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Which GPS?
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Nathan Dennis
Which GPS? on 08/01/2013 20:51:35 MDT Print View

Getting ready to purchase a GPS and I've been trying to do some research, but so many of the reviews and articles are outdated.

At this point I'm kind of leaning towards the Garmin 450T any advice or recommendations?

Thx in advance!

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

Locale: Silicon Valley
Re: Which GPS? on 08/01/2013 21:30:51 MDT Print View

Nathan, it depends on what your use will be. Or your budget.


Rodney Mruk

Locale: Northeast Oregon
Smart phone GPS on 08/01/2013 23:24:53 MDT Print View


My Samsung Galaxy S3 is GPS enabled. I use a program / app called ViewRanger. You can connect to their website at I have used this for several months now and I am quite impressed. If you already have a smart phone you might want to check it out. The battery on the smart phone won't last forever, of course. So I purchased three spares on line for $8 each. They weigh 1.5 ounces each. With the original batteries and the three spares I can go at least eight days and probably could extend it up to 10 or 12 days.

Just something to consider.

Good luck and hiking,

Mike W
(skopeo) - F

Locale: British Columbia
Which GPS? on 08/02/2013 01:25:42 MDT Print View

As Bob said, it depends what you will use it for.

I would recommend a Garmin if signal lock is important to you. The touch screen series like the 450T are not the best backpacking GPS's IMO because they are touch screen and are quite heavy. A touch screen is not great in cold temps and they burn up batteries more quickly than the button driven units.

I have an Etrex 20 and the battery life compared to the Oregon is rated at 9 hours longer per set of AA's. That's a lot of extra time per set of batteries. The Etrex 20 is also a couple of ounces lighter than the Oregon however, the screen is smaller on the Etrex.

If your primary use is geocaching or day hikes then the Oregon would be great.

If all you want is to know your coordinates, save your tracks and add/load some way points and if you are OK with just using hard copy maps, then get a Garmin Foretrex. The Foretrex holds a signal very well, has a very good battery life (uses 2 AAA), and weighs next to nothing. It doesn't have mapping but I always carry maps anyway so the Foretrex works well for me.

Klaus Andersen
Which GPS? on 08/02/2013 07:11:25 MDT Print View

Hallo Nathan

If you want the best from europe check this out:

I have been using there products for the last 4 years now and are were satisfied.
The best feature are that you can scan and geo-referance your own maps and get them on screen.

best regards

Edited by sualkan on 08/02/2013 07:50:17 MDT.

Nathan Dennis
For Hiking, Backpacking, and Geocaching on 08/02/2013 08:29:15 MDT Print View

Wow .. thanks for all the input .. I honestly don't know that much about the GPS units ..

I have an iPhone 5, but the lack of a removable battery and no additional way to charge it, would make me a bit apprehensive using it as my primary gps unit.

I wanted the GPS unit for hiking, extended backpacking trips, and some geocaching ...

We always take a map or guidebook when we go backpacking, but I wanted a GPS unit that would could load waypoints into and just to check from time to time to see where in location to the map we are ..

And of course to have in case we got lost or had to go off trail ..

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

Locale: Silicon Valley
Re: For Hiking, Backpacking, and Geocaching on 08/02/2013 13:28:11 MDT Print View

The more that you can outline your intentions for a GPS receiver, the better you will do in the selection process.

As others have stated, you do not necessarily want a touch-screen product, because they tend to use a lot more battery power. Battery power is a pretty big item for a backpacker, because spare batteries weigh a lot.

I've never carried spare batteries for my most current receivers (dedicated GPS receivers, not smart phones) because I know that they will run for a day of continuous use. I never run my GPS receivers continuously. I will turn one on at least once per day, or maybe several times if I think navigation is getting dicey. That works well with a large paper map. There is tremendous viewability of a large paper map as compared to the tiny screen on a GPS receiver.

Personally, I am not a big fan of barometric altimeters. Either you are trying to calibrate it off GPS, which has errors, or you are trying to calibrate GPS off the barometer, which has errors.

