OR Show GPS Research – Garmin – Magellan – DeLorme

Post by WildSnow.com blogger | August 6, 2012      
WildSnow.com GPS reviews and information.

GPS Reviews

It’s a mystery why it happened, but in a limited way I’ve become somewhat of a GPS geek. Nothing like the guys who live and breath the things, but I’ve dug into the issues of compasses, button controls vs touch screens, map quality and more. So with my WildSnow biases in full force I visited GPS purveyors at the recent Outdoor Retailers trade show.

Garmin 62 series GPS are easily our top pick for backcountry skiing.

Garmin 62 series GPS are easily our top pick for backcountry skiing.

First, know that we don’t recommend touch-screen GPS units for winter backcountry navigation. So I don’t bother even thinking about the things when it comes to opinionating. While some of the touch units have a “glove friendly” screen, that’s still not mitten or “big glove” friendly, nor is it going to behave kindly to having freezing rain and snow wiped off. Also, we’re not big fans of all the “wrist” and “watch” GPS units flooding the market. Sure, they look cool, but most (if not all) do not lend themselves to displaying a topographic map for blind navigation; they’re more for tracking your trip or following a pre-existing track.

Delorme is always interesting to check out. Their Earthmate PN-60 has the required button controls, and trumpets should blast from the heavens proclaiming the available buttons-locked mode. While the unit does have a 3 axis GPS compass that works well while you’re moving, it has no magnetic compass. Thus, if you’re standing in a whiteout with a 300 foot cliff just out of sight behind you, you might end getting a good scare while trying to get yourself headed in the correct direction. That’s a deal breaker for me, but add to that what appears to be the geeky hassle of using 3rd party maps (Europe?) with the Earthmate, as well as the necessity of a proprietary (whoops I forgot it) data transfer cable instead of standard USB, and we definitely can not recommend the Delorme PN-60. (Note, PN-60w version is around $50 more with Delorme’s “Topo North America” map pack. While we do see the potential DeLorme has in their mapping software and data, every time we look at it we’re underwhelmed.)

Next up, Magellan provides several button controlled models in their eXplorist series (is anyone else tired of product names starting with a small case letter?). No button lock with these guys, but they do have an interesting “suspend” mode that turns off everything but tracking and results in greatly extended battery life. The suspension takes only a few button clicks, so you could conceivably do it over and over again while pocketing the Magellan, but it is still not the basic control lock we’re looking for; that which still allows viewing your progress on the map but “safes” the buttons. Again, deal breaker is no magnetic compass, and the fuzzy bitmapped USGS topo maps (sourced from National Geographic Topo software) didn’t excite us either, though they did scroll with nearly seamless speed. Again, I couldn’t see any easy way to get European fine detailed topographic maps into the Magellan eXplorist GPS unit, and the guys in the Magellan booth were not much help with a definite answer on that. Commenters, feel free to set us straight.

Garmin has been terminally cute for a while with their eTrex series handhelds. We’ve owned a few of these, and while the eTrex form factor is terrific (other than the tiny screen) the joy stick control of the fully featured eTrex models is a royal pain in that it gets knocked around so easily while pocketing. Whatever, no big reason to use the eTrex since Garmin also sells their GPSMAP 62 series models.

The Garmin GPSMAP 62 magnetic “digital” compass works in seamless combination with the GPS compass, switching back and forth depending on your movement and availability of sat signals. The compass is three axis so it works when the GPSMAP 62 is tilted — as well as when you’re sitting still inside a building doing things like route planning or simply attempting to identify the mountains you’re viewing from the window. I tested the 62 series compass inside the OR Show convention hall. The thing is impressive. Nearly zero lag. Almost like using a magnetic needle compass only it works while tilted. Also, you can configure the display so a compass window displays over your map. That is beautiful, though the compass window does obscure quite a large area of the map underneath. Sadly, no control lock, but the GPSMAP 62 buttons are sufficiently stiff to prevent most accidental presses.

