Product review – Garmin Oregon 400t rugged handheld GPS

Welcome to my product review of the Garmin Oregon 400t navigation unit. If you are reading this article expecting to learn all about the latest and greatest car GPS unit, I’m going to disappoint you.

The Oregon 400t is a handheld GPS receiver with a very strong focus on outdoor activities. For starters, the unit is waterproof, and comes in a very sleek and sturdy enclosure.

The unit has just one button – power. The rest of the controls are operated using its color touch screen display. Operating that display is a breeze, and each feature can be accessed by pressing a large icon – making it easy to use even when you are wearing gloves. Moving from screen to screen on the device is done by “swiping” your finger to the next set of options, much like on the Apple iPhone. The screen is anti-glare, and can easily be read in direct sunlight though you may need to adjust the backlight settings to get make it more readable.
Inside the Oregon 400t is much more than just a GPS receiver – it also contains an electronic compass and a barometric altimeter.

When you first go out to use the device, you select a profile – each profile sets the device up for the specific activity you have planned for the day. The 5 different activities are recreational, geocaching, automotive, marine and fitness.

The feature is pretty smart – when you select “geocaching”, the geocaching menu option appears on the main menu page, and “automotive” moves the “route planned” and trip computer to the first screen. Another smart feature is that the background image of the device changes, depending on which profile is selected.

The Oregon 400t comes complete with a 3D topographic map of the U.S. (or Europe on the EU version). The map detail includes things like parks, forests, points of interest and trails, making it perfect for active use. Thanks to the built in MicroSD card slot, you can add additional maps to the unit. Additional maps are available for other countries, as well as regular Garmin City Navigator navigation maps for turn by turn directions. In addition to these regular maps, the Oregon 400t can also be expanded with specialty maps, like the Garmin Lakemaster and Bluechart marine map products.

Maps on the device can be viewed in 2D or 3D, and update very fast, even when you are using it on a plane. To start navigating, you can have the device direct you towards recent locations, waypoints, tracks, points of interest, tides and geographic points. You’ll notice that it can’t direct you towards an address – the topographic maps don’t include that data.

Now, on to the unit itself; on the rear of the device is a locking clip for keeping the rear battery cover on place, behind the cover are the 2 AA batteries, and behind the batteries is the MicroSD card slot. The rear cover also has 2 grooves for attaching accessories. Included with the unit is a carabiner clip, and Garmin will also gladly sell you a car mount, belt clip, marine mount or bike mount.

On the bottom of the device is the interface port, which uses a generic MiniUSB connector. This allows you to connect the Oregon to your computer, a MiniUSB cable is included.

The list of features on the Oregon 400t is impressive. You’ll find everything from wireless exchange of data with other Oregon units, to Wherigo location based adventures.

What impressed me most on the Oregon 400t is its well designed interface. Everything is where it should be, and most screens can be customized to your liking. The unit also features several handy additional applications like a calculator, calendar, alarm clock and even an image viewer.

These three screen captures show some of the screens you’ll find on the unit. The left map is a 3D elevation map showing a plotted course (in this case, a 757 heading towards O’Hare airport). The middle image shows a 2D map and the right image is of the trip computer, showing just a couple of the variables the device can display. You’ll notice that we were traveling at 631 mph and were descending.

GPS reception on the Oregon 400t is absolutely fantastic. The unit grabs hold of the weakest GPS signal and has no problems getting a “fix” even indoors or inside a plane (which is a heck of a lot more fun than watching the Airshow).

All in all, the Oregon 400t is the best outdoor GPS unit I have ever tested. There is no denying that the $599 price tag will scare you a bit, but if you spend a good portion of your time outdoors, then this is one investment you may want to consider.

The unit can be expanded with a great variety of mounting options, as well as a Garmin heart rate monitor and bike cadence sensor. Several vendors have decent deals on the unit, including, who sell it for $509.

The Oregon line of GPS receivers comes in several different flavors, the 400t comes preloaded with US topographic maps, the 400c comes with the Garmin Bluechart maps and the 400i comes with a US Inland Lakes map. 2 slightly cheaper models come with Garmin base maps.

I’ve added a gallery with some more images of the product.