Just recently announced, Rand McNally is making some noise in the outdoor/cycling GPS world with their new Foris 850 GPS. Already number one in the Trucking and RV market, the company synonymous with paper maps is now offering a very impressive GPS for biking, hiking, geocaching, and more. One major tenet of the Rand McNally philosophy is that data and applications are not a commodity – everything comes loaded onto the device for the US, without any extra maps to buy. Add in an intuitive interface, waterproof and rugged design, and extremely useful mapping features, and the Foris looks like a winner.
We spoke directly to Rand McNally to help you find your way, after the break.
As far as the hardware is concerned, it is identical to the Falk LUX which has received excellent reviews in Europe. Falk is actually using Rand McNally’s mapping for their units in Europe, so it made sense for Rand McNally to use their hardware here in the US. The Foris 850 is battery operated with 2 AA’s needed, and included in the box. Also included is a computer cable and a free one month geocaching subscription.
Rand goes as far as including quality Energizer batteries, though we were told you can get even better battery life by switching to something like an Eneloop rechargeable battery. If you switch batteries, make sure to go into settings and change the type of battery the system is programmed for as it will change the battery meter.
As far as battery life, Rand McNally claims that it will last a full day on a pair of batteries – but this is with the backlight on constantly, which is the default setting. You can change the settings to switch off the screen every 30 seconds, 1, or 2 minutes which will extend battery life. I’ve used it for a few short rides now, and have been playing with the GPS for a week, and still have 57% battery life on the included Energizers. For normal cycling use a rechargeable internal battery would be more convenient, but as the Foris is designed for back country excursions as well, the replaceable batteries make sense in a remote location.
Inside the box you will also find a screen protector for keeping the touch screen free of scratches and smudges, and an adjustable bike mount. The mount uses a webbing strap with a rubberized texture that can be easily adjusted to fit a number of objects. The locking cam buckle keeps it in place, and the mount is strong enough to keep the GPS in place even while rallying a CX bike on a mountain bike trail.
There is no denying the fact that the Foris is fairly large, but again there is a reason. When not in use on a bike, the larger size makes it easier to hold, and increases the protection for the unit as well. The screen is recessed to keep it safe during a crash, the shape is rounded to allow it to roll instead of skid when it’s dropped, and the whole thing is IPX7 waterproof. We wouldn’t be surprised so see some smaller more cycling oriented GPS units in the future though, if Falk’s website is any indication.
One of the biggest advantages the Foris has over the competition is the detail of its maps. Sure, Rand McNally could have picked an area where they knew they had better detail, but in real world use I have found similar detail just about everywhere. I’ve even learned about a few new trails and parks locally after spotting them on the map. Roads, trails, streams, rivers, and lakes are all mapped with impressive accuracy.
Built in to every Foris 850, you will find US road and trails along with base maps, Rails-to-Trails Conservancy Biking and Multi use trails, U.S. National Park Service trails, National Forestry hiking and multi purpose trails, U.S. National Wildlife Refuge hiking trails, long-distance hiking trails like the Ice Age, Pacific Crest, North Country trail, etc. State Park hiking trail sets in 5 states, and a National hydrographic data set. According to Rand McNally, to purchase these maps for a Garmin would cost you around $115-215 when purchased separately.
Similar maps are also available for Europe at an additional fee for Germany, Switzerland, Austria, Northern Italy, Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, and Marco Polo travel guide content.
The Foris also has a incredible list of millions of different points of interest built in from camp grounds, to ATMs, to post offices, trail drinking water, etc. If you’re out there and need to find something, it’s probably on the list.
We mentioned in the first look, that one of the coolest features of the Foris is the Loop me function. From any starting point, the GPS will plot you a loop trail with multiple options and turn by turn navigation. While planning the route you can choose to avoid things like tunnels, steep down hills, roads, etc. and the GPS will determine a loop trail that you can then edit by distance, duration, elevation, etc. Then, if you want more options, it will calculate two more options for the similar type of ride or hike.
The GPS is programmed to work in the opposite way of an automotive GPS and steers you clear of heavily traveled roads. Of course there are destination entries, you can plot a whole route yourself, or you can enter GPX files for your trail, all of which are translated into audible turn by turn directions by TrackNav – no bread crumb trails here. The Forris is also one of the only GPS units that allows you to route from the pavement onto trails and back all with turn by turn directions.
There is also a map error function built in so that if you come across an error, you can report it directly to Rand McNally for it to be fixed.
This is a representation of all of the high points programmed into the Foris, which is a staggering amount.
Just on the hardware and software comparison alone, the Foris 850 is looking like the unit to beat. So far, it has proved incredibly easy to use which we don’t see changing anytime soon. Anyone looking for a rugged GPS unit for a variety of outdoor activities should definitely check this one out.