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Garmin eTrex Vista HCx GPS REVIEW
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Benjamin Smith
(bugbomb) - F - M

Locale: South Texas
Garmin eTrex Vista HCx GPS REVIEW on 12/11/2007 17:24:49 MST Print View

Companion forum thread to:

Garmin eTrex Vista HCx GPS REVIEW

Steven Nelson
(slnsf) - MLife

Locale: Northern California
Jumping around while stationary on 12/11/2007 19:18:30 MST Print View

Alan -

Nice review of what sounds like a good addition to the Garmin line.

I was wondering whether it has the same issue I've seen with the SIRF chip in my Garmin GPS60csx: when I stand still, or set the unit down, the track hops all over the place, jumping many dozens of yards (sometimes more). The accuracy is shown as quite good (e.g. within 24 feet), but the hopping of the track goes far outside what that accuracy would indicate.

This has the unfortunate side effect of also causing the compass to shut down if it's set to turn off when the GPS is moving (if it's not set that way, there's a penalty in battery drain).

- Steve

Edited by slnsf on 12/11/2007 19:18:51 MST.

Brett .
(Brett1234) - F

Locale: CA
Garmin eTrex Vista HCx GPS REVIEW on 12/11/2007 23:20:09 MST Print View

I have a SiRF in my Garmin, and it does not exhibit the jumping behavior you mentioned. I think you should exchange your unit and maybe notify Garmin about your specific issue.

Fred eric
(Fre49) - MLife

Locale: France, vallée de la Loire
Garmin Etrex, i wouldnt buy one again. on 12/11/2007 23:33:31 MST Print View

"What’s not so Good ..

No direct interface with full US electronic map coverage at 1:24K resolution (e.g., you can’t upload non-Garmin maps like National Geographic Topo! maps directly into the GPS unit)
Proprietary Garmin internal maps: Full USA coverage at 1:100K, but limited 1:24K resolution coverage (only for National Parks).
User can’t load raster maps or satellite imagery into the GPS. "

Thats the reason why my Garmin etrex legend C stays at home 95% of the time.
Reception quality never was a problem for me.
But GArmin maps are very expensive if you dont hike often in the same place, and in the past 3-4 years i have never hiked twice in the same country/area.
Otherwise a great GPS, but i wouldnt buy it again for this reason.

Edited by Fre49 on 12/11/2007 23:34:34 MST.

Roger Caffin
(rcaffin) - BPL Staff - MLife

Locale: Wollemi & Kosciusko NPs, Europe
But still not perfect on 12/12/2007 02:28:15 MST Print View

I took our brand new eTRex-H out for its first test run a few days ago. All was well until I turned it on at the base of some near-vertical cliffs on the edge of a wide estuary. It took a little longer to get a fix than I had expected, and later on at home I found that the unit thought I was about 3/4 km away, across the estuary, in a tight gully. Reflections off the rock face above I guess?

So, still not a substitute for a map and compass. But at least it is bright yellow :-)

Alan Dixon
(alandixon) - MLife

Locale: Mid-Atlantic
Re: But still not perfect on 12/12/2007 06:33:26 MST Print View

Yes, up against cliffs with limited sky view and especially signal reflections off of the cliff face is an extremely difficult reception situation. It was one of my harder test scenarios for the testing the GPS units in the article. It gave unit C fits.

Walking as far away from the cliffs as possible helps.

Alan Dixon
(alandixon) - MLife

Locale: Mid-Atlantic
Re: Garmin eTrex Vista HCx GPS REVIEW on 12/12/2007 07:00:06 MST Print View

I would check with Garmin and see if the Garmin 60 CSx really does have a SiRF receiver in it. All the spec’s list is that it is a “high sensitivity receiver.” There are many makers of high performance GPS receiver chips and I don’t think Garmin is tied to just one source. At this point they don’t disclose what manufacturers chip set is in what model.

The only Garmin units that I now for sure that have SiRF chips were the Edge 205 & 305 and Forerunner 205 & 305 units last year. Even those may have moved on to other receiver chip sets as the Garmin site only lists them as “high performance receivers” and does not mention a particular maker.

That being said, my experience with the units I knew to have the SiRF chips was spotty. The Edge did better, but the performance in the Forunner series was problematic. This was the unit that did not acquire for 45 minutes when I turned it on and just started running.

I think one of the problems is that the SiRF chip was developed for car use where there is abundant power. I have heard that the SiRF chipset’s performance falls off if it is given less power than it wants. I believe this may have been a problem with the limited batteries in the Forerunner units and why the Edge with its larger battery worked better. It may also be a slight problem with just having an AA battery power source (60 CSx?) as opposed to a huge car battery.

