GPS help!

Posted by: Phaedrus

GPS help! - 04/30/20 02:35 AM

Okay folks, I'd like to pick your brains a bit on GPS. I'm really wanting to buy a new one (I've had GPS before but back in the Magellan days 15-20 years ago). They are a lot smaller and power powerful now! I'm struggling a bit with which one to buy; obviously as one spends more money there are more bells and whistles but those features may not really help me.

What I want for sure:


The unit needs to display current location in UTM coordinates and should support the common ones. Primarily I want a GPS to use with maps.
Decent battery life and support for AA or AAA batteries- I really don't want a rechargeable internal cell if at all possible.
Durable- I'm not going to throw it off of a mountain but it should survive a bumps and stuff.
IPX-4 water resist at a minimum. Not gonna take it swimming but it does rain.
GPS & Glonass constellations supported
"Affordable"...yeah, that's kind of subjective I realize and depends on what options I settle on.


What I would maybe like:

Interfacing with Android via Bluetooth would be nice but not required.
Touchscreen? Maybe nice most of the time but sometimes a minus.
Ability to download topo maps, especially open source. I will take a paper map but having onboard maps would be a plus.
Support for Galileo constellation would be a bonus.
Considering if I want/need something like the satellite link of a Inreach Mini; almost as good as a PLB and two-way.
Simple- I'm not a complete dummy but learning to use it shouldn't be rocket surgery.


Models I'm looking at with some of the obvious pros and cons:

Garmin eTrex 10: Super cheap, decent reviews, takes AA batteries. But no downloadable maps and very spartan, minimal capabilities beyond coordinates and track-back.

Garmin eTrex 30X: A bit more feature laden than the 10, still AA batteries. But not sure how decent the mapping is, limited memory, still not a touchscreen.

Garmin Foretrex 601: Very robust (milspec), waterproof, ruggedized. Has an altimeter and compass. Minimal mapping but a very accurate and sturdy unit, can be worn on wrist.

Garmin Montana/Oregon: Full featured, touchscreen, does about anything you could ask of GPS. But expensive.

Garmin Inreach Mini:
Two way text link to Irridium constellation. Robust link to Android phone. Compact. But starting to get to be some real money; some features require subscription for more $$$.

Am I missing anything obvious? What has worked for you folks? Who relies on GPS alone? Who is using theirs in conjunction with paper topo maps?

Should I spend $85 on an eTrex 10 to play with it? Or just blow my wad on a full featured unit out of the gate?

Thanks for helping me spend my money.
Posted by: M_a_x

Re: GPS help! - 04/30/20 05:14 AM

I use a Garmin GPSMAP. It uses AA cells and works fine with rechargeables (I use Eneloops). It does not have a touch screen but it can be used with gloves. Summer and 3 season gloves for motorcycling work fine. Winter gloves are bit too thick.
I also have an ETREX Venture as it is less bulky which is a plus in some situations.
I do not rely on GPS alone. Laminated paper maps and compass are the primary mode.
Posted by: Phaedrus

Re: GPS help! - 04/30/20 06:49 AM

My plan is to use it in conjunction with paper maps. Even if I get a unit with good onboard topo maps I will want to have a hard copy! My land nav skills are fairly basic; I can shoot an azimuth and triangulate my location with a topo map if there are good landmarks. Hopefully a GPS will be another data point to keep me out of trouble. The Garmin GPSMAP is towards the top end of what I want to pay but at $200 it's not bad. I'm also considering the eTrex 30X as it's about $140 new and $100 factory refurbished.
Posted by: chaosmagnet

Re: GPS help! - 04/30/20 11:40 AM

Buy once, cry once.

Also, I donít have one, but I understand that the InReach Mini doesnít show mapping unless your paired device is part of the equation. In your shoes Iíd probably want something that didnít require my phone for full functionality, unless you are prioritizing communications over navigation.
Posted by: hikermor

Re: GPS help! - 04/30/20 01:29 PM

I really don't have much to add about the specific GPS unit that will work for you, but I am becoming a fan of rechargeable power supplies. For my next GPS unit, I will prefer a rechargeable.

Right now, I will go out with a phone and any of various lights, the best of which can be replenished from a power bank which is also a backup flashlight or lantern. For extended trips away from vehicles or other sources of electricity, I can add a solar panel and keep myself juiced up indefinitely.

