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We’ve all seen (and double-tapped) the videos: dogs running full-tilt down a trail, all paws off the ground, their owners biking, skiing, snowboarding or running close behind. That was the life I pictured when I spent countless hours training my dog Remy, a three-year-old wirehaired pointing griffon, with off-leash commands. Over the past few years, she’s accompanied me on a number of mountain bike rides, trail runs, and cross country ski romps. She does reasonably well, too; she likes to be out ahead and stays relatively close by. But there is, of course, the odd squirrel, grouse, or other small game that flips a switch inside her and off she goes into the woods or over the next hill, again at full-tilt, her prey drive off the charts, and there's so little my commands can do to reel her in. Dogs will be dogs.
It’s in moments like these that having the insurance policy of a GPS tracking collar that can show me where she is and where she's going is a must. There are a few options on the market that pair with your smartphone, but many of them require cell service to operate, and the last thing I want to do is trust the safety of my dog to the oft-spotty cell service of Northern Vermont, where I live and do most of my outdoor recreating. That narrows things down significantly, and because I trained Remy using a Sportdog e-collar training system (which uses different levels of stimulation to alert and communicate with your dog), that was a must-have feature. The options that check all these boxes were few, but I found one system that did it: the Garmin Alpha 200i.
Garmin Alpha 200i Key Features
The Alpha 200i is a handheld GPS tracking device and navigation device combo that pairs with Garmin’s line of dog collars. It’s the most advanced GPS dog tracking device on the market, is packed with new features, and when paired with any of Garmin’s tracking and training collars like the TT 15X, T 5X, or the TT 15 Mini (for smaller dogs), creates a system that gives you a reliable safety net for venturing into the wilderness with your dog.
If you're familiar with Garmin's other handheld GPS devices, you're already familiar with the 200i. It features a sunlight-readable touchscreen display (which works nicely while wet as well–more on that below), a six-button design that's easy to use, and all the navigation info you need like maps, a compass, and a barometric altimeter. The 200i also features an IPX7 waterproof rating, so you don’t need to worry about dropping it in the snow or getting it wet.
While it’s primarily marketed toward hunters and hunting dogs, and some of the terminology and a few of the features on the device are hunt-specific (huntview, hunt metrics, and the ability to see when your dog is “treed” or “on point”, for example), I couldn’t help but see the Alpha 200i’s potential for going on outdoor adventures—hiking, mountain biking, splitboarding—with Remy.
Navigating With the Garmin Alpha 200i
The Alpha 200i's high-sensitivity GPS receiver, GLONASS support and electronic pro view compass provide pinpoint accuracy and navigation. Not only can you use the device to keep tabs on your four-legged companion (it has a 2.5-second update rate so that you always know where they are), but you can also use it to help navigate in the backcountry—much like you might with Garmin's outdoor-focused inReach devices—which makes it ideal for exploring new zones by foot, bike, or splitboard with your furry friend. It offers preloaded topo maps and custom map support, both welcome features when venturing off-trail, and it even shows public land boundaries (a feature crucial for hunters that's also very handy when hiking around).
The navigation and inReach tech make the Alpha 200i just as valuable as a standalone device as it is when paired with a collar.
If you demand a bit more detail from your mapping software and want to supplement the preloaded topoactive mapping, you can also connect the 200i to a wi-fi network to download BirdsEye satellite imagery and supercharge your navigation (you don't need a satellite subscription to do this). You can even keep track of other compatible Garmin devices, like the brand’s line of Fenix watches, if you’re out in the backcountry with friends and they're kitted up in Garmin too.
Communicating with Your Dog Using the Garmin Alpha 200i
But perhaps the most important feature, for me, is the tone and stimulation that allow you to communicate with your dog. I’d used these methods in dog training with Remy since she was a puppy, and being able to communicate with her at up to nine miles, depending on which collar you pair the device with, is about as wide of a safety net as you could ask for. Fortunately, I didn’t have to test it at that range, but knowing I could put my mind at ease.
In my testing, the connection between the device and the collar was consistent and accurate. The collar reports back to the handheld with all sorts of data like miles covered, how many feet away from each other the two are, and how many times your dog was on point or treed. For my applications, I wasn’t particularly interested in the on point or treed data (I didn’t train Remy to be a bird dog), but I did find the mileage and distance stats valuable. It was impressive to see how much more mileage Remy was covering compared to me on our jaunts, and a helpful reminder to keep her hydrated even on “short” adventures.
More Features Than You Could Possibly Need
The Alpha 200i is a flagship dog device and offers countless other features. I’d be remiss not to go into detail about a few of the cooler ones (but I’d be here for days if I listed all of them, and Garmin’s site does a nice job of outlining all of the finer functionalities). The “i” in Alpha 200i means the device is equipped with Garmin’s inReach technology, aka satellite-enabled two-way messaging. Though I didn't test that capability, my previous experiences with the system from using the inReach Mini have been nothing short of impressive. It requires a subscription to send messages, but if you are often heading into remote places without a cell connection, it can certainly put you (and your loved ones) at ease knowing you’re always a text away—or that you can send for help via the SOS function in an emergency. (If you don’t need the inReach technology, there is also a Garmin Alpha 200 that offers the same features sans inReach.)
At this point, you’d be forgiven for thinking the Alpha 200i is a bit too complicated and feature-rich for the average user. But the beauty is that it’s actually incredibly user-friendly. Its 2.6-inch color touchscreen display is easy to read, even on the sunniest of days, and its compact and lightweight design makes it unobtrusive if you need to stick it in your pocket or clip it to the hip belt of a backpack with the attached belt clip. If you’d rather keep it in your hand, there’s a detachable lanyard loop that prevents you from dropping it. Many touchscreens on GPS navigation devices that I’ve used in the past have an exceedingly difficult time working when damp or covered in water droplets. While the Garmin wasn’t perfect, I was impressed by how well it worked in those conditions.
I also have to mention the battery life, which is equally impressive. Garmin quotes up to 20 hours (15 if inReach is active) of battery life, and in my testing, with intermittent use, I found that you can go for days without having to charge it. So, unless you're planning a multi-day adventure, you won't have to worry about running out of juice. And if you are, the system works with a replaceable battery that's rechargeable via micro usb cable, so you can opt to bring a spare or an external battery.
There are, of course, a few other Garmin devices that aren’t quite as robust as the 200i but may be worth considering depending on your application/budget. Devices like the Garmin Alpha 100 ($600), Garmin Alpha 10 ($400) and Garmin Astro 430 ($450) all connect to various versions of Garmin’s smart dog collars. But for an uncompromising combination of dog tracking and backcountry navigation, the Alpha 200i is still the top choice. For an in-depth comparison of each of the devices, Garmin has a handy comparison on its site.
The Key Takeaways
With its advanced navigation, dog tracking, ease of use, and long battery life, the Alpha 200i is the perfect companion for anyone looking to enhance their mountain adventures and keep themselves and their dog safe. It’ll be with me on every adventure I take with Remy, and likely on some without her as well—the navigation and inReach tech make the Alpha 200i just as valuable as a standalone device as it is when paired with a collar.