Handheld Trail GPS ?
Mar 20, 2016 at 11:58 am #3390564
Hey guys! I am new here so this is my first posting, any suggestions or help would be greatly appreciated.
I am looking into purchasing my first handheld trail gps and was looking at the Garmin eTrex 20… I am a bit short on cash at the moment however so I was wonderig if anyone was aware of any other similar, more cost-efficient brands or models with the same capabilities… Besides basic functionality such as the ability to set waypoints, I am particularly interested in the Garmin eTrex 20 because of the fact that you can use a micro SD card with it in order to upload trail maps!
Any all all suggestions/advice would be appreciated! Thanks in advance!Mar 20, 2016 at 12:25 pm #3390568Ken ThompsonBPL Member
@hereLocale: Right there
No smartphone in your possession? All kinds of apps available.Mar 20, 2016 at 12:32 pm #3390570
I thought about that but I like to put my iPhone on airplane mode in order to save battery and just use it for pictures! That’s why I finally decided to invest in a handhelp gps for my location and mapping purposes!Mar 20, 2016 at 1:48 pm #3390579Gregory SteinBPL Member
@tauneutrinoLocale: Upper Galilee
What is the use? How isolated the area you will hike using that device? Are you planning to continuously track your progress or use GPS occasionally in areas where there are no visible landmarks to use for regular compass&map? For emergency only?
The problem with all those fancy GPS receivers is the batteries. If you are not going to use it all the time, this might be OK. But you can also use some kind of GPS device that displays coordinates and find yourself on a map with grid. Something like this one: https://thehikingdad.wordpress.com/ultralight-backpacking-my-vision/ul-gear-electronics/Mar 20, 2016 at 1:51 pm #3390580Ken ThompsonBPL Member
@hereLocale: Right there
An Anker battery is lighter and less expensive than a stand alone device.Mar 20, 2016 at 1:53 pm #3390581ben .BPL Member
the gps in most phones functions perfectly in airplane mode now.
for the iphone, this was added in ios 8 or 9. it’s very battery efficient, i get a few days off a single charge using my phone as an occasional map/gps checker and my sole camera (i.e. lots of photos).
making your own tracks will drain it much faster naturally, as it is constantly pulling gps information from the sky.Mar 20, 2016 at 2:27 pm #3390588
I went from the eTrex Vista HCx to an Oregon 450, but I now use the GPSMap 60CSx because I can upload maps to it (it takes a Micro SD card) and it doesn’t eat battery power the way the Oregon did. I estimate that I can get up to 24 hours on one set of AA batts with the 60CSx. I found that 8-10 hours was the most I could get out of the 450. The 60CSx is discontinued, but there are a lot for sale on eBay and I bought a second one for backup here on BPL.Mar 20, 2016 at 2:31 pm #3390590
Thanks for the suggestions on the battery and phone usage everybody but I have already decided that I want to purchase a handheld gps to track my steps, set waypoints and upload trail maps and topo maps via a micro sd card slot when I am backpacking no-service zones throughout a few of my favorite areas in Pennsylvania, Minnesota, Colorado, Arizona, West Virginia and North Carolina. So I’m wanting the same capabilities as the Garmin eTrex 20… Just looking for a comparable option that might cost a bit less!Mar 20, 2016 at 2:35 pm #3390591
Thanks for your input @mr_squishy that one seems to be going for about the same rate as the eTrex 20 so I will keep that in mind as an option!Mar 20, 2016 at 3:41 pm #3390608Bob MoulderBPL Member
@bobmny10562Locale: Westchester County, NY
Hi, Dan, and welcome to BPL!
If the eTrex 20 has all the features you’re looking for, it’s going to be hard to find something that exactly replicates all those desired features and costs a lot less. Which brings us back to the eTrex 20.
I’ve found as a valuable resource Lightweight Hiker Gear Search which scans several pertinent backpacking forums for gear meeting specified criteria. It can be set up with alerts when there is a new listing for an item you might be looking for. There is lots of lightly used or brand new gear ‘out there’ that costs substantially less than new. I actually got a ‘ping’ for something I’d been looking for that was right under my nose here at BPL which I had somehow missed.
I have an eTrex 30 and find that lithium batteries last such a long time that I forget when I put in the batteries, but I’ve never made the effort to record usage. However, there is more information HERE confirming that general observation, but maybe you’ve already seen it. (Cliff Note version: Turn off GLONASS and WAAS.) Of course it also helps to select the longest tracking interval that will work for you… i.e. “Least Often” Tracking interval.
First test. The first 2 lithium batteries lasted about 5.5 hours. They died at the beginning of my third day hike. I called Garmin tech support to discuss. They suggested a hard reset in case some unknown glitch was causing a battery drain. A bad battery is also a possibility (though I’m skeptical of that). Backlighting was never used. I had both the GLONASS andWAAS options turned ON. I know they drain the batteries faster.