There is at least one headlamp which can accept AA or lithium-ion 14500 batteries. There is at least one 14500 battery with a recharging port built in, so it can refreshed from a power bank.

So many choices....Much depends on the duration of an excursion. The setup that is fine for a two day trip might not be best for a week or more...
Posted by: KenK

Re: GPS help! - 04/30/20 02:46 PM

I currently have the older Garmin GPSMAP 60csx, which apparently turned into one of the more liked models. Even years later it is very well thought of. Mine is still going very strong. I keep thinking I should get a new unit with a bigger screen, but honestly, the screens now are not that much bigger - aside from the car units.

I honestly don't know the current models well, but here are my thoughts:

I'd stick with Garmin - just me. Their handheld units are water resistant and pretty durable. They all will handle multiple coordinate types the higher end units also conntect to the newer satellite systems.

I'd stick with replaceable batteries. You can use your own rechargeables - which is what I do now.

I'd want one with an electronic compass. This allows the unit to point to north when you stop moving. A bit deal to me.

The altimeter isn't useful in the flat flat flat midwest, but on the two sides of the U.S. it would be useful.

I tend to lean toward a model with buttons so I could use it with gloves on - in winter. BUT, that will make the case larger.

Looking at Garmin's website ... if I bought again right now, I'd get the Garmin GPSMAP 64csx. There is also a newer GPSMAP 66i, but I don't think I'd need the inReach two-way texting feature that requires a subscription, but then again, it might be useful. OK, I'd probably buy the 66i assuming it would last 10+ years.

I tend to buy for the very long term, so the difference between $300 and $400 is negligible.
Posted by: Russ

Re: GPS help! - 04/30/20 05:41 PM

I have a Garmin Oregon 600 which has everything I need. I have a few other GPS receivers, but the Oregon gets a satellite lock and establishes a location from a cold start faster than my other units. It uses the Eneloop batteries I prefer and also has an easier user interface imo.

If you donít need maps, the Garmin Foretrex 601 is great.

I agree with comments above regarding the Garmin GPSMAP 60CSx, that was my go-to GPS until I got the Oregon.
Posted by: Phaedrus

Re: GPS help! - 04/30/20 06:41 PM

Thanks, everyone! Lots to ponder. grin
Posted by: gulliamo

Re: GPS help! - 04/30/20 08:14 PM

Why not get a decent smart phone + app?

I use a Samsung Galaxy S10 and Backcountry Navigator Pro. It works 10x better than any dedicated device I've ever used.

(I also have a SPOT I activate very occasionally when I go waaayyy off grid for a really long time.)
Posted by: hikermor

Re: GPS help! - 04/30/20 08:25 PM

Staunch traditionalist speaking up. GPS devices definitely have their place, and they are very helpful, f not essential, but the good old USGS 1:24,000 quad maps should be available for any serious enterprise - the paper versions, that is. Best if they are waterproofed and full size. That way you can slice off the blank margins for use as fire starter. Try that with your InReach!

You don't want to know how I learned this......
Posted by: Phaedrus

Re: GPS help! - 04/30/20 09:08 PM

Originally Posted By: gulliamo
Why not get a decent smart phone + app?

I use a Samsung Galaxy S10 and Backcountry Navigator Pro. It works 10x better than any dedicated device I've ever used.

(I also have a SPOT I activate very occasionally when I go waaayyy off grid for a really long time.)



I have a phone with Gaia installed although I haven't messed with the software much. My main issue is that my Android has a sealed battery; the phone is fairly new so the life is pretty good but it's not uncommon for an app running in the background to deplete the battery in short order. The beauty of the GPS is that it uses AA or AAA that I can easily replace in the field. So if you rely on a phone when the phone battery dies you've lost everything- comms and nav.





Originally Posted By: hikermor
Staunch traditionalist speaking up. GPS devices definitely have their place, and they are very helpful, f not essential, but the good old USGS 1:24,000 quad maps should be available for any serious enterprise - the paper versions, that is. Best if they are waterproofed and full size. That way you can slice off the blank margins for use as fire starter. Try that with your InReach!

You don't want to know how I learned this......


