February 23, 2007

Can I use my Car GPS for Hiking and Geocaching?

A lot of readers have been writing in asking "Can I use my Mio C310X, Nuvi 350 or 660, StreetPilot 330, etc, for Geocaching? Or Hiking?" Well, the answer is not very well. There are some features that make hiking and geocaching with a handheld GPS great, and trying it with an average automotive GPS not so great. Generally when I use a handheld GPS for hiking and geocaching, I program in coordinates and use the map page with a pointer and a "Distance to Destination" readout to tell me: 1) Which direction I need to go to get to the destination, and 2) How far away I am. With these two pieces of information, I can get to a geocache pretty quickly. Even with an automotive GPS that accepts latitude and longitude coordinates, navigating to a geocache is tough without this specific help. When I go for longer trips I like to use Topo maps and established sets of waypoints and trails that are marked if possible.

So, there are a couple of options for automobile navigators that can do on road navigation and off road hiking and geocaching. Below are a couple of examples:

Magellan Crossover - this is really the first product that has been marketed as a seam product that has one foot in the automobile navigation world, and the other on the trail. It has full automobile navigation capabilities, comes in a nice flat form factor and can still load up Topo maps and go for a hike. Judging from the emails that I get on this subject, Magellan did their homework on the market. Rich over at GPS Tracklog did a nice review of the unit and found a few implementation issues that held it back a bit, but go check out what he has to say if you want to learn more.

Garmin Quest and Quest 2 - These might just be the pioneers in the area, and while they weren't cleverly marketed (from what I could see) as a crossover GPS, they certainly are crossover GPS units. The units have all the capability of an automobile navigator, and have the ability to load up Topo maps, store waypoints, tracks and routes off-road like the a lot of the Garmin handheld line. A destination can be programmed in and the fields on the display can be changed to reflect distance to destination, just like an eTrex. Also, just like the eTrex, you can edit and manipulate the waypoints, tracks, etc on your computer via the free MapSource program and push those down to the Quest. The only thing lacking would be a pointer arrow to make it very obvious which way to go. The other thing that you give up on the automotive side is that the voice prompts for the Quest come out of the power plug. This is done so that the unit is waterproof (IPX7 stds), something that is a great thing out on the trail. So these are very at home on the road or the trail and capable crossovers. If you really want, you can also buy Marine mapping databases to put on the units - Garmin BlueChart data. The main difference between the units is that the Quest has 115MB of memory onboard (you load the maps) and the Quest 2 comes pre-loaded with Maps of North America and an extra 140MB of space for other storage.

Garmin Nuvi Line - Recently Garmin announced that the Nuvi line (incl. Nuvi 350, 360, 370, 660, 670, 680) would be able to accept Topo maps in the future. I would expect that this would come in the form of a firmware upgrade and available Topo SD cards so that the Nuvi can read the new map data as well. While I love the Nuvi 660 for the car, there are some things that may make it not so perfect for the trail. It's not weatherproof, and not "ruggedized" so if you take a spill and it hits the ground hard, it might not get back up again to navigate another day. With that said, I think the addition of Topo capability is a great add on for any auto product to allow the users to head out for a geocache or two.

Read More in: Automotive GPS | Garmin GPS News | Magellan GPS News

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Posted by Scott Martin at February 23, 2007 7:56 AM

Recent Comments

Interesting thread... i'm in the market for a crossover gps. My wife wants a nuvi for the car, which i think would be great, but i'd love to have something to take backpacking too. Not sure if i should buy 2 devices or one. I'm a little concerned that i might end up with 1 that is good at neither :).

My preferred thought is to get a bluetooth gps and a compatible pda. I like tech gadgets. If i did this, probably i could use totally different software for on and off road nav? Is this a good approach? The other thing i'm really interested in are dynmaic POIs. I want to be able to update them frequently. I'd really like to search live POIs via wifi... Anyway, that's probably a separate thread.

Any feedback appreciated!

Posted by: stu at June 2, 2007 4:05 PM

So WHEN will Nuvis be able to accept topo maps? Called Garmin tech support twice; 3-5-07 guy sez Nuvi has always been able to use topo maps. 3-6-07 guy sez Garmin never announced any such thing - just a rumor. Not too confidence-inspiring, eh?

Posted by: JR at March 8, 2007 1:49 AM

Just to let you know that CompeGPS is preparing such universal navigator : on-road + off-road navigation in one.
We announced it during 3GSM World Congress in Barcelona (http://www.compegps.com/2006/newswin.php?id=129&lang=0en).
The feedbacks we received during 3GSM exhibition clearly show the interest for such solution.
I will be happy to let GPS Lodge review it as soon as the product is finalized ;-)

Posted by: Pascal at February 23, 2007 10:20 AM

Isn't the main problem for these units battery life? My Garmin Etrex Legend Cx will last over 15 hours on 2 AA batteries but I don't expect a TomTom to do that.

Next to that which car units can load gps TOPO maps? The car Roadmaps are of no use when you are hiking on the mount everest ;)

Posted by: Escay at February 23, 2007 9:01 AM
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