Beta on GPS units?


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Trad climber
Anchorage, AK
Aug 15, 2011 - 05:52pm PT
If you do get a gps unit, don't just stuff it in a pack and pull it when you get lost. You are almost guranteed to find that it is useless for that application. You have to play with it for a bit to figure out how to use it, and you need to mark your starting point and some waypoints so you can back track.

I love gps on my boat, I seldom use one on land. They are very useful tools, but you have to practice with them to be useful.

Social climber
The internet
Aug 15, 2011 - 05:57pm PT
If you ever noticed hiking up switchbacks, your GPS waypoints can stack up on each other, and the units don't always update the elevation constantly.
You likely have and old or POS GPS. My 310XT tracks are highly detailed and very repeatable. Elevation profiles are much better than with older units as well. I would expect an Oregon, with its larger antenna, would be at least as accurate.

Barometric watches - all that calibrating and screwing around - no thanks. What is the point of a tool that can't tell you the elevation unless you tell it the elevation first? Those things are so 80's.

Aug 15, 2011 - 06:06pm PT
Those sat-nav thingies are just another tool. Much more convenient to carry in the back country than LORAN. Hard to beat map, compass and altimeter in most - but not all - situations.

I made it from near Manilla to Borneo and onto Singapore with map, compass and a log slung over the stern. No altimeter needed. RDF was the cheapest transistor radio I could find with a dipole antenna.


Trad climber
Yacolt, WA
Aug 15, 2011 - 08:14pm PT
Could be that I simply haven't adjusted the settings to gice me a constant read on elevation. It seems to really lag. Ihave no patience for reading the manual or watching the DVD. My needs are simple - navigate if I can't see, navigate if I am perhaps off-route, go to a set of coordinates for a SAR event, provide my location, change map datum,....

Haven't done a ton of switchbacks in awhile, so may be my GPS will surprise me with useful data later.

He's right. You need to practice some before you can stash it. If you aren't parked at a defined trailhead, you can mark it as a waypoint. Generally I only mark critial turns for a route - usually where we left the trail to begin the bushwhacking session.

Trad climber
Bay Area
Aug 15, 2011 - 08:23pm PT
The GPS system is inherently less accurate for elevation. It's the way the system works and spherical triginometry. Successive GPS fixes improve over the first few fixes at a given location. The elevation even takes longer.

Social climber
Aug 15, 2011 - 08:41pm PT
I use the Garmin GPSmap 62s. I’ve used it in the upper montane forest of Java, California, and Oregon. Going off trail through wooded country - it’s been great. In Indonesia it was stellar, so much so when I went up to Diamond Peak a couple weeks ago I thought I might do a deep woods traverse I threw it in the pack along with the map and the compass and jotted down a few waypoints to get my camp. Come Friday and looking at a quick 5 mile hike in I hit 4’ of snow after ½ mile, in the trees, now I could have taken bearings and made it to the lake I wanted to camp at with not much problem, but having that GPS was awesome and I’m sure it saved me a hour of worry and pondering with a heavy pack on my back. No excuse for not having spatial awareness and being able to use a map and compass, but a GPS with a good antenna can make things go a lot easier.

Trad climber
Millbrae, CA
Topic Author's Reply - Aug 15, 2011 - 09:28pm PT
Thanks, Max Neale. Good to know. I will keep a look out for your review.

Mountain climber
The Other Monrovia- CA
Aug 16, 2011 - 01:19am PT
Of the various makes I've been most impressed with Garmin because their interface is easier to use.

That's a scary thought. I'm glad I didn't buy one of those others.

Trad climber
Upper Leftish
Aug 16, 2011 - 01:56am PT
Reilly, what specifically gave you problems?
Janet Wilts

Trad climber
Aug 16, 2011 - 02:46pm PT
Many good posts about GPS's...

but those of us who search for people really need good ones...

the garmin map78gps floats...and is very good....and you can put topo's on them....the garmin map62 is more rugged but doesn't float....and I've dropped my gps in water 3 times.....I saved a lot of money having it float....

and the gps's above are very easy to use....

Janet Wilts

Mountain climber
Bend, Oregon, USA
Aug 16, 2011 - 02:54pm PT
The eTrex H ($99.00) and the eTrex Venture HC ($169.00) both have the same Garmin High Sensitivity antenna and they are a big step foreword from the original iconic Garmin eTrex models.

