When you venture out into the wild, even if that's just a walk in the not-so-local woods, you want a GPS device you can rely on. Garmin, with years of experience in that area, is a name that generally offers peace of mind. When it comes to the Epix watch it aims to provide a complete mapping solution right on your wrist.
Unlike Garmin's other GPS watches, like the fenix 3 or ForeRunner 630, the Epix comes with built-in maps. That means trails, roads and even topography can be viewed right there on your wrist. The design is unlike anything that's gone before too, with a chunky and square face. This is not a small watch, nor one you're likely to wear day to day, but for what it does the size is remarkably compact. The price is not so small, though, but when compared to others and taking features into account it's not terrible.
So has Garmin created a do-it-all mapping watch that can compete with dedicated mapping devices or the offerings of its competition in the likes of Suunto? We've been risking life and limb up mountains and out in remote forests to find out. And we're not talking just the not-so-local woods, we've been hiking and camping in Yosemite national park during the winter colds to make the utmost of this Garmin device.
Garmin Epix: Design and build
At first glance one thing is clear: the Epix is chunky and very solid. If all else fails this beast could probably act as a weapon when slung at a hungry bear* (ok, so probably not, but it's hardly a svelte design watch, is it?). It wouldn't do much damage though as it's actually comfortably light. We wore it for days at a time without much notice – although if worn too tightly it can chafe a little.
That said, the rubberised strap is comfy and the face is small enough to fit on the wrist and under sleeves without much bother. The face is also large enough to read maps and control everything via touchscreen with relative ease.
Despite being low-power enough to last, the screen is bright enough to see in daylight and colours are clear which really helps when following a small trail in remote areas. It's also of a high enough resolution to appreciate finer details like altimeter markings while ascending mountains.
A dedicated charger connects easily and juices the Epix back to full in around an hour at the plug. Rapid when you consider this battery lasts for weeks, or days when in full GPS operation.
Waterproofing and shock-proofing are two things Garmin offers in the Epix so you don't need to worry about crossing a river, knocking your wrist into a rock or anything else that might leave a weaker watch damaged.
Garmin Epix: Maps and tracking
The maps on the Epix are pre-loaded, meaning you can add more depending on where you're going. It also means you can veer off to any remote location without worrying about needing a data connection. Both GPS and GLONASS are onboard with what we found to be super fast pick-up and accuracy. The built-in compass also works really well. After years of annoying smartphone compass fails it's refreshing to move and see the cursor on the map move accurately with you.
Searching direct from the watch is relatively painless and finding even remote places was easier than some satnavs we've used. The side buttons make selecting text straightforward and we found ourselves using them for most interactions. Although when it came to map zooming and panning the touch controls were helpful.
The maps themselves come pre-loaded and include trails, elevation information, lakes and rivers, points of interest, parks, forests and, of course, roads. Plus, if you pay the yearly subscription, you can get BirdsEye Satellite imagery too. We stuck to the maps and found them invaluable for finding our way - the compass is super accurate and you can zoom in close enough to find a path point really accurately.
Garmin Epix: Sensors and data
Tracking your route on the Epix means a lot more than just GPS movement tracking. The altimeter, barometer, GLONASS, accelerometer, thermometer and more make for a serious amount of data. Great for looking back at what you've done but, crucially, this is also really helpful while out.
For example getting sunset time when you're working out how far you can go before you need to set up camp, or head home, is great. As is the barometer as a warning for incoming bad weather, any drop in pressure is obvious so you know to head for cover - and there's even an alert with vibration to get you moving.
The combination of GPS and GLONASS results in a faster acquisition of satellites so you can get going quicker. We found, even when changing between countries, this was rapid and located us within a minute every time.
External sensors like ANT+ or Bluetooth heart-rate monitors and cadence sensors will also work with the Epix so if you want to use it as a running or cycling watch. It really is a do-it-all solution, albeit a chunky one.
Garmin Epix: Connect software
The Connect software has been developed with the multiple gadgets of Garmin in mind. That means it's a one-stop-shop for all your data. From GPS metrics like distance travelled on a hike to daily step count and even sleep, if you can handle wearing this beast to bed. That said we did, as it was ideal for checking time and sunrise during a night of camping in Yosemite. But in the more comfortable home scenario we doubt many (or anyone) will be sleep-tracking using the Epix.
The Garmin Connect software, accessible via apps or online, collates data and feeds it back in clear chunks. You can drill down into a section, like a specific hike for data on height climbed, speed, route on a map, distance covered and more. Or you can see your activity over a period of days, weeks or months to glance at your progress. All your data is automatically synched across to your cloud account via the app over Bluetooth.
Also included is Garmin Connect IQ support which has a host of apps for things like watch faces, data fields and specific widgets. We found the time of sunset face useful when hiking where setting up camp before dark was important.
The Garmin Epix might be the company's only watch-based mapping option but it's clear the experience of its other mapping products has been included. However, as a day-to-day watch it's definitely on the larger, chunky side.
We worried that a watch might not be reliable enough for battery life, nor as clear for screen as a dedicated handheld GPS device. But we needn't have worried: the maps are plenty clear and the battery keeps on going and going. Unless you've got poor eyesight very few would need more than this on a wild camp or trek. It's even easy to charge with a mobile battery charger if needs be on longer trips.
While the Garmin Epix is expensive, for that money you're getting a sports GPS watch, a handheld maps system, an early weather warning system, notification centre and more all in one compact and attractive package. It might not win the style awards, but as a functional, detailed product it provides epic life-saving reliability - and if that's what you need then look no further.