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Gadget Bag: GPS Made Easy
Although they may never fully replace a trail map and compass, compact touch-screen GPS units pack convenience, ease of use and navigational power into a device small enough to slip into a shirt pocket. Most go well beyond telling you where you are in two-dimensional terms and allow you to track your route, mark waypoints and do various things that Lewis and Clark only dreamed about. Some provide altitude, barometric pressure, weather data and an ultra-reliable compass; they also tell you what time it is.
Garmin Rino 610, 650 & 655t
The list of features offered by the Garmin Rino 650 and 655t makes you wonder whether we’re talking about a handheld touch-screen GPS or a NASA space lab. These pro models include an FRS/GMRS radio for spoken communication, barometric altimeter, three-axis compass and NOAA weather radio. The 2.6-inch, color touch-screen can be operated while gloves are worn. Both the Rino 650 and 655t come with a worldwide basemap and can be updated with a wide variety of detailed topographic, marine and road maps via a microSD card slot. They also support BirdsEye Satellite Imagery, which enables you to download satellite images and integrate them with your maps (subscription required). In addition, they’re compatible with Custom Maps, a free software application that transforms paper and electronic maps into downloadable maps.
The Rinos receive NOAA weather broadcasts and support Specific Area Message Encoding (SAME) that pinpoints National Weather Service warnings and watches displayed county-by-county on the LCD. The Rino 650 has a $499 MSRP. Priced at $599, big brother Rino 655t includes a built-in, 5-megapixel digital camera with autofocus, 4x digital zoom and automatic geotagging. Both include a lithium-ion battery pack and charger.
The Lowrance Endura Out&Back GPS was designed for easy, out-of-the-box use, especially for first-time GPS users. It features a large, 2.7-inch color touch-screen, a simplified user interface and hard buttons for quick access to key functions. It comes preloaded with mapping content that includes key land features such as lakes, rivers, primary roads and points of interest (POI). The Out&Back supports a wide range of optional mapping content and accepts public domain files, including GPX trails, routes and general outdoor POIs via USB download or microSD card. Totally updatable, the Out&Back is enclosed in weatherproof rubber body armor for added durability; it’s powered by two AA batteries. MSRP: $199.
The power of the Suunto X10 doesn’t fit in the palm of your hand—it goes on your wrist, where it’s as convenient and accessible as any sports watch. This full-featured GPS allows you to record routes, mark waypoints, track speed and distance, and view tracks on Google Earth. On-the-go navigation is facilitated by a sophisticated compass. The X10 also functions as an altimeter, providing altitude and vertical speed data (with altitude alarm). As a barometer, the X10 delivers sea-level pressure, absolute pressure, a weather trend graph, ambient temperature and a weather alarm. It’s a timepiece, too, and features dual time zones, a calendar, multiple alarms and, of course, a stopwatch. It’s water-resistant up to 100 meters and charges via a USB cable.
How do they work? And why do they sometimes not work? GPS units rely on the 32* GPS (Global Positioning System) satellites that continuously circumnavigate the Earth and a mathematical calculation called trilateration (not triangulation). GPS receivers determine your exact location on our planet by analyzing how long it takes for the coded signals from at least three satellites to reach them. If the signals are blocked for some reason, the calculations can’t occur. Such blackouts are usually temporary and happen most often in large cities with tall buildings.
*Number of satellites: tycho.usno.navy.mil/gpscurr.html
The Garmin Oregon 550 provides a full set of features in an easy-to-use package at an affordable price. The waterproof color touch-screen affords intuitive navigation while the three-axis, tilt-compensating compass keeps you headed in the right direction. The Oregon 550 is preloaded with a Digital Elevation Mapping (DEM) basemap. The DEM shades the map elevations so it’s easier to discern points of reference based on the altitudinal differences depicted on the LCD. The Oregon 550 stores 1,000 waypoints, 50 routes and 10,000 track logs, adequate for most outdoor enthusiasts. Memory can be expanded via microSD cards. While most serious photographers won’t be warmed by the built-in, 3.2-megapixel digital camera, it’s useful for snapping waypoints because of the automatic geotagging feature. It also displays pictures stored on your media card. MSRP: $499.
Built with the avid hiker in mind, the Garmin Dakota 20 is compact, yet features a large, 2.6-inch color touch-screen and other full-sized features, including a high-sensitivity GPS with HotFix satellite prediction, barometric altimeter, three-axis electronic compass and microSD card slot. The compass shows where you’re headed even when you’re not moving or holding the device level. It includes a barometric altimeter that tracks changes in pressure and optionally plots the trend of change over time, allowing you to stay one step ahead of foul weather.
It also has a high-sensitivity, WAAS (Wide Area Augmentation System)-enabled GPS receiver with HotFix satellite prediction. The WAAS enhancement can improve location accuracy by up to a factor of five. The Dakota 20 offers paperless geocaching, which enables you to download up to 2,000 caches with information such as location, terrain and descriptions. It comes with a worldwide basemap. Other Garmin topographic, marine and road maps are available on microSD. The Dakota 20 can be connected to the Internet via your computer so you can track activities on Google Earth. MSRP: $349.
What do you get when you wrap all of the famous DeLorme street and topo maps together with the ability to type and send one-way text messages via the SPOT satellite system and package it in a rugged handheld GPS? You get the DeLorme Earthmate PN-60w with SPOT Satellite Communicator, a world-class location/communication device. You go places where cellular coverage doesn’t exist. With the Earthmate PN-60w, you can send text messages, post messages on Facebook and Twitter, and allow others to track your progress on Google Maps (tracking is automatic as long as the SPOT Satellite Communicator is active). In an emergency, you can send an SOS with a text explanation of your situation to ensure the best possible outcome. With the Earthmate PN-60w, you’re never alone unless you want to be. MSRP: $450.