However, note that the eTrex H does not come with a computer connection cable (extra cost +- $35.00). Yes, you can use the same Garmin "serial port" cable as you have used for your "old" Garmin eTrex GPS. However, if you have a newer laptop computer, or a newer desktop, you will need a "USB" cable (costing about $50.00). The "serial port" is out-dated and not included on newer computers.

I suggest you buy the eTrex Venture HC that comes with a USB cable and can hold Garmin's proprietary Topo maps. It costs about $157.00 and includes the USB cable!

The eTrex Venture HC has a true "Map" Page with a simple topo map of the US (or many other countries) and an important down-loadable topo map capability. The Venture HC has 24 MB of memory, enough to be loaded with all of the 1:100,000 scale topo maps of the areas that I like to explore and climb in Central Oregon. Also, it just takes five minutes at my computer to change the more detailed 1:100.000 maps to different areas, say the Washington Cascades, using the proprietary Garmin $99.00 Map Source program.

"The eTrex Venture HC’s basemap contains lakes, rivers, cities, interstates, national and state highways and coastlines. Venture HC also includes 24 MB of internal memory, so you can load waypoints and routes from the included MapSource® Trip & Waypoint Manager software and add map detail from Garmin's entire line of optional MapSource® mapping products. Its 256-color, sunlight-readable display makes it easy to distinguish map details — even in bright sunlight."

Note that most Garmin GPS handheld receivers use maps at a 1:100,000 scale, not detailed enough for many backcountry adventures. You need 1:24,000 scale paper maps.

Recently, Garmin has offered 1:24,000 Map Source topo maps (say of Oregon and Washington), on CDs, downloadable to your computer, for about $130.00. These maps are advertised by Garmin as "comparable to" the USGS Quad topo maps but they seem to have less detail and appear to be the 1:100,000 scale maps with extra terrain lines added. Zooming in for the summit of say South Sister near Bend, results in the small GPS screen being overwhelmed with brown contour lines that do not seem to scale thinner.

Yes, the new 1: 24,000 maps will fit in the 24 MB memory of my Garmin eTrex Venture HC! The extra contour lines take very little more space than the standard 1:100,000 scale maps.

I have decided to use the new 1:24,000 Garmin Map Source topo maps, but continue to carry my USGS Quad maps or a page or two of 8.5 x 11 inch 1:24,000 paper maps that I can create and print at home. I can study my trip in detail on my computer, place and name Waypoints and even create a track, then print the maps and upload the waypoints (and track) to my Garmin GPS.

I learned about this forum from the latest email from Chris. There are many misinformed opinions presented as fact in prior posts. Here are some:

Using a FRS radio in a Rhino GPS to call for help in a canyon will not work - FRS radio is short range - line of sight. 2 meter amature radio service is also line of site to a repeater. Save $100.00 and a lot of weight by not buying the out of date Rhino. The only sure service is satellite, best through the SPOT-2 at $149.00 plus unlimited annual satellite service cost.

You can not depend on true elevation readings from an aneroid barometer in any GPS. The book tell you to adjust elevation at known points or use the elevation reported free on all GPS units. Save $100.00 and be safer.

The magnetic compass used in all GPS units is only good to about 5 degrees. You can not site a line, use it as a protractor on a topo map to find a bearing. Save another $100.00 by not buying the more expensive models.

Accuracy today is about 4.1 meters. Ask any of the millions of Geocachers, some of whom have found thousands of GPS points.

There are many more misconceptions expressed in this thread but my wife says I am being a little grumpy and I have to go for now.
Clint Cummins

Trad climber
SF Bay area, CA
Aug 16, 2011 - 03:07pm PT
> However, note that the eTrex H does not come with a computer connection cable (extra cost +- $35.00). Yes, you can use the same Garmin "serial port" cable as you have used for your "old" Garmin eTrex GPS. However, if you have a newer laptop computer, or a newer desktop, you will need a "USB" cable (costing about $50.00). The "serial port" is out-dated and not included on newer computers.

True. Entering numeric Lat/Lon is slow without a keyboard, so a PC connection would make this a lot easier.

