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  1. #1
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    GPS Recommendations

    So after tooling around Mt. Adams for 2 hours looking for camp after skiing the SW Chutes, I think a GPS unit would make my life a lot better. So what experiences and recommendations do you guys have? I'm thinking $2-300, maybe $400 if it makes a huge difference, something relatively small and light, pocket size would be great. Color screen and ability to upload multiple states would be great. Any information would be appreciated.

  2. #2
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    A friend of mine has a garmin somethingorother that i've used a fair bit, it's great. You should look in to that company. I know you probably live in america but this site might still be cheaper (i'm waiting to buy one too and found that this place was the cheapest out of everywhere) www.gpscentral.ca

  3. #3
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    i have a lot of experience with garmin units and have been very happy with them. they're compact, lightweight, waterproof, offer very reasonable battery life and you can get one with just about any options you like.

    i'm considering buying a garmin etrex summit. i'd go with a smaller one but i like the electronic compass feature. maybe i should get over that.

    consider going with as few features as you're comfortable with. all that fancy stuff (color monitor, mapping, aforementioned compass, etc.) drains juice and makes you overly reliant on a single piece of gear. if you have a computer spend the extra $$ on topo software and print out a map on some waterproof paper to go with your gps.

  4. #4
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    I've used a Garmin eTrex Vista for about 6-7 years now.

    I like it, but it definitely has things that *will* frustrate you. I recommend searching for threads containing "garmin" for some good info -- I know I've typed a bunch of posts, as have others.

    In short, if you want a device that can be used while biking, hiking, skiing, etc, you'll want a unit like the Garmin eTrex.

    Uploading maps is dependent upon you buying appropriate software, such as Garmin MapSource. The maps are not as detailed as you would like, as they're vector-based to save memory (i.e., less detail). TOPO! software is generally sold on a state-by-state basis (there are some special Nat'l Park editions) for about $100/state. These are the quads you know and love...essentially the company has scanned them in and stitched them together. Unfortunately, you cannot upload these to any device (of which I am aware -- certainly not the Garmin eTrex series).

    What that TOPO! software is good for is plotting a route at home, then adding waypoints for key intersections, mile-markers, peaks, etc. You would then upload those to your GPS device. Of course, you could also do this in MapSource.

    A compass is nice; I tend to use mine infrequently, though, as it drains battery. (You can shut it off.)

    Do you need a barometric altimeter? If so, I think you need at least the Summit or Vista in the eTrex series. If you are in good coverage and can pick up 4 or more satellites, you can get the GPS elevation (you need 3 satellites to get your (x,y) location; you need 4 to get your (x,y,z) location) w/o the barometric altimeter.

    I think getting a color device makes a great deal of sense -- when you upload maps to a non-color device, it's very hard to tell the difference between, say, a 4wd road and a stream. (I had that experience yesterday.) The color just makes it easier.

    Garmin units burn up batteries. If you get one, DEFINITELY get at least 4 rechargeable batteries and a good charger. (I can recommend a brand that fits snugly in the battery chamber -- some I tried don't make a good fit and when you go over small drops on your bike or skis they will lose contact for an instant and cause your device to lose power.) If you don't go the rechargeable route, you're going to go through loads of alkalines.

    Peace.

  5. #5
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    Thanks for the info. I like the size of the Garmin VistaC and the Magellan Explorist, either the 500 or 600. I've read a fair amount of negativity about the Garmins not being able to pick up a signal in trees and clouds, but haven't really been able to find out anything concerning the Explorist. Is there really that much of a difference? Living in Washington, most trails are heavily forested until you break out above tree line, so good reception is key. So I guess one question is, is it worth it to get the quad-helix antenna? Cons are bigger and heavier of course.
    Thanks for the info about mapping, so basically in order to use these in the woods, you have to purchase additional trail software for each state? I have Topo and was hoping to use that, but it sounds unlikely.

  6. #6
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    Garmin GPSMap 76cs has all the features you are looking for including quad helix antenna. The display is clear, and you can load it with MapSource topo maps and its waterproof. I had the GPSMap 76S before, and the new model is even better, with more memory, better display and USB compatibility for programming. Reception in the western US has never been an issue. Dense canopy can cause intermittent signal loss in Eastern desiduous forests and valleys. External antenna can be purchased and used with this unit.

    BTW, its at your top price range. Figures, huh?
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  7. #7
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    Quote Originally Posted by fixiewrek
    Thanks for the info. I like the size of the Garmin VistaC and the Magellan Explorist, either the 500 or 600. I've read a fair amount of negativity about the Garmins not being able to pick up a signal in trees and clouds, but haven't really been able to find out anything concerning the Explorist. Is there really that much of a difference? Living in Washington, most trails are heavily forested until you break out above tree line, so good reception is key. So I guess one question is, is it worth it to get the quad-helix antenna? Cons are bigger and heavier of course.
    Thanks for the info about mapping, so basically in order to use these in the woods, you have to purchase additional trail software for each state? I have Topo and was hoping to use that, but it sounds unlikely.
    For what it's worth, my eTrex Vista does lose the signal...and mountain biking under trees or in valleys was a key area where it happened. I can't comment on the Magellan units, but I will say that you want to keep in mind the form factor + weight; if it's too big/too heavy, you won't want to carry it. The eTrex Vista, in my opinion, is at the limit. Anything bigger and I definitely would not want to take it along.

