Handheld GPS?

Posted by: JohnE

Handheld GPS? - 07/16/09 04:01 PM

Ok, I'm looking for some recommendations here.

Specifically, I'm looking for a handheld GPS that I can use primarily when working out in the field as a Ham radio volunteer at trail runs etc.

Worst case scenario, need to call in an airlift or a SAR team and I need to be able to give them accurate coordinates and/or trail location and possibly help locate a safe landing zone.

Should I get something with topo map capability or will something else suffice?

I've looked at a couple of Garmin's, the Legend HCX, the Vista, etc.

They all seem to be very similiar in features, I think I need something with a relatively easy to use additional memory card feature so I can load a topo map.

I can't seem to find anything with the topo feature already installed, is that accurate or have just not searched enough?

I don't mind spending a bit of money but I don't have a limitless budget.

Any thoughts?
Posted by: Todd W

Re: Handheld GPS? - 07/16/09 04:03 PM

I would see if you can rent a bunch from REI at once and compare wink Pick the one that works the best and does what you want.


Posted by: cedfire

Re: Handheld GPS? - 07/16/09 04:19 PM

The Colorado and Oregon series have some that come pre-loaded with Garmin's topo maps, IIRC.

Personally I've used many GPS units in the eTrex line and the 60Cx model. The 60C(S)x series is great & tough, but a little bulky. I went ahead and changed to an eTrex Vista HCx for the space savings.

Garmin offers units pre-loaded with mapping software, or you can buy it on a memory chip, or else buy the CD/DVD and manually load the maps onto the GPS unit of your choice.

You definitely want one of the Garmin units with a "high sensitivity GPS chipset" so you can get a better satellite lock in iffy areas (forest, canyons, etc.).
Posted by: Tom_L

Re: Handheld GPS? - 07/16/09 04:37 PM

Quote:
They all seem to be very similiar in features, I think I need something with a relatively easy to use additional memory card feature so I can load a topo map.


If I understand correctly, you're looking for a unit with 2 memory card slots? Why would you need that? I own a Garmin Legend HCx and I've got currently 3 different maps loaded on my 4GB memory card. In any case, switching memory cards is really simple if there's absolutely no other way around it.
Posted by: philip

Re: Handheld GPS? - 07/16/09 04:54 PM

I think there are considerations on where you'll be. Do you need a topo map to give your GPS coordinates? I don't think you do. You don't need a map at all if the GPS displays them. If you want to locate a safe landing zone, and you're in a city, a topo map won't help. It would out in the wood, I guess, assuming you can read it. :-> Frankly, if the rescue team has your coordinates, I'd expect them to be better prepared to locate and land at a safe place.

I have a Colorado 300 which comes with no maps, and I've loaded it with free ones that I find on the Web or that others prepare. The 400t comes with a topo map, but I don't know if it's the right area for you, nor if the scale would be useful.

I live in an urban area with lots of trail runs, bike rides, etc. for fund-raisers, and my view is skewed by the nearness of roads to the trails. I've had a chopper called once for a volunteer evacuation, but it was to land on an intersection of two paved roads near the accident. Are you seriously out in the field with no roads? I also have a Nuvi with city maps on it, and that gets me through all my 'field' operations here in this area. (The colorado 300 is for Death Valley, Burning Man, and the like.)

My thinking is I'd ask other volunteers if they use a GPS and what; get several opinions. My other thought is, I'd ask the SAR guys what they'd recommend.
Posted by: JohnE

Re: Handheld GPS? - 07/16/09 04:56 PM

Hmmm...not sure how you got that idea but no, I don't need 2 card slots, I'm not even sure if I need 1.

That's what I'm tryin to figure out. It seems that Garmin offers either internal memory of 24 mbs or the option of using microSD cards to increase the map capacity.

For those who use a memory card GPS, any issues arising from the use of the cards?

Likewise, for those using only the internal memory, what kind of detail can you get on the maps and how hard is it to download new maps?

