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Garmin eTrex Handheld Hiking GPS Sat Nav Review

Entry Level Satellite Navigation At A Budget Price

Garmin eTrex The Garmin eTrex is a very popular hiking Sat Nav, both for hardened trail users and Geocachers out for an afternoon of fun.

Available for under $100 / £80 if you look in the right places, at this price it would be tempting to snap one up straight away, but lets look at the specification first.

The etrex is small and powered from 2 aa batteries and should give you about 22 hours of constant use. It has a grayscale screen, is waterproof, but does not float.

This hiking Garmin will tell you your latitude and longitude, UTM/UPS, Maidenhead, MGRS and Loran TD's.

The eTrex can store up to 500 waypoints in its memory, and can store 20 routes.

The etrex has a standard GPS receiver, not a high sensitivity one, and does not utilise WAAS. It will be accurate to less than 12 metres.

The basic eTrex does not have a built in compass or the ability to store and display base maps, and therefore no expandable memory slot. It does come with basic hunting and fishing time information and sun / moon times.

The etrex can be connected to your pc via it's serial lead, but it is an optional extra to be bought from Garmin, the unit just ships with wristband and quick-start guide. (No batteries either..).

Other accessories available include car mounts, bicycle mounts, boat mounts, etc.

So what's it actually like to use? You'll be amazed how small this unit is - about the size of a standard mobile phone. It's light and the screen is fairly easy to see, but not in bright direct sunlight. I found that the eTrex picked up a fix within a couple of minutes out of the box, but suffered slightly when next to tall buildings or heavy foliage. It did everything I asked of it, and it is useful to be able to use it with one hand. Pocketgpsworld has a more in depth review here.

So how will you be using the Garmin eTrex to help you navigate? Being a limited device, you will be using waypoints and routes to plan your hike, and then you can use the track log to get you back to your starting point. You also really need to have a compass and paper maps with you as well to navigate safely.

compass and mapYou'd start off by planning your route in advance using paper maps or the internet to enter waypoints into the device. You will then plan a route between the waypoints as your guide. Once started you will use the track log to record your path, then reverse it to get home (if necessary). SO with the etrex, once the data is entered, you'd get to the start of your hike, the trail-head, record that as a waypoint (if you hadn't already) then start your route. The Garmin will tell you the heading towards the next waypoint. This is where your compass comes in - the heading on the screen will only be accurate while you're moving, so an ordinary orienteering comapass is a better bet if, like the basic etrex, your sat nav does not have a built in compass.

You can also use your paper map to check the trail and topographical features, so you don't end up heading towards a cliff, gorge, or unpasable river. Handheld hiking devices are not like car sat nav - they won't guide you step by step along a trail, they just tell you the next straight line towards the next waypoint on your route - so the more way points you enter, the easier it is to stick to your planned route.

Once you reach your destination you can then tell your Garmin to take you home - the track log will have been recording your progress and guide you (in reverse order) back the way you came. Easy! But this example also shows the short-comings of basic hiking GPS units - you will need a compass and paper maps.

So there we have. The Garmin etrex is a simple, cheap, entry level Satellite system. I'll let you make up your own mind whether it's the unit for you - it has limited features, but it does what it should ok. If you're after a basic, no frills navigator it could be for you.

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