Handheld GPS Reviews

August 22, 2010

Trouble with Electronics in the Wild

It's hard to keep in mind that all of these gadgets can get you into trouble as well as getting you out of trouble. Having a GPS in hand while traveling the backcountry isn't so bad, but being able to use it is better. What's even better than that? Having a map and compass as a back-up.

In an article today, the Boston Globe details a few mishaps due to over-use or over-reliance on technology. Some of it is just plain stupidity. while not all of their anecdotes point to a GPS, it is a good reminder to keep a good head on your shoulders, respect nature and use back-up systems when electronics sit between you and difficult consequences.

Ten things to keep in mind when going on a hike with a GPS

  1. Make sure you know how to use the GPS and how to return to your starting point. Mark your starting point, lodge, ranger station and car with waypoints that are named correctly. It will make navigating back to them easier.
  2. Make sure everyone knows how to navigate using the GPS. Don't be the only one.
  3. Bring extra batteries for all of the electronics.
  4. Bring a map and compass - and better yet, know how to use them. If needed bring a tour book/ trail book - they can summarize the trail system and offer tips on local shelters if needed.
  5. Plan your hike and hike your plan. (Ripped that off from when I took SCUBA classes) When planning, it's important to know what you are getting into; trail types, weather exposure, vertical ascent, overall distance, water crossings are all things to consider when matching the hike to the group's capabilities.
  6. Leave that hike plan with someone. If you don't show back up, they will know where to start looking.... because you hiked that plan right? Leave a copy of the plan in your car at the trailhead if not with another person.
  7. Bring the right clothing, water and food; and then some extra. When we hike the White Mountains, I am reminded to be humble when I recall the book "Not Without Peril " which details how under-prepared, and/or over-egoed trekers got into trouble in the Presidential Range and died. I can't tell you how many people I see walking up Mt Washington in shorts and a T-Shirt swinging a 20 ounce bottle as they hike.... wait a minute, I think that's also a chapter in the book.
  8. Know when to turn back - just because you planned to summit, doesn't mean that you have to when there are people in your party who clearly can't make it or the weather turns bad.
  9. Bring a first aid kit; they can be small enough to fit in a Day Pack pocket and still be of good use on a hike.
  10. Have fun - GPS units can make hiking a lot more reliable and accessible when used smartly. It's made hiking a lot more enjoyable and safe for us. As a result we are out hiking even more.

More on that article at the Boston Globe


Some of my favorite Handheld GPS units are: The Garmin eTrex Legend HCx, The Garmin Dakota 20, The Garmin Oregon 400t, the new Garmin GPSMap 62St, the Delorme PN-40 and the new Delorme PN-60W
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July 30, 2010

Garmin GPSMAP 62ST Now Shipping - New Top Handheld GPS

  GarminGPSMAP62ST.jpg

Garmin's new GPSMAP line is now shipping, with the top end GPSMAP 62st now available with its long list of capabilities. At the core you get a highly accurate handheld GPS with pre-loaded 100K TOPO maps, a 3-axis compass, a barometric altimeter, wireless data sharing among other Garmin wireless handhelds (it's great to beam routes, tracks and waypoints to others in the party), with a 2.6-inch sunlight readable display that makes it all come together.

Running on a pair of "AA" batteries, the GPSMAP 62st will go up to a claimed 20 hours of use. That's a lot of trails, geocaching or biking with the unit. It is also paperless geocaching capable, with the ability to download, geocache locations and mark them found with notes when you get there. You can also use BirdsEye downloadable satellite images (subscription required), and the unit comes with a micro SD card slot which makes adding additional maps a breeze.

now Shipping at Amazon - Garmin GPSMAP 62st

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March 8, 2010

What Does IPX6 and IPX7 Waterproof Rating Mean?

waterfall.jpg

When you are out on the trail, and your hike just turned into a muddy downpour mess of an afternoon, you'll want to make sure that you are carrying a GPS that is rated to handle the weather.