Like any new technology it takes a while to work out the quirks. I have had none of these problems with the new Vista HCx. It may be that Garmin now uses a chipset that requires less power for top performance.

And GPS receiver chipset technology is advancing at a fast rate. By next year there will be units with 50 channel receivers that acquire in less than one second.

Mike Maurer
(maurer) - F - M

Locale: Oregon
Vista HCx use on 12/12/2007 08:41:30 MST Print View


Great review - thanks. I picked up this unit a few weeks ago. I'll be in heavy forest this winter doing lots of non trail work, so this unit will be invaluable. FWIW - the lack of downloadable maps wasn't a deal killer for me. I'm a bit old school so I've never relied on electronic mapping for anything - including a decade of Pacific ocean sailing and racing as well as my local mountains - the Sierra Nevada range. When planning a trip I simply plot key waypoints using NG Topo! then download them into my GPS. I note them on my paper maps and off I go. I sometimes "waypoint" the car at the trailhead just to be safe. Worst case I can use the waypoints to triangulate and get a fix on my position.

Also, when Glen VP, Photon and I were in the Beartooths a few years back (very similar time of year, location and conditions to the recent Wilderness Trekking 3 course) - at one point we were on a ridge and wanted to look for camp. We pulled out the map, found a lake, I entered the UTM into my old unit and off we went. No electronic mapping needed.

This allows me to keep up my map and compass skills, and still have a safety net. Having said that, this new unit happens to be a VERY GOOD safety net!

Mike Maurer

Hamish McHamish
(El_Canyon) - M

Locale: USA
The H-series rocks the house on 12/12/2007 09:45:43 MST Print View

The 1:24k map issue, to me, is really a non-issue. Anyone who is serious about landnav w/ GPS should be utilizing topos with the UTM grid on waterproof paper. Print your own or have them made by . Don't rely on electronic maps.

My first GPS was the Geko 201, then I stayed out of the GPS fray until the Garmin H series came out. Almost all of my hiking is done in rugged forests in the East. Lots of times the Geko couldn't get a good fix. The Vista HCx has been fantastic, especially when you consider that AA Lithiums last almost forever in it if you only turn it on for getting a waypoint or an occasional reality check.

Street price 4 months ago was around $230. I got mine w/ free shipping from Amazon. You can probably find even better deals now.

Lon Cooper
(halfmile) - MLife

Locale: San Diego
Unit C? on 12/12/2007 10:44:28 MST Print View

Nice review Alan.

I recently added the Vista HCx to my GPS collection and it seems like a great little GPS so far.

I am curious however, why you did not name the "Unit C" that you compared the Vista HCx to. Unless "Unit C" was an unreleased product, I see no any reason to do this.

Also, one feature of the Vista HCx (or any Garmin unit with x in it's name) is that you can load essentially an unlimited number of waypoints, if you load them as "Custom Points of Interest". This could be useful for the long distance hikers, doing the PCT or CDT.


Edward Ripley-Duggan
(edwardripleyduggan) - F
1:24000 series maps on GPS and paper on 12/12/2007 16:27:39 MST Print View

I would agree wholeheartedly with the contention that GPS units should not be a primary navigational tool. To my mind, first in importance is observation of the terrain. Second in importance is map and compass, with GPS a distant third.

However, if a thorny navigational problem arises (and they do from time to time!), having a map on the GPS that's congruent with the paper map carried is a big advantage. Sure, one could take the UTM/UPS position and plot it on the paper map (if appropriately ruled), but under cold, wet, or windy conditions, that can be problematic.

The visual cue provided by a pattern of contours on the GPS if it is displaying a USGS quad is often extremely easy to correlate with the printed map, providing a rapid confirmation of position. It's much harder to match a map generated from vector data to a USGS map, and these are frequently the sole type of uploadable base map that is available for many regions.

Mina Loomis
(elmvine) - MLife

Locale: Central Texas
Re: Garmin Etrex, i wouldnt buy one again. on 12/12/2007 21:16:28 MST Print View

Fre49 wrote:
"No direct interface with full US electronic map coverage at 1:24K resolution (e.g., you can’t upload non-Garmin maps like National Geographic Topo! maps directly into the GPS unit) "

Do you mean there's no way to do it, or that there's only an "indirect" way? Because, if there's a workaround for this, I'd like to try it. I have some National Geographic 1:24,000 Topo CD's, a Garmin GPSmap 76CSx I got at an REI garage sale, and so far only a very beginner's knowledge of GPS use.

