Choosing between models of Garmin GPS

-- Last Updated: May-30-11 2:20 AM EST --

I'm looking at a few models of GPS from Garmin. The first is the eTrex Vista HCx ($149 REI), second is the eTrex Venture HC ($99 REI), and finally I guess a version of the previous unit, the eTrex Venture HC bundle ($209 Amazon - comes with Garmin Topo US 100k and a soft case for the unit). The thing is, I don't know the first thing about GPS. I mainly want a unit to track some stuff like distance and speed paddled on the water but I'd also like it for sticking on my bike and maybe using for hiking. I'd also like the ability to place markers for interesting sights/sites so that I could come back to something like a beaver den, or dead tree/woodpecker nest, heron rookery, etc. I'm not too interested in using one in the car as I don't really drive enough to unique places. Besides I always print out Google maps directions before going somewhere I've never been. Seems to work and is cheaper than a car GPS :) Anyway, I guess the major difference between the two units is that the HCx has expandable memory via the micro SD cards. However, does that just mean you can have different Garmin map products on different cards? With the regular HC model can't you put different maps on them via some sort of computer hook up? I should also add that I'm a belt AND suspenders kinda guy when it comes to directions. If I was ever traveling somewhere that I'd be likely to get lost, I'd print out topo or other type maps and be sure to have my compass with me. In no way would I ever rely solely on a GPS receiver to keep me from getting lost. My budget right now is pegged at about $200 max, but if I could spend less, like $150 or even $100 that would be better. Is it worth the extra $50 difference between the HCx and the HC simply to have more memory for maps? Also, is the bundle deal good, or would I be better say, buying the HC and later on getting whatever map product I might want?


– Last Updated: May-30-11 6:19 PM EST –

....any of those units will work OK for your intended activities. Be Aware though , that the cheaper GPS units will lose the signal under heavy foliage cover.I had a e-Trex would not find and hold the satellite signal in heavy cover, also owned a Garmin Oregon 400 that failed ( lost system files for no reason during use) For hiking purposes, the unit with the SD card capability is the better option, for storing routes and extra maps. whether the bundle package is worth the price depends on the specific items in it. USGA maps use the 1:24,000 scale I believe.not the 100 scale. Smart to not rely on the GPS unit solely, as it can and WILL fail at the worse possible moment. forget the pouch , you wont use it...also are the units AA powered or Ni-Cad? easier to replace AA's in the field than ni-cad.

PS: No matter which unit you buy, I can guarantee it'll go on sale for **% off, 1 week after you buy it!! I also have a DeLorme PN60...It takes 3x's as long to acquire SATS as a Garmin Rino.

I would suggest getting the kind that’s not a garmin…they suck! I’ve had 3, the last one being a $400 Rino. It takes so long to find sats that you can just walk around and find your way out before that thing will help…the other two garmins did the same thing.

I’ve had very good luck with the simplest Garmin Etrex units. I like the simple ones best. they last many years and often they are sitting in water in the bottom of my cockpit.

I have a 100k map loaded on my
Garmin but use the 24k map that I loaded later. I have all of the NW loaded on my GPS. It would be better to spend the extra money on the 24k maps for your area.

I have used my handheld in the car. It doesn’t talk but works just like the car units.

could not disagree more
Flores - have you compared the performance of the garmin units to any other brands?

I’ve been very happy with my etrex.

I’m a Legend fan as well

– Last Updated: May-30-11 5:56 PM EST –

The Garmin Etrex Legend works great for paddling. It’s simple, it’s durable, it has mapping capability, it’s cheap, and if you’re just looking for basic information it does the job just fine.

There are newer and better models with more sensitive antennas (and the Legend does work under most tree cover, just not as well as newer models) but since I’m primarily using my GPS on the water where there generally isn’t any tree cover, I don’t worry about it.

Whatever GPS unit you get, I’d highly recommend getting a RAM mount – I use the suction attachment for holding the GPS on my deck and it has never failed.


I bought an E-Trex
I had an e-trex. It leaked, got water in it, then failed. I bought another. It leaked, got water in it, then failed.

I told others on this board, and they said things like “you should have bought a more expensive one” or “why didn’t you put it in a bag”.