Most handheld GPS units are rated to the IPX7 waterproofing standard; a pretty good standard that keeps the unit sound in the face of whatever a typical hike bike, run or other outing can throw at it. Some handhelds are rated to the IPX6 standard; which is a lower standard that doesn't offer the immersion capability that the IPX7 does...... Immersion capability? Yes, see below:

IPX6 Waterproof Standard

Heavy splashing and rain - This test sends water at all angles through a 12.5mm nozzle at a rate of 100 liters/min at a pressure of 100kN/m2 for 3 minutes from a distance of 3 meters. Must not fail or show water seepage.

IPX-7 Waterproof Standard

Puddle, stream, beer cooler and splash rated - Protected against water immersion - Immersion for 30 minutes at a depth of 1 meter.


I have had my GPS units out in the driving rain for hours and have dropped them in muddy puddles without issue on the IPX7 standard. I like it and it works for almost anything you can throw at it on a typical day.... except dropping it overboard on a boat..... and luckily that hasn't happened.

Photo via:Tom Curtis / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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June 26, 2009

Garmin Dakota 10 and Dakota 20 Handheld Touchscreen GPS

Dakota20map.jpg

Garmin has introduced the Garmin Dakota 10 and Dakota 20 handheld GPS units that are going to take up the place in the line as the smaller siblings to the Garmin Oregon. The smaller, touchscreen units still boast a well appointed feature list. While the unit is smaller that the eTrex, with the screen size stretching across almost the entire front of the unit, the screen is actually a bit larger than the Garmin eTrex series, coming in at 2.6" diagonally. The new operating system offers paperless geocaching, and comes pre-loaded with a world basemap, offering the easy ability to add Garmin City Navigator NT street maps, Blue Chart g2 marine charts, and TOPO U.S. 24K and 100K that will load into the 850 MB of onboard memory.


  • Dakota 10 - Offers 850 MB of memory, world base map, touchscreen interface, 20 hour battery life on two "AA" batteries, and has the same spine format to accept all of the Oregon and Colorado mounts and accessories. It will connect to your PC or Mac via USB. List Price $299.

  • Dakota 20 - Adds a 3-axis compass, barometric altimeter, a microSD card slot, and wireless connectivity to other Garmin handhelds like the Oregon, Colorado, and Foretrex units (Other Dakotas as well). List Price $349.

These should be available in July.

Full Press Release Below......


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June 24, 2009

DeLorme PN-30 Handheld GPS


DeLorme announced their new PN-30 handheld today packing it with enough goodies and pricing it well at $299. The little green handheld comes with the ability to load it up with aerial photography, topographic maps, and NOAA nautical charts.   The included PN-Series Map DVDs will transfer maps to the PN-30 or an SD card, from either PCs or Macs. The up-to-date detail includes U.S. topography, U.S. and Canada streets, roads, and places of interest, and Mexico main roads. The other maps area available as downloads that cost extra.


The waterproof (IPX7) color handheld is also available in Realtree camo too. Expect it to hit the stores in July.



Full Press Release below.....


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May 7, 2009

Garmin Oregon 550 & 550T - Handheld GPS with 3.2 MP Camera

Oregon550Tcamera.jpg

After a few leaks, Garmin is announcing the new Garmin Oregon 550 and 550t touchscreen handheld GPS units that have a built in 3.2MP camera that can be used to take photos and geotag them along the way. Primarily born out of a need for geocaching, the capability seems well suited to a lot of pursuits. The other big innovation here over the Oregon 400/400t series is the fact that the new unit has a 3-axis digital compass. That means that you don't have to hold it perfectly level to get a good reading; it can be mounted on something like your handlebars or dash and still get a good reading.

The Oregon 550t, with preloaded topo maps for the entire U.S., is $599.99. The Oregon 550, with worldwide basemap in shaded relief, is $499.99.

Full press release after the jump.......


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February 2, 2009

Snowmobile GPS Maps

Snowmobiling is just one great way to enjoy winter - We are buried in snow here in MA, but on trip this past weekend to Middlebury VT, I was jealous of all the snowmobilers pulling up to the pumps to fill up and take off on another day of sledding on the trails. With any outdoor sport like this, I see the opportunity for GPS, and so do a lot of others.