Second test ended today. GLONASS and WAAS were OFF for the duration of the test. Backlighting was never used. Over 6 weeks I did 17 day hikes ranging from 2-5 hours, plus two 1-hour bike rides for a total of 57.1 hours on the 2nd pair of batteries (I kept track of the times in a spreadsheet to keep it accurate). I’m pretty impressed with 57.1 hours. I didn’t expect over 40.
I use mine just the same way, and this jives with my experience that lithium battery life is pretty damn good!Mar 20, 2016 at 4:21 pm #3390614
Bob, that gear search tool is awesome! Thanks so much for sharing! Also thank you for the additional information on battery life, that will certainly factor into my decision.Mar 20, 2016 at 5:41 pm #3390627
“but I like to put my iPhone on airplane mode in order to save battery and just use it for pictures! That’s why I finally decided to invest in a handhelp gps for my location and mapping purposes!”
You can take a couple of extra batteries for your phone… cheaper than a new device and maybe less weight too…
” have already decided that I want to purchase a handheld gps to track my steps, set waypoints and upload trail maps and topo maps via a micro sd card slot when I am backpacking no-service zones throughout a few of my favorite areas in Pennsylvania, Minnesota, Colorado, Arizona, West Virginia and North Carolina.”
Any phone can do all of this and more. I have an eTrex30 and hardly use it any more because the maps that apps on the phone can access are SOOOOOO much better than what Garmin restricts you to… AND… the touch screen functions soooo much better than than the extremely slow joy stick panning on the eTrex….
but eTrex is likely more durable if you’re going to bang it around and likely better below freezing…
billyMar 20, 2016 at 6:12 pm #3390638
Billy, yes durability of the screen is definitely one of the reasons I want a separate device from my iphone. I have been known to crack my iphone screens because I don’t like using the bulky cases like lifeproof/ottor box. Also I wanted a seperate device because I dont have much memory on my iphone left after pictures and videos so I wanted to centralize all my maps and locations and preloaded data onto it for good… That does sound very interesting though how you say the maps compatible with Garmin aren’t nearly as quality as the ones you can get on your phone! Is there a specific app that you use or would reccomend to get access to more good maps than Garmin and then also set waypoints and locations? So basically just function the same as an eTrex?Mar 20, 2016 at 8:39 pm #3390691
I have had Garmin etrex, etrex vista hcx, gpsmap 60cs, gpsmap 60 csx, Oregon, etc.
Now, I just use a smartphone. The smartphone will not get signal in some slot canyons that the Garmin can, but other than that, it is head and shoulders better.
As Billy mentioned, the map optionsareuch more extensive and cheaper. Garmin handhelds can get maps from gpsfiledepot but still very limited compared to smartphones.
Also, in airplane mode with tracking set to every 2 minutes, most phones should give you a few days battery life.
The Garmin will do slightly better in battery life, is more durable, and has slightly better signal.
The smartphone will be more versatile, better maps, better interface, easier to share or uplaod data from. So is a better all round device, in my opinion.
If I was going to buy one, I would buy either the new Moto g(which is waterproof, has 16gb internal storage with an SD card slot), or a used droid turbo, which has water resistance, 32gb storage, and a 3900 ma battery.
The iPhone you have could work well, but as you said, it does not have the space. Also, you said that you don’t like the bulky cases for smartphones. I don’t either, but I use one when taking my phone on a hike as a GPS.
Popular map/GPS apps:
Back country navigator, Android
Gaia maps, iPhone/Android
Oruxmaps and Locus can use everything from open Street maps, USGS topos, Google terrain, Google satellite, garmin maps, etc.
I highly recommend Android for mapping and GPS as it has more map options for free, however, many people are very happy with their iPhone map and GPS apps as well.
For Android, if you want to see what app and map options you have, you can download bluestacks and run an Android virtual.machine on your computer. I use this to run oruxmaps on both my Mac and my PC.
PeaceMar 20, 2016 at 9:13 pm #3390696
Wow, thanks a ton Garrett! You really touched on every subject area there. After reading your advice I think I am going to try using my iphone or going the android route, and then also getting an eTrex 20 so I can experiment with both and see which one I like better! I know that I stated price was an issue in the beginning of the thread, but when it comes down to it I would rather pay a bit extra to make sure I am satisfied with my choice asap since the weather is starting to heat up over here. Thanks to everyone who chimed in with suggestions to help me out!
