Looking for new GPS Leaning toward eTrex Vista or Legend

11:35 p.m. on April 11, 2008 (EDT)
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The old GPS finally broke after 10 years! Good news since it's an excuse to start looking for a new toy.

What do you think of either the

Garmin eTrex vista (black and white version) http://www.trailspace.com/gear/garmin/etrex-vista/review/5857/

Or

Garmin eTrex Legend
http://www.trailspace.com/gear/garmin/etrex-legend/

Of course, I'm open to other suggestions. Important features are
1. Must run on AA batteries
2. Waterproof
3. Needs a secure point to attach to a lanyard.
4. Display must work well in cold temperatures as most of my hiking is in the winter in the UP of Michigan and Northern, Wisconsin and Minnesota.

I typically put mine in my shirt pocket or under the chest strap of my pack, but attach it to a lanyard around my neck in case it finds it's way out of the pocket. Most of my


I'm leaning towards black and white due to longer battery life, although by reading product descriptions, it seems these last longer. I'm assuming the screens must power down after a minute or so of inactivity.

1:14 a.m. on April 12, 2008 (EDT)
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Hello WISam, as you can see I am new to this. I would choose a GPS with a capability to down load maps (if you could afford it). As well as make sure you have a map and compass.
I have an old Garmin Etrex Legend, nice but not great. On a winter camp this year we had a map capable unit that impressed me mightely with the detailed map shown. We used it as a reference tool when choosing whether to climb a ridge or go around it. It was quicker that finding the Topo/then finding our position, ect. ect. With base maps and other software you can really preplan/set up your GPS with Info. As for carry storage, pockets work great. The guy dangled his on a lanyard tied to his pack, no problems. As for Batteries and cold weather set in unit and a spare set worked great for the week. Location of camp Strathconna Park, 14 Feet snow base, -10C-0C Temp.range, Mixed bag of weather. 4 days of camp life. 4km from nearest road/people. Snowshoed in/out. No performance problems with GPS. Great experiance camping and new friends. I bought the same type of GPS. Glad I did.

6:40 p.m. on April 12, 2008 (EDT)
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Based on what you're looking for, I wouldn't spend an extra $50 or $150 when the basic Garmin etrex meets all your requirements.

http://buy.garmin.com/shop/shop.do?pID=6403

If you're looking for something that let's you know where you are, stores waypoints and a basic track feature (not to mention the "hidden" thermometer), I haven't found anything to work better for the price.

Then you could take the money you saved and put it towards gas to get to some places to use your GPS.

7:35 p.m. on April 12, 2008 (EDT)
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WISam, you should come out to the Sierra (Donner Pass area) and take my landnav classs at the Sierra Club's Clair Tappaan Lodge. The lodge manager is setting the date, but it will likely be late June. Learn everything you need to know about backcountry nav, including GPSPRs.

Anyway, rdavis is right that all you need for your specs is one of the basic units, like the "yellow" eTrex, which you can often find for under $100. I would cross the Vista off the list, as well as any other unit with a barometric altimeter, at least from Garmin. There are a number of bugs and other problems with the way Garmin implements the barometric altitude (like having it be the ONLY altitude in the normal window displays - yes you can see the GPS-derived altitude mamentarily, and you can calibrate the barometric altitude with the GPS-derived (or a known) altitude. But unless you thoroughly understand barometric altitude, you are better off with the GPS-derived value that all other units show. Besides the Vistas (B&W, color, H version, etc) cost a bunch more (much much more than the $50-150 that rdavis quotes).

Ability to download maps is useful, especially after you have used a unit for a while (and it supplements the map skills you should have solid before even considering a GPSR, not replaces them). If you do go with a mapping unit, color is very useful, compared to the grey-scale units, especially on the tiny screens that they all have.

But consider the Colorado, if you really want to stick with Garimin.

9:29 p.m. on April 12, 2008 (EDT)
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The barometric altimeter was one of the features that actually attracted me to this model as I have quite a bit of experience with them in work related applications, but never in a hand held GPS.

What kind of bugs there are in Garmin's altitude feature other then the one you mentioned? Is the altimeter of a good enough quality to actually be useful if you know how to use it or is it pretty worthless? If it is of a decent quality it might be a neat thing to have as it can be used for all sorts of things other than telling you altitude.