Garmin’s Mapsource computer software isn’t breathtaking, but it gets the job done. Main thing is you can find tens of thousands of free maps on the web that with a simple download will display in Mapsource, and with a few mouse clicks will upload into your GPSMAP 62. That includes Europe. And if all else fails, Garmin themselves sell their albeit expensive but easily available topographic maps for numerous countries.

In summary. The consumer targeted handheld GPS market has vastly improved their products during recent years, but we still find much to be lacking when it comes to hard-core blind off-trail navigation in full conditions. Based on our overview and hands-on use at the OR show, we can not in good faith recommend any GPS models other than the Garmin 60 and 62 series units.

If you’re shopping, here is the lowdown on the Garmin GPSMAP 26 series flavors. Base unit 62 is not recommended, sweet spot seems to be the GPSMAP 62s which has the better compass but doesn’t make you pay for a BS camera and pre-loaded semi-useful maps. You can also go more pricey than the 62s, to a couple of units that have do have preloaded large-scale maps (useless for detailed navigation) and, whoopeee, cameras. Shop for GPSMAP 62s here.

Designers are notorious for not listening to anyone but their own team, or being stone deaf to anyone but themselves. But in case someone out there in GPS design land is listening, below is our short list of what we view are the most desirable features of present and future handhelds. Include most of these, and perhaps we’ll keep buying your rigs instead of just using Google Maps on a smartphone.

– Stiff, big keys that work with gloves and are not easily moved accidentally.
– Camera, who cares.
– Control lock in firmware, such as that of the DeLorme.
– No geek credentials required to download and install free maps.
– Pre-installed fine detail (1:24000) topo maps for all of North America & Western Europe
– Detailed compatible topo maps (e.g, 1:24000) available for many parts of the world.
– Large LCD in comparison to unit size.
– AA batteries, lithium ok.
– Non color, battery saving LCD display mode as a control option.
– Compass that functions indoors and/or when stationary, when unit is flat or tilted.
– Customizable controls and display to streamline workflow.
– Flashlight LED (yeah, I know, but I like having the emergency light source and it’s so easy to include).
– Seamless fast map scrolling, no stuttering
– Suspend mode that turns everything off but tracking.
– Sunlight readable display (don’t really need to list that, but might as well).
– USB interface, no proprietary bull that requires yet-one-more-cable-left-at-home-groan.
– Barometric altimeter, and clarity about this vs GPS derived elevation.



38 Responses to “OR Show GPS Research – Garmin – Magellan – DeLorme”

  1. Dostie August 6th, 2012 11:45 am

    Nice list of features Lou. Still prefer maps and my head but have now experienced the value of homing in on a waypoint when “lost” in a forest on the lower slopes of Shasta. Probably saved us 2 hours of wandering around figuring out where we “arrived” instead of just walking there – which is what we did.

  2. Joe August 6th, 2012 1:34 pm

    Sad to see how little GPS devices have progressed in 5 years. My “vintage” Garmin GPS is on par and more reliable then products set for realease a year from now.
    Additionally I find it quite oppressing that more personal locator devices are being made available to the public. Is this an attempt to make people less self reliant? If personal GPS devices simply had a reliable magnetic compass and accurate worldwide topo maps maybe pursuitists would stop pushing the Help! button.

  3. Lou Dawson August 6th, 2012 1:58 pm

    Joe, as smart phones have progressed, so have handheld GPS units stagnated. The things have so much potential. Instead, they dink around with providing a camera, or a whoop-te-do shaded base map that’s too big a scale to be of any use for foot travel, and on which the first thing one of the booth guys showed me was how to “turn off the shading because it just makes it hard to read…” Comical, really.

  4. Rob August 6th, 2012 5:15 pm

    Just bought a 62s a month ago, after losing my trusty eTrex. I concur that this is the sweetspot of the lineup. One thing to be aware of (for former eTrex aficionados) is the the 62s is much more power hungry (probably due to the larger, color screen.) Better have a couple extra AAs in your pack!

  5. David August 6th, 2012 8:30 pm

    Not sure it’s a mystery…but I appreciate the reviews anyway.

    I generally agree with the analysis here but I would ding Garmin more for their bad maps and unnecessarily difficult map policies. The computer/map/gps interface should really be seamless and encourage creativity when trying to solve navigation challenges.

