GPS Trail Distance Measuring Tests

Garmin Oregon 600, image courtesy of Garmin

The problem with trying to measure trail distance in the field with civilian GPS (handheld GPS not corrected by differential GPS signals) has been that GPS has not been accurate enough to measure distance at walking speeds.

Garmin eTrex 10, 20, and 30

Garmin eTrex 30

All three eTrex models are waterproof and feature paperless geocaching. Both have basemaps- the eTrex 20 and 30 adds color screens, a micro-SD card slot, and the ability to add maps, including custom maps. The eTrex 30 further adds a three-axis compass and a barometric altimeter.

Garmin GPSMap 62s

Garmin GPSMap 62s

This is my favorite Garmin trail GPS receiver at present. I use it for trail mapping as I work on my hiking guides. If you need custom mapping and other advanced features and don't like touch screens this is your receiver. It comes preloaded with a worldwide base map, and detailed topo maps can be added, including Garmin 1:24000 topos and satellite imagery, as well as free maps.

Magellan Explorist 310

Magellan Explorist 310

The Explorist 310 is a paperless geocaching receiver with a micro-SD slot for memory expansion. The unit comes with a world-wide base map and detailed map coverage can be added, including National Geographic Topo! raster topographic maps from USGS and Magellan's Summit Series 1:24000 vector topo maps.

Magellan CX0310SGXNA eXplorist 310 Waterproof Hiking GPS

Garmin nüvi 3590LMT

Garmin nüvi 3590LMT

If you want it all, this is the street receiver for you. The nuvi 3590LMT features a 5-inch multi-touch screen, lifetime maps of North America, customizable "dashboards", lifetime traffic without ads, lane assist, Bluetooth, Android smartphone link, an SD card slot, voice navigation, spoken street names, junction view, real time traffic, a powered mount, pedestrian navigation, and an audio book player.

Garmin nuvi 2595LMT

Garmin nuvi 2595LMT

This unit, new for 2012, includes a 5-inch color screen, customizable "dashboards", lifetime North American street maps, lifetime traffic, high-sensitivity receiver, spoken street names, voice-operated navigation, exit services, Bluetooth(R) wireless, microSD card socket, lane-assist, auto-sorting of multiple destinations, emergency location, pedestrian navigation, and an audiobook player.

Smartphone and Tablet GPS- NOT!

Smartphones and tablet computers are useful and fun gadgets. But are they a good way to navigate in wilderness when your life depends on finding your way? No.

Want the Latest and Greatest?

Handheld GPS hardware is very reliable- the same mass-produced chipsets are used in most civilian receivers. But the firmware that drives the user interface is often buggy in the first release of a new GPS receiver. So it pays to wait a month or two before buying the latest thing, especially for serious backcountry use. While it's true that the GPS manufacturers release firmware updates to fix any problems, do you really want to be a beta tester in the wilderness? When you do buy a new GPS receiver, immediately check the manufacturer's website for firmware updates.

Get Your Cold, Greasy Fingers off my Touchscreen

Touchscreens are the hot consumer item, and they do work well on many devices such as tablets, phones, and street GPS. But on the trail, not so much. I've tried touchscreen trail GPS receivers but found they're difficult to use outdoors. Touchscreens are virtually impossible to use with gloves in cold weather and can't be used in a waterproof bag on a sea kayak deck. Touchscreens are harder to see in bright sunlight and get messed up with dirt, sunscreen, and insect repellent from your fingers. Touchsceen battery life is also shorter than button-operated units.

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