At present, Garmin is the market leader, at least for backpacker consumers. Virtually any Garmin product that has been introduced in the last five years is probably fairly good. However, again, you have to decide how you intend to use it. For example, if you intend to use it in your car, and then dismount and use it on the trail, that means something. Many GPS receivers will work fine on their internal antenna even if you put them in a car, but you may have to put it far forward on the dashboard for the antenna to get a good view of the sky. That location may not be good for your vision, so you may need to place it closer to the driver. Then when it gets that far underneath the metal roof, the antenna no longer has a good view of the sky. As a result, I like to use my receiver in my car, but I have an external antenna placed forward onto the dashboard. Besides, in a car, you are probably using the car's +12VDC power, so you have a power cord hooked in beside the antenna.

Typically with many modern GPS receivers, there is a base map that underlies the data screens. Do you want a base map of topography, or streets and roads? Hint: many backpacker-type GPS receivers come out of the box with a base map installed, but it is a wrong-scale map that really isn't much good for detailed navigation through the woods. All it really does is to inspire you to purchase some real base maps at the right scale. With other receivers, you buy a map database on a memory chip, and you load that. With others, you buy a map database on a DVD and load it by way of your computer and a cable. With some GPS smart phones, you are trying to connect to some map database service, so you end up waiting and waiting, or else you pay through the nose for cellular data minutes.

Most GPS receivers are made to be durable. They will withstand a lot of abuse unless you are a real klutz.

One model that is my favorite now is 16 years old, so it isn't complete junk.

Lots of GPS receivers sell for about $200-250 these days.


Kevin Burton
(burtonator) - F

Locale: norcal
Re: Smart phone GPS on 08/02/2013 14:10:34 MDT Print View

I have the Galaxy S3 and it rocks. I would recommend looking at the G4-mini or getting it directly from Google Play which will be a Galaxy G4 minus all the bloatware.

I would NOT use this if your *life* depended it on it though... only for casual GPS use.

The GPS antenna isn't super high quality and you're going to have signal issues from time to time.

The fact that you can swap out the battery and add more SD cards really makes it handy.

John Witt
(johnbrown2005) - F

Locale: Portland, OR
Which GPS on 08/02/2013 14:54:38 MDT Print View

Hopefull not a hijack, but will shed more light on OP's choices. Have also been looking for a GPS. In my case to use as a back up to my map and compass when travelling off trail and unsure of precise position.

Have used iPhone 4s with GAIA maps, which is pretty awesome. Downside is babying the battery, and just aesthetically, not wanting to bring the device that tethers me to my digital world when I'm backpacking (I know, I can turn it off, but still).

So, was looking at the eTrex series, and Foretrex. Other than compass/altimeter, is there anything better about the Foretrex 401 than the 301? Given my desire for a unit that will simply give me my coordinates, a difference in accuracy would be the main thing I'd care about.

Philip Tschersich
(Philip.AK) - MLife

Locale: Kodiak Alaska
Newer is better on 08/02/2013 15:04:35 MDT Print View

I had the Oregon 450t for a few years. It was pretty good, but the screen was nearly illegible in bright daylight and the touch screen was pathetic. It always misinterpreted your inputs and required a lot of pressure. I have a new Oregon 600t and it is lightyears better in terms of screen quality and touch interface. It's nearly as responsive as a high-end tablet or phone. The display is also VERY bright in direct sunlight. The GPS unit itself is quite similar in size, weight, and overall handling to the old ones. Battery life with disposable Li batteries is excellent. You can program one of the buttons to put the unit into an instant-hibernate and instant-wakeup state, which really saves battery power. It really is instant on and instant off with just the push (or double-push) of a button. Since putting some Li batteries in, I have about 10 days of pretty regular use on the unit doing two different 4-day trips, and loaning it to a friend for the weekend, and the battery level indicator still shows some remaining. Unless you are lost in the fog you won't be staring at the screen all day, so putting the GPS to sleep is very useful. Though it does not update your position while it is asleep, it reacquires in a couple of seconds unless you have moved many many miles between wake-ups.

Edited by Philip.AK on 08/02/2013 15:07:41 MDT.