    I do think Delorme is improving their game and when my older Garmin 62 bites the dust, I plan to look again at their offerings.

    And they should all be lighter!

  6. TobyG August 6th, 2012 8:46 pm

    My better half gave me Garmin eTrex 30 for Xmas. Took it on a ski tour on Rainier. I was using a free topo map and it worked great. The screen is small and it’s frustrating to do any significant route planning with it. I would not give up a map yet, but its perfect for an instant check on position and whiteout navigation. Lithium AAs lasted 4 days and recorded the whole trip which was great to share with the kids at home on google earth (wish they could integrate that). I got the bike mounts and use it as my main gps on and off road to replace a dying Edge unit. Good little unit, i’ve been impressed so far.

  7. Dan August 6th, 2012 11:08 pm

    I have a Delorme PN-60 and am still learning how to use it fully. The receiver itself is very good, but the general logic is difficult (different at best). I was impressed with the Topo 9 map program and the maps on the unit until I started to actually try to use them. I have discovered numerous errors in both the Canadian maps(for British Columbia anyway) (CD supplied by DeLorme) and the WA. maps. I have not tried Delorme maps for other states. The maps on the gps unit can be useful but the errors are serious enough such that I would not trust them in a tight spot (unfamiliar territory and nasty weather) and would not visit an unfamilar area w/o paper USGS topos (or Canadian topos). The button lock is great and the buttons work quite well. The compass is worthless unless you frequently calibrate it, which is a bother in the field in nasty weather, etc. So, I just continue to carry a real compass and be done with it. When above treeline, the GPS altimeter function is very good too. Still, if I think it might really matter, I carry a separate altimeter too. Of course, way back when, I used to back up Friends with nuts too…until I learned to trust Friends. The PN-60 appears to be spot on every time I have checked my location, which is a very good thing. The hard copy manual supplied with the unit and the on-line version are terrible. However, DeLorme customer service is very good and there is an on-line work-group that has been helpful. The only real problem is that I have spent less time trying to learn French this past year (and been more succesful) than I have spent screwing around with the PN-60. Learning celestial navigation was easier. I want to add a comment to what others have noted above: Why do the GPS builders (at least DeLorme) think that anybody would want a hand held-portable GPS for street/road navigation? Esp. when you can buy something like a Garmin Nuvi for less than the price of a PN-60 or similar unit. Try using a hand held GPS, like the PN-60 while driving in a strange city or foreign country. I have friends with Garmin GPS units that seem much easier to “master” and much more intuitive than the PN-60. Also, the operating scheme of the Garmin 62s seems a little better under certain circumstances (navigating blind comes to mind) than the PN-60 and had I known what I know now, I would buy the 62s. Still, now that I am familiar with the PN-60, I’ll stick with it rather than spend more $ on something else.

  8. Lou Dawson August 7th, 2012 5:48 am

    Dan, I used/tested the early Delorme PN unit extensively, have done plenty of evaluation of current units, and echo your thoughts. Bottom line is if these companies want to keep selling hardware they need to get their act together and at least have a compass in the thing that works (test is if it works indoors, then it’s a real one)!

    As for GPS location accuracy, any good quality GPS can bounce a signal off the satellites and yield a quite accurate location on a map — provided it’s a good map, the datum of the map is the same the unit is set for, and so forth.

    When you see these things track along a street, right down the middle, it’s pretty amazing. On the other hand, for blind navigation in the backcountry or use as a street navigator, GPS units are only as good as their maps. We use a Tomtom in the car, and constantly encounter situations where the maps are wrong and we have to make a quick guess on an exit to take, and so forth. I had a Garmin Nuvi as well. The maps were about the same, but it was much harder to use — though still useful.

