Help me pick the right GPS

Im looking to get a gps device for the same reasons as most of yall id imagine, but my knowledge of the subject is nil. Hopefully i can get some good suggestions from pnet as I have here in the past for gear.

Im sure the gadgets can do all kinds of neat shit that I could care less about… but im more concerned with a basic unit I can use for kayaking and hiking purposes. Also something (hopefully?) that wouldnt be too complicated to use in the car to find that backwoods put in or maybe strap to my motorcycles when I ride to points unknown. Traditional maps have gotten me around fine on my bike and in my car all my life, so that is a secondary priority I could live without.

Waterproof is almost a must, id rather not have to open a pelican case each time I need to use it and I would like to mount it on the dash of my kayak possibly.

all the fancy features are great and all, and im a fan of technology, but if I get something that is over complicated and hard to use for basic functions it will sit in a box in my office just like my smartphone. It does all kinds of cool shit but the phone and text part sucks in my opinion so for me the device is useless.

I pissed away $300 on a super phone that sits unused in the box and I use a 3 year old el cheapo phone that has been dropped in the river twice and held up to unbelievable abuse. I would like to not repeat that mistake with a gps device.

ideally id like to stay under $200 as far as possible, but if I cant get what I want without spending money ill do what I have to.

so anyway, what are yall using, how do you like it, and what is recommended?

thanks as always for the help

more info
Do you require a color screen or is gray scale ok? This might determine whcih features you can get staying under budget.

I wanted the same stuff . . .
. . . and ended up with a Garmin eTrex HCx Legend. I got a Ram mount for it and now use it on the kayak and car with the suction cup mount and with a seperate ball for the motorcycle. I got it off eBay for $160 which included the topo maps.

What works at 4 mph in a kayak
may not work as well at 65 mph in your car/motorcycle. The motor vehicle units have large easy to read at a glance screens and voice navigation so you can keep your eyes on the road. A kayak/hiking unit needs to be very light and compact and above all shock and waterproof. In today’s market I’ll bet with some shopping around you can get a servicable unit for each application and still stay in the $200.00 range.


– Last Updated: Mar-12-09 6:44 PM EST –

hi ..i have the garmin etrex legend ......fine for displaying trip log info time..ave speed ..speed while moving..GPS co-ordinates and electronic compass..but i lose the signal from time to time and lose the signal in heavy foilage in woods. the garmin 60csx is supposed to be good in heavy cover due to it's external antenna. the 60csx also has features that are best suited to hiking use. A Rino series unit has a 2-way radio and good gps features for hiking. anything that works for hiking will suffice for kayaking .also you need to think rechargeable lithium/ion batteries or AA power ! i'll pick the AA. is the unit reasonably waterproof ?? i think you can get color mapped 60CSx too, be aware any GPS unit only works when moving, and gives directions "as the crow flies". read reviews online for units you are considering. it's gonna be hard to get "all-in-one" gps for under $200, good luck . hope this all helps

“GPS unit only works when moving”

– Last Updated: Mar-14-09 3:36 PM EST –

Well, not to be argumentative but this isn't true. I think what you mean is that more basic units that lack an electronic compass will not not accurately display a bearing if your sitting still and "pointing" the GPS. That's because they need to see a delta between where you were 2 seconds ago versus where you are now. They then can say.."Oh you're heading east!" Whereas a slightly more expensive GPS may feature a built in electronic compass that you can "point" in a direction and it will know east from west just like a regular compass. BTW, IMO I'd say the only need for a true electronic compass would be if you plan to get into geocaching. OK, with that cleared up, here's what I would suggest.

I also have an eTrex Legend just like a previous poster. This is probably the bottom of what I'd recommend to anybody that has a few coins in their pocket. I see them out there now for $107, new, from a major on-line retailer. It's waterproof (read:splash proof) and I've carried mine on the deck of my kayak where it has been covered in salt water with no ill effects. Keep her tied off though as it does not float. I do make a point of rinsing it off with fresh water when I get home. Also have to make sure you get under the little serial port connector cover. The nice thing about the Legend is that it does have BASIC road maps built into the unit. It's absolutely no replacement for the cheapest car GPS you can buy but it's nice to have a frame of reference if you're on the water and there are roads near by. Oh it also has the bouys and day markers built into it (handy) whereas I belive the bare bones units do not. On the negative side, I find the screen of the Legend pretty small and a little difficult to read. But, I did'nt feel this way until I bought a GPS MAP76S with a ittle larger screen.

About the GPS MAP76S. Has basic maps built in, screen is easier to read due to larger size, will display tide info based on your location (very handy) and best thing is that it floats! Of course the whole unit is bigger but not too big. It also has the electronic compass that I spoke of but I usually keep that feature turned off as it just eats up batteries. Letting the satellites determine my bearing based on where I've been works fine for me. I can only see using the electronic compass for say, triangulting a postion. I generally take the bigger GPS MAP76S with me on the boat now due to it being an easier read. The 76S is selling for closer to $200 these days.