I've sorta narrowed down my choices to either the Vista HCx which uses cards and has a built in compass and altimeter for $235 or the Summit HC which uses internal memory and also has the compass/altimeter for $180.

I've also found a Legend C with internal memory and no compass for $130.

I don't think that the Legend has the newest satellite acquisition ability in it for that price.

Thanks for the help so far. Keep it coming!
Posted by: unimogbert

Re: Handheld GPS? - 07/16/09 05:36 PM

It appears that the SEARCH capability on ETS is broken as it won't find any threads using GPS as a search term. That's clearly wrong as GPS is a very popular topic.

Here's a recent thread I remember participating in:
http://forums.equipped.org/ubbthreads.php?ubb=showflat&Main=13419&Number=175428#Post175428

Posted by: Doug_Ritter

Re: Handheld GPS? - 07/16/09 05:54 PM

Originally Posted By: unimogbert
It appears that the SEARCH capability on ETS is broken as it won't find any threads using GPS as a search term. That's clearly wrong as GPS is a very popular topic.

Here's a recent thread I remember participating in:
http://forums.equipped.org/ubbthreads.php?ubb=showflat&Main=13419&Number=175428#Post175428



Forwarded to the guys who might be able to figure it out.
Posted by: Eugene

Re: Handheld GPS? - 07/16/09 06:36 PM

For the garmin legent/summit/vista get the H model, it has the newest extra sensitive chipset. 24M isn't a lot of memory for maps so I'd personally get one with the x. I have a Legend HCx and a 2G MicroSD card in it. I bought Garmin's City Navigator and was able to load the 48 states then all the topo maps east of the Mississippi with space for lots of log files left over. I set it to always log and store the logs on the card so I can have them default to .gpx files and not be limited, they truncate the logs on the internal memory to a certain number of points.
I load it up with a pair of Sanyo Eneloop AA's and have used it on and off for several days without needing to swap batteries.
Bought the bike mount most recently

Posted by: falcon5000

Re: Handheld GPS? - 07/16/09 06:36 PM

JohnE, I would recommend the new Garman Etrex HCX series, or the 60Cx model as well, the HCX has a awesome battery life and I have street,marine and topo maps loaded through a series of micro sd cards of most of the world. It's a small travel unit with common batteries (2 AA) and has been very dependable. I'm eager to see the new Garmin Dakota 20 coming out shortly to see how that fares.
Posted by: utspoolup

Re: Handheld GPS? - 07/16/09 06:50 PM

Also recommend the 60 or etrek, own 3 Garmins. Started with a legend "C" about 2-3 years ago. Got it thru work for $70 when they accidentally ordered the wrong thing for a contact. They sold them to employees at a hell of a price to recoup cost, 70 is high now but back then they were going for 230. Then got a Vista HCx, just picked up a 60CSx after wanting one for a while. Amazon had them for 259, now up to 286 which is still cheaper then anywhere else I have found. Gamin maps cost a bit and depending on the type of map they are HUGH (city navigator for example) average map size is @10M, so if you get a non "X" model handheld, and have say 24M memory, they you can load 2 maps..... I use 3rd party topo maps that cost nil, but I donate to the site for support. The maps are smaller, but you can encompass your entire AO for less memory, but you will lose the "where the hell is Walmart or McDonalds" feature, that city navigator has. But for the price ($0) why complain. I recommend what ever way you go with Garmin, get the high sensitivity receiver (has a H or S) in the model number, and get a color screen (has a C in the model number), nothing like going to a road only to find a dam stream. Get the X if you want big map programs.

Also FYI some GPS will shut off if the lithium battery voltage is over 1.5V. Yes they will last longer, but if you decide to carry lithiums, get a device that can draw them down a few minutes before going into the GPS.... I use a flashlight my daughter uses for camping, but if going this route, you MUST keep the batteries PAIRED UP. IE dont swap them around between different charges/ uses ect.
Posted by: Blast

Re: Handheld GPS? - 07/16/09 07:00 PM

Quote:
It appears that the SEARCH capability on ETS is broken as it won't find any threads using GPS as a search term. That's clearly wrong as GPS is a very popular topic.