Cheers and Happy Spring Backpacking,
DanMar 20, 2016 at 9:16 pm #3390700
” I don’t like using the bulky cases like lifeproof/ottor box. Also I wanted a seperate device…”
you don’t have to use the otterbox on the streets… just put it on when you are using your phone while hiking… and/or as your second “device” buy and take a second phone… I just bought a 2nd phone to use as my dedicated GPS device… Samsung Galaxy S5 is water & dust proof… 16 gig internal memory and ad a 64 gig microSD card!!! Bought a brand new S5 on eBay for 300.00 on eBay (you don’t need the latest model phone for GPS) … you can get open box ones for about 250 or used ones for about 200.00
“because I dont have much memory on my iphone left after pictures and videos so I wanted to centralize all my maps and locations and preloaded data onto it for good…”
The eTrex will store and access about 2 gig I believe… that’s what my eTrex30 will store… I have about 40 gig of maps on my Samsung phone and can fill the 64 gig SD card :) I put nearly a whole state on there… And I can store maps on my computer and then switch to a different set of maps (another 40 or 60 gig if I want) just by copying them to my phone or switching microSDs
“That does sound very interesting though how you say the maps compatible with Garmin aren’t nearly as quality as the ones you can get on your phone! Is there a specific app that you use or would reccomend to get access to more good maps than Garmin and then also set waypoints and locations? So basically just function the same as an eTrex?”
Yes… waypoings, tracks, all that and much more user friendly than Garmin… I use Backcountry Navigator… I think it was a 10.00 one time fee… download all the maps you want at no extra cost… free after buying the app for 10.00… entire USA if you like and have storage and time to do it… download with wifi and then use off-line BCN is for Android; not iPhone… Gaia app for iPhone. You go look at the maps on an eTrex then picture in your mind a USGS tops map… that is what the BCN maps look like… full USGS topo map detail…
Have fun…Mar 20, 2016 at 9:36 pm #3390708
so here are a few screen shots of free maps available on oruxmaps and Locus. Similar maps may be available on iPhone, though I don’t have any experience with them to know which are available and how much they cost.
These are all maps you would download when you have internet, store on your phone or computer, and then they work with no phone signal for hiking.Mar 20, 2016 at 10:40 pm #3390726
those are all interesting maps…
and all MUCH better than Garmin…
But I guess I’m partial to the regular USGS 7 1/2 minute topo maps.
I’m so used to them they read like a 3D movie in my mind. And that’s all I need or want. The aerial photos are nice though. Might try some of those some day. Though in many cases likely not much help.
billyMar 20, 2016 at 11:52 pm #3390735
I find that I use the regular topo style and googles terrain style the most. Depending on the area, USGS topo, openstreet topo, caltopo, or openandromaps.org topos have good detail.
Sometimes, Google terrain has details that are not yet on the other maps as I think Google may update theirs a bit more often.
Only rarely is the aerial/satellite view very helpful. though it sometimes shows things not in the others, such as whether or not a flat area is a meadow, lake, rocks, or trees. However, aerial photography maps also take up the most space and are the least precise when paired with the GPS.
I have BCN, Locus, and Oruxmaps on my phone but have found that I prefer oruxmaps most of the time.
PeaceMar 21, 2016 at 8:09 am #3390762Mar 21, 2016 at 8:40 am #3390766
We must always keep in mind that the ‘best’ GPS device will depend on conditions and the job at hand.
While I do prefer the maps and larger touch screen of a phone, I might still opt for my Garmin in some conditions:
Touch screes don’t work when it gets too cold.
And the phones are much more prone to breakage than a Garmin.
Also, the batteries in my Garmin will last longer.
And, of course, any of these screens Garmen or phone are so small they don’t do a good job of giving you the big picture like a paper map can.
Last fall I was doing a rugged canyon hike in Utah and opted for redundance…. I took both my Garmin eTrex30 and my phone and paper maps and compass. But this was a 6 day rugged canyon backpack with no trail and solo and I didn’t even see another foot print the whole 6 days.
One of the biggest concerns expressed about phones is they can break. But to a large degree that concern can be alleviated by taking two devices… and a map and compass.
And… some of the phones are constructed to be water proof, dust proof, and some are highly shock resistant… like the AT&T ‘Active’ phones which come armored.
BillyMar 21, 2016 at 1:08 pm #3390843
Believe it or not, there are those of us who do not own smart phones. I agree that the Garmin maps are not the best, but they have served me well enough in my endeavors to get where I wanted to go, coupled with map and compass.Mar 21, 2016 at 2:04 pm #3390853
“Believe it or not, there are those of us who do not own smart phones. ”
Indeed. But I suspect that it does not occur to most that you don’t have to use a smart phone as a phone. Can buy one and use it as a dedicated GPS device.Mar 21, 2016 at 2:10 pm #3390854
Other than having better maps, nothing I’ve read convinces me that the higher cost, lower battery time, fragility, etc., justify replacing my handheld GPS.Mar 21, 2016 at 2:22 pm #3390857
Not higher cost if you get an older model on eBay… maybe even cheaper than a new Garmin… and you can put them in a shock proof box…
The maps are exponentially better and I have found them much more helpful than the Garmin maps for route planning
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