Garmin Foretrex 401 Review
Nowadays, GPS trackers have become extremely small and portable without sacrificing much of their performance. And while most Garmin models are easily pocketable, few are the ones that really take convenience into consideration. The Garmin Foretrex 401 is a hands-free wrist-mounted tracker that is a great option for anyone looking for a decent model at a bargain price that you won’t have to hold when using. In this review, we will go over some of its main advantages and disadvantages, and also compare it to some of its closest competitors including the newer Foretrex models.
If you’re set on getting a portable GPS tracker, make sure you check out our detailed guide on some of the best handheld GPS trackers that are currently out on the market!
Overview & Features
Design and Durability
The design of the Foretrex 401 is rather interesting and very unique compared to everything else that came from Garmin these past few years. The whole series has always been wrist-mounted and that’s one of its main appeals. The main body of the tracker is 1.70 x 0.90 x 2.90 inches making it a little bulky for something that you’d wear all day on your hand but to compensate for that it is much lighter than traditional handheld trackers. It weighs only 3 ounces which is 2 ounces less than the GPSMAP 64 series and 0.10 ounces lighter than the 601.
The tracker comes with an IPX7 rating which is pretty much standard on most Garmin models nowadays. It can withstand accidental splashes and up to 30 minutes of exposure to water which is 1 meter deep. It also protects the tracker from snow, heavy rain, and even showering.
You can use the 401 either as a handheld tracker or as a wrist-mounted one when you attach the wrist expansion strap on it. It is really comfortable on your hand and has a lot of adjustments to it. The strap works with a hook and loop Velcro system to stay secured in its position and is equally good for both kids and adult sizes.
For tracking, the 401 uses an electronic compass, a barometric altimeter, and a high-sensitivity GPS receiver that also works with HotFix. All that allows your Foretrex to work exceptionally well even in remote locations that are heavily covered up.
One of the features that I absolutely love about the Foretrex 401 is that it can retrace your route and steps. Let’s say you are looking for a cache that is a mile away from your camp. The tracker will automatically trace your path and display it on your screen as a dotted line. Once you are ready to go back, you can just use the TracBack feature that will help you follow your route back to the base camp.
One thing that I do not like here is that the compass needs frequent calibration. Also, in order for it to be accurate, you will have to hold it level when using it, otherwise, it might set you off by a bit. This is actually one of the few downsides of this model and is addressed in the newer Foretrex generations.
Unlike other budget Garmin trackers, this one doesn’t come with a colored display. Instead, it packs a 1.7 inch LCD display that is fairly large and rich in contrast making it relatively easy to read even in the day. For the night, it has a backlight to help you see your route metrics.
For a bigger display, you might want to get some of the newer Foretrex models that have a 2.0 and 2.2 inch displays which are still LCD and colorless but are also easier to read and much more detailed in terms of route information.
The battery here is definitely a strong feature. Foretrex models have always gotten decent battery life and the new ones have it even better despite the bigger screen. Still, the 2 AAA batteries you use here are good for more than 15 hours, depending on their brand, type, and mAh rating. For the best results, I suggest using 600+ NiMH batteries that will give you the maximum possible battery life which can be up to 17-18 hours.
What the newer Foretrex models have are a few different modes that save a ton of battery usage. The navigation mode on the 601 can give you up to 2 days of battery life, while the UltraTrac mode gets a week before the battery runs out. Lastly, the watch mode gets up to a month of battery life due to the energy-saving LCD screen and the minimal amount of information on it. All the Foretrex models, however, work with AAA batteries, meaning you can bring a pack along if you want to improve the time in which you can use the tracker. You can also bring a solar charger for your rechargeable AAA batteries.
In terms of connectivity, the Foretrex 401 can wirelessly pair with cadence and heart rate sensors. Its mainframe is also bike-mountable and works with all the respective sensors you could use there, keeping track of your trip and routes. It also has Bluetooth support to pair with other compatible devices. Once you are home, you can use the USB cable to upload and store your waypoints, tracks, and routes onto your computer. The 401 can also share all of that information with other 401 models.
To get detailed data on your routes, waypoints, and outdoor activities, you can use the Garmin Connect app which also allows you to share all of that with other users.
