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Looking For Simple GPS Unit?

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Looking For Simple GPS Unit?

Postby InsaneBoost » Sat Mar 18, 2017 10:33 am

Do they exist? I made a thread about two years ago on units and never ended up buying one because of all the confusion with maps, specs, etc.

Basically I just need a simple GPS. It doesn't need to do much, in reality I just want to make sure I'm "on the trail." Especially for things like if I get to an area where there's snow for a few stretches and I'm not sure where the trail is. I know some can do fancy things like show water sources, the trees, mountains in detail, and things of that nature. That's not something I care about. As long as I can get a view like Google Maps, I'm fine with that.

The main thing I would like is for the lakes to be named, if that's possible (I know this is similar to water sources that I posted above, but by that I mean more of every stream, creek, river, etc). However I could do without that too. The other thing would be the maps themselves. I'm not wanting to spend $100-200 on a device, and then have to pay another $100 or so for maps. If I have to, then so be it, but I'm rather simple and would like to keep it as simple as possible.

Is there anything like that out there?



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Re: Looking For Simple GPS Unit?

Postby Flamingo » Sat Mar 18, 2017 12:18 pm

Look at the Garmin eTrex 10 (less than $100), or the better Garmin eTrex 20 (less than $200). They're both simple, lightweight, and rugged units with long battery life and very reliable GPS signals. You can load topo maps, tracks, and waypoints on these devices using Garmin's free BaseCamp software, which easily handles KML files exported from Google Earth. I deep-dived into researching GPS devices for my CDT thru-hike in 2015, and I arrived at the eTrex 20. It got me through 3,000 miles of difficult navigation. The 10 and the 20 both weigh 5 ounces with batteries, which is relatively lightweight for a dedicated GPS device. I've also tried using my smartphone for GPS, but I don't rely on my phone battery so I like having a dedicated device.

Regarding topo maps, you can find free Garmin-compatible topo maps online for nearly all quadrangles. I have yet to pay for topo maps. I'm not really sure what's the value-added in buying maps from Garmin, other than you get the most up-to-date USGS series. For Sierra backpacking, the lakes and peaks haven't changed much since the 1970's series maps, and I highly doubt you need the latest topos.
Last edited by Flamingo on Sat Mar 18, 2017 9:48 pm, edited 2 times in total.
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Re: Looking For Simple GPS Unit?

Postby InsaneBoost » Sat Mar 18, 2017 12:21 pm

Some have mentioned the Gaia App as long as I download the maps before the hike. They say the GPS will always locate me, the only issue would be if I didn't have a map downloaded.

Anyone use this?
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Re: Looking For Simple GPS Unit?

Postby AaronRDavis » Sat Mar 18, 2017 3:44 pm

Gaia on my iPhone is terrific. It's easy to download a large map of the whole Sierra (or elsewhere) for free, and then it's always available. Gaia has eliminated my desire for any other GPS unit.
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Re: Looking For Simple GPS Unit?

Postby LMBSGV » Sat Mar 18, 2017 8:11 pm

I'm curious what others experience is with backcountry maps for Android devices. I'm not interested in what I consider are the extraneous health and fitness aspects. As Insane Boost said something to help navigation for cross-country travel, especially this summer when there will probably be long stretches of snow. The older I get, I find my navigation instincts aren't as reliable as in the past.
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Re: Looking For Simple GPS Unit?

Postby RobS » Sat Mar 18, 2017 9:00 pm

I also use the Gaia app on my iPhone. I download maps for the area I'm going. I no longer use a separate GPS unit.
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Re: Looking For Simple GPS Unit?

Postby rlown » Sat Mar 18, 2017 9:07 pm

How long does your battery last and how often do you turn the unit on?
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Re: Looking For Simple GPS Unit?

Postby Shawn » Sat Mar 18, 2017 11:23 pm

Hey InsaneBoost,

After looking at your needs, I'd concur with VHSVHS' recommendation for one of the small Garmin units.

-need a simple GPS
-just want to make sure I'm "on the trail."
-get a view like Google Maps
-would like is for the lakes to be named
-not wanting to spend $100-200 on a device, and then have to pay another $100 or so for maps.
-would like to keep it as simple as possible


Presumably the GPS will be an addition to a hard copy map and compass. The thing is, if you're really needing to locate yourself on a map (over a stretch of snow or whatever), it will likely be an occasional action and not something you're going to do frequently.

A small dedicated GPS unit simplifies matters because all you have to do is turn it on, wait a moment, and there you are.

I know cell phone apps are all the rage these days, and if you're already taking the phone with you that may be the way to go. Yet I would still offer it may not be the "simple" you desire. Usage of the phone for other reasons may be tempting and consequently drain the battery. Be sure to read the reviews online if you opt for a cell phone app. Personally, I would not want to be standing on a snowfield trying to view a cellphone screen, starting the app, flipping through screens, and so forth, if the sole purpose is to simply get oriented (and if you're really misplaced the added stress is detrimental).

Also, CalTopo is a terrific resource for pre-planning a trip as the data can be exported to the GPS with a single mouse click. Routes (trails) way points (e.g. lakes) and a variety of other info unique to your trip is really seamless. Check it out sometime.
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Re: Looking For Simple GPS Unit?

Postby AlmostThere » Sun Mar 19, 2017 11:00 am

I have a GPS and never take it. I use map and compass, keep track of where I am, and only ever used a GPS to get a quick fix on elevation. An altimeter might be my replacement.

I have seen electronic devices go horribly wrong. All you need to do is ask any SAR volunteer who trains monthly on navigation -- they train in BOTH and they keep that knowledge fresh and ready to go, and always check with the map to verify what the GPS is telling them.

Keep in mind that it is totally possible to think you know how to use the GPS, get in a pinch and get misdirected -- without a solid foundation in map navigation it would be possible to go wrong pretty quick in some situations. GPS was created for use with a map. Not as a replacement.
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Re: Looking For Simple GPS Unit?

Postby InsaneBoost » Sun Mar 19, 2017 11:07 am

Good information everyone. Appreciate the feedback. I definitely always take a hardcopy map with me, and really have always used that. It's just the snow issues this year that I'm worried about. When I moved here three years ago the winters were never bad so I never had to deal with much if any snow, but this year I definitely want to make sure I am where I'm supposed to be.

Again I'm no dummy, but I know things can be completely different when the trail isn't seen.
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