Tap-to-wake Montana GPS: oh Garmin what have you done?

Someone decided a feature of my beloved Garmin Montana GPS was in fact a bug. And now I’ve got a game-changing disappointment on my hands where before I had a must-have canoe tripping tool.

My Garmin Montana in situ
Mounted on the thwart of my canoe.

See you used to be able to configure it so that you could tap its screen to wake it up while it was tracking your route. No longer. Someone complained about tapping it inadvertently and Garmin apparently decided it was a bug.

But for me, it’s an incredibly sensible, convenient and effective power-saving device.

I mount it on the thwart of my canoe, just in front of me and I used to be able to wake it up, absorb the information on the map and data fields and keep the canoe going straight all without breaking stroke.

Montana stops working as expected mid wilderness

I don’t use the Montana except for paddling. I have other units more appropriate for the other outdoor stuff I do. So this fall, I copied my trip route to it, fired it up and mounted it — as I’ve done for the last seven years or so — and set out. I got my bearing, found a point off in the distance to match, aimed at it, and started paddling.

And 30 seconds later it switched off. As per normal. Several minutes after that I wanted to check my speed, so I tapped the screen. I tapped again. And again. Nothing. I freaked. Here I was, right at the start of my favourite four days of the year and I was going to be kicking it old school. (I bring a map but the GPS/map combo is about a billion times more effective).

I thought maybe it had crashed, or the battery had died. I unzipped the case and took the unit out to get at the power button. I pressed the power button and the unit came on, exactly as it was before switching off. I put it back in the case, zipped it up and got going again. Off it went. And again the screen tap wouldn’t work. I had to take it out of its case to wake it.

Eventually I disabled the power saver mode and just left it on.

But this is a problem for me as I’m canoeing a day or more away from ‘civilization’ and am carrying all my stuff. Weight counts and I don’t want to have to carry half a kilo of batteries. Also, it’s wasteful.

Nonsensical decision

On the Garmin support website, there’s a thread wherein someone complained that their Montana turned itself on when travelling in their pocket, because the unit’s touch screen took the contact-with-leg to mean ‘turn on please’.

But instead of making ‘tap-to-wake’ a user-configurable option, they disabled it entirely and moved the function to the power button. Touchscreens that wake on tap are pretty common these days. Why on earth would Garmin remove that feature? Especially when so much of the device’s other behaviours are user-configurable?

And why — when there are all kinds of cases, housings etc for the Montana out there that hide the power button — would they make power saving mode so inconvenient to use? The screen is a much bigger and more responsive target than the power button. The screen is not the most sensitive touch screen I’ve ever seen (but that’s fine, it’s appropriate for the setting in which I use it) but the power button seems mostly designed to prevent accidental use of its primary function: turning the unit on and off.

On your average trip day, I unmount the unit and strap it to my belt six or seven times while I portage canoe and or pack through the woods. For a piece of tech it’s a fairly rough and tumble journey so the hardy case is important. In the canoe, there’s water, dirt and other crud about so I can’t leave the unit loose in the boat.


  1. I’m still using a Garmin eTrex Legend C! Yes the UI is very slow, but it’s accurate enough for canoeing or hiking. I don’t even know if it has a power save mode, because I’ve always just run it all day on two rechargeable AA batteries. That’s with the screen illumination off. And yeah, I just let it knock around on the floor of the canoe.

    It’s one of the oldest objects I own, tech or otherwise. Now and again I wonder about “upgrading” but considering the cheapest eTrex is over 200$ plus taxes, I’d rather put the money into other gear.

  2. I just came across this blog post and i too am frustrated with Garmin. That was a great feature and it’s gone. i do a lot of bushwhacking and every time I need to check my route i have to take the GPS out of my case and hit the power button. Not very helpful. I’m also worried I’m going to click the battery one too many times and turn the unit off. Did you ever get any resolution or feedback from Garmin?

    • Hi Andy.

      Nothing from Garmin on this. No acknowledgement, no “thank for playing” or for owning half a dozen of our products over the years. I’m heading out with it in a couple of weeks too. Thanks for reminding me I need to pick up some more extra batteries.


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