    The eTrex series can pick up a signal through clothing/fabric, e.g., the top pocket of a pack is a good place for it; sadly, that makes it hard to check with any frequency. It will *not* pick up a signal well if blocked by body parts, so carrying it in a pocket *sometimes* works (sometimes not).

    And, no, you won't be able to load your TOPO! maps to the Garmin -- you will need some vector-based maps.

  8. #8
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    I've had an E-Trex Vista for a number of years. I mainly use it for forward speed, but do a fair amount of other things with it. I find that it updates the speed too slowly, barely meeting my needs. Also, the cursor on the pad works sporadically, and the entire unit is always in various stages of screen shutdown due to a loose internal connection. Recently I cracked the screen while compressing the unit slightly during use. In order to keep my unit running I have to slam it down against a hard surface, jolting a loose connection that is a factory, unwarranted defect. Garmin will fix the loose connection that is entirely a factory defect and should be fully warrantied for a minimum of $150 not including the screen, so I am simply standing by till I can get a similar unit for the same amount of money.

    Rechargable batteries are a must. My unit will run about 10 hours on a 2500 mha recharchable, which I find very acceptable. The issue is that its hard to turn a GPS off, they are just so damned useful when they are operational.

    In short, the Garmin is a nice unit, but mine is a piece of shit. I like how Garmin updates the software continuously... I don't like that my unit is basically faulty and on my dime since it broke after the intitial warranty despite the obvious and well documented factory defect that caused a connection to loosen internally.

    Buyer beware. Nice unit though when it works

  9. #9
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    One thing - Mac users are at a disadvantage in the GPS world. Most software is written for PCs, although TOPO is available for the MAC, and may be all you need. I have a Garmin Legend, and am happy with it, but have my eye on the Garmin Edge, mainly for the rechargable batteries. I use it for biking.

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  10. #10
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    Quote Originally Posted by fixiewrek
    So after tooling around Mt. Adams for 2 hours looking for camp after skiing the SW Chutes, I think a GPS unit would make my life a lot better.

    Ah yes, very fond memories from when we skied the SW Chutes two years ago . . . and not-so-found memories of realizing that we must had skied right past the Round the Mountain trail . . . then also realizing that our chief navigatorís GPS that he now revealed to us had been experiencing some weird problems in the previous weeks was now completely broken. (REIís generous return policy would eventually come in handy, but not at that particular moment.)

    Fortunately I had taken a trailhead waypoint with my old barebones original yellow eTrex, and it led the way home. (Although the navigation was pretty straightforward anyway, if somewhat unpleasant and arduous.) So bottomline conclusion is that they all work fine for basic navigation (although some of the cheapest models lack computer connectivity, thereby losing much of their usefulness for trip planning). Also, from what Iíve read plus experienced in person, signal lock is pretty similar among all consumer models lacking an external antenna. In other words, if you have a clear and expansive view of the sky, youíre going to get a good signal; if you donít, then you probably wonít. (And note that your own body can block the signal, so reception can be enhanced by keeping it in a sternum strap pocket, or even holding it up high above your head for the initial signal lock.)

    But despite all the potential trouble my basic eTrex had saved me from during the course of half of decade of navigation, I finally replaced it last fall with a Garmin Legend C (since discontinued by the Cx, which has removable memory cards).

    My reasoning:
    - Many Magellan eXplorist models use proprietary rechargeable batteries, which seems like a bad idea for extended backcountry overnight trips. Other Magellan models didnít seem to offer any significant advantages over comparable Garmin models (although admittedly I didnít research this very carefully).
    - In favor of a Garmin mapping model, although the nationwide Topo US offers only 100k detail, the new 24k series covers many areas (both east & west) where I often ski. Itís still no substitute for a paper map (especially a customized one printed out from NG Topo! software), but it is a very useful complement.
    - Of the Garmin non-eTrex lines, the Gecko models were small & light but sacrificed some significant features, the Rino models meant no need to bring a separate two-way radio but they had some disadvantages too, and the 76 & 60 models offered many advantages but were too bulky to keep at the ready in a small sternum strap pocket together with a magnetic mirror-sighting compass.
    - The Vista adds a compass and barometric altimeter, but those chew up batteries when on, plus Iíd rather keep those functions separate (i.e., in a magnetic mirror-sighting compass and watch altimeter, respectively).
    - The Venture last fall was more of a bare-bones model, but the new Venture Cx now seems to be the same as the Legend Cx, although the usb cable is sold separately, so may or may not be a better deal?
    - And finally, the Garmin eTrex Legend C does *NOT* CHEW UP BATTERIES!!! The official specification is for 32 hours, which I have found to be accurate. (Anyone who says otherwise either has a non-color screen, an older generation color screen, a model with the compass and altimeter on, and/or doesnít use the battery save mode.)

