GPS Button Locations: Front or Side?

Considering buying a handheld GPS unit, primarily for paddling on multi-days trips on the Great Lakes. I’ve read most all of the recent threads here and elsewhere, and am zeroing in on the Garmin eTrex Vista HCx, largely for its superior battery efficiency (25-30 hours).

I plan to keep the unit on the foredeck while paddling, and will probably make a mount for it, much like Jackl’s slick unit:

A close second choice would be Garmin’s 76CSx, as many seem to like it, despite its 14-16-hour battery life. One advantage the 76CSx may have over the Vista is its front-mounted keys, which it seems to me would be easier to use while paddling. The Vista, by contrast, has its keys located on the SIDES of the unit, perhaps even requiring two hands to use?

For those who use their GPS units on the foredeck, do you find units with side-mounted control buttons significantly more difficult to use?



doesn’t matter much
I have the Vista under a elastic line and secured with a lanyard. I don’t interact with it often enough to care if any button is more or less efficient. I occasionally check mileage or if fog, etc. I’ll glance at bearing.

I much prefer buttons on front
My garmin 76 cost $100 and has been very rugged and user friendly for 2 years of hard use. It is set up with speed and distance on same large screen. WAAS enabled really hurts battery life but is more accurate. Before buying you might go to large sporting goods store to have it set up for sped and distance on same screen. Can the unit you buy be set up with speed and distance on same screen? Out in the middle of a big lake it is great to have hands free hydration such as platypus. Also a way to keep your hat from blowing off. Also I carry plastic bag to slide over paddle to wave as a flag.

The side buttons are easy to get used to, and like was mentioned above, you may not need to use them much under way anyway. But the front buttons of the 76 series are the easiest to use with gloved hands (or hands that should have been gloved). Also - if you use those rubber covered buttons long enough, especially with gloved hands, the rubber seals will wear through.

I’ve had both. For heavy use - especially where I might be switching screens fairly often, I stick with the 76 series. Other than that, it probably doesn’t matter.

Protective Cases
I should add that, despite their claims of waterproofness, it seems few to none of the mfr.s are standing behind those claims. So I am planning to use an aftermarket waterproof sleeve, which may or may not affect ease of use of the buttons …


E-trex Vista in a Drypak
I have a 2003-vintage Vista in a Drypak, that I usually leave on the sprayskirt or stuck under deck bungies. The side button are easy to use,the front toggle switch is too sensitive to use properly through the plastic sleeve. It only produces the desired result half the time for me.

I tend to use it as a trip meter for speed and distance only.

Etrex vs 76C
E-trex front button does not work well in a case. In hindsight, I would take a serious look at the 76 to see if more case friendly.

I have Both
though the older model of the eTrex. I use the Vista for kayaking and the 76csx along with the bluechart application on my laptop for trip planning for either the big boat or kayak and for general tracking on the big boat.

The 76 is handy with all the buttons logically located.

The Vista I have has buttons scattered around, on/off and page on the right side, a stubby thing on top to act as a mouse/cursor, two very small buttons on the left for zooming in the tiny screen to see the chart detail, and a button on the left I never seem to have a use for. All buttons respond to my large, gloved hands while inside a waterproof instrument bag.

I am still getting familiar with the 76 and I like it a lot, it would be excellent for kayaking, but I am all set up with the much smaller vista on my foredeck with a read out telling me how fast, how long, time, lat/long and average speed. It shares space with the safety gear and the handheld VHF radio. Since it is 5+ years old, if it gets lost, I won’t be heartbroken, nor would I replace it, though it is a fine device.

If I was going to unfamiliar waters, I would take the 76 with the proper charts loaded and I’d be very happy to have it. Make no mistake, I would still carry paper charts. Batteries do fail.

The connection to the laptop is much smoother on the 76 than the older Vista. I would imagine the newer Vista readily adapts to USB ports, something I have to use an adapter for.

The 76 will take power from the USB port, saving the batteries. Both will work from a lighter socket, with the proper adapters, which is no use on a kayak.

Since I paddle in very familiar water of San Francisco Bay I am never out of site of numerous land marks, I have no use for the chart display

76 is Waterproof
No need for a case.

I have a 76 and my wife does also
We keep them in Harmony clear pliable pouches and all the buttons are easy to operate.



Garmin 76CSX
I used a 76 for 3 years before upgrading to the 76CSx a few years ago. The color screen is considerably easier to see. Also, the memory cards on the 76Csx allow me to have the Road, Inland Lakes, and Bluechart all available from one memory card.

I use the Garmin auto mount to mount it on the deck. It slips on easily and is easy to adjust. One small plate stays on the deck, mounted with the included mounting pad (glue, not screws).

The 76CSx allows you to customize the data display. I have it show speed and distance on the map display. One very useful additional benefit is having the rapid feedback on speed. I have found this to be a real asset in stroke improvement–i will quickly see how changes in my form affect speed. When i put the old 76 on my wife’s boat, there was a noticeble improvement right away.

The units are indeed waterproof–both have suffered numerous dunkings without ill effects.

I use rechargeable batteries in them. I keep the batteries in a charger so they are fully charged when i go (if you leave them out of the charger, they will lose power in storage). I always carry a spare set of batteries along with me but NEVER have had to use the spares in a day of paddling.

Another nice feature of the Garmin 76 series is the built in tide tables. For coastal paddlers, it will give you the nearest tide station or any one you select.

All well and good, but some genius …
in Garmin screwed up big time on their way point icons.

Several years ago my wife figured she would up grade from her 76 to the 76CSX.

Next time you are out in some wilderness place; start punching in way points and then after you have a bunch of them take a look at your map with them covering up the entire screen. - next try to change them globally so you can get them smaller and see the map. it is impossible. You have to change each one individually.

It is very frustrating to be out in the 10,000 islands, and having to change the size of 50 or 75 way point icons individually.

The big problem now is trying to find the plain old 76’s

she called Garmin and their answer was that you can’t do it - that is the way the 76CSX is programmed.

She returned it and went back to the 76.

Also the 76csx tide charts take longer to get to then on the 76. In our estimation with the exception of the neat color screen, they went backwards on it.



I dropped my 76 on the pavement one too many times and messed up the screen. I replaced it with the 76Cx. I thought it would be really easy to use the new unit since I had so much experience with the older model. Not so. It’s taking some re-learning.