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Garmin Etrex Vista HCx
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Eddy Walker

Locale: southeast
Garmin Etrex Vista HCx on 02/16/2012 08:38:25 MST Print View

Thinking about breaking down and finally getting a GPS. I saw where a few folks had mentioned this one for a beginner.

I know nothing about them so just wondering who has or had it and what your thoughts were on it

Ben Wortman
(bwortman) - M

Locale: Nebraska
Etrex on 02/16/2012 08:55:52 MST Print View

I have had the Vista HCX for about 5 years. I find it to be very accurate and durable. You can load TOPO maps on it and it will also tell you your elevation once you have it calibrated. The battery life is also very good. (you can use lithium batteries in it al well normal alkalines) I can get a position lock while in my house, so I don't think there should be a problem out on a trail unless you are in a deep slot canyon.

I have no complaints so far, and don't have a need for anything more.

John Myers
(dallas) - F - MLife

Locale: North Texas
Re: Garmin Etrex Vista HCx on 02/16/2012 09:00:20 MST Print View


One of my favorite features is that one that allows you to download and print your trip map and elevation profile.

Decent screen, easy to use and reasonably light.

Brad Walker

Locale: SoCal
Vista HCx on 02/16/2012 09:59:57 MST Print View

Pretty simply, it's a fully featured GPS without a fancier LCD screen. The Alti/Baro/Compass works nicely, but I don't know if they were worth spending extra on.

I'm not sure if the newer etrex have a better chip/antenna, but I haven't had any issues with the vista hcx (except in slot canyons).

I imagine you can get a good deal on them now since the new etrex line is out?

If you get a Garmin be sure to check out for free maps.

I definitely use mine, but always wonder if I just should've gotten a Foretrex or similar that's smaller/lighter. I rarely take advantage of the mapping capabilities, mainly using it for logging, altitude, and pacing.

Rob E

Locale: Canada
Awesome unit on 02/16/2012 10:24:36 MST Print View

Waterproof, barometric pressure sensor, high-sensitivity GPS antenna, WAAS enabled, long fairly battery life, rugged. I love it.

The screen is a little small. Scrolling maps with a lot of features can be a little slow, but all-in-all, great unit.

Edited by eatSleepFish on 02/16/2012 10:28:30 MST.

drowning in spam
(leaftye) - F

Locale: SoCal
Re: Garmin Etrex Vista HCx on 02/16/2012 10:27:14 MST Print View

I have an Oregon. I wish I had the buttons of the eTrex.

Mike W
(skopeo) - F

Locale: British Columbia
Don't bother... on 02/16/2012 11:14:24 MST Print View

I own the Etrex Vista Hcx and while it's good, it's old technology.

I have had the Etrex20 for a few months and have tested it side by side with the Vista and can honestly say that for the price difference, get the new Etrex. You'll be wasting your money if you buy the old Vista. There are so many new features on the new Etrex, it's actually amazing they can sell it for so cheap.

Improved features on the Etrex20 are:

- smaller form factor (and lighter - 4.5 oz with 2AA lithium)
- More accurate track logs
- nicer interface
- bigger screen (not much bigger but a tiny bit)
- supports custom maps - this is very cool as you can georeference jpg images (ie. I can convert a pdf park map with trails and local detail, into a jpg and load it onto my gps unit and use the trails on the jpg directly on my screen!)
- supports Garmin's Birdseye imagery - this is the best part, great imagery with my topo maps, tracks and waypoints overlayed on top of the imagery... doesn't get any better than that!
- Fully integrated paperless geocaching if you are into geocaching
- Increased track and waypoint storage.
- 1.7 Gb of built in memory and you can add a media card as well although the 1.7 GB goes a very long way.

Edited by skopeo on 02/16/2012 18:16:56 MST.

Ryan Linn

Locale: Maine!
Re: Don't bother... on 02/16/2012 12:11:06 MST Print View

Good to know, Mike. I've had a Vista HCx for a few years now, and am quite happy with how accurate it has been, but how much more accurate have you found the new eTrex to be?

And I'm a bit curious about the birdseye imagery... if you have that on the GPS, can you switch from topo to birdseye and back while in the field?

edit-- One other thing I noticed is that the eTrex 30, for an extra $100 only adds altimeter and compass. Geez... is it really worth $100 for just those two features?

Edited by ryan.c.linn on 02/16/2012 12:12:26 MST.

drowning in spam
(leaftye) - F

Locale: SoCal
Re: Re: Don't bother... on 02/16/2012 12:33:54 MST Print View

I never use the altimeter. That's what those topo lines are for. I do use the compass. I don't even bring a regular compass anymore, although I might if I hiked trails (or non-trails) that were harder to navigate than the PCT.