I don’t know if it is all Garmin, or all GPS, or any other generalizations. I do know the e-trex is a handy little unit that does all I need it to, and is quite cheap. Also, after a couple of years, the seals will fail and it will leak.

As far as leaking goes
Are you saying your units leaked after a couple years of use, or leaked pretty much right away? I could see the seals failing after a couple years but even then maybe you could buy replacement seals to extend the life?

So what’s the big deal with the
So what’s the big deal with the expandable memory? Does it just allow you to store more maps on the unit. Is using a GPS something where if you want to kayak a specific place or hike a specific place you could download the maps necessary to that area from off your computer? Then, if you wanted to go to a different area later, you remove the previous maps and download the maps for the new area? I guess other than the basics of operation I really don’t know how exactly these units work in terms of the maps and such. I guess buying the maps is where they really get you, especially if you’re buying a baseline unit like the eTrex Legend HC which is only $99 now. Right now, I’m in the Midwest - Chicago specifically so I’d be looking for maps just for this area. Later on my wife and I would like to move to Colorado, so again maps for just that area I guess. Is there a basic how-to site I could look at in order to learn a bit more about the basic operations and features of these units?

That’s correct

– Last Updated: May-30-11 8:33 PM EST –

You have limited memory in your GPS – the Etrex Legend H has 24 megs of internal memory – plenty to hold an area large enough for several weeks of paddling. My first GPS was the standard Legend – it had 8 megs of storage and it was enough for trips of three or four weeks.

When you paddle in a different area, you hook your GPS up to the computer and load the maps for that area. It’s pretty easy.

Additional storage with a memory card would be useful if you’re paddling in a vast area and don’t want or have access to a computer – or if you want to switch between charts and maps.

WRT buying maps and charts, yes you have to buy maps and charts for specific areas.


Mine typically last a couple of years
I’m on my third Legend and have found that I get 2-3 years from them before I start seeing signs of leakage in the screen. I don’t keep mine in a bag, I have it in a RAM mount on my deck – completely exposed. When I get home after paddling the GPS always gets a rinse in fresh water.

For the price, I think the Legend is good value for the buck.


Thanks guys
It sounds like the eTrex Legend HC will plenty of GPS for what I want to do. No need to pay the extra $50 for the Vista with the expandable memory. I can’t see being anywhere for such a long time that I wouldn’t also have access to my laptop and the ability to download new maps. Also, in doing a bit more reading, it sounds like the Topo 100k bundle would be a nice alternative to the 24k maps and seems to be in it’s most up-to-date form a pretty decent piece of software if not as detailed as the 24k stuff.

Venture HC Bundle
I have the Venture HC/Topo software bundle. It does everything I wanted a GPS to do. Works GREAT on water, works very very good in dense foliage of upstate NY, and is pretty good for Geocacheing, too. I have had it for 3 years now and so far no signs of leaking anywhere, but It probably does not get used as much as most other people here.

A couple of years
And the “seals” are basically the entire outer edge of the unit, which is glued on. I think the glue might be the problem. I dissected one of them.

The issue isn’t really that it floods, just that it gets enough water in to fry the electronics. And they were never submerged to depth, just a bit of bilge water now and then.

etrex HC
I’ve been using the etrex Venture HC for about 3 years now and aside from the labels on the front fading off it’s still working great. I do sometimes miss not having expandable memory, especially when I want both topo and charts on my unit. But it’s never really been a big deal to reload new map sets.

The Venture HC, because it has no SD card, is not compatible with the newer Garmin bluecharts though, in case you’re looking for charts. It does work fine with the old cd version which is what I use.

all Garmin GPS users
make sure you visit

Lets get out of the need to buy mentality.

I have only ever bought one set of maps…paid $70 for all of Canada.

…Careful…there are some maps on this site that don’t work. better to D/L them to a microSD thru a card reader and preview them before adding them to the units memory …

leaking – couple of tips
I have the Vista HCx. The main weak point is the battery compartment which is waterproof, but…

I suggest after rinsing post use to take out the batteries and leave the compartment to dry in case a few drops got in so you don’t corrode the contacts.

The only time I had a leak was after one banged around a bit from a surf launch. So now when I launch through surf I take the gps (lanyard attached to top deck lines) and let it hang inside my cockpit where it won’t hit anything until I’m clear of the surf (same for landing).