You can get what looks like a good clone USB cable on ebay for $19 including shipping. I just ordered one.
You can get their connector for $7.50 if you want to build your own cable.
They have shareware software, too.
Hopefully good for cheapskates like me that don't want to shell out $100 for the Garmin cables, $100+ for map downloading software, etc.
"Razors and blades" as economists say - you buy the cheap razor, then spend $$ on blades to use it!

The map capability would be pretty nice for navigating. The eTrex H is pretty - numeric coordinates and simple path you have traveled.

Trad climber
Poughkeepsie, NY
Aug 16, 2011 - 03:55pm PT
I have the Garmin 60csx. It works fine in dense Eastern deciduous tree cover in my experience and I've had no problem with track inaccuracy. I've done various local hikes multiple times and recorded the tracks each time because I was curious about accuracy; the tracks come out within a foot or two of each other.

I have GPS app on my iPhone; as others have said it is worthless as a back-country tool because of the battery drain. It works ok for recording trail runs.

I always carry a compass and paper map as well as spare batteries. In all honesty it would be stupid not to if navigation is a real issue. And I'd say that 90% of the time, a paper map (without any additional navigation aid) is all you need (probably all you need even more than 90% of the time in the open country one mostly finds in the West.)

On the other hand, GPS units make certain things much easier and other things possible that you can't do at all with a compass and map.

Compass and map navigation requires landmarks; if you are deep in the woods or if it is dark or if you are in whiteout conditions, your compass will be worthless if you don't already know your map location. If you do know your map location and want to follow a bearing, and if their are obstacles to direct line travel, which there almost always are in land travel, then with very limited visibility the process becomes complicated, with step-counting and various additional bearing computations. The GPS is orders of magnitude easier and more accurate for such undertakings.

And speaking of accuracy, I'd guess most of us cannot achieve 50 foot accuracy with a compass even if we are just trying to walk in a straight line and there are no obstacles forcing detours. This is why it is absolutely standard compass navigating practice to purposely over- or undershoot your camp or car in a known direction.

I've found the back-track feature of GPS units extremely valuable on intrinsically or accidentally long day climbs. With an approach in the 1-3 hour range, it is totally feasible to just let the GPS record the entire track. Of course you turn it off during the climb, and then there will be enough juice to turn it back on and leave it on for the entire return trip.

If you need to stash a pack somewhere, marking its location with a waypoint makes it infinitely easier to find later on in the dark (fuggettaboutthat with a compass). (This method does not work well if you---ahem---stash the pack with the GPS unit in it.) And having a pointer that always points to the start of the route can be a big help when that no-brainer descent everyone tells you about turns out to require more brains than you apparently have.

Getting back in the dark when there is either no trail or an indistinct one is so much easier when using GPS back-tracking that this single feature, all by itself, makes the units worth it, in my opinion. True, I've never been in a situation when I couldn't have made it back without the GPS, but the number of hours not spent wandering and backtracking is very substantial, and given that many of us have lives outside of climbing and have places we are supposed to be and times we are supposed to be there, those saved hours can be pretty significant.

If you are one of those people who don't read manuals and instruction books, then don't bother buying a GPS unit; you won't be able to use it when you need it. I don't use mine frequently, and so have a little pilot's checklist of settings to make at the beginning and end of a trip. I also carry a little notebook with waterproof paper and one of those "astronaut" pens that supposedly write under water to make notes if I am recording way points. This is much quicker than laboriously tapping out, one letter at a time, descriptive waypoint names. (If the waypoints are something you will reuse a lot, then it does make sense, later on when you aren't in the field and neither time nor battery drain is a issue, to change the waypoint names to something suggestive of their purpose.


Trad climber
Yacolt, WA
Aug 16, 2011 - 03:56pm PT
The 1:24;000 maps are available on chips that can be inserted into Garmin Oregon 450 T. I am technophobic and avoid download/uploads to my computer. The chip is easy.

A lot of sites allow you to compare the features of various GPS.

I was a huge magellan fan. Ten years ago, their units acquired satellits much faster than the garmin units did. When that GPS was stolen, I replaced it with a garmin. I wasn't completely happy with that until I moved up to the 450 T. I love this one. My only complaint is that the touch screen can cause issues. WHen bushwahcking, the map datum has changed on me. Fortunately I do know how to quickly get back to the correct datum when the chief tells me that there is no way those coordinates should match my current position.
corniss chopper

breaking the speed of gravity
Aug 16, 2011 - 04:03pm PT
Knowing where you are is not all its cracked up to be.