Here's a recent thread I remember participating in:
http://forums.equipped.org/ubbthreads.php?ubb=showflat&Main=13419&Number=175428#Post175428

If I remember correctly, your search word needs at least four letters otherwise it won't function.

-Blast
Posted by: SARbound

Re: Handheld GPS? - 07/16/09 07:26 PM

I've been in Search and rescue for several years, and I recommend the Garmin Legend HCX. I use a 2 GB microSD card in it, I have City Navigator NT 2010 on the card along with topo maps.

Flawless!
Posted by: KenK

Re: Handheld GPS? - 07/16/09 07:36 PM

I've always owned and had great success with Garmin GPS's. My Garmin GPSMAP 60CSx has been rock solid and a great performer. From reading the GPS gear geocaching forum, the "preferred" most reliable GPS seems to be the 60CSx (I didn't know that before I got my - just lucky I guess).

Some people have reports some problems with Etrex and state-named models, but most are only minor. The Delorme GPS units are getting more and more good comments too. I've heard mixed stories about Lowrance and Magellan units, but zero personal experience with them.

What ever you get, PLEASE make sure it has one of the new high sensitivity chips. They make a WORLD of difference. I myself wouldn't accept any other kind of GPS.

Also, not sure what kind of coordinates SAR teams use, but if using a GPS you might do well to learn about UTM coordinate. Here is a good place to learn:

http://www.maptools.com

Also, ALWAYS make sure that the GPS datum matches that of any paper maps you're using.

Ken
Posted by: unimogbert

Re: Handheld GPS? - 07/16/09 07:38 PM

Originally Posted By: Blast

If I remember correctly, your search word needs at least four letters otherwise it won't function.

-Blast


Quite correct. GPS* as search string found lots of stuff.

Maybe a suggestion or reminder of 4 characters should be returned on the "no results" page? (I tend to think that no results = no results. But I'm not really a fan of software)

Anyway, GPS* search away guys!
Posted by: Tarzan

Re: Handheld GPS? - 07/16/09 07:50 PM

I vote for the 60CSx as well. My only complaint is you need to make sure you bring spare batteries if you are out for a long period. And it is somewhat waterproof. A big plus where I live
Posted by: GoatRider

Re: Handheld GPS? - 07/16/09 11:23 PM

I've had quite a few Garmins, including a Vista, Vista HCx, and now recently the Oregon 400t. Each was leaps and bounds above the previous, and I can strongly recommend the 400t. It comes preloaded with topo maps, and has enough memory to also load street maps. It will do road routing on the street maps.
Posted by: Alan_Romania

Re: Handheld GPS? - 07/17/09 12:37 AM

Whatever you purchase, purchase a Garmin. Figure out what features you will use and go from there.

That being said, you can't go wrong with a Garmin GPSMAP 60CSx. I have been using one literally from the first day they were available for everything from SAR & Wildland firefighting to highway travel and it has worked better then any other handheld GPS I have used before or since. The unit gets exceptional reception and is easy to use.

I do have the TOPO software in my GPS, but in reality I find that I typically just end up using it with a paper map for most land navigation. The new Garmin TOPO software on a 60CSx (and many of the eTrex "x" series) is routable, making it useful for over the road navigation.

You can find packages that have TOPO included with just about any Garmin GPS that takes maps, however the only Garmin GPS handheld units that come pre-installed with map software are the newer Colorado and Oregon (specifically the units whose model name ends in a "t" like Oregon 400t), although I haven't been as impressed with the cost vs. usability of these new units (except the Dakota series). The Oregon series are significantly better then the eTrex series, but imho not worth upgrading to if you already have a 60CSx (unless you will be using it more in a vehicle than on foot).
Posted by: JohnE

Re: Handheld GPS? - 07/17/09 03:26 AM

Thanks everyone for all of the insights. I've owned a couple of Garmin auto GPS units and I have an old broken Etrex, which is what I'm replacing with whichever new one I end up with.

