Garmin Montana 650t Review:
MSRP: $599.99 (BUY NOW)
Why buy the Garmin Montana 650t:
1) This thing is a tank. Waterproof, shock proof, and fits in the palm of your hand.
2) Versatile. Tired of having multiple devices that only do one thing? The Montana 650t connects all of your outdoor adventures and serves it up on one swanky platter without having to pay to download a bunch of extra maps right off the bat. (Granted there are a BUNCH of things you can download that make the Montana an even more fun user experience, i.e. directions given by Yoda or Darth Vader)
3) Already have some awesome maps on your computer that you want to use in real life GPS tracking world? There are a bunch of free (and paid) downloadable software options to integrate those maps into your Montana. Check them out HERE.
At first touch, the Garmin Montana 650t is a little overwhelming. I have a tendency to not want to use instruction manuals, but boy am I happy to have them for this device. Unlike Garmin’s simple auto offerings, THERE ARE SO MANY FUNCTIONS. Want to navigate on a boat? Montana’s got you. Want to take pictures of the sweet hiking spot you found, and have its coordinates documented at the same time? Yep, got it. Want to know what time the sun is going to set, so you know when you need to get to camp? Yeah, I could go on. It’s kind of ridiculous, but luckily there are some folks out there who have spent a large chunk of time to put out some user guides to make your Montana 650t experience less daunting.
Step one, read the manual. I’m not kidding. We wanted the Montana primarily for Offroad navigating around the world, but after reading everything about this sucker (Every Garmin manual, tons of Amazon reviews, Google searches galore, then finding a remarkably helpful Wikispace) I now realize how much more the Montana has to offer. This may sound like overkill, but if you’re about to spend that chunk of dough, you might as well know everything that you are buying. Or, if you don’t have time for all that, I’ve tried to outline a quick list of what I needed to know to make our off/on road navigation work for us.
Profiles – Here’s where the magic of the Montana 650t gets going. Garmin has created a set of generalized GPS personalities for your quick clicking pleasure. You can still modify any of these profiles to fit your liking. This includes which maps you wish to have the GPS access for routing, which buttons you want on the main menu, or if you want your personal icon to be a car or a monster truck (I obviously picked the monster truck). You then have the option to create your own personal profile for any specific need. This is where you should spend some time to make the rest of your Montana use a breeze.
The first Profile I created was for offroading. The 650t comes with a 100K US Topo Map. Some folks on the Internet will tell you that this map doesn’t quite get you what you need for the states, but in the interest of not spending any more unneeded money, I found that it actually finds most of the tiny roads that we use. A trick with this map is to just keep zooming in, and eventually the roads (and the topo lines) you are looking for show up! We have had a couple of instances of the Montana showing different names for those smaller roads compared to our other maps (according to the Garmin rep I spoke with, getting the 24K map will not change this), or even differed from the road signs we came across (in Grand Staircase Escalante Canyon, and off of HWY 199 in CA/OR). In those instances, we compared the actual road to the paper maps we carried to make sure were in the right place.
So here’s how I set up our offroad Profile (these changes work with the GPS in the auto mount or while handheld):
1) On the main screen, you will see a sideways arrow on the left side of your screen, go ahead and click it. This will get you to the main pullout menu. From there click on ‘Profile Change’. This step is just to make sure you are in the ‘Automotive’ Profile, so that when you are creating your new offroad Profile, you will be copying these basic preferences. After selecting ‘Automotive’, go back to the main menu and click the ‘Setup’ button. Here is where you can modify MOST aspects of your Montana (there are some sneaky hidden things that I will get to later). Scroll down (either using the arrows or dragging your finger firmly across the screen) until you get to ‘Profiles’. On this screen you will be able to name and create your new profile. After clicking ‘Create New Profile’, scroll down to the end of the screen options. You will see a new numbered profile, click on the new profile to name it. Then, click the return arrow, followed by the ‘x’ button to give you the option to select your new offroad Profile. After that process is complete, here comes the more fun stuff.