Social climber
kennewick, wa
Aug 16, 2011 - 04:18pm PT
I have those Garmin Rhino's like Rokjox mentioned earlier in the thread. I like them a lot. The radio function is very useful (I have a set).

I did have a question (I dont have the units in my lap so I could get this wrong). If you need to send out an SOS on the FRS function is there a specific channel for that?

I did not have a life threatening SOS but did have a potentially bad issue earlier this year up in Canada and was looking to see if there was "anybody out there?"

Plus I dont think that the range of the 1/2 Watt units is all that great. Anybody know about this?


Social climber
The internet
Aug 16, 2011 - 04:28pm PT
These maps are advertised by Garmin as "comparable to" the USGS Quad topo maps but they seem to have less detail and appear to be the 1:100,000 scale maps with extra terrain lines added.
Not all areas have 24k surveys, therefore there is no map. For example, for most of the Tetons, you won't find 24k detail. The paper USGS map doesn't have it, therefore neither does the software. Not sure about your specific example.

Mountain climber
Bend, Oregon, USA
Aug 16, 2011 - 04:44pm PT
rgold has listed a number of the unique advantages of the GPS over use on map and compass alone. Right on! Especially indispensable in the winter!

All of the recent (last 2 or 3 years) Garmin GPS models have the same chip and fast antenna. An earlier poster mentioned waiting to get an accurate location. No so with recent models - accuracy is measured to 4.1 meters. Locking on to many satellites can be monitored on the Satellite Page.

It is not necessary to leave the GPS on and to "track back". You will not want to follow all your meanders - just create a new bearing back by way of the road, hidden to you, but clear on the map page. It is worth while to create a "track" that you can download to your map program - My TOPO's Terrain Navigator ($100.) You need the Garmin Map Source program to load the 1:24,000 topo maps into your GPS.

"Mr. Hewett was about eight miles from his camp when found:
He had no food, and a GPS unit that was dying."

Note that it is not necessary to leave a GPS on all the time! Most GPS receivers have at least 14 hours of life on two new batteries. Extra AA batteries can be carried in a warm pants pocket to change out batteries weakened by cold. Lithium batteries withstand the cold much better than "regular" AA batteries.

Using a $7.00 USGS topo map and a $30.00 base plate declination-adjusted compass, it is simple to draw a line back to camp (where you have surely input a waypoint). Leaving your GPS "on" so you can "track back" is not recommended and very inefficient. Learn to use your topo map, adjusted base plate compass and adjusted GPS together!

Communication: "Cell phones have increasing tower coverage. Check your favorite areas."

Climbers and others who adventure into the backcountry, should carry a $149.00 SPOT-2 GPS Satellite Messenger. This new device will send a message home, "I'm OK and having fun exactly here on this map"; or message friends "I could use a little help, exactly here"; or send a message to 911 "I need help exactly here, right now - see the map attached," (taking the Search out of Search and Rescue)!

Google "Best compass for backcountry and mountaineering."
Google "Best GPS for backcountry and mountaineering."
Google "How do I use my map, compass and GPS, together?"
Google "Best topo maps for backcountry and mountaineering?"
Google "map, compass, GPS"

Note: I do not sell anything.

Social climber
kennewick, wa
Aug 16, 2011 - 05:13pm PT
No so with recent models - accuracy is measured to 4.1 meters.

4.1 meters is a pretty darn exacting number. You sure it isnt 4.0 or 4.3? Not trying to be an ass but my 4 year old units are no way near that accurate. My guess is 10 meters plus or minus.

Rokjox, thanks for the radio info. That sounds about right to me.

Social climber
The internet
Aug 16, 2011 - 05:54pm PT
rgold has listed a number of the unique advantages of the GPS over use on map and compass alone.

Actually, he was just scratching the surface of how insanely clueless it is to claim that navigating with a "map and compass" instead of GPS is any more reasonable than trying to claim you use a "sun dial" instead of a watch - for all the same reasons.

The reality - you basically just told us that you really have NO idea what you are talking about.

There's El Cap over there, there it is on my map. Let me take a bearing. Yeah, now I'm navigating with a map and compass. No, you're not.
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