    Most (if not all) the U.S. topo maps you get with these different companies are based on the USGS digital elevation models (DEMs) from which the contour lines are generated. The USGS 1:24000 maps are amazingly accurate and one of the most extensive mapping projects done in history, but one does occasionally encounter a place on those maps where the contour lines are wrong from the survey points getting messed, or the artist drew them wrong. It’s my understanding that most of the DEMs were taken from the paper maps by a process of scanning, as the digital data didn’t even exist only a short number of years ago. Thus, even with the vector based topo maps in DeLorme or Garmin, the data you’re getting is essentially from the USGS, along with perhaps some county or state water and road data. Thus, only as good as that data.


  9. Mike Carr August 7th, 2012 7:47 am

    Lou – I haven’t really researched it, but it seems like using a large screen “automobile” GPS unit (like a Nuvi) would be the ticket in the backcountry, esp if you need reading glasses like I do. The 4″ or 5″ screens would really help map reading. But I am not sure how they work in the backcountry, if you can download topo maps to them, compass selections, etc. Have you looked into this at all?

  10. Brad August 7th, 2012 8:30 am

    ^^^ I recently bought a GPS, and considered a model with a larger screen, but went with the Garmin 62sc. The models with the larger screens are heavier and larger. I find that I don’t really look at it that much while out in the willies, just a check here or there to make sure I think I am where I think I am.

    A few things I’ve learned:
    Free maps are easy to upload onto the GPS.
    Battery life can be extended by turning off the blacklight when you don’t need it.
    Unless you want to record your track, just keep it off until you want to check your position. It only takes a few minutes to find the satelites and pinpoint your postition.
    The camera records coordinates with the photo. For skiing the camera is pretty much worthless, but it can be pretty handy when out hunting or mountain biking and faced with an unpleasant confrontation or illegal signage.

  11. Dan August 7th, 2012 9:01 am

    Lou, I don’t know what happens to the map data from USGS (and Canadian GS) when other map-makers work with it to generate their own topos. In some cases, as with the DeLorme maps, there are improvements over the USGS quads (updated road locations, roadside parks labeled, etc). At the same time errors are made. Labeling, contour elevations, peak and peaklet elevations, etc. For example, the DeLorme maps for the south side of Mount Baker miss labeled the Easton Glacier, the elevation for Crag View is about 1000 off, etc. The glacial tongues are so far out of wack as to be funny and the elevation of the outhouse/parking area at Schrieber Meadow is significantly off. Maybe that is where the glaciers were located in 1926, but that is not where they are shown on USGS topos. The maps for the Whistler/garibaldi region are even worse: Creeks and Rivers misslabled, lake elevations way off, Some major peaks not shown, etc. My intention is to warn other GPS users, esp. those who are just getting into GPS use, to be careful and alert when depending on these “GPS” maps. Just like using the NUVI when driving around Europe, one still has to keep his/her brain engaged. For example: encountering a recently constructed round-a-bout not shown on the NUVI will make it necessary to resort to ancient Luddite-like navigation approaches such as reading the signs, rather than battling with the confused NUVI. Even the USGS and Canadian GS topos have significant mistakes: like encountering a 200 ft. cliff that is not shown on the topo, or finding a 50 year old road that was never documented. This does not happen often, but it does happen. I assume many of the “errors” are related to the inability of the cameras to “see through” the tree canopy, or clouds when being overflown. Still, I continue to use these maps, even if they are not perfect. Ditto with the GPS maps. Of course, it is a lot better than what Daniel Boone had to go on. Although, he likely did not have to show up at the office at 0800 Monday morning.

  12. Lou Dawson August 7th, 2012 9:01 am

    Mike, my prediction is we’re going to see a MUCH different type of backcountry GPS in the near future, depending on display technology. The form factor of the things is all wrong, probably because LCDs used to be so expensive and still draw so much power. My prediction is indeed the device would be larger and flatter. Problem is they’ll probably make it a touch screen just because that’s what geeks do when they design stuff and try to be the next Steve Jobs. But we’ll see. In any case, when you think about it, the current handheld shape and screen size is ludicrous for something that’s supposed to be showing a map for navigation.

    Brad, good point about the camera sometimes being useful. Thing is, some cameras record GPS coords as well, including the top-line Canon S-100 we just picked up. I’m not against having a camera in a GPS, but when they use it as a marketing story to folks using the thing for real navigation instead of playing around with geo caching, it sounds kind of dumb.