Edited by elmvine on 12/13/2007 10:00:34 MST.

eric levine
(ericl) - F

Locale: Northern Colorado
Garmin H on 12/13/2007 01:48:02 MST Print View

I must say I’ve never seen the great attraction of that expensive tiny little pixel screen, especially at a low detail wide area map setting.

I’ve two Garmin units, both without mapping, and can’t say I’ve ever missed anything. Then again, I’d be lost without my Trails Illustrated and other great maps. My map has ~1300 sq. inches of great detail as opposed to the screen's ~4 sq. inches or so. Yes, you can magnify that 4 sq. inch view, but so what?

I do think the ability to get a fix in deep places is great, IF you need it.

Jonathan Shefftz
(jshefftz1) - MLife

Locale: Western Mass.
60Cx? on 12/13/2007 08:21:08 MST Print View

Just want to second the other poster’s comment about the unspecified "’Unit C’ a competitor’s current (released this year), best technology handheld GPS" -- since when does BPL shy away from identifying products that don't live up to their hype?

Also, I'm curious about the indirect references to prior Garmin high-sensitivity models. I have the 60Cx, and before that had the Legend C (and before than the original eTrex). I have found its reception to be astounding, ranging from dense forested valleys in New England backcountry skiing, to steep sheltered couloirs in western ski mountaineering, to my basement ski room (which lacks windows). Once I even forget to turn it off when entering a building, and it tracked my progress up a windowless stairwell. My previous units had worked well when they had a clear view of the sky, but the 60Cx seems to work no matter what. The only time I've lost reception has been while driving through tunnels.
Now granted the 60Cx does add a few ounces (though the bigger screen is a big plus when using the Garmin 24k maps, where available), but I'd be curious to know whether the comments about being slow in acquiring an initial fix were meant to apply to the 60Cx/60CSx or something else?

John S.
(jshann) - F
Re: Garmin H on 12/13/2007 08:22:38 MST Print View

And at more than double the weight of a foretrex 101 after adding two AA batts.

Eric typed.
"I must say I’ve never seen the great attraction of that expensive tiny little pixel screen, especially at a low detail wide area map setting."

Michael Davis
(mad777) - F

Locale: South Florida
Re: Garmin eTrex Vista HCx GPS REVIEW on 12/13/2007 11:04:08 MST Print View

I have the Garmin 60 CSx and have owned other GPS' starting with the original Garmin eTrex.

I can't say enough about its ability to find and hold a signal. As Johnathan stated above, I can accurately track myself moving from room to room, up and down stairs inside my house! It never loses a signal outdoors and I am almost constantly in highly dense forests. Also, it have never "jumped around" as was mentioned earlier.

As to maps, just a note to add. The 1:24K maps produced by Garmin, although called "National Parks" actually include many National Forests and State Parks, but not all. For instance, all the White Mountain Nat. Forest and the Adirondacks are included. Also, all the Appalachian Trail.

Mike W
(skopeo) - F

Locale: British Columbia
Garmin eTrex Vista HCx GPS REVIEW on 12/13/2007 16:19:52 MST Print View

Thanks for the great review of the new Vista HCx. I've been watching the reviews of this unit for a while now and will likely buy one soon. I really like the size (and weight) and the battery life. I currently use a GPSMap60Cx and have used a GPS for my back country trips for many years. I would no more leave my GPS behind than I would my compass! Don't get me wrong, that tiny little screen is no substitute for a map but the GPS's ability to instantly geo-locate your exact position on a map is absolutely invaluable. The real advantage of the GPS for me is that I can load it up with tracks and waypoints that I pull off of other maps (via OziExporer) for that extra bit of info that you need when you head off into an unknown area. I leave my GPS switched on all of the time and am surprised to hear that anybody would carry one and walk with it off (maybe thru hikers can make an argument but others?)! I also have several custom maps loaded on my GPS (yes it can be done with a bit of work… lots of info on the web) and they provide me with very detailed map info (much better than Garmin's). I also have custom mapping loaded which is made from tracks that I or others have accumulated. Loading tracks as a custom map frees up valuable track memory and allows me to load as many tracks as I want since the mapping is stored on the card (if you are curious about this, check out ... it’s a very good example of a custom map product (and happens to be in one of my favourite hiking areas)). If you want to check for custom maps in your area try (the maps are free).

Edited by skopeo on 12/13/2007 17:03:36 MST.

