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In Depth Garmin Gpsmap 65s Review Guide

In-Depth Garmin GPSMAP 65s Review & Guide

In This Guide
  • Why the GPSMAP 65 is Different
  • Multi-GNSS and Multi-Band Performance
  • How to Use the GPSMAP 65
  • Battery Life Tests
  • GPSMAP 65 Setup Guide

Even though the Garmin GPSMAP 65s is not the most feature-packed handheld GPS out there, it’s the one that I’ve been excited about testing out. It’s the first Garmin to offer multi-band GNSS (more on that later) and the ability to utilize the QZSS and IRNSS positioning systems (in addition to GPS, Galileo, and GLONASS). If that geek talk just went above your head, it means that the unit can receive more positioning signals than other units and should (theoretically) be more precise. I’ve been using it on the trail since the day it was released, and in this guide, I’ll give you my impressions and show you how to navigate with it.

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Models With New Positioning System

Garmin Gpsmap 65 And 66
The 65/65s, on the left, has a smaller form factor and screen than the GPSMAP 66sr, on the right. The 66sr also has an internal battery. Both models have the new positioning system.

In this review I’m going to cover the GPSMAP 65s in detail, but there are two other models that came out as the same time as the 65s offering the new multi-band functionality. Here’s the simple breakdown.

GPSMAP 65 Review Video

GPSMAP 65 Walkthrough

If you’re familiar with the Garmin interface, you can skip ahead to the next section. The GPSMAP 65 is basically is used the same as many Garmin handhelds.

Gpsmap 65 In Hand
The GPSMAP 65 fits nicely in the palm of you hand, and is small enough to allow you to move your thumb across and hit buttons for one-handed use.
Gpsmap 65 Unit
If you’ve used a GPSMAP 64 this will look familiar, and it might even be the same case. The main buttons are located on the bottom of the unit. The back has a standard Garmin spine connector. The computer connection is (unfortunately) via the older mini USB, not the standard micro USB that you find on 99% of electronics these days. Garmin does supply a cable though.
Gpsmap 65 Power Button
The only button on the (right) side is the power button. Long press it to power on and off, short press for the backlight setting screen.
Gpsmap 65 Buttons
The buttons are standard and the same as other Garmin handheld GPS units. Pressing a button gives a soft tactile feel. There is no hepatic “click” like you get on the GPSMAP 66 units. You can also set a tone  to get auditory feedback on a push.
Gpsmap 65 Menu Button
Hitting the PAGE button cycles you through all the major functions on the device. You can customize what shows up in this list.
Gpsmap 65 Main Menu
Here is the main menu screen (or tapping MENU twice quickly). You scroll through menu icons using the arrow keys.

The menu items on the GPSMAP 65 are:

Gpsmap 65 Sub Menu
Tapping the MENU button on a page will give you any sub-options for the page you are in. Here on the Routes page, for example, hitting the MENU button gives me the option to delete them all.

Onboard Maps

Gpsmap 65 Map
The screen on the GPSMAP 65 isn’t huge, but it is big enough to see a good amount of map detail, including trail names, as seen here.

The included Garmin TopoActive maps are a solid map set for hiking and the outdoors. Since Garmin started using Open Street Maps (OSM) as a base, there have been many more trails than on older versions of the TopoActive maps. It’s rare that a documented trail is missing on the current TopoActive map set, at least in the Western USA. The maps are updated fairly frequently, and buying a GPSMAP 65 entitles you to free lifetime updates.

Gpsmap 65 Map Toggles
Hitting the MENU button on the map page allows you to access the map setup, where you can quick toggle public lands or Birdseye imagery.

The GPSMAP does not come with a Birdseye subscription; you have to pay extra for it. I don’t think it’s worth it.

Gpsmap 65 Public Lands
Toggling on “public lands” will show the borders of public land. In Southern Calfironia I didn’t see any county or local land, only federal and most state. Keep it off if you don’t need it.
Maps Setup Gpsmap 65
You can tweak the map in the advanced settings. Turning off features like shading can speed up the unit and save battery.
Maps Layers Gpsmap 65
The map setup screen lets you enable and disable layers. Turn off whatever you don’t need to make the map draws quicker.
Gpsmap 65 Basecamp
If you plug your GPSMAP 65 into a computer and use Garmin Basecamp, you can use the TopoActive maps there to plan.
Gpsmap 65 Free Space
You have about 3.7gb of usable free space on GPSMAP 65 for any data, free OSM maps, or custom maps that you’d like to load on. The unit accepts a microSD card (up to 32gb) for more storage.

