potential gps newbie needs advice

2:08 p.m. on April 5, 2002 (EST)
(Guest)

I am researching into whether or not to purchase a GPS receiver and if so which one. I just got the Letham book GPS made easy.

Thus far I have looked into the eTrex Vista and Magellan meridian platinum....after all, I am just in the kid-in-the-candystore phase. Platinum has memory cards up to 64 MB whereas vista has a fixed memory of 24MB. Additionally, at least on the REI website/catalog, there seems to be more software for the vista.

I plan on using GPS on a few (hopefully at least 4-6 in the next 3-4 yrs) 1-2 week long trips out west (Flathead NF, Kootenai, perhaps other places) but will probably end up having less time for such trips once grad (and hopefully med school kicks in). Then, I will primarily have time only for long weekend trips in the east.

I am willing to make the investment to "do this right" both in terms of money and time. An additional question is how and where do I practice?

Any and all advice is appreciated.

Sincerely,
jpw74@msn.com

8:58 p.m. on April 5, 2002 (EST)
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advice

Quote:

I am researching into whether or not to purchase a GPS receiver and if so which one. I just got the Letham book GPS made easy.

>>> First, which version did you get? Look at the acknowledgments. If it doesn't have an acknowledgment to me, you got the wrong edition {;=>D. On the serious side (well, it IS serious to get my input), the version that has my input is actually much improved over the older editions. There are two versions of the 3rd edition, the later one including my (and a couple others) input.

Quote:

Thus far I have looked into the eTrex Vista and Magellan meridian platinum....after all, I am just in the kid-in-the-candystore phase. Platinum has memory cards up to 64 MB whereas vista has a fixed memory of 24MB. Additionally, at least on the REI website/catalog, there seems to be more software for the vista.

>>> My, my, got a big tax refund, did we? Hey, hold on a minute. You are looking to get the top of the line consumer toy before you even know the basics (your comment on "how do I learn"). All the extra features will actually slow your learning. I would suggest you get the basic model of either the Magellan or Garmin that has a computer interface, and get a copy of National Geographic (Wildflower) Topo! for your state or the National Parks package (both have the GPSR interface included, where the smaller regional versions require GPSTopo! in addition). I am assuming you have a thorough understanding of using topographic maps and compass (if not, learn that _before_ getting any GPSR).

Another reason I recommend getting the basic GPSR before deciding on the fancy ones is that the topographic maps that you can upload to the GPSR (either Magellan or Garmin) are only the Magellan or Garmin proprietary packages, and those are from USGS 1:100,000 maps, with 100 meter contour intervals - much cruder than the standard USGS 7.5 min maps. Besides which, they are hard to read on the tiny screens of the handheld GPSRs. If you aren't putting maps in, then you don't need the memory of the fancier units. There is plenty of memory for hundreds of waypoints and dozens of routes.

After you really learn to use GPS and map together (use the Topo! software to mark waypoints to go to and download waypoints you have saved in the field, create some routes in your local area and follow them, save some tracks and look at them on the map, learn how to transfer waypoints to and from a paper map, etc), then consider whether you need the fancier features. Is a crude map on a tiny screen worth doubling or tripling the monetary outlay (the extra memory is actually only useful for loading maps of larger areas)? Is a color screen worth the extra (look carefully at the color screen under a wide variety of lighting conditions - GPSR color screens are still poor compared to PDAs and PCs)? Is a built-in barometric altimeter that has to be calibrated to changing weather conditions, and still is barely as accurate as the GPSR-derived altitude worth a doubling of price?

Very important point is - after a few months of use, how do you feel about the user interface? Some people strongly prefer Magellan, some prefer Garmin (I personally find little difference, with Magellan getting a slight nod), while others prefer Lowrance (Lowrance maps are better, but their units are heavier by a significant amount). Do you prefer the buttons above or below the screen, or on the side? Do you find you are bumping the buttons unintentionally with your method of carrying the unit? Can you navigate the menus easily and intuitively? If you are now negative about your initial inexpensive unit, you can try the other brand. Oh, yeah, the technology is still rapidly changing, if a bit slower. 2 or 3 years ago, your brand new unit was obsolete by the time you got to the cash register. Nowadays, it isn't obsolete until you get to your car in the parking lot. The serious side of that comment is that in a year or so you will want to get a new unit that has all sorts of added features. If you decide on a mapping unit now, then you end up locked in (emotionally, anyway) if the other brand comes out with a superior mapping capability.

