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Bushnell BackTrack

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While it might appear to be a GPS device intended for use by people who never successfully managed to program the clocks on their VCRs back in the day, the BackTrack is actually just very clever and very simple to use. It maintains its impressive simplicity by only doing one thing, albeit very well.

Turn on the BackTrack and have it memorize your current location. Go somewhere else. The BackTrack will tell you in which direction to proceed to get to where you were, and how far you are away from your destination.

A true GPS receiver – and a pretty accurate one, as far as we’ve been able to determine – the BackTrack won’t display maps, show you where all the nearby Starbucks are, give you verbal turn-by-turn directions or play MP3 music while you figure out how lost you really are. It will just get you home – or back to camp – or back your car – or anywhere else you used to be and aren’t any more.

In fact, it’s also a really accurate digital compass, which is what we originally bought it for. An accurate compass is essential in maintaining the increasing funky satellite uplink that connects our offices to the Internet. It should be noted that the BackTrack’s compass mode, while potentially useful, isn’t required to use the device.

In use, the BackTrack has two buttons and a large LCD display. Turn it on – that accounts for one of the buttons – and select which of three locations you’d like it to memorize. It will display icons of a house, a car and a star for these, but you can use them for anything you like. Hold down the other button for a few seconds until the BackTrack stores its location. Thereafter, it will display the distance to your selected location and the direction you’ll need to walk, drive, fly, paddle or stagger drunkenly while attempting to keep your feet at a lower altitude than the rest of yourself to get there.

The BackTrack can be configured to recon distance in English or metric units – we chose the former, as it’s said to annoy our government.

We took the BackTrack into our disturbingly extensive woods and we deliberately got lost with it – at least, we claimed it was deliberate. Blindly following the BackTrack returned us to civilization within a few yards of where we started, despite a number of intermediate diversions to avoid small bodies of water and places where it looked like bears liked to hang out.

We also tried the BackTrack in a very large parking lot, during a recent foray to a mall. While a huge red pickup truck isn’t usually hard to spot, the BackTrack found it effortlessly. Drivers of less extreme vehicles will no doubt find this to be a more valuable application of this device.

Simple, rugged and inexpensive, the BackTrack is a toy no one who strays more than a stone’s throw from home should consider optional. It’s probably capable of saving your life in extreme circumstances – it’s unquestionably disposed to saving you untold embarrassment.