Monday, January 20, 2014

Gear Review: HomeStar Pocket - Personal GPS

HomeStar Pocket GPS helps find way in
snow covered trail.
Every outdoor adventurer is a little gear obsessed.  Here is my latest review of the HomeStar Pocket Personal GPS system.

Personal Handheld GPS
HomeStar Pocket Personal GPS

With the increasing number of backcountry navigation devices available, it's often difficult to choose what precious items will make it into your pack.  Fortunately, this little key fob weighs almost nothing and can bring you peace of mind and an extra orientation backup system.  Over the past months, I tried out the HomeStar Pocket Personal GPS to see if this little piece of gear was worth the addition to the pack.

HomeStar GPS guides through fog on
Mt. Katahdin, Maine
The Basics... 

The HomeStar is easy to learn and use.  The device works by letting you easily set three waypoints along your adventure.  When you are ready to return, simply click the button for the way point you want to return to and a circle of flashing lights will guide you back to your site.  

Test Adventures... 

I gear tested the GPS on three adventures - a mountain climb in September, a cross country ski in December, and a snow shoe hike in January.  In all three adventures, the HomeStar GPS worked well and did what it promised.  I was able to set way points and return to the site with its guidance.  


The HomeStar Pocket Personal GPS is a good tool to use as a backup safety orientation device.  Its super-small design adds literally no weight to your pack, and gives you extra piece of mind if you lose your way.  It is easy to use and comes with a user manuel and youtube video that shows how to use it.  Although it's no substitute for a good map and compass, it can save a lost hiker who has lost his/her way from a trail and needs to return to a way point.  

HomeStar helps us find our trail.
On Mt. Katahdin in Maine, I set way points at the car, an important junction, and the summit.  The night before our hike, we learned that three hikers had been lost in the fog and had to be rescued.  I realized that if I was in a similar situation, the HomeStar GPS could have led me back to a way point spot.  These hikers were not so fortunate, and rescuers finally found them far from the trail in a ravine.  They had wandered far - thinking they were returning to the trail.  

I found the device useful as a winter hiking companion.  I used it on two occasions after fresh snow fall - once while cross country skiing in Maine and once on a snowshoeing adventure in southern New Hampshire.  After the snow, the trail is often not packed and visible.  It is unsafe to rely on your tracks to lead you back, since at any time, new snow can fill the pockets, or you could easily get led astray by other tracks.  My companions and I used the HomeStar GPS as a safety back-up tool in case we lost our way from the trail.  We set a way point at the parking lot, an important junction and the turn-around-spot.  That way, if we had lost our way, we could have easily found an recognizable spot.  I tested the GPS and it was able to guide us back to these way points.  

HomeStar is limited to finding way-points - not new locations.

With small size, comes some limitations.  Although it's great as a safety backup in fowl weather or for a lost hiker, this device does not work well as a navigation and orienteering device.  While it can direct you toward a set way point, the HomeStar Pocket Personal GPS does not indicate the compass direction you are going (N, S, E, W).  Since you mark way points as you pass them, it cannot guide you to a place you have not been - only help you return to a place you once were.  

The other limitation of the small size of HomeStar is that it does not provide distances to way points.  Although as you get closer to your destination, the lights flash faster, you do not know how far you are from your destination.  

Set the HomeStar GPS at important way-points

In conclusion, I found that the HomeStar Pocket Personal GPS was exactly what it promised - a super small, simple to use, way point storing GPS that will guide you through snow, dark, or fog to your destination.  I recommend it be carried as a back up safety feature by backcountry users.  Set the three waypoints at spaced-out places along your journey, so if lost, you can easily return to a site.  

Please leave comments or questions below...

HomeStar Pocket Personal GPS