Garmin Oregon 600 vs. GPSMap 64s

Now that I have a few months experience with the Garmin 64s and Oregon 600 in the field, I can say that the 64s is the best of the two. Although the touch screen on the Oregon 600 is very usable and is the best GPS touchscreen I've used, the Oregon's fatal flaw is that the software locks up. The screen freezes and the unit doesn't respond to any of the buttons. The only way to recover the receiver is to remove and reinsert the batteries. This happens several times a day and is simply unacceptable in a navigation device.

The GPSMap 64s, on the other hand, has NEVER done this. Neither have any of it's predecessors, including the 62s and the 60Csx. In fact, all of the button-operated Garmin GPS receivers have been utterly reliable.

I don't have any evidence to support my theory, but it's possible that the difference in software reliability is traceable back to the military roots of GPS receivers. The first handheld receivers were designed for military use before the GPS system was released for public use, and since all the early GPS receivers were button-operated devices, it's likely that the software driving the present civilian units is derived from the original software for the military units.

Touch screen GPS receivers, on the other hand, came about after civilian use of GPS was an established, mass market, and these units were designed for the civilian market. Again, that's just a theory of mine, but it would explain why the button-operated GPS receivers seem to be more reliable than the touch screen units.

Bottom line- if you depend on your GPS receiver for backcountry navigation, stick with the traditional button-operated design. That said, I do enjoy using the Oregon 600 in a non-critical situation, such as hunting for historic benchmarks, but I no longer rely on it in a wilderness setting. If you do buy a touch screen GPS unit, test it extensively before trusting it in a critical navigation situation.

And of course, as any experienced backcountry navigator will tell you, always have a paper map and a handheld compass with you- no matter what GPS receiver you carry. A map and a liquid-filled compass will still work after being dropped, but your GPS receiver may not.