  13. Lou Dawson August 7th, 2012 10:12 am

    Dan, to be clear, the USGS map data has errors. When private companies use it to create maps, they can’t help but recreate most of the errors. Even DeLorme, who is a mapping company more than a GPS company, does not have the resources to re-map the whole United States at 1:24000 !

    Eventually I think we’ll see some sort of user-friendly system in place to correct the errors, but I’d think the USGS would need to do that, not a private company. But who knows, if a company got big enough with their mapping, they could perhaps start with USGS, County and State data sets, then start correcting with user input. I’m almost certain that DeLorme probably does that a bit, perhaps Garmin, but as a percentage of the whole, when it comes to backcountry topography the corrections are probably quite minimal. After all, it’s not like you just correct the map based on one user’s feedback. You’d have to verify it first using aerial photos and perhaps even an on-the-ground hand check.

    In all, the mapping thing is quite a bit larger a deal than most people realize. It is amazing what we have, considering all.


  14. Dan August 7th, 2012 11:23 am

    Lou, regarding the world of “perfect maps”; that is a problem with our IT age…It seems that if I can think it, some IT hot-shots have already built it. This raises the expectations of even the most cynical of us old guys…and then we are unhappy when we can’t “have it our way”. Really, we just planted a super-robot on Mars, why can’t I have a 2 oz GPS unit that does everything and has perfect maps for $25, runs on solar power…and is made in the USA?..and a car that gets 100 miles to a banana peel?

  15. Lou Dawson August 7th, 2012 11:38 am

    I think the answer is that some things get funded, and some don’t…. also, most people will never catch the topo map inaccuracies. I talk to a lot of GPS users, and in all seriousness, they either keep the thing turned off most of the time or else just use it for playing around with tracking and a glance a the map once in a while. Hardcore use for land navigation, without a trail, track or road on the ground for reference, is the exception (though the geo cachers do go off trail to at least some extent.)

  16. Pierce Oz August 7th, 2012 4:04 pm

    Just a reminder to connect your GPS unit with the internet every so often and make sure you are running the latest firmware, especially if you’ve had your unit for a while. It IS important for GPS units, maybe not so much for your cell phone!

    Really, the internals and working of a GPS unit haven’t changed much since it’s inception, but the software and most importantly, the math and algorithms related to the signals coming from the sats have improved vastly.

    I am using an older GPSMAP 60Csx, which was still in production just a year or two ago. I was taking a GPS class for my masters, which was very informative and reccomended for those using GPS with any frequency.

    Several others in the class had the same unit, just a few years newer, and I was finding my GPS to be way slower in sat acquisition and considerably less accurate in pin-pointing. I was at first a bit perplexed, then pissed that my unit was functioning so much more poorly! I went home and downloaded the latest firmware for my GPS, and it was as good as the new ones.

  17. Lou Dawson August 7th, 2012 4:33 pm

    Pierce, also, the ones with magnetic compass need the latest data for declination and more, or they’ll be to far off to be useful in some situations. Thanks for the reminder, I’ve gotta update my Garmin!

  18. DENIS August 8th, 2012 10:12 am

    Garmin makes it very expensive to upgrade to a newer unit, because every piece of Garmin map software you own is locked to the old unit. Moving from my Garmin Oregon to a GPSMap 62s isn’t just $390 for the unit, it’s also an additional $300+ in MapSource products — Garmin City Navigator North America, City Navigator Europe, and Garmin Topo — that I own but cannot be transferred to a new handheld GPS.

  19. Lou Dawson August 8th, 2012 7:14 pm

    Denis, I’ve never bought a Garmin map… all obtained for free on the web. Lou

  20. Phil August 9th, 2012 11:08 am

    Talking about different form factors and screens. A GPS of the size of the smaller e-Readers (e.g., kobo/sony/ even the kindle) would be interesting. If one was satisfied with the b/w screen, it would be light and have superb battery longevity. You’d also be able to look at the map even with the screen off…

    I’m not sure how that type of screen does in the cold though…

  21. Ern August 13th, 2012 2:09 am

    eBook readers using eInk do fine in the cold. They have a good contrast ratio and would prob. outperform LCD screens in sunglight (not hard). They don’t have their own light source though nor are colour.