Paul Hope
(PaulHope) - F
Re: Re: Don't bother... on 02/16/2012 12:38:08 MST Print View

I own the Garmin Etrex Vista Hcx and highly recommend the unit-- it has everything that I was looking for:

-Mac compatible
-High sensitivity receiver
-Expandable memory
-Accepts lithium batteries
-Color Screen

If I was purchasing a new one today, then I would probably opt for the newer eTrex 30 however if you can find an Vista HCx for the a good price-- pick it up, you won't be disappointed.

If you do a lot of winter hiking, climbing etc then I would stay away from touch-screen devices, it will such having to take off your gloves and thus exposing your bare skin to the wind-chill each time you need to use your GPS. Also practice at home using the device with your gloves on-- pressing the buttons, switching screens, making waypoints etc that way when you are out in the field you will be able to use it with ease without shedding hand layers and sacrificing warmth.

Mike W
(skopeo) - F

Locale: British Columbia
Etrex 20 and Birdseye Imagery... on 02/16/2012 14:21:21 MST Print View

The accuracy of a GPS is always a bit subjective, so I'll explain what I meant by saying the Etrex 20 was more accurate than my Vista Hcx.

The track log that I record is what I use for defining accuracy. I did a series of tests (actually ran 4 different units) with the GPS's in various locations like facing skyward (best case scenario) or in my pocket or my pack. My Etrex Vista Hcx was very good but still occasionally produced "spikes" which are caused by poor reception or poor coordinate interpolation. This was seen on my Vista a few times in my side by side comparisons but never happened on the Etrex20. To date I have never seen anything but a perfect track from the Etrex 20. Whether this means the receiver is better or that it just has better software that hides the spikes is unknown, however it makes me happier.

The biggest difference is in the quality of the track that is recorded. The Etrex 20 does a far better job at putting down more points to deliniate a curve than the Vista. The Etrex 20 is very similar in track quality to my old Garmin 60Csx which had a high quality Sirfstar receiver in it (I still consider that the best receiver I have used).

The Birdseye imagery is an image that is displayed as a back drop to the vector mapping (ie. Topo Canada, City Navigator etc.). You see the imagery in the background and the topo lines, roads, POI's and other features are drawn on top of the base imagery (which is awesome)! You can turn "layers" on and off in the map setup, so I can shut off the imagery or the topo or leave them both on and let them overlay. Garmin did a crappy job at allowing you to upload the various map products separately but that's for another forum discussion. As long as it can be done I'm happy (thanks Google for that one). I suspect they may fix this in a future software upgrade.

With Birdseye you have the ability to download blocks of imagery but are restricted by the block size. You can however, stack a pile of blocks for download to get what you need. I actually find the download pretty straight forward but is time consuming if you want to download a very large area. I'm starting to like their new Basecamp mapping software (hated it originally) but it supports 3D topo and I can drape the imagery over my 3D topo to get a Google Earth type view of the terrain and my tracks etc.

The Etrex 30 has the altimeter and electronic compass just like my Vista Hcx but since I never used either of those features on the Vista, I save $100 by purchasing the Etrex 20.

The Etrex 20 holds 2000 waypoints (Vista holds 1000) and it stores 200 saved tracks while the Vista only saves 20 tracks. This was a big plus for me (I like tracks!)

Edited by skopeo on 02/16/2012 14:23:46 MST.

Bob Gross
(--B.G.--) - F

Locale: Silicon Valley
Re: Etrex 20 and Birdseye Imagery... on 02/16/2012 15:46:35 MST Print View

Don't confuse GPS accuracy with tracklog smoothness.

For example, if you are standing at the point of 50 degrees 0 minutes north, 120 degrees 0 minutes west, and if your GPS receiver reports 50 0 0 N 120 0 0 W, then that is real accuracy.

Tracklog smoothness is rather different. All GPS receivers use Kalman filtering to smooth the result display, or to get it to throw out the spikes, so to speak. Different receivers use different factors in their Kalman filtering somewhat depending on the purpose of the receiver. For instance, the GPS receiver in a jet fighter is going to have different filtering from the receiver in a hiker's handheld unit. Besides, if you walk a specific route five times, and if all five tracklogs line up perfectly together, that doesn't mean accuracy. It might mean that all five tracklogs had the same error.

Too many times, the error, or lack of accuracy, is really the fault of the underlying map database or the datum of it.


Mike W
(skopeo) - F

Locale: British Columbia
Accuracy ... on 02/16/2012 16:38:11 MST Print View

I agree Bob, that's why I said it "makes me happier" when I don't see the spikes, not that it's more accurate.

But if I walk around a sharp curve on the trail and the Gps shows it as a straight line that cuts off the bend then I consider that an inaccurate representation of the trail. My Vista HCx does a poorer job of this than the new Etrex 20, which fills in the gaps a bit better. That's likely all in the software however when I compare the results to a good base map, the track from the Etrex 20 more closely represents the trail.