Yeah, I have paper maps and a compass. Just looking for a bit more capability and some redundancy/backup.
Posted by: teacher

Re: GPS help! - 04/30/20 10:35 PM

I'd recommend the Garmin inreach (not the mini) because it has both the GPS and the message functions. Its cheap insurance that you can text home if you're late or send for help. It has several subscriptions including the ability to pause it during the off (not in use) seasons.
Posted by: gulliamo

Re: GPS help! - 05/01/20 04:29 AM

Originally Posted By: Phaedrus

I have a phone with Gaia installed although I haven't messed with the software much. My main issue is that my Android has a sealed battery;

If you're going to carry spare AAs why not carry a cheaper, more powerful, rechargable Li-Ion backup battery?

Also, put any modern phone on airplane mode and most will last for days. GPS will still work on airplane mode!

Thus, my phone (in airplane mode) plus a $30 rechargeable pack will last for ~10 days of backpacking. It doubles as my camera, my notepad, can send text (even in crazy no-signal remote places occasionally) and can easily carry almost every map you can think of (I usually carry 4-5 maps of any given area).

I should add... my rechargeable pack also recharges my headlamp, my lighter, etc. Weight matters (to me).
Posted by: Phaedrus

Re: GPS help! - 05/01/20 06:19 AM

I am dubious of rechargeables. Yeah, phone batteries are pretty reliable but I like having primaries on hand that can be instantly swapped. For one thing lithium primaries are much lighter than Li-Ion batteries. And swapping out primaries if immensely faster than charging from a USB pack. And again, my phone is not ruggedized nor remotely waterproof.

I realize mine is not a popular opinion but it's pretty firmly set in my mind.
Posted by: hikermor

Re: GPS help! - 05/01/20 02:43 PM

I am areal fan of rechargeable batteries. i do carry lithium primaries as last ditch backups, for the same reasons - they are lighter and very durable. What I will do with my 18650 lithium ions on long trips, is carry an extra lithium-ion and when the one in the appliance gets low, swap it out and get it recharging while the appliance continues in service.

i can theoretically go forever, working like that....

Forme,the higher energy density of lithium-ion batteries is worth the slight additional weight. For short, intermittent use, this is not a factor.
Posted by: Russ

Re: GPS help! - 05/01/20 04:11 PM

I carry AA NiMH spares. I make a point of not using the Oregonís recharging function. It works, but I try to not make a habit. Simpler to carry NiMH spares.

The NiMH batteries that come from Garmin are in a sleeve that allows them to charge in the Oregon GPS. Other batteries can be used, but if they arenít in the sleeve, the GPS wonít allow them to charge. The sleeve is what prevents someone trying to recharge alkaline or lithium primary batteries ó the power wonít flow.
Posted by: WesleyH

Re: GPS help! - 05/03/20 10:01 AM

Just a thought here,

When you depend on two devices to accomplish a single task, ie a phone to interface with an inreach device, you have twice the chance of failure. More stuff, more chance to fail. . .

I totally understand that the idea of two devices and certainly a decent GPS is expensive, but, what alternative is there?

I can't say I have been greatly impressed with Garmin's GPS. They used to have a few competitors in the handheld GPS market, but today not so much. I know Lowrance dropped out of the handheld market several years back, and I've not seen anyone use a Magellan handheld in some time. Fewer manufacturers means less competition and my feeling is that Garman has slipped in the innovation department in the last 20 years.
Posted by: Phaedrus

Re: GPS help! - 05/03/20 10:09 AM

I hadn't shopped for GPS units in ages, and back when I owned one it was a Magellan. I was surprised to see virtually nothing but Garmin on the market and felt that was a bad sign.
Posted by: pforeman

Re: GPS help! - 05/03/20 03:21 PM

Way back in the day... I got a "state of the art" unit: Magellan Meridian Platinum - and I'm still using it today. Sure, there are better units - color screens, faster than a speeding bullet and able to leap tall buildings in a single bound but - I still like my Magellan brick. Originally I got it for hunting and used it to mark the "good" spots and the records it generated helped me find them again and to get back to 'base' too. As it is mostly rural area and it doesn't change much the unit I have still chugs along nicely.

I've looked several times at the new ones and almost got a Garmin Oregon when it was on sale and I had a coupon too but, the price was still such that I just could not bring myself to get it.

Sure I use the one built into the car (still take my Magellan too) but I've always depended on a compass and the paper map. The car gps helps a lot in the urban environment but I don't totally trust it and always try to verify what it is telling me with paper and/or another source.