Positioning Performance

Gpsmap 65 Satellite Screen
6 feet of position precision has been pretty standard for me on the GPSMAP 65.

Since this is new technology, it will help to understand the basics of what’s new before we dive into the actual tests. First off, GNSS stands for Global Navigation Satellite System, or in practical terms a countries’ set of satellites that the public can use for positioning. There are two new features on the GPSMAP 65 that enhance positioning: extended GNSS support, and multiple band reception within a GNSS system. Let me decode that for you.

Multiple GNSS Support

GPS (Global Positioning System) is the USA’s version of a GNSS, and it was the first player in the space (pun!), becoming fully operational in 1993. Since then other countries have gotten into the space (pun #2!). Here’s the lowdown on (publicly available) GNSS systems so far.

SystemCountrySatellitesCoverageGPSMAP 65Older Garmins
GPSUSA33globalxx
GLONASSRussia27globalxx
Galileo EU30globalxx
QZSSJapan7Asiax
IRNSSIndia7Asiax
BeiDouChina27global

Most GNSS systems only transmit a positioning signal. You receive the signals with a device like the GPSMAP 65, and then it plots your position. But China’s new BeiDou GNSS actually can receive as well, allowing users to send their position to other users (and the Chinese government). You will even be able to send text messages over it, similar to InReach, allegedly for free.

So outside of BeiDou, the GPSMAP 65 is able to access all the public GNSS systems out there. The new ones (for Garmin) are IRNSS and QZSS, which only have a footprint in Asia, so don’t expect to be getting signals from them if you hike in Colorado. But it’s nice to have the option of this expanded GNSS array.

Gpsmap 65 Multi Gnss Setting
The new Satellite system settings don’t let you pick and choose GNSS systems like you could before. Now you can choose just GPS or all of them. I set mine on multi-GNSS all the time.

Multi-Band Support

Gpsmap 65 Satellite Screen Multi Bands
Unlike older Garmin handhelds, the GPSMAP 65 can receive multiple bands within a GNSS system. Here I am getting signals from two bands in the Galileo GNSS, E1 and E5a.

Most GNSS systems broadcast a signal on multiple bands (aka frequency segments). Generally each band has its own accuracy level and is used by a different type of user. For example, (USA’s) GPS system has bands for the public, civil use (like aviation and search & rescue), and military. In recent years the “civil” bands have opened up to the public. GPS units like the GPSMAP 65 are multi-band, which means that they can receive the public and civil bands. Don’t expect the (very precise and encrypted) military bands to ever open up.

The US Government has committed to at least 25 feet of accuracy, 95% of the time. So technically anything under 25 feet is a bonus.

Garmin Dual Frequency Bands Gnss
When a GPS signal bounces off a building or canyon wall, it can lead to what’s called a multi-path error, meaning the orientation of the signal is not coming directly from the satellite. When the GPSMAP 65 gets signals from multiple bands (and multiple GNSS systems), it can spot any bounced signals that seem fishy and take them out of the positioning equation. Diagram European GNSS Agency

Where’s the WAAS?

If you’ve used a Garmin handheld GPS in the past you might be familiar with WAAS (Wide Area Augmentation System). WAAS is a supplementary system for GPS that applies corrections for satellite (technical) or ionospheric (natural) abnormalities. These correction signals are broadcast to GPS units. The GPS takes these corrections, applies them to the GPS signal, and then determines your (corrected) position. WAAS incurred an additional battery drain because of the extra processing power needed to compute the corrections.

Ionesphere Gps
The sun’s rays can affect the ionosphere, a layer of the atmosphere that the GPS signals pass through. If the ionosphere is disturbed, GNSS signals can be off. WAAS corrects for these abnormalities. Diagram WDC for Ionosphere and Space Weather

The GPSMAP 65 doesn’t have an option for WAAS like older handhelds. Instead, the GPSMAP 65 (from what I heard) calculates the ionospheric error on its own, and then applies the correction to the GPS signal. Overall I’m guessing that the multi-band, multi-GNSS functionality will remove any signal that the login says is off.  The GPSMAP 65 will routinely lock onto between 15-30 signals across GNSS and bands, allowing for lots of redundancy and error correction.