2) These are the things I wanted to change to make it work for us. They are listed in order under the ‘Setup’ menu.
- Display – Backlight Timeout – Stays On. When I’m driving or navigating I want to be able to see what’s going on all the time.
- Display – Battery Save – On. This makes your GPS turn off when you get super low on battery instead of running the battery dry, especially with the backlight always on. Also a nice heads up to charge!
- Map – Dashboard – nuvi. This gives you the standard Garmin road, mph, and turn information.
- Map – Map Information – Topo U.S. 100K – Enabled. This is the goods for the tiny adventure roads. In an effort to not overwhelm the GPS, disable all other maps, except for the CN North America NT map (to fill in any roads the Topo may be missing).
- Map – Advanced Setup – Detail – More or Most.
- Map – Advanced Setup – Vehicle – Pick your icon 🙂
- Tracks – Track Log – Record, Show On Map. (Important to record this info for uploading your adventures later!)
- Routing – Activity – ATV/Off Road Driving
- Routing – Avoidance Setup – Select away! We have all except ‘Unpaved Roads’ selected.
We also spend a bunch of time on the Highway, so the preset ‘Automotive’ Profile already has most of our needs adjusted. To make it easy to switch between the two profiles, you can create a shortcut to place on each Profile’s home screen. To do so, go under the ‘Setup’ menu, select shortcuts, then create one for each Profile, naming each one. Then, while in the ‘Automotive’ Profile, go to shortcuts and select the ‘Offroad’ shortcut, do the same for the ‘Offroad’ Profile. Other shortcuts I like to have on the main menu is ‘Stop Navigation’ and ‘Mark Waypoint’. Just remember when you are switching from offroad travel to on road travel that the maps will navigate accordingly. I.e. if you are in your ‘Offroad’ profile on a dirt road and enter a destination that you want to take dirt, then paved roads to get there, you will need to switch profiles while navigating. If you don’t make the switch, your Montana will do it’s best to get you there on dirt. This can be done by exiting out of your current map, then by clicking your ‘Automotive’ shortcut to change routing preferences when you’re ready to get back on pavement.
When using the map in any Profile, to quickly change what maps you are using (Topo, City Nav, etc) or what dashboard you want to be activated, click the three horizontal lines, which is your selected menu button on the bottom right hand side of the device. This menu button will display when you have the option to make adjustments to the ‘application’ you are in. Some of these adjustments are repeats of what you find in the ‘Setup’ menu, others are only found when in the application. (These are the tricky hidden adjustments I mentioned earlier.)
Note, if you are like Bryon and don’t like your GPS talking to you while it’s navigating, the only way to turn off/down the voice is, while plugged into your auto mount, click the power button. On that screen you will then see the slider to change the brightness of your display, and the slider for the volume, that’s what you want. (Don’t be fooled by ‘Tones’, under ‘Setup’, that only controls beeping tones.)
Now that you have your Montana all set to rock on the road, let’s spend time some going over how to get it to rock on your computer:
1) If you have a Mac, download BaseCamp. If you have a PC, download MapSource for Windows. (links HERE) These programs let you plan routes, mark waypoints to then transfer to your Montana, and save the tracks you have made. There are some mixed reviews out there on BaseCamp (I use a Mac), but so far I have been able to use it pretty intuitively. Want some video tutorials to point you in the right direction? Click HERE.
2) Next you’ll want to check for map updates (make sure to do this within the first 60 days just incase they came out with an updated map to get it for free), to do that you want Garmin Express, you can download that HERE.
3) Unless you are a skilled ninja at properly ‘ejecting’ the Montana, then pulling the USB cable before it has a chance to reload (common problem with GPS’, cameras and other such devices), you’re going to want to download CleanEject. This free computer app makes it easy and stress free to eject all of your external devices and drives safely.