I really appreciate the comments.


Posted by: Grahund

Re: Handheld GPS? - 07/18/09 02:04 AM

The folks in our wilderness SAR group use the Garmin 60CSx almost exclusively. A couple of team members have purchased Colorados and Oregons and returned them. (Yeah, REI!) The physical buttons make the 60CSx easier to use without looking. Also the 60CSx screen is more readable in a wider range of conditions.

When the 60CSx first came out it beat all other units hands down. It locked onto satellites faster and held lock better than any other unit. The difference was huge. At the time Garmin advertised that this was due to the SiRF Star III chip. It was unique in the industry and a huge leap forward. Now several other manufacturers make equivalent "massively parallel correlators." Garmin doesn't advertise the SiRF Star III any more and the rumor is that they don't use it exclusively in the 60CSx. We've seen no difference between early and late production units, so it doesn't matter. What does matter is that whatever unit you buy has a "massively parallel correlator", whatever that is. I don't know what the words mean in terms of technology, but it makes a huge difference in the ability of the GPS to figure out where you are.

By the way, for those of you who need California topos on your Garmin, check this link. A woman in our SAR group created these from USGS data.

http://www.vr6.com/gps/map-dl.htm
Posted by: Tom_L

Re: Handheld GPS? - 07/18/09 10:23 AM

Quote:
Hmmm...not sure how you got that idea but no, I don't need 2 card slots, I'm not even sure if I need 1.

That's what I'm tryin to figure out. It seems that Garmin offers either internal memory of 24 mbs or the option of using microSD cards to increase the map capacity.


Oh ok, I'm sorry - looks like I misread your post. Anyway, based on your clarification and all the other feedback I'd add yet another recommendation for the eTrex HCx series. Hi-sensitivity chipset, excellent battery life, robust, compact and not expensive.
Posted by: JohnE

Re: Handheld GPS? - 07/18/09 03:34 PM

No worries, I've pretty much decided that the Vista HCx is the one I want. I like the idea of having the compass and an altimeter built in and I've been convinced that the card memory system is the better idea.

I've found them priced at $235 from TVNav, a company I've dealt with in the past with no issues. REI has them for $250 but even with my rebate I'd be paying more because of the state sales tax. Although the more I think about it, it's pretty much a wash between paying for shipping and paying the tax so I might head over to REI today and see if they have one in stock.

Thanks again everyone for the advice. Sometimes I just need a good strong push to get me going to where I know I need to go anyway.


Posted by: JohnE

Re: Handheld GPS? - 07/18/09 04:39 PM

Thanks Izzy, I just ordered one from GPS City. Best price I've found so far, I even went for the slightly faster shipping.

I really like buying stuff from REI and getting that nice rebate check at the end of the year but sometimes you gotta go with the discounters. Saving about $40 after the rebate is accounted for, too good of a deal to pass up. I can use that cash to buy a decent sized memory card.


Posted by: Brangdon

Re: Handheld GPS? - 07/19/09 11:27 AM

Originally Posted By: JohnE
For those who use a memory card GPS, any issues arising from the use of the cards?
Nope. The card in mine works perfectly.
Posted by: Eugene

Re: Handheld GPS? - 07/20/09 12:59 AM

The only issue with cards is if you buy the preloaded card from Garmin you then can't see those maps on your computer, they are limited to that card only. If you buy the maps on DVD they copy to the card and you can mix and match. They are also licensed per device so you can have the maps on more than one one PC.
Posted by: falcon5000

Re: Handheld GPS? - 07/20/09 12:21 PM

Originally Posted By: JohnE
For those who use a memory card GPS, any issues arising from the use of the cards?