    Agree that we are still in the stone age without good topo maps and good map integration. I got the Garmin Topo Aus v.2 mapset for Australia and it’s so bad it’s ****. The only free Australian topo for Garmin (vector) is a set of manually scanned 1:250k government maps. Out of date; low on detail.

    But we are always going to want small form factor so obsessing about map quality may be beside the point.

  22. Lou Dawson August 13th, 2012 6:36 am

    Ern, sounds like youv’e seen the reality.

    Regarding form factor: The “bar of soap” shape for electronic devices is just a convention that frequently has no basis in practicality, though any shape has its advantages (soap fits in pocket and hand) and disadvantages (soap has a pretty small LCD screen).

    In my view, it was a big mistake for handheld GPS makers to stick with the soap bar form and nothing else. Many power users of electronic devices now seem to be going for thinner devices that still have some surface area for display. Look at smart phones, many of which have displays significantly larger than a Garmin handheld, and also operate as a GPS! Look at e-readers…

    Heck, if the idea of a device is to read it and use images, maps, and what have you, it’s kind of a no-brainer you’d want to optimize your interface design for human viewing.

    I’ve thought it through, and a device the size of my Kindle e-reader would be fine as a handheld GPS intended for map reading. Sure, it wouldn’t be quite as easy to pose for photos while holding it, but that’s not the point.

    It amazes me that GPS companies, including Garmin, have put so much energy into touch screens that drive you mad during real world use, instead of working on their form factor and display size.

    As I’ve said, this is beginning to look like how smart phones cut into camera sales. Smart phones are already taking a big bit out of GPS sales when it comes to vehicular nav, it’s only a matter of time till that happens with handheld GPS; unless the GPS companies get their act together.

    But corporate inertia and design teams with their heads where the sun don’t shine are hard things to get past… unless you’re Steve Jobs, anyway…

  23. Ern August 14th, 2012 1:46 am

    Agree about form factor.

    Display quality in bright sun remains a weakness with smartphones and LCD viewfinder cameras.

    Pretty damn hopeless in fact. Maybe our sun is brighter than yours, but I have to get out the micro-fold-up reading specs (yeah, that age), get the screen in shadow, and then start the menu selection process and reach the last-but-one point. Then switch to blind orientation and hope for the best.

    Anyway, I really just use the GPS to give me a fix on a paper/plastic map when in cloud, and to track back using the trip log in rubbish weather if that becomes necessary. Yeah, despite all the unexploited possibilities of the tech, those options are worth the ounces.

    Cheers from Downunder, where we’re having a good season.

  24. Larry G September 6th, 2012 9:10 am

    Lou…finally going to make the jump to a GPS. In addition to the Garmin products, I’ve been researching the Suunto Ambit, but would love a Wild Snow take on the product. Any chance of a future review? Thanks for the great work.

  25. Lou Dawson September 9th, 2012 5:46 pm

    Larry, I looked at the Ambit watch pretty carefully at OR. It is easily upgraded, but full -function battery life is only 15 hours. It does have a 3-axis compass (works at angles). Big deal-breaker for me is that the screen on “normal” GPS units is actually too small for practical map reading, so trying to do that on a watch face is somewhat of a joke. Ambit will help you navigate waypoints and presumably a track, what requires testing is just how it does that in the “blind” scenario mentioned above. Also, if it doesn’t display full topo maps then that’s another black mark for technical backcountry navigation.

    I’ll take your suggestion to heart and try one out.

  26. Larry G September 9th, 2012 7:38 pm

    Thanks, Lou. Agree it seems to be more of a tool to not get lost than one to actually find your way. I understand the battery life can be significantly lengthened if you set it to update every 60 seconds rather than continuously.

  27. Sherwood October 6th, 2012 9:04 pm

    Re: Maps.