Here are some “Glitches” and then some “Fixes”:
1) Sometimes the view of where you are while navigating (usually when approaching a turn/exit) will rapidly switch to several different views/orientation. No idea why this happens, but it’s really distracting. A quick fix is to zoom in a few times, then it seams to settle in that orientation.
2) When you are using your finger to drag the map around, if you press too lightly it will drop a pin for that location. To keep your map in the same place to continue scanning, just press the ‘x’ in the lower right hand side of the little box. Not a big deal, but if you hit the return key instead, it will send you back to your current location, loosing your previous ‘dragged’ location on the map.
3) When searching ‘Cities’ in ‘Where To?’ you might find that your city is “too small” to appear in that search function (Shell Beach, CA and Buena Vista, CO are two examples). After chatting with the ‘tech’ folks at Garmin, they told me that their software has those cities stored as a ‘subsidiary’ of the closest, larger town. As in, it’s considered a hamlet, town, or a village, not a city. Here are two ways to get the Montana to navigate to those smaller cities:
- Enter an address instead. Look up the post office, or another municipal building online, and then when it asks for ‘City/Zip Code’, enter the zip code first. As long as you have the zip code, you can find your city this way. (This was the only way I was able to find Shell Beach, CA. None of the other options for ‘Search Near’ worked)
- ‘Search Near’. After clicking on ‘Where To’, the sub menu button will appear on the side bar (the button with three horizontal lines), click it. Choose the option to ‘Search Near’. Depending on what info you have about the location of your city, pick your option accordingly. If you know of a bigger city nearby, search that city first, then go to ‘Search Near’, select ‘Recent Finds’, chose the city you entered, keep scrolling until you find the city you are looking for. (This was how I found Buena Vista, CO by searching by Salida)
I also checked in with our good friend Tad, of Overland Now, who has a ton of experience with the Montana 650t. He has used it all over North America and recently on an overland motorcycle adventure to Panama and back. Here’s what he had to say:
Q: How did it survive in the outside elements?
A: It was PERFECT outdoors in all the crappiest weather from hurricane rains in Newfoundland, desert conditions in AZ, Mexico and elsewhere. Not to mention getting dropped countless times – even on rocks.
Q: Was it easy to read/see in varying outside conditions?
A: Yes, it works well in all lighting conditions. You can get a fade/reflection at certain sun angles, but it was better than any of the other 10 or more I have used.
Q: What are your least favorite/favorite things about the Montana 650t?
A: Three problems, two periodic, one a business issue. First, it will occasionally, like once every three months or so, just shut off for no obvious or particular reason. Can’t figure out why and it’s always just short lived with a ‘on/off’ reboot. Second, it will sometimes leave straight-line tracks from a point. For example, it is like it remembers it was at the house and then if I turn it on 10 miles away it draws a straight-line track. Weird and annoying, but not a big deal. Third issue is one of licensing from Garmin. You have to buy new maps for each physical device. I had just purchased North American maps for $100 or something like that for the Garmin 60cx, then when I upgraded to Montana, I had to buy the same exact maps again. Frustrating and expensive. So, if I could change anything, that would be it. That map licenses were less expensive when registered with the user, versus the device, or something else that would encourage people to stay with Garmin. Especially, given the advances in phone mapping technology. I digress, but one of the key advantages of a GPS device versus a phone is ruggedness, outdoor displays, touch capable with normal gloves and WAY better routing and tracking functionality. These are also true for other GPS units also. Other devices and their connections are so dust, rattle and rain proof. Gaila (Tad’s amazing partner in adventure from Overland Now) went through two more road oriented Garmin units versus my Montana that I am still using all the time. Stores LOTS of data for maps and tracks. Did our whole trip of 40,368 miles and then some.
(Do you travel via moto? Do you love sharing stories with people who travel on motos? Are you tired of stinky motels, and would rather stay with new friends? You’re going to want to check out Tad and Gaila’s newest Overland venture MotoStays!)
(Disclaimer: Garmin provided Exploring Elements with the Garmin Montana 650t for review consideration. No other compensation was received for this review.)