Garmin GPSMAP 66i Review
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Garmin GPSMAP 66i
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|Pros||Long battery life, good button navigation||Small, comprehensive, reliable||Compact, great network, on-device basic controls||Small, affordable subscription options, proven satellite and dispatch networks, simple||Reasonable initial purchase price, no paid subscription, uses proven global network, compact|
|Cons||Bulky and heavy, expensive||Not the absolute lightest, tiny screen, button use||No 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 issues||No non-emergency messaging|
|Bottom Line||If you want full handheld GPS functionality with your satellite communications, this is the product and service for you||For how most people actually use their satellite communicators, this is the best product on the market||A small, light, and full-function two-way messenger that competes closely with the top of the heap||Compact, simple, two-way satellite communications using proven technology and relatively affordable subscription options||This 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%)|
|Non-Emergency Messaging (25%)|
|Signal Coverage (20%)|
|Ease of Use (15%)|
|Specs||Garmin GPSMAP 66i||Garmin inReach Mess...||ACR Bivy Stick||Somewear Global Hot...||Ocean Signal rescue...|
|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.|
|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 full function GPS navigation device and sat comms in one device, choose the GPSMAP.
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.
You can send and receive customized messages (best to do so through the accompanying Garmin "Explore" smartphone app), configure the GPSMAP 66i to passively send tracking data to the outside world, and receive rudimentary weather forecasts. 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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