Alan Dixon
(alandixon) - MLife

Locale: Mid-Atlantic
Re: 60Cx? Confusing Garmin Nomenclature on 12/14/2007 13:02:58 MST Print View

>Also, I'm curious about the indirect references to prior Garmin high-sensitivity models. I have the 60Cx, and before that had the Legend C (and before than the original eTrex). I have found its reception to be astounding, ranging from dense forested valleys in New England backcountry skiing, to steep sheltered couloirs in western ski mountaineering…

Not sure which references to prior Garmin high-sensitivity models you mean but that certainly does not apply to the GPSMap 60 Cx. I had a chance to use a GPSMap 76Cx for a few months and had similar reception success with the unit.

As to the Legend C, I can say that it is probably a lesser receiver technology than the Venture Cx tested. As you can see from the testing, the Venture Cx is good but certainly not in the same league as the new H designation eTrex units.

Part of this is a Garmin nomenclature confusion for its high performance receivers. The following may help clarify:

eTrex Series ‘H’ (e.g. Vista HCx)
These have great high sensitivy receivers that substantially outperform their non-‘H’ predecessors like the Vista Cx. But Garmin will not disclose what receiver technology they use in the ‘H’ units.

GPS Map Series (GPSMap 60 Cx, 60 CSx, 76 Cx,76 CSx)
Many of the units picked up a high performance receiver with the ‘x’ designation. But in fact the ‘x’ designation means that they have an expandable micro SD memory slot. Rumor has it they use the the SiRFstarIII chipset but Garmin will not confirm anything more than that they have a high performance receiver. (The eTrex series also picked up the ‘x’ designation for the micro SD slot but did not pickup high performance receivers. That didn’t happen unit the ‘H’ designation. Thus the eTrex Cx models do not have high performance receivers. There has been a lot of confusion on this point.)

eTrex Series Non-‘H’ (e.g. Venture Cx)
As above an ‘x’ designation does not mean a high performance receiver. It has to have an ‘H’ in the model name to have a high performance receiver. But the receivers in the non-‘H’ eTrex models still performs quite well. The 'x' models receivers perform considerably better than their older non-‘x’ predecessors like the Legend C.

Edge 205 & 305 and Forerunner 205 & 305
These units last year were known to have a high performance SiRF chipset. These may have (or not) moved on to other receiver chip sets as the Garmin site only lists them as “high performance receivers” at this point and does not mention a particular maker. In my use (not systematic/official testing), I found the receiver performance spotty in the Forerunner 205 & 305. The Edge units did better.

In summary, Garmin is now very mum about what receivers are in what unit. Don’t expect to know the receiver technology of any Garmin unit in the future. Garmin “reserves the right to select whatever they feel is the best technology for a given GPS unit.” - Rough quote from a Garmin rep.

To date, Garmin has done an excellent job of developing handheld GPS units with first-rate performance. I would expect them to make good choices on receiver technology for their future units.

Rick Dreher
(halfturbo) - MLife

Locale: Northernish California
What's in your receiver? on 12/14/2007 14:51:40 MST Print View

Should we be offering a free spork to anybody who takes a hammer to their Garmin and tells us what's printed on the chip?

It can be very difficult to ascertain what chips many of the makers spec in their various models, and further complicated by running improvements during a model's production life. Some companies, however, craft their own.

I have a Legend Cx and while not as sensitive as the very best receivers I've used (it can lose signal in challenging terrain or forest, or when in my pocket) it is far and away the most frugal. Batteries last an impressively long time, which I really appreciate.

Jonathan Shefftz
(jshefftz1) - MLife

Locale: Western Mass.
Re: Re: 60Cx? Confusing Garmin Nomenclature on 12/14/2007 15:32:46 MST Print View

"Not sure which references to prior Garmin high-sensitivity models you mean..."
-- Sorry for the confusion. I was referring to:
"The new Garmin high sensitivity receiver fixes a problem I had with earlier SiRF-based high sensitivity receiver units: these SiRF units were good at maintaining a fix, once acquired, but had difficulty acquiring an initial fix."
... which I now notice is not specific to Garmin necessarily. But I don't understand why you're not calling a spade a spade here (or however the saying goes) -- if you have experience with certain SiRF GPS units not acquiring an initial fix quickly, then please let us know which ones.

"As to the Legend C..."
-- Once again, sorry for the confusion. I should have stressed that I was referencing that only to compare/contrast the amazingly consistent reception on the 60Cx as compared to prior units I had owned.

Overall, the review does an excellent job of comparing the new unit to two existing units, but it doesn't reveal the identity of one of the existing units, and it doesn't compare the new unit's performance to that of the high-sensitivity models that Garmin has now had on the market for almost two years.