Positioning Tests

Gps Accuracy
GPS precision readings from left to right: Garmin Montana 750i with GPS & Galileo (8ft), Garmin GPSMAP 66i with GPS & Galileo (8ft), GPSMAP 65s with multi-GNSS and multi-band on (6ft).

Compared to other Garmin GPS handhelds, the GPSMAP 65’s new positioning generally has about 25% better precision than the old GPS + Galileo or GLONASS systems. There are a lot of variables in GPS reception, so I tried to do a few tests in different areas, and the results were consistent. Now 6ft of precision versus 8 ft of precision is not a really big deal in real life, but it’s nice to know that that you’re about as precise as you can get without buying a professional instrument (which allegedly can position you down to 1 cm).

The multi-band and multi-GNSS system on the GPSMAP 65 didn’t equate to much useful data from a practical standpoint, hiking in the mountains of Southern California. I compared the GPSMAP 65 to several other GPS units, and generally the recorded tracks are all in the same place, with only a few feet of deviation. There are points where one GPS will totally lose it, and will be off by 20-30 feet, but they always come back together nicely.

I created a side by side GPS test that you can play around with on CalTopo here. The GPSMAP 65 is red (full key on the left side) and the base layer is satellite, so you can look at the tracks versus the trail. Feel free to play around with it and explore.

Gpsmap 65s Test 1
On some sections along a steep canyon wall, the GPSMAP 65s (red) was spot on while others like the eTrex 32x (orange) struggled. But on standard sections through the trees, as seen here on the right and left sides, all the GPS units were pretty much the same.
Gpsmap 65s Test 2
Occasionally the GPSMAP 65 would deviate from everything else (incorrectly). This was the exception; overall the unit tracked the route well.

I also tested the 65s in an urban setting with tall buildings, which is probably the closest I can get to replicating hiking down the wall of the Grand Canyon or through a slot canyon. In this case the 65s did really well while the others struggled.

Gpsmap 65s Urban Test
The GPSMAP 65s, represented by the red line, had me accurately walking on the sidewalk through a corridor of taller buildings. The other GPS units struggled.

If you’re looking to buy “the most precise handheld GPS” for a consumer, I’d say that you’d fare well with a GPSMAP 65s (basic GPS), GPSMAP 66i (GPS with InReach) , or a Montana 700 (touchscreen). From my experience of hiking in the mountains and canyons of Southern California, they were all about the same in terms of recording tracks. If you spend all your time in the canyons of Zion, up and down the walls of the Grand Canyon, or something else extreme like that, the 65 should theoretically perform better. But for the majority of wilderness use, they’re all good.

Elevation Precision

Gpsmap 65 Elevation Accuracy
Although Garmin throws out a disclaimer that GPS elevation can be +/- 400 feet, the GPSMAP here is giving me a GPS calculated elevation that’s only 4 feet off of actual (8197 feet instead of a surveyed 8201 feet). In general the GPS elevation was more accurate on the GPSMAP 65 than other Garmin handhelds, which I (on a hunch) attribute to the new multi-band positioning system.

Elevation on a handheld GPS is generally one of the more disappointing features. The GPSMAP 65s has a barometric altimeter, which has a (stated) accuracy of +/- 50 feet. You can calibrate the altimeter from a known elevation, or you can have it automatically calibrate, which is based on GPS elevation. I’m not privy to the logic behind this, but my guess is that the unit takes the GPS elevation, the map elevation of your position, and then calibrates to a happy place. However it works, I noticed that the elevation was generally much better on the 65s.

Gpsmap 66i Gps Elevation
Here’s the GPS elevation on a GPSMAP 66i for the same point. This time it’s 228 feet off. However the barometic altimeter was only 19 feet off.
Etrex Altitude Test
An interestingly enough, on this occasion, the barometric altimeter on an eTrex 32x basically nailed it.