Bob Gross
(--B.G.--) - F

Locale: Silicon Valley
Re: Accuracy ... on 02/16/2012 16:52:13 MST Print View

"But if I walk around a sharp curve on the trail and the Gps shows it as a straight line that cuts off the bend then I consider that an inaccurate representation of the trail."

Yes, each design of GPS receiver uses different software, so each has a slightly different sampling interval. So, some are better for the jet fighter going straight at Mach 3, and others are better for the hiker going around zigzags in a trail. Further, the same unit may get different results from one day to the next day, and some of that comes from the specific satellites that are in view.

I think it would be great if the receiver allowed the user to input some parameters that would help the receiver software select an optimum sampling interval.

Generally, one thing that will get you improved accuracy is a high-powered local oscillator (clock) in your receiver. Unfortunately, those burn extra battery power, so you find them more in the jet fighter and not in some thing in the palm of the hiker's hand. Geophysicists mapping earthquake faults often get the goosed-up oscillator, and they also use a choke-ring antenna to exclude multipath interference for improved results.


Mike W
(skopeo) - F

Locale: British Columbia
Picture of draped imagery... on 02/16/2012 18:34:19 MST Print View

Ryan -

I'm home now so I thought I'd throw up a picture of the Birdseye imagery with the topo mapping detail displayed on top of it. The Topo mapping is 3D capable and I was surprised to see that the imagery drapes over top of the 3D topo. While it looks like Google Earth, it's not. It's Garmin's Basecamp application and I find it way easier to use than Google Earth and my tracks, waypoints, geocaches and topo detail are all automatically supported.

While the Etrex 20-30 series doesn't support this 3D imagery, some of Garmin's other (higher end) GPS's will support the 3D mapping. I don't like touch screen because I use this all rear round and am often wearing gloves so the Etrex was a better choice for me (and better on batteries than the touch screen models).


Edited by skopeo on 02/16/2012 18:35:36 MST.

Ryan Linn

Locale: Maine!
Re: Picture of draped imagery... on 02/16/2012 19:09:19 MST Print View

Interesting. That does look mighty nice. I quite like Basecamp, although it seems to be a resource hog on my computer. How close can you zoom in with that birdseye imagery and still have decent image resolution?

I have yet to pay for any of Garmin's maps for Basecamp or the eTrex. I've been using free maps from instead, which seems pretty great so far. I may have to look into the birdseye images sometime, though.

Eddy Walker

Locale: southeast
Re: Garmin Etrex Vista HCx on 02/17/2012 07:55:55 MST Print View

lots of info here for someone with no experience with one.

Thanks to all that have replied. Looks like this won't be an easy decision to make

Stuart R
(Scunnered) - F

Locale: Scotland
Re: Don't bother... on 02/17/2012 08:20:25 MST Print View

I think the new Etrex 10/20 series are basically same as the Dakota 10/20 series but with the joystick button instead of a touchscreen.
If you have used an Etrex before then you will probably want to stay with that interface, but if this is your first GPS then I would suggest that the touchscreen on the Dakota is much more intuitive to use. Some reviews question the visibility of the screen but I have no issue with this.

"I think it would be great if the receiver allowed the user to input some parameters that would help the receiver software select an optimum sampling interval."

The sampling/calculation period is fixed at 1 sec on this type of GPS, but you do have control of the recording frequency for the track log. On the Dakota you can select from a range of recording frequencies based on time, distance or change of direction (automatic).

Mike W
(skopeo) - F

Locale: British Columbia
Garmin Birdseye imagery on 02/17/2012 21:20:13 MST Print View

>> How close can you zoom in with that birdseye imagery and still have decent image resolution <<

That depends on a few factors. From what I've seen and read (reviews), the image quality varies considerably depending on the geographic area you choose. You can also choose to download images in three image qualities (Normal, High, and Highest).

I've been downloading Highest quality only and in most areas I've been looking at it's pretty darn good. I have read complaints from other Canadian users that live in more remote areas that say the quality is poor. Apparently, the coverage/quality in the U.S.A. is better.

I've found the quality excellent overall with some poor color matching and low quality imagery in a few areas where I travel but it's still far better than not having imagery.

I agree that the mapping is expensive but I like having decent quality mapping that has the least amount of fiddle-factor involved, so I just pay the price. I also like to have all the searchable POI's that come with the Garmin mapping as I've found that really helpful when travelling.

Here are a few images of the product (from a recent walk in one of our regional parks). The first picture is a screen capture of Birdseye on my GPS. The second picture is a screen shot of Birdseye in Basecamp on my computer. The GPS actually lets you zoom in farther than Basecamp, so I have matched the scale of the GPS to the best zoom level of Basecamp for these two photos.

Birdseye imagery on GPS screen

Birdseye in Basecamp

Edited by skopeo on 02/24/2012 16:24:18 MST.