Recommended GPS, Hiking Gear, Software

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GPS Recommendations

There are many purposes for which you might use a GPS. The reviews on this pages are focused on GPS systems for hiking. If you are looking for a GPS to use in your car, perhaps to find the trailhead where you start your hike, or to get to the restaraunt where you will eat at the conclusion of your hike, you can find recomendations for automotive GPS systems inclduing the TomTom One and the Magellan Roadmate 1412 at our auto technology site.

Garmin E-Trex Vista GPS Review

In 2001 I purchased the then top of the line Garmin Vista GPS after significant research. Paper maps had served fine in the past, but finding the trailhead or deciding which of many side trails is the one I wanted was much easier using a GPS receiver. More importantly, when I scouted hikes in advance I used the GPS receiver to record my track so that I could transfer the path to maps before printing them - giving me a better customized map to hand out for group hikes. With the Garmin US TOPO MapSource CD Rom (reviewed below) this receiver displayed topographic maps.

Much has changes since then and there have been many improvements to the Vista. Consider the new addition to the E-trex line (the Garmin E-Trex 20) with a color display and high sensitivity allowing use even in the woods or canyons. The links above are to Amazon.com, where I purchased my GPS receiver. The price varies as different specials are offered, so you should shop around. An good price for the receiver $170. If want a full set of current maps, you should consider the newer lines of Hiking GPS units (described below) that include topographic maps preloaded.

DeLorme PN Series Review

The current generation of hiking GPS receivers come with topographic or other map sets preloaded, and in many cases a package of extra, more detailed maps, that can be downloaded to the unit. Among these new GPS receivers are the DeLorme PN-60 (the latest generation of of the PN-40), the Garmin Colorado, and the Garmin Oregon. I recently purchased the DeLorme PN-40 and and discuss this GPS reciever here.

The DeLorme PN-40 handheld GPS receiver with a 2.25 inch color screen and 1 GB of internal memory (3.5GB for the PN-60) for storage of maps, tracks, and waypoints. It has an SD card slot that can accept up to a 32GB SD memory card to hold even more maps. The device has a preloaded basemap for major and secondary US roads (US version) and comes with the full DeLorme Topo USA version 8 (Topo USA version 9 for the PN-60) and detailed maps on additional DVDs that may be downloaded to the GPS unit, providing detailed topographc and routable street and trail information from the unit itself. The GPS unit supports WAAS for better accuracy fixes, and a built in magnetic compass and barometric altimeter. The unit is ruggedly constructed and waterproof (IPX7 standard).

A good price for the DeLorme PN-40 is around $300. This is a great price when you consider that it includes the full version of DeLorme Topo USA. If you were consideirg the Vista (above), plus the purchase of maps, it would be silly not to consider the PN-40 since the final cost would be comparable. I am very happy with my purchased PN-40. The menu-based user interface is easy to use and the map management functions (e.g. providing the ability to select different map layers for viewing) is great.

Garmin Colorado, and Garmin Oregon

Next in our progression of GPS units for hiking are the Garmin Colorado and Garmin Oregon GPS receivers.Both have larger screens than the PN-40, with 3 inch (diagonal) screens (2.97 inc for the Colorado). The screen for the Garmin Oregon is a touch screen, through which one inteacts with the GPS receiver.

The Garmin Colorado and Garmin Oregon GPS receivers come in many versions, with major differences including the sets of maps that are included with each version. There are versions with map sets for hiking, boating, and other activities. Other differences include specific capabilities such as the ability to exchange tracks and waypoints wirelessly. The Oregon 550 and the 550T includes a 3.2 MP Digital Camera which will geotag the pictures you take (i.e. it will add the GPS coordinates for the location from which you took the picture to the data for the digital photo).

When choosing a model, you need to consider how you plan to use the unit, and select the version with the maps that are most appropriate. Other map sets may be purchased separately.

Mapping Software Reviews

There are two classes of mapping software that I discus below, the first is software to download maps to your GPS receiver, such as Garmin's MapSource. If you have one of the newer high end GPS units, it may have included its own series of downloadable or pre-installed maps, in which case you will not need an extra package. The second class of mapping software that I discuss is used to print topographic maps.

Garmin US TOPO MapSource

If you want to download topographic maps into your E-trex Vista GPS you will need the Garmin Garmin US TOPO MapSource. Unfortunately this software is not particularly good at printing topographic maps. This package contains contour data and points of interest suitable for loading into your GPS, but it not capable of generating printed copies of the USGS topographic maps you might get on paper. The user interface for the PC based application also leaves much to be desired. Personally, I consider this this package as having the sole purpose of downloading maps into my GPS, and uploading tracks and waypoints so that I can save them for use at a later time. For generating paper maps and overlaying uploaded tracks onto the maps I use National geographic topo software described later on this page.