As for the Magellan - I don't count it out yet - I ran across this site and am exploring it now as a way to maybe 'upgrade' my old tech and keep it in service for several more years.
https://www.expertgps.com/gps-receivers/Magellan-Meridian-Platinum.asp

As for what GPS to get - I'm not sure what would be "best" as you need to evaluate your conditions/needs to see what fits such as my Magellan still being ok for me the same may not work for you.

I also saw this just posted and it sounds interesting too:

Garmin Seeks FCC Ruling or Waiver to Obtain Certification for Part 95/Part 25 Device

The FCC is seeking public comment on an April 24 request by Garmin International for a declaratory ruling or a rules waiver to obtain equipment certification for a handheld unit that combines a low-power, terrestrial Part 95 Multi-Use Radio Service (MURS) transmitter and a Part 25 emergency satellite communication module in the same device. Section 95.2761(c) precludes combining MURS transmitting capabilities in equipment that is also capable of transmitting in another service, with the exception of Part 15 unlicensed services.
Garmin's proposed product is a handheld unit that will include two transmitters: a low-power MURS transmitter for short-range terrestrial communication, and a previously certified Part 25 module that will allow emergency communication via the Iridium satellite system under a blanket license held by Iridium. End users would have to subscribe to the Iridium service.
Garmin argues that the purpose of the original equipment authorization restriction was "to prevent consumer confusion with other terrestrial services that either had different licensing regimes or were for different types of communications" and that it is inappropriate in this case. Garmin asserts that a waiver would serve the public interest because "the certified Part 25 module in the MURS unit would allow emergency communications to the outside world at the push of a button." The FCC seeks comment on the waiver request.
Comments are due by May 28, with reply comments due by June 13. Interested parties may file short comments via the FCC's Electronic Comment Filing Service (Express). Visit the FCC's "How to Comment on FCC Proceedings" page for information on filing extended comments.

Sorry this got so long... I've been cooped up a lot lately!
Posted by: Phaedrus

Re: GPS help! - 05/03/20 08:16 PM

Interesting! Thanks!
Posted by: KenK

Re: GPS help! - 05/03/20 10:11 PM

That sounds like a modern higher end version of their Rhino unit, which was/is a gps combined with an frs radio.
Posted by: pforeman

Re: GPS help! - 05/04/20 12:25 AM

Yeah it is sort of like that but will include the sat com element with it. That way you have short range coms with your group but can reach out with the sat com to anywhere. I don't know if they will even build it but I was thinking it is an interesting trend.

I would like a device that was a GPS, 'smart' phone with a bunch of apps, short range radio, has wi-fi and can receive short wave and weather and sat coms too. Along with that please include a full blown computer ability, a TB or two of memory (don't forget the camera) and a fold up keyboard... oh yeah and keep it under $200.00 with a 10 day battery life at a pound in weight (think Star Trek Tri-Corder on steroids)

Hey, if I'm going to dream I may as well go big!
Posted by: Phaedrus

Re: GPS help! - 05/04/20 12:30 AM

Yep, dream big or go home! grin
Posted by: AKSAR

Re: GPS help! - 05/04/20 04:10 AM

Originally Posted By: WesleyH
I can't say I have been greatly impressed with Garmin's GPS. They used to have a few competitors in the handheld GPS market, but today not so much. I know Lowrance dropped out of the handheld market several years back, and I've not seen anyone use a Magellan handheld in some time. Fewer manufacturers means less competition and my feeling is that Garman has slipped in the innovation department in the last 20 years.

These days Garmin's main competition in the handheld GPS area is from the iPhone and Android devices.

I've personally just about done a 180 on using iPhones for navigation. Initially, I thought no way, due to battery life limitations and the inability to change batteries in a phone, and the generally fragile nature and lack of waterproofness in smart phones. But nowadays it's easy to carry an external battery to recharge your phone. The latest iPhones have pretty good water resistance, and you can easily put them in a protective case.

Smart phone navigation apps (Gaia rocks!) are generally better than what I see on dedicated GPS devices. Some hard core Alaskan adventurers are relying on iPhone navigation for some very epic, very high consequence adventures. I still carry a Garmin 62s or InReach (along with printed map and a compass) for serious outings, but find I'm relying more and more on my iPhone for routine backcountry navigation.
Posted by: Phaedrus

Re: GPS help! - 05/04/20 06:26 AM

I suppose I'll try a two-pronged approach of getting a new dedicated GPS and attempting to learn Gaia a bit more. After all, two is one and one is none!