Quote:

I plan on using GPS on a few (hopefully at least 4-6 in the next 3-4 yrs) 1-2 week long trips out west (Flathead NF, Kootenai, perhaps other places) but will probably end up having less time for such trips once grad (and hopefully med school kicks in). Then, I will primarily have time only for long weekend trips in the east.

>>> You haven't graduated, and are heading for med school? Man, you have a much better assistantship than I ever had for grad school.


Quote:

I am willing to make the investment to "do this right" both in terms of money and time. An additional question is how and where do I practice?

>>> "Do it right" is as I outlined above - first learn basic map and compass thoroughly, if you don't already have that skill down pat. Orienteering (there are probably clubs in your area) is an excellent way to do this. Then get a basic consumer toy, er, unit, and practice with map, compass, and GPSR together. After a year or so of practice, check on what's available with the new technology and go for a fancier unit. You will be replacing your unit in a year or so anyway, and if you get the fancy unit to start with, you won't use the fancy features much during the first year anyway. You will be concentrating on developing skill and understanding of the basics (if you are still using UTM at the end of a year, you don't have the basics down yet).

Oooooohhhhh, horrible thought .... You said "Flathead NF, Kootenai, ..." You aren't in Canada, are you? If so, you are a bit out of luck on computerized maps, thanks to the Canadian govt policies on computerized maps. Your best choice in that case is to get Fugawi software and buy some of their Canadian NP data sets. National Geographic/ Wildflower's Topo! and Maptech (slow, just as expensive for the same coverage) only cover the US with topographic maps. Non-US topo maps are more expensive and harder to come by. With Fugawi, you can scan in the maps you buy and use them on computer. Or, just use the paper version, which you should be skilled at anyway.

Remember that you can get excellent plastic maps on this website customized for your chosen area of the US. I don't think they have maps of other countries yet????

Ok, another alternative, though not for backpacking, is to get one of the street map software packages. Delorme's Street Atlas and MapNGo are the best of these and easiest to interface with a GPSR (although they favor their own GPSR unit). MapNGo includes major highways and some streets in major cities in Canada and Mexico, while Street Atlas has a lot of detail within the 50 states.

Another way to learn fast is to try geocaching. This is a treasure hunt game with coordinates published on the web. Search on Google for "geocaching". There are now a number of websites devoted to this.

And, if you are in northern Calif in August, you can take my land navigation course (offered through the Sierra Club - non-profit, not a business, just part of my volunteer things I do in my retirement from designing the GPS satellites and ground segment).

7:42 a.m. on April 8, 2002 (EDT)
(Guest)

Re: link
9:21 a.m. on April 8, 2002 (EDT)
(Guest)

Re: link/gps newbie

Hi Bill:
Thanks for all the advice.... Feeling a bit sheepish about it all, but hey, I am just researching and window shopping. You'll have to understand I sit in a lab all day at a job I don't like and am seething with wanderlust. At the same time, while I have delusions of grandeur of getting lost with my dog out in MT and ID, I want to be fully prepared and not end up like the sorry bastard in "Into the Wild".
I'll understand if you decline the following request but would you mind if I emailed you personally in the future re: gps? BTW, I looked up the land nav trip you mentioned on Sierra Club and couldn't find it with their search parameters.

Thanks a bunch!
JW jpw74@msn.com

12:19 p.m. on April 8, 2002 (EDT)
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Schedule

JW -

The schedule for Clair Tappaan Lodge events is at:

http://www.sierraclub.org/outings/lodges/ctl/schedule.asp

Look at Aug 16-18, 2002, "Finding Your Way".

You can email me at wstraka@pacbell.net, however, I will be on the road a lot over the next couple months (as soon as I can get the car out of the shop - a "local" up in the Sierra hit a patch of ice, then left 50 ft of rubber on the road, went over a snowbank into the parking lot, and damaged 3 cars, including mine). Actually, not on the road so much as in the hills (Oregon, Washington, Utah, Colorado, Alaska).

6:49 a.m. on April 9, 2002 (EDT)
(Guest)

Re: link

Thanks for the great links!

October 2, 2014
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