My only complaint about the micro SD cards on the Garmin HCX Vista is that it only allows you to hold 2 gig of data or 2011 maps whichever comes first. I wish I could put a 16 gig card in and be done with it, so unfortunately I have to carry a small container with it for my maps. It is unique to me and may not apply to you but the maps I carry have topos,road and marine maps of most of the world and are quite a few micro SD cards. I wish Garmin would lift the restrictions of map sizes on the newer GPS. My goal is to have a AA powered GPS with maps of the entire world for my traveling. I'm slowly getting there....

Note: I have yet to find a better GPS for my needs than the Garmin Vista HCX but I'm always looking.

Advantages:
1. Small (pocket size)
2. 2-AA batteries (universal batteries with a long long run time)
3. Will give routing directions in street mode
4. waterproof
5. Can load topos,road and marine maps for many scenarios
6. Can run 100% (with no batteries in the unit) off a 40 watt portable solar cell
7. Highly sensitive GPS chipset that can be used under heavy canopy
8. In the event of a military satellite failure the maps are still usable like paper maps are and with solar capability a loss of the electrical grid system isn't an issue for recharging batteries or what have you.
9. Durable and reliable
Posted by: Russ

Re: Handheld GPS? - 07/20/09 12:30 PM

When traveling I usually have my laptop and can change the maps in the Garmin's memory as required.
Posted by: falcon5000

Re: Handheld GPS? - 07/20/09 12:36 PM

The problem I have with that is some countries I travel to a laptop would get stolen or no power for them without solar charging. Don't get me wrong I do use my laptop when I can with the Delorme GPS and software but when traveling out of country or off the beating road I use the Garmin and also as a back up to the laptop in the states. Plus my laptop isn't water proof or that durable.
Posted by: JohnE

Re: Handheld GPS? - 07/20/09 03:34 PM

Now we can start talking about a solid state HD netbook computer to go with the new GPS unit...!! It never ends.

What's that saying about boys and their toys...?


Posted by: Eugene

Re: Handheld GPS? - 07/20/09 09:38 PM

Originally Posted By: falcon5000
Originally Posted By: JohnE
For those who use a memory card GPS, any issues arising from the use of the cards?

My only complaint about the micro SD cards on the Garmin HCX Vista is that it only allows you to hold 2 gig of data or 2011 maps whichever comes first. I wish I could put a 16 gig card in and be done with it, so unfortunately I have to carry a small container with it for my maps. It is unique to me and may not apply to you but the maps I carry have topos,road and marine maps of most of the world and are quite a few micro SD cards. I wish Garmin would lift the restrictions of map sizes on the newer GPS. My goal is to have a AA powered GPS with maps of the entire world for my traveling. I'm slowly getting there....

Note: I have yet to find a better GPS for my needs than the Garmin Vista HCX but I'm always looking.

Advantages:
1. Small (pocket size)
2. 2-AA batteries (universal batteries with a long long run time)
3. Will give routing directions in street mode
4. waterproof
5. Can load topos,road and marine maps for many scenarios
6. Can run 100% (with no batteries in the unit) off a 40 watt portable solar cell
7. Highly sensitive GPS chipset that can be used under heavy canopy
8. In the event of a military satellite failure the maps are still usable like paper maps are and with solar capability a loss of the electrical grid system isn't an issue for recharging batteries or what have you.
9. Durable and reliable


I've been watching reviews on this, it may overcome the one or two etrex limitations.
https://buy.garmin.com/shop/shop.do?cID=145&pID=11019#specsTab
I fit just under 2011 maps on a 2G card, I did the lower 48 us states from city navigator then all the topo east of the mississippi. I figured if I needed a few more I could drop the CN west of the mississippi then do another card with CN and topo west of the mississippi and swap cards there.
I'm thinking having more than 2000 maps on a card would get unmanageable anyway, scrolling through the menu now to enable or disable one is a pain since there are so many.
Posted by: JohnE

Re: Handheld GPS? - 07/23/09 02:03 AM

Well good news and bad, my new GPS arrived today, very nice, it works right out of the box. Bad news, I ordered a Legend HCx when what I wanted was the Vista HCx.