This past December saw the launch of SledGPS.com, a commercial site with maps of 27 states, available as one collection for $125, or in one of 5 large regions, (i.e. NorthEast), which at $49, may suffice for most users. SledGPS.com says" Our Partner, US TrailMaps, has mapped over 100,000 miles of snowmobile trails, together with nearly 250,000 businesses related to the trails like parking areas for your trailers, gas stations and lodging along your routes."

An example of map coverage is here; with trails represented as the red lines superimposed on a Google Map. Head over to their site for more detail and for a view of your area.

snowmobilegpsmap.jpg

The maps come with snowmobiling specific POI, which makes gassing up, eating, etc. lot easier on the trail. The maps are Garmin compatible, and I would recommend a larger screen handheld, like the Colorado, or the Oregon. If you are into this, you could also utilize the ruggedized Zumo too. I have traveled a lot with an eTrex, so getting into this for around $200 is feasible too; I would recommend a color version for better resolution and readability.

There are a lot of online sharing resources too, where you can get GPX files form other users, or in collections from many users, including sites like GPSSledMaps.com, or forums like GPSXChange.com, or SnowmobileForums.com. There are also sites that specialize in state specific maps - like for Michigan.

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January 28, 2009

Lowrance Endura Line: Sierra, Safari, and Outback - Touchscreen GPS

LowranceEnduraSierra.jpg
Lowrance has officially launched three new handheld GPS units in the Endura Line, the Sierra ($549), Safari ($389), and Outback ($229), that include some hefty features in a handheld unit. The pre-loaded maps come with 48-state road data from NAVTEQ and outdoor trail network mapping from Intermap Accuterra data. The Sierra and Safari can be upgraded for turn by turn road navigation if needed. With their marine background, of course they have Fishing Hot Spots (optional content) and are capable of getting you to the best spots that anyone is talking about.....

The units are IPX7 water resistant and offer the nice combination of a touchscreen and buttons to help get you through the most basic navigation routines. The 2.7-inch screen is a bit under the size of the Garmin Colorado (3-inches), and is said to be high resolution. Runs on 2 AA batteries, and is expected to be available this spring.

Full press release below....

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January 15, 2009

Garmin Legend H and Vista H Handheld GPS

eTrexlegendH.jpgGarmin has announced an upgrade to the monochrome handheld line with the eTrex Legend H and eTrex Vista H. The new units will sport high sensitivity chipsets, which is an absolute must in a GPS these days. No doubt these will take their place as strong contenders in the value end of the Garmin Handheld line. Internal memory only on these; both the Legend H and Vista H at 24MB. Not a lot, but enough for more territory than I can hike or bike in a week.

My experience has shown that high sensitivity receivers offer you the ability to grab a signal and hold it under tree cover, and in tight limited view of the sky situations that you always find yourself in when you need a satellite fix most.

The Legend H will retail for $149 list, while the Vista H adds a barometric altimeter and retails for $199.

Garmin Product Page - eTrex Legend H and eTrex Vista H

Full Press Release After the jump....

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Garmin BaseCamp - Manage your trips, waypoints and more

Garmin announced that they are going to release BaseCamp - a new offering that will allow you to manage your outdoor pursuits on your computer - waypoints, tracks, geo-tagged photos, and more. It's a much needed upgrade and one that was long overdue. MapSource has been a bit of a sore spot for me for almost a decade, and I am excited to see more out of Garmin.

The software will interact well with TOPO maps by offering 24K and 100K maps in 2D and 3D perspectives. BaseCamp is compatible on both PC and Mac computers. Beginning in the first quarter of 2009, the utility will ship with all new TOPO U.S. 24K DVD and TOPO U.S. 100K DVD products. For those who currently own TOPO U.S. 2008, BaseCamp will be available for a free download at www.garmin.com at the end of the first quarter 2009.

"BaseCamp brings a whole new set of features to hikers, hunters, geocachers, and anyone else who wants to maximize their experience with their Garmin GPS," said Dan Bartel, Garmin's vice president of worldwide sales. "This new utility lets users view, organize, and transfer their data more quickly and efficiently - allowing them to make the most of their time exploring the great outdoors."

