similar predecessor products.

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Garmin GPSMAP 66i
Awards  Editors' Choice Award Best Buy Award Best Buy Award Best Buy Award 
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Pros Long battery life, good button navigationSmall, comprehensive, reliableCompact, great network, on-device basic controlsSmall, affordable subscription options, proven satellite and dispatch networks, simpleReasonable initial purchase price, no paid subscription, uses proven global network, compact
Cons Bulky and heavy, expensiveNot the absolute lightest, tiny screen, button useNo on-device message viewing or composition, USB-C charging (could be a pro for some)Only supports SOS and tracking on the device itself, no custom messaging, occasional hardware issuesNo non-emergency messaging
Bottom Line If you want full handheld GPS functionality with your satellite communications, this is the product and service for youFor how most people actually use their satellite communicators, this is the best product on the marketA small, light, and full-function two-way messenger that competes closely with the top of the heapCompact, simple, two-way satellite communications using proven technology and relatively affordable subscription optionsThis device provides a compact and affordable “help me” button in your pocket
Rating Categories Garmin GPSMAP 66i Garmin inReach Mess... ACR Bivy Stick Somewear Global Hot... Ocean Signal rescue...
SOS/Emergency Messaging (30%)
7.0
7.0
7.0
7.0
9.0
Non-Emergency Messaging (25%)
9.0
9.0
8.0
6.0
1
Signal Coverage (20%)
8.0
8.0
8.0
8.0
9.0
Ease of Use (15%)
7.0
6.0
7.0
7.0
5.0
Portability (10%)
4.0
9.0
9.0
8.0
8.0
Specs Garmin GPSMAP 66i Garmin inReach Mess... ACR Bivy Stick Somewear Global Hot... Ocean Signal rescue...
2-way Messaging? Yes Yes Yes Yes No
2-way Messaging Available via Cellular/Wifi? No Yes No Yes No
Custom Messaging Viewable and Composable on Device? Yes Yes No No No
Passive Tracking (turn on and forget about it - viewers at home can watch your progress on the web) Yes Yes Yes Yes No
Weight w/ Batteries 8.6 oz 4.0 oz 3.6 oz 4.1 oz 4.0 oz
Battery Life (hours) Up to 200 hours at 30-minute tracking (power save mode) Up to 28 days with a message or location sent every 10 minutes with full sky view Up to 120 Up to 1000 messages 24
Waterproof Rating IPX7 (No dust rating. Rain, splashing, and accidental submersion up to 30 minutes) IPX7 (No dust rating. Rain, splashing, and accidental submersion up to 30 minutes) IP67 (protection from harmful dust. Rain, splashing, and accidental submersion up to 30 minutes) IPX7 (No dust rating. Rain, splashing, and accidental submersion up to 30 minutes) No Formal Rating. Likely exceeds rating system. Claimed "Up to 15 meters"
Pairs with Smartphone? Yes Yes Yes Yes No
On Device Functions (if you lose or disable your smartphone) All, but slow to text All, but very slow to text SOS, check-in, tracking. All texting requires smartphone. SOS. All texting requires smartphone app All.
Satellite Network Iridium Iridium Iridium Iridium COSPAS/SARSAT
Dispatch service Garmin Response Team Garmin Response Team Global Rescue GEOS COSPAS/SARSAT
Dimensions 2.5” x 6.4” x 1.4” 3.1" x 2.5" x 0.9" 1.9" x .9" x 4.5" 3" x 3.6" x .8" 3.0" x 2.0" x 1.3"
Cubic Inches (L x W x H) 22.4 6.9 7.7 8.6 6.8

Our Analysis and Test Results

The Garmin GPSMAP 66i is both the biggest satellite communicator and the only product that combines full-function standalone satellite communication with full-function GPS navigation. Most are now navigating in the backcountry with their smartphones, but not all. If you want a standalone GPS navigation device and sat comms, choose the GPSMAP.