1:11 a.m. on April 13, 2008 (EDT)
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Don't say you were not warned - the description is involved and rather technical. This is a much simplified explanation -

First problem with the barometric altimeter is in common with all barometric altimeters - you have to have a good understanding of how they work. A barometric altimeter does *not* measure the altitude. It measures the local air pressure, then converts that to an altitude corresponding to the local (absolute) air pressure in the ICAO Standard Atmosphere Table, with an offset that is programmed by either the user or in some cases through some automatic process. Problem one is that the real lapse rate (the variation of pressure with altitude) is only rarely the same as the ICAO table gives. Problem two is that the pressure at a given fixed location varies from minute to minute and day to day - a daily cycle plus a variation due to weather changes (Low pressure areas will indicate a higher altitude and high pressure areas will indicate a lower altitude, with variations as much as a couple thousand feet, or more during severe weather). This means you must recalibrate frequently at known locations (preferably surveyed). Problem three is that the terrain causes variations in two ways - because the ground heats up during the day, the ground-level lapse rate (variation of pressure with altitude, mentioned above) is frequently very different from the ICAO values, which were determined in "free air" (intended for use by aircraft), with the other being the effect of wind, most noticeable around narrow passes (lower pressure in the pass due to the venturi effect, meaning the altimeter will show higher altitude. I have seen deviations of several hundred feet in 3000-4000 feet of climb on summer days in the mountains, due to the ground heating, and jumps of a couple hundred feet while crossing a pass in high winds.

That was in general for barometric altimeters - you have to be aware of these effects to take account of them with any barometric altimeter, including those in Garmin's GPSRs.

The Garmin units with built-in barometric altimeters (mostly designated by an "S" in the model name, such as the GPSMAP 60CS and CSx, but also some specific units in the eTrex series, ike the Vistas) have some additional "features" designed in by Garmin. Those units display only the barometric altitude in the data display in each window - you cannot set them to display the GPS-derived altitude. So you have to recalibrate the altimeter fairly frequently. You can display the GPS-derived altitude in some of the units from the satellite screen by pressing "Menu" and scrolling down to "GPS ALTITUDE". However, this is only a small, temporary popup window. You can calibrate from the altitude graphing screen by pressing "MENU" and selecting "CALIBRATE ALTIMETER". You are then presented with 3 successive choices for calibration - "Known altitude"; "Known Barometer" (the "sea level" barometer setting, obtained from the local airport, NOAA Weather Radio, or similar calibrated source); or "Use GPS Altitude". You can also set the altimeter to "Autocalibrate" in the setup menu. In principle, the altimeter is automatically set to the GPS-derived altitude at set intervals. In fact, this only happens if the difference in altitudes is greater than a certain amount, and basically does not happen if you calibrate using a "known altitude" or "known barometer" setting. You can set the "known altitude" off by several thousand feet (higher) and never see it corrected (if you set it lower by more than a couple thousand feet, it will reset to the altitude given by the absolute pressure and ICAO table, which can be off by several hundred feet).

But there is the further peculiarity that I and others have encountered in high latitudes (more than about 70 deg N or S latitude) - since the air is thinner at a given physical altitude in polar regions than at lower latitudes, the Garmin GPSRs with barometric altimeters will refuse the surveyed or GPS-derived altitude calibrations and within 15 sec switch to the barometric altitude. Thus, at High Camp on Mt Vinson in Antarctica, surveyed at 12,139 ft, the 60CSx and Vista insist on displaying 13,720 ft (+/- a bit depending on the weather). I have never been able to get a good explanation from Garmin as to why they put this "feature" into their algorithm, but their basic response is that no more than a percent of their users would ever notice the error.

A further peculiarity is that if you take a waypoint and set it to "average", the altitude that is stored is the GPS-derived altitude, not the barometric altitude, even though the barometric altitude is displayed at the time you click "Mark".

So my advice is to avoid the units with the built-in barometric altimeter unless and until Garmin allows you to set the display to show only the GPS-derived altitude. If you want barometric altitude, you are far better off getting a "wrist-top computer" such as the Suunto watches, or a mechanical altimeter like the old reliable Thommens.

The units that have the barometric altimeter also have a fluxgate compass. This is a real battery-drainer that you can luckily shut off and should leave off most of the time. The compass can be de-calibrated easily by a number of things (like your car's electronic box that controls the engine functions or transmitting on a cell phone too close to the unit). It is rather annoying to have to recalibrate it while wandering in a whiteout - just use an inexpensive baseplate compass. They work better and don't depend on batteries.