Ease Of Use
Being easy to use is one of the core values of the Foretrex line of trackers. They are all wrist-mounted and are meant to bring the convenience of a GPS watch in a slightly bulkier form factor. The front of the tracker is clean without any buttons, housing the display only. I’d say that this is a poor use of space, especially since the 601 uses most of that front space for its larger LCD display. The buttons, however, are very tactile and clickable even when you’re with gloves on. You have a power button, along with GoTo, Mark, Page, and Enter buttons followed by the typical Garmin up and down buttons.
The newer models don’t change much of that configuration but make the buttons slightly larger and a bit more clickable. They also make them better sealed in order to improve the waterproof and dustproof ratings.
The display really adds to the convenience of the tracker since it really builds on that wristwatch functionality. While the newer models have it bigger, this 1.7-inch display here is absolutely enough to see most of your activities and waypoints. What it lacks though is detailed information about the surrounding terrain.
Some of the most notable additional features the 401 has are the sunrise and sunset times, a timer, the trip computer, and all sorts of other hunting and fishing information which is pretty much standard for newer Garmin models. In terms of accessories, however, you aren’t getting much for your money here. You also do not get a GPS case with this model and you will have to pay around 20 dollars extra to get it. The only accessories you get are the USB cable that is used to upload and download information and routes from it and the wrist expansion strap.
Some other cool features here that I haven’t mentioned are the dual-position readout which you can use to view your positions in multiple formats at the same time. You also have audible tones for various notifications.
If you want to upgrade from the 401 and move a step higher, you can get the Foretrex 601 which has a ton of improvements including a bigger display, better battery, more accurate positioning, bigger and more tactile buttons and a few other features that are worth the upgrade if you want to spend a little extra. The 601 also works with the GLONASS and Galileo satellite systems to provide you with a better and more accurate signal coverage all across the globe. If you get it on sale, you can pretty much buy it for the same price as the 401 which is a great deal. Other than that, the 401 remains the better value for its money if you’re looking for a budget wrist-mounted tracker. Now, let’s sum up the pros and cons of the Foretrex 401!
Advantages & Disadvantages
- Very easy to use
- Easily readable LCD display
- Accurate GPS receiver
- Works with AAA batteries
- Decent battery life (up to 17 hours)
- Fairly durable construction
- IPX7 waterproof
- The electronic compass gets decalibrated very often and you will need to calibrate it in order to keep the tracker working accurately
- The display isn’t great at showing you your position in greater details like some other Garmin GPS models
Gramin Foretrex 401 vs Garmin GPSMAP 64st
These two trackers are polar opposites when it comes to one thing – price. Even as a base Garmin model, the Foretrex 401 is still a bit expensive but merely half the price of the fully-packed version of the GPSMAP 64 which is the “st” model. Still, even though the Foretrex is the much cheaper option it has some cool features up its sleeve. One of the most important ones is the TracBack one which lets you go back on your route to your camp. It also has a slightly better battery life but that point has to go to the 64st since it has a similar battery life with a much more detailed and a bit bigger display.
As a whole, the Foretrex 401 is meant mainly for hikers and people that are into geocaching. It is extremely convenient to use and highly portable. The 64st is equally portable and also easily pocketable but costs quite a lot more money. That higher price tag, however, will bring you a ton of extra features and improved tracking capabilities. What can rival the 64st is the next generations of the Foretrex, specifically the 601 which has a bigger display and better overall performance.
Follow me to my Garmin 64st review for a deeper look at its features, advantages, and disadvantages!
Conclusion & Rating
As a whole, there aren’t many wrist-mounted GPS trackers out there that are as potent as the Garmin Foretrex 401. it is super convenient and easy to use due to its wristwatch-like functionality. While it is a little bulkier, it does house a lot of high-end GPS features in it including its high-accuracy receiver, electronic compass, altimeters, and more. The display does a perfect job at giving you all the essential data in an organized manner. For its price, there is very little competition, apart from the newer Foretrex models which are also a great bang for your buck and have an even better battery life and display properties. I gave this tracker a four and a half out of five stars rating!