I use elevation as a ballpark figure on all my handheld GPS devices, so getting accuracy within a few feet is a plus. As Garmin says: Garmin’s outdoor devices are designed as recreational GPS devices, as an aid to navigation. They should not be used for any activity requiring precise measurements, such as surveying or weather prediction.

GPSMAP 65 Battery

Gpsmap 65 Batteries
A lot of folks will be happy to see that the GPSMAP 65 takes two AA batteries, which are easy to find, carry, and swap. The battery cover on the back secures with a d-ring twist, identical to other Garmin units.

I was curious to see if the multi-GNSS processing chewed through more battery, but the battery life generally worked as advertised. On two normal (alkaline) AA batteries, I was getting between 14-16 hours of life. Garmin advertises 16 hours. Some things that I did to get the most out of the battery were:

I didn’t implement any other battery saving techniques (like reduced backlight or slower map redraws) because I didn’t want to compromise on the experience, and I still got 14-16 hours.

I did occasionally get notifications that my backlight and tones would be shut off because the battery was too low, even though the battery meter showed full bars. It only happened occasionally, but it was still annoying. AA batteries are great, but Garmin handhelds seem to struggle with figuring out how much juice is left.

The GPSMAP 65 can use alkaline, lithium, or NiMH batteries. You can choose between the battery type in your settings. Garmin uses the battery type to guesstimate how much battery is left (based on each type of battery’s voltage). In general you want to look for a battery with the highest mAh (milliamps hour).

Some things to note:

Navigation

As I mentioned earlier, the navigation functions on the GPSMAP 65 are the same as other Garmin devices, I’ll show you how it works here, but if you’ve used a Garmin handheld before, you will be able to hit the ground running with the 65.

The maximums for the unit are:

Trip Computer

Gpsmap 65 Trip Computer
The trip computer screen is were you can view stats from your current track. The data fields are customizable. From here you can reset the trip and current track by hitting the MENU key, which you would do when you start a new hike.
Gpsmap 65 Custom Data Field
You can customize the data fields on the trip computer page, and you can also add data fields to the map page. One of the data fields is GPS elevation, which could be helpful on the GPSMAP 65.

Waypoints

Gpsmap 65 Mark Waypoint
Hitting the MARK button allows you to quickly add a waypoint using your current location.
Gpsmap 65 Waypoints
If you go into the Waypoint Manager, you’ll get a list of waypoints that you can edit or navigate to.
Gpsmap 65 Waypoints Edit
You can edit all the aspects of the waypoint, including its position.
Gpsmap 65 Waypoint Proximity Alert
One of the features that I find helpful is the proximity alert, which you can set under the “Proximity Alerts” page or by hitting the MENU button on a waypoint. Setting an alert will wake the unit and play a sound when you get within a certain radius of a waypoint.
Gpsmap 65 Waypoint Averaging
You can also perform waypoint averaging for when you need a very precise location saved. The GPSMAP 65 will take multiple waypoint readings and then average them.

Routing

Gpsmap 65 Find Button
Hitting the FIND button brings up a list of destination types that you can route yourself to. Note that you cannot just type in a name and have it find matches. You have to search by type and then drill down.
Gpsmap 65 Find Categories
Within each destination type is generally a sub-menu.
Gpsmap 65 Distance List
The items within that category are then listed in order of distance away from your current position.
Gpsmap 65 Feature Navigation To
Selecting a destination shows it on the map and lets you navigate to it using the GO button.
Gpsmap 65 Active Track
You can see a list of your route’s turns and import points under the “Active Track’ menu item.

Tracks

Gpsmap 65 Track Line
You can see your track line on the map, which is handy if you want to retrace your steps.
Gpsmap 65 Track Manager 2
Going into the “Track Manager” will list all your saved tracks. These are tracks created on the device or ones that you’ve synced or loaded onto the unit. If you want to save your current track, you click on current track and then save.
Gpsmap 65 Track Elevation
Within each track you can do things like edit it, copy a reversed version, and look at an elevation plot of the trip.
Gpsmap 65 View Track Map
To navigate a track, you view it on the map (an option under the track), and then hit GO here.