6:32 a.m. on April 15, 2008 (EDT)
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I have an eTrex Legend. It works OK. I use it as a compliment to my Map and Compass. There are much better units on the market, but price was a big factor when I purchased it 2 years ago. (It was on sale AND I had gift cards left over from Christmas!)

The main thing I use it for is to get coordinates in the field to radio back to the command post, while on search missions. Come to think of it, I can now do that with my cell phone!

I also like that I can connect it to my computer to work with my NatGeo TOPO! software and my Garmin navigator in my vehicle.

The black and white screen on the eTrex can be set to power down at a chosen interval. It can be difficult to read in bright sunlight and, interestingly enough, at night while wearing a head lamp.

I have to be honest with you, I'm not sure if it has a lanyard hole. I use a holster with mine, and keep it on my pack strap. There are other accessories available for the eTrex, including a bicycle/ATV handlebar mount, which I have, and vehicle windscreen mount.

7:17 a.m. on April 24, 2008 (EDT)
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rdavis....

I have the basic etrex.

Please tell me more about this "hidden thermometer".

e

7:35 a.m. on April 24, 2008 (EDT)
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11:14 a.m. on April 24, 2008 (EDT)
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Many of the GPSRs out there have "hidden" diagnostic screens. If you go to sci.geo.satellite-nav or websites like the geocaching forums (the "hardware/software" sections) or the GPSR hobby sites, you can find out more than you wanted to know about them. Be warned, though, some of the "secret handshakes" that get to them do hard resets of the unit, which will lose all your stored waypoints, or start a re-calibration procedure that can take hours (and is supposed to be done in a controlled environment). But some of the "secret" screens are pretty interesting.

***WARNING*** do not try the button combinations by playing around, unless you are prepared to send the unit back to the manufacturer and pay mucho bucks, or are willing to send the unit to the local e-waste center *****

7:32 p.m. on April 24, 2008 (EDT)
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I immediately tried this when I got home tonight.

The temp is shown in celsius. Anyone know of a way to switch units to F?

1:20 p.m. on April 25, 2008 (EDT)
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Yes, Ed. You just multiply by 9/5 and add 32, and voila! Temperature in F.

What do you expect from a unit made in Taiwan {;=>D ?

Actually, in the system page, you can set the units to F. At least on the eTrex other than the yellow one (been so long since I looked at a yellow one that I have forgotten whether that's hidden as part of the dumb-down to keep the price point to $100 (or $50 at WalMart).

3:55 p.m. on April 25, 2008 (EDT)
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thanks Bill...I do have the yellow one. I was in the system page and didn't see anything for switching to F. I'll check again for the heck of it.

I actually did pay $49.95 for the thing at Office Depot.

6:27 p.m. on April 25, 2008 (EDT)
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In many of the Garmin units, when you get to the System page, there is a selection for "Units". The temperature unit selection is there for at least some of their GPSRs.

9:27 p.m. on April 25, 2008 (EDT)
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Ed =

I haven't found, or heard of a way to change the default display to F, however I can tell you an easier way to convert.

Double Celsius and add 32. It's rough ~4 degrees or so off, but so is the internal thermometer of the eTrex. You shouldn't be using it for scientific purposes, though.

Also, if you're curious and haven't found it already (sorry it took me a while to see your post, somewhat busy at work...)

Here's the eTrex page I used: http://etrex.webz.cz/hack.html which I ran into via Ben Saunder's Blog.

8:04 a.m. on April 26, 2008 (EDT)
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Bill, not the yellow etrex. It was never designed to have a temp function.

Thanks rdavis for the conversion tip.

My math education ended after surviving Differential Equations, and unless the Celsius temp was always zero, I would have to hump a calculator to use Bill's method of cyphering.

It's much easier to use that little $2.95 combination compass/thermometer doo-hicky I have on a pack zipper.

11:01 p.m. on April 26, 2008 (EDT)
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Gotta love technology EH?

And here I thought the GPS was for navigating, and the thermometer was for telling the temperature. I still think that if you can figure out what you are going to do with the GPS and for how long, spend the money and get the latest or next to greatest your money can buy. I see the GPS like a computer, there will always be improvements and or updates to the units or systems. With the GPS the more information you can hold in one hand and access as needed, the better. If the GPS has the map function and it can tell you where your favorite or preferred gas company is or if you are new to an area and need to replace gear for an outing that has failed it may tell you where an outfitting store could be found. As well as a local hospital/clinic, or maybe if the kids are with you a preferred restaurant. Your money, Your choices. Just enjoy the outdoors.

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