    All maps lie. At best it’s lies of omission — forgetting to tell you something is there. Sometimes they miss place things. I’ve twice found class 5 or 6 rapids unmarked. However I’ve learned to be wary about contour lines that cross the river where the channel narrows. So I’m still alive.

    In canada, due to the way paper maps are made the actual horizontal location of a contour can be off by 60 to 90 meters. For river banks, this can make the difference between the bottom and top of the valley. Badly orthorectified APs can contribute to errors too. This will explain why you track just fine on the uplands, but are 150 meters off the road on the river flats.

    I have no use for the maps in GPS units. I like a paper map, and will haul them along on my back country trips. For fine grain stuff — setting orienteering controls — I like working with APs.

    Anyway, I usually have my display set to an entirely numerical display.

    Exception: When setting and checking controls, I will have a map display with just the controls showing, so I know where they are relative to me. (I run a winter orienteering game with a database of 1200 controls spread over 200 square km)

    Feature list:
    Bluetooth. I want a gadget for my real camera that can broadcast a bluetooth, “Where the hell are we?” and get a set of coordinates back. This minimizes battery use.

    Voice recognition. The damn controls are a PITA, especially in winter. I want to be able to talk to it.
    yes boss?
    MARK Waypoint. Label “Entering unmarked clearing”
    waypoint 271, “Entering unmarked lcearing”

    yes boss.
    DISPLAY Stats screen.
    yes boss.

    The same bluetooth system that talks to your camera could talk to a standard phone ear/mike.

    Make it possible to separate the GPS function from the display function. Let the GPS stay in your pocket. Do the display on a tablet or laptop. (Same bluetooth unit to keep them in sync.) Given the bluetooth, this is a program that runs on the larger display device.

    Open specs so that clever people can write programs that run on it, or rewrite the entire display stuff.

    I don;t want much.

  28. Ern October 6th, 2012 9:42 pm

    Maps aren’t photos. They’re a representation not a facsimile. Saying they lie misses the point that they can’t be all things to all people because to represent is to select: to leave in and leave out and leaving out *has* to be a big part of the map maker’s art by definition.

    Over large areas maps have to distort since they’re trying to do in 2D what on the ground is 3D.

    But for walkers and skiers at scale 1:25k or 1:50k this is no big deal.

    Where map nav is critical it’s always worth getting all those that cover the target at a useful scale. The diffs and additions will tell you lots.

    The biggest advance in usable maps IMO is plastic sheets. Along with a bog basic GPS to provide coords.

  29. Tim K March 14th, 2013 11:36 am

    I understand your not a fan of the touch screens BUT have you looked at them for evaluation?

    I have a Garmin 62 based gps (ASTRO 320) that I use with my birddogs, works awesome for tracking them .. brought it along on my last ski trip and the view screen was next to useless with my getting older eyes…. I’m looking at the Garmin Montana 600 or 650 for the exceedingly large screen, that I can actually see in the sun… biggest difference I can find is the 650 has the ability to read bike speed and support a heart rate monitor (which may or may not be a big deal touring, but is a great feature for biking) …..

    any thoughts on the unit or any other large screen gps, allowing for the touch screen to be a PIA

  30. Lou Dawson March 14th, 2013 11:49 am

    Sorry Tim, but I don’t even go within 100 feet of a touch screen GPS. They are incredibly lame for ski mountaineering. Lou

  31. Tim K March 14th, 2013 12:00 pm

    have you seen any large screen, button gps suggestions?

  32. Sherwood March 14th, 2013 12:13 pm

    You don’t want one for winter. Batery life runs about 50%, In cold enough weather they stop working, they are hard to use with mitts on, and generally are a PITA

    IMHO GPS are cover-your-ass equipment. If you are on a mapped trail, leave it in your pack, off. If you are bushwhacking, turn it on, mark your trailhead location, then turn it off. If you get lost, turn it on long enough to get your location on the map. If you find something interesting, turn it on long enough to mark a waypoint. And pencil that in on your paper map too.

    Oh, they can be fun to play with. How fast are you going, how much elevation. Non-essential stuff. If you do that, do carry a set of spare batteries.

    But overall, a paper map, a pencil, and a compass will teach your brain how to build an image of your surroundings.