Full Press Release After the jump.......

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Magellan Updates Triton Software


Just days after the acquisition closed for Mitac to buy Magellan, they have announced an upgrade to the Triton Software to improve accuracy, battery life and usability. Magellan has come under fire by users who were disappointed by their overall Triton experience and maybe this is a way to upgrade and eliminate those shortcomings as they strive to overcome a few sins of the past.

Full Press Release Follows.....

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September 3, 2008

Garmin Oregon 200, 300, 400i, 400c, 400t - Now Shipping

GarminOregonSet.jpg

The newest Garmin handheld line is now shipping. The innovative touchscreen units are certainly easy to use, when I used the Oregon 400t for my review, I thought the Oregon with its touchscreen interface has a tremendous number of assets that make the Oregon the best designed, easiest to use Garmin handheld yet.

The units are not inexpensive, but are very capable handhelds.

Garmin Oregon 200 vs 300 vs 400t vs 400i vs 400c

The Garmin Oregon line has several models with various capabilities, all based on the same touchscreen handheld unit with HotFix technology for rapid satellite fixes, and the ability to add maps through micro-SD cards. I would recommend at least the Garmin Oregon 300 so that you have the Altimeter and Electronic Compass functionality that are a big plus when doing any navigation on land.

  • Garmin Oregon 200 - Full touchscreen unit with great new interface. Has a basemap
  • Garmin Oregon 300 - Adds wireless sharing capability along with electronic compass and altimeter
  • Garmin Oregon 400t - Adds the Topo map to the 300 model features.
  • Garmin Oregon 400i - Adds inland lakes maps to the 300 model features.
  • Garmin Oregon 400c - Adds Coastal maps to the 300 model features.


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  • August 18, 2008

    Garmin Oregon 400t Handheld GPS Full Review

    Garmin400tFront.jpg
    The Garmin Oregon family of Touchscreen handlheld GPS devices were announced just a few weeks ago, and I have been fortunate enough to be playing before they were available to the public (The Oregon line is expected to ship in the 3rd quarter of 2008). The unit offers the breakthrough of a touchscreen interface on a rugged handheld that can be taken into the woods, rained on and still give you directions to the cabin, the geocache or just back to the car. The Oregon line sits firmly at the top of the Garmin handheld series with a set of features that are pretty strong, and for some units, wireless capabilities to make it possible to communicate between units and accessories (Heart rate monitor for instance). The base model, the Garmin Oregon 200 offers the same touchscreen interface, a smaller amount of memory, and no preloaded maps. The Garmin Oregon 300 adds the wireless features, and electronic compass, a barometric altimeter as well as some more memory onboard. Finally when you get into the Garmin Oregon 400t, 400i, and 400c, you keep the wireless capabilities, but also add either Topo, Inland water ways, or Coastal waterway maps respectively; hence the t/i/c designator.

    The Oregon line uses a high sensitivity GPS chipset, has a 3-inch touchscreen and is HotFix capable, which is to say that it can remember where satellites SHOULD be in the future, so start up time (the time it usually spends looking for those same satellites) is minimized. The interface, while touchscreen enabled, is very much a carry-over from the recently released Colorado series (See my review: Garmin Colorado 400t Full Review). I already have a pretty good idea of the functionality from using my Colorado 400t. The Oregon is also an inch shorter than the Colorado due to the antenna sticking out the top of the Colorado.

    The big questions in my mind were going to be around visibility of the touchscreen, and the overall usability of the touchscreen interface.

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    July 15, 2008

    Garmin Oregon Touchscreen Handheld - MiniSite

    GarminOregon400t.jpg

    Sure it's marketing hyperbole, but if you are excited to learn more about the new touchscreen handheld from Garmin - the Garmin Oregon line, you will want to check out their Garmin Oregon Minisite (you'll need Flash).

    I like the look at the Screens - very good insight into the unit and how things will look and function. All of the items are classic Garmin interface on there, just in the easy touchscreen format.

    Go check out the Garmin Oregon Minisite

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