Virtually identical except the Vista has an electronic compass and an altimeter built in. I should have realised when I saw the price that I'd made a mistake but apparently being able to read very, very fast, which I can do doesn't mean that I can always read and comprehend well..;^)

Thought I was getting a great price, ended up with just a very good one.

Ah well, I've since read that the compass and altimeter isn't that valuable and given that I always have one with me in the field anyway, I'll suck it up and keep what I ordered. I don't want to pay to have this one returned and the right one shipped out.

On another positive note, I can recommend the GPS store as a vendor, their prices are very good, fast and efficient service too. Thanks to Izzy for the referral.

Off to the store, hope I don't end up with something I don't want in my cart...;^)



Posted by: Eugene

Re: Handheld GPS? - 07/23/09 10:27 AM

When I bought mine the vista was $100 more, I didn't think that was worth it for the real altimiter and compass, the simulated via location and movement was good enough.
Only feature I wished I had on it was a thermometer, would be nice to see if the temp drops and how far as you get to the top of a mountain.
Posted by: KenK

Re: Handheld GPS? - 07/23/09 11:17 AM

The altimeter's value may depend on where you live. Here in the flatlands of the midwest mine gets ZERO use. When visiting Yellowstone & the Tetons I found it fun to watch as I was traveling.

The compass' advantage is that I can stand still and the point will continue to point in the proper direction ... but for the most part I'll only trust it if I've calibrated the compass quite recently.

I've tried to convince myself that a GPS without an electronic compass isn't as accurate when trying to find a waypoint, but with the compass turned off the GPS is still amazingly capable of pointing to the waypoint so long as I am moving even at a slow rate.

Don't sweat your mistake too much. You've got a GREAT GPS. Enjoy it.
Posted by: Tom_L

Re: Handheld GPS? - 07/23/09 11:45 AM

The way I look at it, not having an electronic compass and altimeter makes no difference in the field whatsoever. You should be carrying a decent compass for backup anyway and electronic compasses just don't work very well. The altimeter might be more useful but providing you have a proper topo map uploaded on the memory card you'll be able to take pretty accurate altitude readings based on your position. Probably more accurate than the built-in altimeter in the Vista could provide.

The Legend HCx is just a great unit. Not having the unnecessary bells and whistles is no setback in itself, it only means the battery life will be that much better. smile
Posted by: GoatRider

Re: Handheld GPS? - 07/24/09 05:51 PM

Originally Posted By: KenK
The altimeter's value may depend on where you live. Here in the flatlands of the midwest mine gets ZERO use.

You can also use it as a barometer if you already know your altitude. I used my Vista that way once on a camping trip when I had no other weather forecasting information.
Posted by: Brangdon

Re: Handheld GPS? - 07/25/09 10:46 AM

Originally Posted By: KenK
The altimeter's value may depend on where you live. Here in the flatlands of the midwest mine gets ZERO use. When visiting Yellowstone & the Tetons I found it fun to watch as I was traveling.
Doesn't the unit show you altitude derived from the GPS signal? I have a GPSMap60Cx, without the compass and air-pressure altimeter, and it does show GPS altitude.

My understanding is that the air-pressure sensor makes it more accurate. GPS height errors are roughly twice horizontal errors, mainly because the geometry is always adverse - the satellites are always above you. If you are just looking at it for fun, it probably doesn't matter.

I'm not sure how much more accuracy air-pressure gives you. Aircraft use them, but I believe they get their accuracy partly through having a reference sensor at the airport which can adjust for local weather conditions. I have an altimeter in my watch, and it won't even display to better than 5m (15ft). Admittedly an airplane would have more sensitive sensors than my watch, but I don't know how much better the sensor in a domestic hand-held GPS unit would be.

The bottom line is that I got the 60Cx because it was cheaper than the 60Csx and I didn't think the extra sensors added much value.

Other than fun, why do you even need altitude? I gather it can help find your location on a map, if the map has contour lines. With a GPS you shouldn't need that anyway.