    I used to run trips in northern Sask. 3 week canoe trips. I got out the GPS at the beginning of the trip, and also at the end of each day to mark our camp (in case someone later accused us of leaving a mess). About every 3-4 trips, I’d need to get it out for some other reason — E.g. Just where in this swamp am I, and where is the purported exit? Or, Portage burned down. Now we have 2 km of christmas trees to cut through.

  33. Lou Dawson March 14th, 2013 12:28 pm

    Sherwood, good points but sometimes the GPS is the most practical alternative and works quite well compared to messing around with paper maps. It’s just a tool. Per winter, the good ones work fine loaded with lithium AA batteries. I’ve been using for years now, including 20 below zero F on Denali.

    Tim, In my reviews I’ve mentioned that the form factor for backcountry nav GPS is all wrong. They should be shaped more like a mini tablet or smartphone, with a screen about 20 percent larger. I don’t know of any like that, but a trend is to indeed just use a smartphone with large LCD and internal GPS, paired with the right software etc.

    GPS companies like Garmin need to smell the coffee or they’re going to end up like camera makers who had vast amounts of business taken over by smart phones. Instead, they fool around making little tiny screen GPS units with, wow, a touch screen and a camera! Whooopieeee! Just so lame…

  34. Shaun December 30th, 2013 1:40 pm

    Okay so I bit the bullet and bought the Garmin 62 sc. At the end of the day I agreed the most important aspect for winter was not having a touch screen. This unit comes with the camera which is basically a joke however, it was on sale at costco so basically a free addition to the price at MEC. I figure it might be decent for snapping a quick photo of a pow stash in the backcountry with coordinates. The quality of photo is basically terrible. I played with a lot of older GPS units during my undergrad and have to say they have come a long way. With that said the design feels archaic and will certainly change in the future. This device is nowhere near my I phone in terms of user friendly capability and looks. The screen resolution is pretty old (think I phone 3). With that said I do kinda like it in a way. It feels like it can endure some serious abuse compared to a phone. This is an important feature for its application! Once I figure out how to use the device efficiently it will no doubt be a great tool. One thing it lacks is a user manual or a how to type booklet. Coming from a georgraphy background I already have an understanding however, a newby to cartography, GIS, gps type applications will find this thing a nightmare no doubt. Is there anywhere online with resources for finding info on how to perform defferent applications for the device? Also I live in coastal bc and was considering buying the backroad maps DVD for bc. It’s a bit expensive but looks like it is worth the investment.


  35. Shaun December 30th, 2013 4:32 pm

    Actually there is a decent user manual it is available as a PDF. Sorry for the confusion.

  36. Lou Dawson December 30th, 2013 5:15 pm

    Shaun, two points about your 62. It’s waterproof, and you can read the screen in bright ambient light. In those two areas smartphones fail miserably. In fact, I’ve pretty much given up on using my smartphone as real-world winter GPS. I had high hopes for it, but the combination of lame software and crumby screen, along with durability concerns (not to mention battery life), has me going back to he Garmin. I’ll keep trying to use the phone, but I have to say that it seems to be striking out. Lou

  37. zippy the pinhead December 30th, 2013 7:58 pm

    The Garmin 62st comes with the user-manual pdf file onboard. I imagine the 62sc and all the other 62’s do too.

    If you plug the unit into your computer with the USB cable, you can browse the contents of its internal storage.

    Look in the Documents/files/pdf directory (folder). There are a bunch of files for different languages. The one you want is QSM_EN.pdf, unless you prefer a different language. You can copy this file to your computer.

    It’s also possible to customize the startup screen. I edited the file Garmin/startup.txt and now my name, email address, phone number and a short message (to please contact me if the device is found) are all displayed when the unit is powered up.

    Happy trails,


  38. Ziggy December 30th, 2013 9:52 pm

    Neat work zippy.

    As an aside mapping & routing work on principles somewhat different from most other e-devices. That gave me headaches when I started out & I’m still not properly across them.

    It’s more like layers in photoshop.

    Anyone got a link to a good tutorial?

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