Gearing Up: GPS for the Tech-Challenged
An expert outdoorsman-and electronics novice-tests four top units.
The latest Global Positioning Satellite receivers have so many features that sportsmen can have a tough time using them. The four GPS units tested here represent a spectrum of navigational possibilities, from a wrist-top model the size of a cigarette lighter to a top-shelf receiver with a downloaded map so detailed that it showed me the street where I live. All are WAAS enabled (meaning they can pinpoint a location within 10 feet) and perform basic functions like marking waypoints and navigating to fixed locations and with easy-to-read screens and commands.
1. Garmin GPSMAP 60CS (913-397-8200; www.garmin.com)
The 60CS sets the bar for multiple functions in a compact, rugged, waterproof GPS. The barometric altimeter and electronic compass, which operates even when you stand still (on some units, you must be moving for the compass to work), are a boon for backcountry hunters.
Best Features: The 60CS is compatible with Garmin MapSource data, permitting you to download detailed topo maps of your area, as well as lake maps showing depth contours and best places to fish. The high-resolution color screen is a big help for navigating over a background topo map.
Points to Ponder: It costs a lot of money. If all you need is a GPS to help find your way back to camp or to relocate a fishing hotspot, a simpler unit will suffice.
**2. Garmin Foretrex 201 (913-397-8200; www.garmin.com) ** The wrist-top Foretrex is light, but it’s built solidly to withstand a fall onto the rocks or a dip in the river. For basic navigational functions it’s hard to beat. However, the wrist-top design is impractical for someone wearing heavy hunting clothes. I ended up wearing it on my belt.
Best Features: With only a few buttons to push, an uncluttered screen, and a readable manual, I found it a snap to use.
Points to Ponder: The built-in lithium ion battery needs to be recharged with an AC cable after 15 hours, making the Foretrex a questionable choice for multiday treks.
** 3. Brunton Atlas (307-856-6559; www.brunton.com)** Integral road maps and travel information make this moderately priced GPS useful before you reach the trailhead. The keypad is clearly marked and very well thought out. Atlas MapCards can be manually inserted into the receiver.
Best Features: The topo cards give a true 1:24,000 scale background map, the same as a USGS quad, and show land ownership boundaries-very helpful for hunters.
Points to Ponder: The Atlas comes with a computer-based manual only. What good is that, when GPS navigation must be learned outdoors, where the receiver can locate satellites? Also, it was the only model that wasn’t water resistant.
**4. Magellan eXplorist 200 (800-707-9971; www.magellangps.com) ** Designed for first-time GPS users, the eXplorist is rubber-armored, waterproof, and very simple to use. The test model I received arrived without a manual (although the purchase package includes one), but I still had no trouble navigating.
Best Features: Durability, price, and ease of operation are all superior. Plus, the amber backlighting makes the screen one of the easiest on the eyes in dim lighting.
Points to Ponder: There’s no PC interface for downloading background topo maps. For that you need the more expensive Magellan Sportrak TOPO GPS.
The most important challenge these GPS units had to face was my ignorance. How hard would it be for a techno-illiterate like myself to take a GPS straight out of the box and-without referring to a manual-gain satellite reception, mark waypoints as I zigzagged the half mile downtown, then turn around and backtrack my route home? All four units passed this initial test. I then hiked in the mountainns to test reception and various navigational functions. Water-resistant models were submerged in a bathtub for half an hour. Finally, I called the technological support numbers and, without identifying myself as a Field & Stream contributor, asked company representatives dumb questions. The advice I got from all three reps, who walked me through various navigational forests while I pondered and poked at control buttons, is proof that patience is not yet one of this century’s lost virtues. -K.M.