Navigation Planning

One of the new features is that you can now connect the GPSMAP 65 to a smartphone using Bluetooth, and then transfer navigation information (waypoints, routes, and tracks) from the Garmin Explore app. This means that you don’t have to connect the unit with a USB cable to a desktop computer in order to transfer data, as you did before with most Garmin handhelds.

Gpsmap 65 Pairing Screens
You can sync the GPSMAP 65 with the Garmin Explore app, and it’s a bit of a pain, and involves a few apps. Read the following Setup section for all the details.
Garmin Explore=gpsmap 65
You can use the free Garmin Explore website and smartphone app to store and organize your navigation items. Then you can sync them to your GPSMAP 65 over Bluetooth using the app.

If you’re not familiar with Garmin Explore, it uses the concept of “Collections” as a folder to organize your navigation items, which is helpful, especially if you have a lot of saved tracks and waypoints.

Gpsmap 65 Collections
There’s a menu item for Collections, which are the organization unit that Garmin Explore uses.
Gpsmap 65 Collections Detail
But once in there, you can only see these two menu items. You can’t drill down into your collections. I’m hoping this will be enhanced in a future firmware update. Intuitively I’d want to click into these items.
Gpsmap 65 Collections Track
Instead all your tracks, waypoints, and routes get dumped into those respective menu items, without any organization that you may have had in your Garmin Explore collection.

While I appreciate the convenience of this, the Garmin Explore app is lacking as a planning tool (as of when I wrote this review). If you compare it to a planning tool like Gaia GPS or CalTopo, it’s extremely basic. The setup process (see below) is also a big pain. But if you only have a smartphone and want this type of connectivity, then you have a winner.

Gpsmap 65 Notification
Having the GPSMAP 65 connected to your smartphone also allows you to view phone notifications on unit. I’m sure there’s a use case for this, but for me, if I’m in the woods and hiking, the last thing I want to see is a notification from my phone. Luckily you can turn notifications off in the settings.

Everyone’s workflow for planning a hike and creating a track is different, and for me, being able to plan on the computer and have all the screen real estate works best. Generally I’ll plan using CalTopo or GaiaGPS, create a GPX and waypoints, and then just load them onto the GPSMAP 65 using the free Garmin Basecamp program or by just copying the files onto the unit directly.

Gpsmap 65 Basecamp Public Land
Plugging the GPSMAP 65 into a computer and using Basecamp allows you to access all the maps (public land boundaries shown here) and data on the device. You can also create routes, tracks, waypoints, and adventures in Basecamp, and then transfer them to the 65.
Gpsmap 65 Drag Drop
If you are familiar with the old school Garmin handhelds, you can also just hook your unit up to the computer, where it shows up as a drive. From there you can drag and drop into and out of the GPX folder to transfer files.

How To Set Up GPSMAP 65

Gpsmap 65 Setup Screen
One of the nice things about the GPSMAP 65 is that you can just pop some batteries in, pick a language, and start using it. Everything else is optional.

Even if you don’t care about syncing with Garmin Explore, I do recommend getting the latest firmware and map updates.

  1. Install Garmin Express on your computer and connect your GPSMAP 65 to the computer with the USB cable.
  2. Add the GPSMAP to Garmin Express.
  3. Update the firmware and map data.

If you want to pair with your smartphone, the setup is a bit convoluted and involves a few apps.

  1. Load the Garmin Connect and Garmin Explore apps on your phone.
  2. Turn on Bluetooth on your phone.
  3. Go to the settings on the GPSMAP 65, and add a new phone.
  4. Open Garmin Connect and add a new device. Select the GSPMAP 65. Let them pair.
  5. Once paired, open Garmin Explore on your phone and add a device.
  6. Select the GPSMAP 65.
  7. Use Garmin Explore to sync your navigation items.

I highly recommend downloading and using the Garmin Basecamp program for your computer. It’s a good planning tool that’s integrated with the GPSMAP 65.

Garmin GPSMAP 65 Resources

GPSMAP 65 Unboxing

Gpsmap 65 Unboxing 1

Gpsmap 65 Unboxing 2
In the box you get manuals, the unit, a carabiner clip, and a mini USB cable. The mini USB cable comes in handy. This is an older USB size that you usually don’t get anymore with other devices (most are micro USB).

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