Performance Comparison


garmin gpsmap 66i personal locator beacon review - complex wilderness navigation might justify a stand-alone gps...
Complex wilderness navigation might justify a stand-alone GPS device. In that case, maybe the GPSMap 66i is the best choice for you.
Credit: Jediah Porter

SOS/Emergency Messaging


Garmin configures the GPSMAP 66i and its subscription/service to allow unlimited, well-supported emergency messaging. The Iridium network relays the message, and the "Garmin Response Team" works to get local resources to you and your emergency. In this way, it works the same as all other inReach products and is pretty similar to all the products in our test. The biggest differentiator in emergency messaging is whether you have SOS only or if you can conduct two-way messaging to further detail the nature of your emergency and learn of the response progress. The GPSMAP has two-way messaging.

garmin gpsmap 66i personal locator beacon review - the contents of the garmin gpsmap 66i box. brief instructions...
The contents of the Garmin GPSMap 66i box. Brief instructions, charging cord, lanyard, and device itself.
Credit: Jediah Porter

Non-Emergency Messaging


You can send and receive customized messages (best to do so through the accompanying smartphone app), configure the GPSMAP 66i to passively send tracking data to the outside world, and receive rudimentary weather forecasts. The Garmin Messenger app allows you to conduct seamless text conversations across cellular, WiFi, and satellite signals via the device. Finally, using a series of button commands, you can view, compose, and send text messages from the GPSMAP without your smartphone. All this together makes this device (along with all the currently sold inReach devices) as comprehensive as any satellite device gets for non-emergency messaging.

garmin gpsmap 66i personal locator beacon review - the satellite messaging attributes of the gpsmap 66i are familiar...
The satellite messaging attributes of the GPSMap 66i are familiar and comprehensive. Here, at the start of a big trip, we activate tracking so that loved ones at home can follow along.
Credit: Jediah Porter

Signal Coverage


The GPSMAP 66i uses the Iridium global satellite network to send and receive your satellite messages. The Iridium network is the best private-sector satellite network for truly global coverage. That said, all satellite communications are vulnerable to local terrain matters. Messages take time to send and receive, especially in dense forests and/or in and near steep terrain. In the most extreme terrain, you might not get a message out or in. This is the same for all satellite products and networks.

garmin gpsmap 66i personal locator beacon review - to optimize the function of the gpsmap, pair it with one of garmin's...
To optimize the function of the GPSMap, pair it with one of Garmin's two compatible apps. "Explore" has mapping features, while "Messenger" allows for seamless texting across data sources.
Credit: Jediah Porter

Ease of Use


This is a technical piece of equipment — you will need to arrange an app and a subscription, as well as learn how to navigate the buttons on the device itself. All the devices we tested are similar in this way. As compared to the others, Garmin's products aren't the most user-friendly. The end result is great, but the initial learning curve is a little steeper than the newer, more tech-savvy companies making similar products.

garmin gpsmap 66i personal locator beacon review - backcountry skiing is a pursuit heavy on off-trail navigation needs...
Backcountry skiing is a pursuit heavy on off-trail navigation needs. The GPSMap 66i is a contender when you want to have robust navigation attributes with your satellite communication device.
Credit: Jediah Porter

Portability


The GPSMAP 66i is the largest and heaviest product in our test, but it also does more than the others. It has a large screen, long battery life, and full navigation functionality. If you navigate with your smartphone, the extra bulk is unnecessary and undesirable. If you would carry a standalone, hand-held GPS device anyway, the bulk and weight of the GPSMAP 66i won't be as much of an issue.

garmin gpsmap 66i personal locator beacon review - weight matters a lot in steep, serious terrain. the bulk and mass of...
Weight matters a lot in steep, serious terrain. The bulk and mass of the GPSMap 66i isn't the sort of device, at this time in history, that mountaineers are choosing for their trips.
Credit: Jediah Porter

Should You Buy the Garmin GPSMAP 66i?


If you know that you need a standalone, purpose-built, hand-held GPS navigation device and also want satellite communication capability, the GPSMAP 66i is your best choice. The catch is that, in the age of excellent smartphone wilderness navigation, the need and desire for a hand-held GPS navigation device is virtually none. But if your use cases match the feature set of this device, it may be the one to choose.

garmin gpsmap 66i personal locator beacon review - setup and optimal use of your gpsmap 66i will require some tech...
Setup and optimal use of your GPSMap 66i will require some tech savviness and at least a few minutes of configuration and familiarization.
Credit: Jediah Porter

What Other Satellite Messengers Should You Consider?


High-end practitioners are choosing to navigate with a dedicated wilderness navigation app on their smartphone (Gaia, Caltopo, and OnX are three examples) and perform their satellite communications with a smaller device like the Garmin inReach Messenger, ACR Bivy Stick, Zoleo Satellite Communicator, or Somewear Global Hotspot. That said, if you know you want to combine your satellite communications and navigation device into one product, then the Garmin GPSMAP 66i is the best thing on the market.

Jediah Porter
 
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