Adam Rothermich
(aroth87) - F

Locale: Missouri Ozarks
Re: Which GPS on 08/02/2013 15:12:39 MDT Print View

I also have the eTrex 20 mentioned earlier. It works great for me under pretty heavy tree cover. I use mine mostly for logging the trip to look at and share later but will admit that having the map is a great feature. I almost went with the Foretrex and if I had I would probably have been happy with it, ignorance is bliss as they say. But now that I've gotten comfortable with the map I'm glad I paid the extra money for it. It did save my butt one time when I decided to bail on a hike and was able to follow a road back to civilization that was shown on the GPS but not my paper map.


peter vacco

Locale: no. california
Re: Which GPS on 08/02/2013 15:25:15 MDT Print View

John, the foretrex 301 works nicely. it is as accurate as the maps (see Bob's insight on such things). 301 battery life is in my op, excellent.
it is a bit odd the way the sunrise/sunset mode is located compared to how nice it was on older garmin's. i recall the entire unit with batts is about 3.2oz.
it does not turn itself on like other garmins and die in your pack, but it is a very happy to be lost color for something designed to be outside.

note : "lithium battery life". the discharge curve on these cuties is quite pronounced at the end of life. you have volts .. and volts .. and then a moment more voltage perhaps.. and then nada. so i would not trust the battery life indicator a great deal in that regard.

with std alkaline AA and AAA batteries, one can check not only volts, but amps. amps (electrical rate of flow. ie : gallons per minute) is probably a better indicator of battery state than voltage (which is elctrical pressure).
a good AA will make over 6 amps, which be a LOT. it's only for a moment, but you can see it on a meter.
now .. Lilion batts will just open if you short them with a meter. i think they have a resettable circuit breaker device insde of each one. is a safety issue, as if not protected apparently they can raise all hell.
so/thusly - it's darn hard to determine accurately the discarge/life state of a used lilion battery.

moral - use new lilion batts on any real trip. use up your old lilions in flashlights at work and non-critical deployments.


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

Locale: Silicon Valley
Re: Re: Which GPS on 08/02/2013 17:14:39 MDT Print View

"note : "lithium battery life". the discharge curve on these cuties is quite pronounced at the end of life. you have volts .. and volts .. and then a moment more voltage perhaps.. and then nada. so i would not trust the battery life indicator a great deal in that regard."

Some products are programmable for the type of battery used. In other words, you tell it what type of battery (e.g. alkaline) you have inserted, and it will show you the correct battery status for that type. Others simply have one battery status bar, and that is all.

The discharge curve for a lithium primary battery has a so-called "sharp knee." The really old batteries had a very soft knee. Once you play with these things for a while, you get a better instinct about what the battery is doing.

Using lithium primary batteries, although a little pricey, can be very important in some situations. Lithium primary batteries are good for extremely low temperatures. They are good for UL backpackers, since they weigh less. They are good if you leave the same batteries in the unit for a long time, since they have extremely good shelf life. They are also good if you are in a high power condition, like if you are using an external antenna (which requires more power) or if you have the screen lit up to maximum brightness a lot.

Lithiums in the GPS are also good when you forgot to bring your flashlight and you have to light up the GPS screen to the maximum, then turn it around toward the ground to use as a flashlight for a long time. Don't ask me how I know this.


Philip Tschersich
(Philip.AK) - MLife

Locale: Kodiak Alaska
Batteries on 08/02/2013 18:28:36 MDT Print View

I guess my point was not that I know exactly what the remaining battery level is (that's why I was vague and said "some") but rather that after 10 days of use, I still did not have to change the batteries. Try that with a smartphone!

And the Oregons do allow the user to specify alkaline, lithium, NiMH, or precharged NiMH.

A friend has one of the new eTrex models and I played with it a little. The scrolling and such using the rocker joystick was so irritating and archaic now that we have touch-enabled devices I could not bring myself to use it for long.

The ability to make KMZ layers in google earth and drop them in the custom maps folder on the unit is invaluable to me. I like to add satellite or aerial images to get me through the alder patches faster.

Anton Solovyev
(solovam) - F

Locale: Colorado, Utah
Re: Which GPS? on 08/02/2013 22:06:33 MDT Print View

I have been using eTrex series for... probably about 7-8 years (Legend, Vista HCx, 20).

Currently I have eTrex 20 and quite happy with it. Very good GPS reception, good battery life. I have not tried the "other" series of Garmins, Oregon and such. Early on, the reports were not great for these.

I am probably biased, but I would choose eTrex. They are small, light and ergonomics is good.

The factors that would make me consider a different GPS are: 1. much higher screen resolution 2. much better performance zooming and panning.

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

Locale: Silicon Valley
Re: Re: Which GPS? on 08/02/2013 22:33:21 MDT Print View

"They are small, light and ergonomics is good."