  11. #11
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    Quote Originally Posted by Jonathan S.
    My reasoning:
    - Many Magellan eXplorist models use proprietary rechargeable batteries, which seems like a bad idea for extended backcountry overnight trips.
    Way better battery lifetime esp when cold than AA's and you can purchase a spare for ~$25 on EBay. I had an eTrex now I have an eXplorist 500, I prefer the Magellan. The low end eXplorists aren't great units, but the better >300 are nice and capable.
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  12. #12
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    Quote Originally Posted by Jonathan S.
    - And finally, the Garmin eTrex Legend C does *NOT* CHEW UP BATTERIES!!! The official specification is for 32 hours, which I have found to be accurate. (Anyone who says otherwise either has a non-color screen, an older generation color screen, a model with the compass and altimeter on, and/or doesnít use the battery save mode.)
    I use an older Vista (non-color), but I have *never* gotten battery life close to the spec'ed time... even w/ battery saver mode on.

    Also, the side effect of using battery saver mode is that if you temporarily lose a signal, it takes longer to recover it (in my field experience on my device).

    Just something to think about. 10h of constant activity is more like it.

  13. #13
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    Quote Originally Posted by cj001f
    Way better battery lifetime esp when cold than AA's and you can purchase a spare for ~$25 on EBay. I had an eTrex now I have an eXplorist 500, I prefer the Magellan.
    - Good point on the spare battery, although I prefer my spare batteries to be swappable between different devices (but not a huge issue). To which eTrex are you comparing the 500? The stats I've found for the 500 say 17 hrs, whereas the Legend Cx says 32 and my Legend C said 30 when I bought it (which they seemed to have retroactively increased to match the Cx claim?), which I've found to be reasonably accurate (when the batteries are warm enough to discharge fully). These guys:
    http://gpsinformation.us/vistacolor/...istacolor.html
    ...measured 29 hours (presumably in warm temps).

    Quote Originally Posted by upallnight
    I use an older Vista (non-color), but I have *never* gotten battery life close to the spec'ed time... even w/ battery saver mode on.

    Also, the side effect of using battery saver mode is that if you temporarily lose a signal, it takes longer to recover it (in my field experience on my device).

    Just something to think about. 10h of constant activity is more like it.
    Garmin Vista (non-color) claims 12 hrs. Applying the imputed ratio to the Legend Cx 32-hr claim yields close to 27 hrs - admittedly I have not kept track close enough to tell whether 27 or 30 or 32 is more accurate, but either one has been good enough for me. And the battery saver mode just refreshes the position every five seconds instead of every second, and I've never noticed any difference (except for mapping projects while mountain biking).

  14. #14
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    Quote Originally Posted by Jonathan S.
    Garmin Vista (non-color) claims 12 hrs. Applying the imputed ratio to the Legend Cx 32-hr claim yields close to 27 hrs - admittedly I have not kept track close enough to tell whether 27 or 30 or 32 is more accurate, but either one has been good enough for me. And the battery saver mode just refreshes the position every five seconds instead of every second, and I've never noticed any difference (except for mapping projects while mountain biking).
    Yeah...I've used mine in lots of cold temps, so that could affect battery life. That said, I change batteries after a day of skiing.

    And battery saver mode isn't great for anything with switchbacks or frequent direction changes for exactly the reason you cite.

  15. #15
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    Quote Originally Posted by Jonathan S.
    - Good point on the spare battery, although I prefer my spare batteries to be swappable between different devices (but not a huge issue). To which eTrex are you comparing the 500? The stats I've found for the 500 say 17 hrs, whereas the Legend Cx says 32 and my Legend C said 30 when I bought it (which they seemed to have retroactively increased to match the Cx claim?), which I've found to be reasonably accurate (when the batteries are warm enough to discharge fully).
    I believe it was the prior Etrex Legend C - at the low end the base eTrex is better than the eXplorist 100, 200 etc. (owned both) because the eXplorist lacks computer connectivity (stupid!) I've seen better battery life than 17 hrs with the 500. I understand your point about batteries - I don't have any other devices that use AA's, headlamp, beacon etc all use AAA's - apparently there's also a battery clip available for the eXplorist to use those inside the unit:
    http://www.tigergps.com/magellanaaa456.html
    and the new eXplorist 500LE will come standard with the AAA clip and not the LI battery.
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  16. #16
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    With color screen technology nowdays, a color screen will give you at most a 5% drop in battery life overall.

    Color is very nice on overlays.
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