We’re big fans of Garmin’s GPS navigation devices. We’re also big fans of the outfit’s InReach satellite messenger. However, having to carry both on your backcountry adventures, along with your phone and whatever other electronics, does beef up your gear stash a bit. The Garmin GPSMap 66i streamlines that by combining their functions into one.
That’s right, it’s a GPS navigator and satellite communicator in one, so you can get your turn-by-turn instructions and perform two-way messaging on the same handheld device. Whether you’re hiking in backcountry woodlands, overlanding around the desert, or exploring trails in your backyard, this thing should prove very handy, all while cutting the amount of gear you need to bring along.
The Garmin GPSMap 66i is styled similar to the outfit’s satellite communication devices, with a phone-like profile and big antenna on top. It has a full-color, sunlight-readable 3-inch display (240 x 400 resolution) for viewing the preloaded topographic maps, which feature detailed views of terrain contours, elevations, summits, water areas, and geographical points of interests, complete with downloadable satellite imagery of photorealistic views of your route, so you can see trailheads and clearings the way they actually appear. There’s multi-GNSS support, of course, along with an altimeter, barometer, and compass navigation sensors, so you can track and find your way through the most challenging environments.
Built-in cellular connectivity lets you access up-to-date weather forecasts wherever there’s a cell signal, so you can plan your day, depending on how the weather is expected to go in the coming hours. If you’re staying off-grid, you can turn off the satellite tracking, at which point the device can run for up to 200 hours between charges. With the satellite connection running, though, that goes down to 35 hours, so you’ll want to keep a battery pack on hand for multi-day adventures.
The Garmin GPSMap 66i, of course, shines in its second role as a satellite communication device that allows you to stay connected, despite being away from the nearest phone signal. Just like Garmin’s inReach devices, this allows you to trigger an SOS call to a 24/7 monitoring center during emergencies and perform two-way messaging with any compatible device, cellphone number, or email address. Do note, it’s not a touchscreen, so you’ll have to navigate your way through a virtual keyboard using direction buttons for messaging (yeah, we hate that, too, but it will do). It can also keep track of your current location every 10 minutes, allowing your loved ones to easily check where you are from one of Garmin’s apps.
As with most devices designed for outdoor use, it’s clad in a rugged construction (mil-standard 810G), ensuring it will survive shocks, vibration, and being dropped in up to 3.3 feet of water. Other features include 16GB of storage, a microSD card slot (if you want to store more maps), smart notifications, and compatibility with Garmin’s smartphone apps, so you can write messages, plan trips, and organize your waypoints from a more functional interface.