That varies from one user to the next. People with big hands and fingers complain if the buttons are too small. People with vision problems complain that some screens are too small, or the characters on the screens are too small. Of course, if the screen were double in size, then they would complain that it is too heavy.

A new purchaser probably needs to go to a retailer like REI so that they can pick up a demo unit to test the ergonomics for themselves. An even worse factor is the user interface and how easy or hard it is to learn.


batts on 08/02/2013 23:58:16 MDT Print View

I have carried a gps a time or two.

Batteries last forever if you only turn it on when you need to find your position.

If you are using it as a toy, to make tracks and record your hike, you will obviously need lots of batteries.

Im glad people do that. I download their tracks and waypoints, lay it over my basemap and have a trail to follow in my gps. But I still only turn mine on a few times per day for a few minutes. Batteries last indefinetly.

Mike W
(skopeo) - F

Locale: British Columbia
Which GPS? on 08/03/2013 01:28:39 MDT Print View

Here's a few things that might help the OP make his decision on which GPS to choose.

Go to and use the "compare" selections option to see the specs on the various GPS units. That will give you a really good idea of the differences in the units mentioned in this thread.

As mentioned by several of us in this thread, the OP needs to know how he plans to use a new GPS. If it's going to be turned on all the time to capture your track for future reference (I always do this), then battery life is a concern. If you only turn it on once or twice per day then battery life isn't an issue.

Touch screen vs button interface. The touch screen will burn up your batteries more quickly (don't believe me, just check the specs on Garmin's site). What I do like about touch screens is they have big screens. Still not big enough to navigate by (you will need a paper map) but better than my tiny little Etrex 20 screen. The touch screen Garmin's are bigger and heavier than my Etrex (about 2 oz heavier... hey, this is BPL!) but the feature sets are almost identical (oddly, the new Etrex series has quite a bit more built in memory than the Oregon touch screen series... not sure why but it's a good thing!)

One thing to consider is your ability and willingness to understand new technology. The new GPS units are doing so much more than the old units but the learning curve is getting steeper. I bought my Etrex 20 to replace my Etrex Hcx because it can handle custom maps. The basic performance of the older GPS is the same as the Etrex 20 but my old Etrex Hcx couldn't do paperless Geocaching (minor interest to me) and it couldn't load custom maps (great interest to me). With my Etrex 20 I can geo-register an image of a local parks trail map and use it as a basemap on my Etrex 20. This allows me to walk the trails of a local park and have the map on my GPS so that I can see exactly where I am on the local trail map (the position marker follows the local trails very nicely). This is really helpful when there is a rats nest of trails in an area. I mention this because if you are shy of technology, these options may be a waste of money and may even cause confusion.

The Garmin Foretrex units are a very basic GPS. None of the extra goodies that can create confusion. The Foretrex does a really good job of recording a track, marking a waypoint and displaying your current coordinates and logging trip data. You can upload and download waypoints and tracks to and from the Foretrex, so all of the basic requirements are met. It also works well for Geocaching but you can't do paperless geocaching (which once again, is a step higher in technologies and requires a bit more effort to figure out... maybe more than you want to know).

Lastly, I have an iPhone and have tried (and purchased) most of the GPS programs available for the iPhone. I've tried to like the programs, but I just don't like using the iPhone in the back country and I find that most of the programs make me wish I had my Garmin GPS with me! I also like to leave my GPS turned on all the time to record my track and the iPhone really comes up short in battery life if the GPS is left on all day.

Edited by skopeo on 08/03/2013 01:29:17 MDT.

Doug I.
(idester) - MLife

Locale: PNW
Re: Which GPS? on 10/03/2015 21:27:58 MDT Print View

Curious, two years later, what you're using now.

Mike W., Adam and Anton, still using the eTrex20?

Philip, still using the 600t?

If you've upgraded, to what? And is your upgrade better, IYO, to what you had?

Anyone else?

r m
(rm) - M
Re: Re: Which GPS? on 10/03/2015 23:30:04 MDT Print View

I looked around for a foretrex 401 replacement as I suspect gps units have gotten a bit better now (and probably electronic compass and altimeter chips too). But as I like having AAA batteries which match my headlamp, I haven't found anything worth upgrading to.

The trend these days seems to be rechargeable gps watches, screens are smaller, price much higher.