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I spend a TON of time alone in the outdoors with my dog. Barley and I live in one of the least-populated states in the US (Montana) and explore the mountains together almost every weekend.
He’s usually off-leash and while he has excellent recall, the reality is that if he ran off after a deer in the Bob Marshall Wilderness Complex (1577 square miles with no roads), I can’t rely on other people to help find him.
I’ve been researching GPS collars for him for a long time, and one collar consistently came to the top of the results: the Garmin Astro.
But I’m not going to lie here: the price stopped me from purchasing for a long, long time. At well over $500 (prices vary depending on sales, buying used, older models, etc), the Garmin Astro sure isn’t cheap.
Note: Garmin did not send us the Astro for free or discount; they are not paying for this review.
Unlike the Garmin Astro, these other dog locators had major flaws:
- Most other dog locators work off of cell towers. While this might work if your dog tends to jump the fence to go visit the neighbors, it’s simply not going to cut it in Montana’s vast wilderness. This alone is a deal-breaker for me.
- Most other dog locators require a monthly or yearly subscription. While these other dog locators are much cheaper, they often require an annual or monthly subscription that could really add up over the course of your dog’s life. Most were around $70-$120 per year. Over just six or seven years, these collars are actually more expensive than the Garmin Astro!
- Some other dog locators have limited range. Some of the other dog locators out there only work within a given range of mere meters. The Garmin Astro will work with a range of up to five miles (8km). Some of the cell-enabled dog locators have an unlimited range – of course, as long as you’re within cell coverage.
Long story short, I finally decided to pull the plug and buy a Garmin Astro. As I said, Barley has excellent recall and generally stays super close while hiking.
But it only takes one mistake to ruin your day – or your dog’s life. So I bit the bullet and bought the Astro.
And I haven’t looked back. Every single time I take the Garmin Astro out, I’m so happy I have it! Let me tell you all about it.
You can see the antennae of the Astro here.
Why I’m Obsessed With My Garmin Astro
As I write, I’ve had my Garmin Astro GPS Collar for about four months. I use it several times a week, both for recreational off-leash hiking and trail running and for the conservation detection dog work I do through Working Dogs for Conservation.
Here are a few quick specs:
- 5 mile range
- ~20 hour battery life (40 hours on rescue mode)
- The handheld pairs with up to 20 dogs (with an extra collar for each dog)
- Vibration alert on the handheld if your dog is “on point” or leaves a designated safe zone
- Collar charges with a wall USB plugin; I bought rechargeable AAs for the handheld
- Dog’s location updates every 2.5 seconds
- Option to download satellite maps or driving directions to the handheld
- See your dog’s speed, distance traveled, distance from you, and status (moving or on point) on a single screen
- Rugged and waterproof design
- Highly visible orange for both the collar and handheld
- Big collar with an antennae plus a handheld GPS unit – you can’t use your phone or clip this to an existing collar. Won’t work well for a dog under ~25lbs.
The Garmin Handheld is Easy to Use
The GPS handheld is SUPER easy to use. I simply turn on the collar and turn on the GPS, and once they’re paired I’m ready to go. The handheld will work with multiple dogs, but I don’t use that function (yet). It shows where I am, where my dog is, and what the dog is doing – running, sitting, etc.
It tells me the distance between us and the direction I need to head to find my dog. I can see if Barley is running back towards me or simply waiting around the bend on the trail – or taking off towards an alpine lake way off-trail.
I often check the handheld, thinking that Barley is ignoring me, only to realize that he’s running towards me but was just so far away that he hasn’t shown up yet!
You can navigate to your dog if needed using the handheld.
The Garmin Astro is Shock-Free
I also LOVE that the Garmin Astro does NOT have a shock or vibrate feature. I don’t like using shock, stimulation, or vibration to train dogs – even though I do at times with the detection dogs I train.
I put my money where my mouth is, and that means I want to buy a GPS tracking collar without technology that potentially hurts the dogs I love. I use long lines for safety instead of electronic stimulation.
The Garmin Astro Helps You See Topographical Features
You can also see environmental obstacles nearby, which I’ve found SUPER useful. The maps on the Garmin handheld will show you if there’s a lake, river, cliff, or other significant topographical feature nearby.
I often find that Barley has disappeared, only to check the handheld and see that he’s in a nearby but invisible stream for a quick dip. I’d worry a lot more if I couldn’t see that!
The topo features could also be useful in an emergency. When Sarah Stremming’s dog Felix was lost a few years ago, he was halfway down a cliff.
If she’d had the Garmin Astro GPS collars that she owns now (she got them before I did and partially helped convince me to buy them), she would have been able to see for sure where he was – rather than searching and searching before calling in the roped rescue team.
You Also Get a Normal GPS Out of the Deal!
I’ve also used the Garmin T5 (the handheld that accompanies the Astro collar) to double as a more “normal GPS.” I’ve used it to find trails when they’re horribly overgrown, to navigate to lakes and peaks that didn’t have any trail to them, and even to double-check distances back to the road.
I already need to carry a handheld GPS while in the field with Working Dogs for Conservation, and it’s great to have one that tracks my dog while I’m at it! In a super remote place like Montana, the GPS helps me navigate when there’s no trail or other hikers to follow.
Data Nerds Can Geek Out on the App
You can do all sorts of fun things with the Garmin Astro GPS Collar using the free app Garmin Basecamp. I’m a huge data nerd, but this is probably overkill for a casual hiker.
Basically you can download the record of your hikes any any points of interest that you marked to make custom maps. I think this is fun, but it’s not exactly everyone’s cup of tea.
The Garmin Will Tell You if Your Dog Stops
The Garmin Astro will alert you if your dog is “on point.” This feature is mostly useful for hunting dogs, but I also use it when I’m working with Barley in a detection dog capacity.
The “on point” alert tells me if Barley has made an alert – super useful during wildlife surveys! However, I turn it off while hiking because it alerts me when he just pauses to pee or sniff a log.
No Subscription Fees, Etc.
This is pretty self-explanatory. The Garmin Astro is a one-time purchase.
Barley showing off the Garmin Astro – kind of. It hides under his fluff!
Why You Might Not Want a Garmin Astro GPS Collar
Frankly, if you’re not out on remote hiking trails, this GPS collar is way overkill.
If you have a teenie tiny dog, I don’t have a current good option for you. While the smaller GPS tags listed in the intro will track a small dog, they’re still limited by cell coverage. Not useful if you’re out in the wilderness!
Kayla grew up in northern Wisconsin and studied ecology and animal behavior at Colorado College. She founded Journey Dog Training in 2013 to provide high-quality and affordable dog behavior advice. She’s an avid adventurer and has driven much of the Pan-American Highway with her border collie Barley. She now travels the US in a 2006 Sprinter with her two border collies, Barley and Niffler. Aside from running Journey Dog Training, Kayla also runs the nonprofit K9 Conservationists, where she and the dogs work as conservation detection dog teams.