Garmin MapSource City Navigator

Though not specifically for hiking, if you get the Garmin Vista GPS, you might consider Garmin MapSource City Navigator DVD. As with the MapSource TOPO, the PC interface is awful. However, the usefulness of the data it allows you to download to your GPS may be worth the cost. I say "may" because you can probably find an automotive GPS system for not much more than the cost of this DVD with most of this data built in, and you will have the benefit of spoken directions and a larger screen. The package is useful primarily if you want to use the same GPS for hiking and for driving. With the cost of the automotive GPS systems today, that might not make sense.

Anyway, with this package you can download street-maps for any region of the United State, as well as listings of businesses, restaurants, hotels, etc. Once you have identified which maps to download to your GPS, from your GPS, you can enter the name of an establishment and it will give its location. You can even ask questions like "where are the nearest restaurants", and get a listing by type of cuisine, or ask where to find the nearest supermarket. With the maps loaded into your GPS you can generate a turn-by-turn routes from your GPS. From the GPS, it will plot the location on the map so you can eyeball the route from the streets also shown on the map, and it will tell you the direction and distance if you could travel in a straight line.


National Geographic TOPO! state series maps

I use to buy individual topographic maps for the areas in which I would hike. After using them many times, they end up ragged and need to be replaced. About 6 years agao ago I bought the National Geographic Topo Los Angeles area map series. I liked it so much that a few months later I bought the entire National Geographic TOPO! California map series (the link is to a newer version of the software than the version I purchased). The National Geographic Topo software and data sets allow you to print topographic maps for the covered region. You can customize these maps - printing just the area you want and scaling the region to fit your page. You can also overlay your planned route before printing.

You can also upload tracks and waypoints from your GPS to overlay your actual route following a hike. This feature is particularly useful to me, allowing me to record a track when I "try out" a new hike, then printing a map with the track from this first run to distribute when I lead a group hike "for real".

Most of the state series maps list for 99.95 but you should be able to find them for around $80-85 if you get them on sale. There are map sets available for smaller regions (like the Los Angeles and Santa Barbara region, which I originally purchased for $50), but I don't recommend these smaller regions. If you want to interface these smaller regions with a GPS, you will need to separately purchase the TOPO USA series for about another another $30, at which point you would have been better off with the State Series maps that include the GPS option standard.

I have found that the State and smaller region series have different maps, depending on difference in publication dates of the particular software chosen. The differences in the maps may make some maps better in either option. For example, the Millard Canyon map (1995) in the California State series had too much info, making some details harder to read, but the 1994 map in the Los Angeles regional series is less cluttered. The map scales for level 5 (most detail) is a little different using the regional vs. state series software, but when magnified to correspond, details seem similar. Other differences are that the regional series does not offer shading, the state series does.

The state series maps have some maps that extend a little beyond state boundaries, in particular, in my version of the California series, the entire Lake Tahoe region is covered, including those parts in Nevada.

Maptech TNAV topo

MapTech's TNAV Topo (California) software provides similar functionality as that in the National Geographic TOPO map series. I downloaded their demo and found the software to have similar functionality. The maps printed in their demo region (parts of the Appalachian Trail) appear more crisp than the maps in the California State series for National Geographic TOPO, but I do not know if this is representative of all of their regions or whether they might have selected their best region for the demo. Unfortunately, since I have not used their California map serious I can not provide a side by side comparison of the two. Having only "really" used the National Geographic offering, I have to recommend that one since I know that that one meets my needs very well.

Clothing for Hiking

If you hike in late fall, early spring, winter, or if you might encounter rain, you will want warm, waterproof, but light clothing to keep you warm and dry. If you will be carying this in your pack, it should fold or roll compactly.

An underlayer covering can do a great job to keep you warm and comfortable when out hiking, if you are looking for base layers, click to visit outdoorlook.

While you can never have enough clothing to choose from, the specific conditions you may encounter will vary dramatically and demand very different approaches to moisture/sweat management, warmth, waterproofing, and so on. The Outdoor Clothing Sale at Regatta Outlet in the UK provides an example of the variety of clothing that you may needed in varying terrain and weather-based conditions.

Camping Equipment

You will need a lot more gear if you plan to go camping. Among the equipment you will need are packs, cookiing equipment, and rugged communications equipment in case of an emergency.
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