Also, FWIW, if you don't already have a car gps I wouldn't try to kill two birds with one stone. The cheapest car gps will work so much better in the car than either one of these units IN THE CAR. But virtually all car gps units really are not suited for outdoor/camping use. There may be an exception to this but I'm sure it would cost a ton of money. This is one of those situations where you'll spend less by buying two gps units designed to operate in their intended invironment rather than trying to just buy a single unit.

Anyway, I do recommend getting a gps for the kayak as it's fun to see how far you've paddled and how fast. Get immediate feedback on forward stroke technique and the effects of current and wind.

Best of luck!


Delorme Pn 20
I don’t think the delorme pn-20 can be beat for the price had them for $149 with $100 free download cert from Delorme allows you to download aerials,noaa charts topo as well as create routes and trails. Very nice gps IMO and support is great from Delorme I have a friends Triton sitting in my locker that I can not get to interface with computer. The Delorme connected smoothly

Delorme PN-40
Hands down.

Oh and always put the GPS unit in a Cell Phone dry bag despite their ability to be waterproof so some vague standard. Water vapor molecules ignore standards.

Seriously about the Delorme. The other ones from the larger companies may be a bit cheaper upfront cost, but check out how much it will cost you for the data you will want, if you can even get the data that you can for the Delorme for $30/year plus some bogus shipping charge so they can mail you a plastic card that has your “code” on it.

The Garmin eTrex . . .
. . . H series have the sensitive reciever that will pick up under tree cover. Shop on eBay. Folks buy and are given toys they don’t end up using. I bought an almost new Garmin Legend HCx with the topo map of the U.S. CD for about $160. I think retail would be around $350.

The eTrex HCx is waterproof/splash proof, has a SD card for memory and a long battery life (about 25 hours on two AA). Alas, it doesn’t float.

I was waiting to see results

– Last Updated: Mar-14-09 9:31 PM EST –

I was waiting to see what people said. My experience is that what you ask for is actually rather challenging to do in a unit for hiking/kayaking, so I wanted to see what others said (and if it proved my experience to be wrong).

Just going by Garmin brand units (what I have), there seems to be 2 basic levels; maps or no maps.

Within the map/no map levels is whether it has the high quality SIRF chipset or not, which specifies how well it will get signal (under specs on the Garmin site - whether it has the "high sensitivity receiver" or not) - those with high sensitivity SIRF chipset will do better at holding signals in trees and valleys.

The no maps units give all the basic data, like speed, distance, altitude, etc. They often have a little crumb line track that shows where you have been (relative to where you are - but not sowing any background map data). And they can download the information to a computer, so you can see where you went. This type includes the fortrex series, basic etrex series, etc. Prices from $100-200. Some ofbthe units are shown here:

The map series have all the same functions, but also have larger screens that can display maps of varying qualities. These are priced higher ($150-400).

The kicker with the map versions is that you usually have to buy additional maps (at about $100 a pop). I have a Garmin GPSMAP 60CSX, and the map that came with it was basically crap. Showed rough estimates of the shoreline, and major roads. I have added Garmin Bluecharts for this area, which give a lot more data on the waterways. A some point, I will have to drop another $100 to add the road maps, which would then allow me to use the GPS for driving directions. If I also wanted topo maps and trail maps, it would be another $100.

Before getting the GPSMAP unit, I used a Forerunner 101. Gave all the basic data I needed, in a nice small size. Only downside to that is that the 101 battery case doesn't seal as well as advertised, so I did have to replace one after water got into it (the 201 with the rechargeable battery should get around this, though recharging would be an issue for trips more than a day or two). But the unit does not have the SIRF chipset, so was just about useless mountain biking (though just fine on open water, where I kayak).

I am still getting used to the GPSMAP, and haven't taken it for a real test on water since I got the bluecharts map, but so far I an under-impressed. Have had it snowshoeing, and did notice the better reception of the SIRF chipset. Hopefully I will learn to like it, but for now I would instead suggest getting a cheaper non-mapping unit (and spend the money you save on a car use specific one for $100 or so to handle the driving directions).

PN-40 won’t be found…
for under $200.

Do check out the Delorme PN20, though.

I just got one, and am still on the learning curve.


The delorme topo that comes with the PN-20 is pretty good in itself right up there with National Geographics Topo that cost $100 by itself plus the $100 certificate for the free downloads and yes you can sign up for unlimited for $29 a year I have just about all I want downloaded already on my gps and still have over $60 worth of download credit left.

I’ve played around and seen both garmin and magellan software not even close to Delormes Topo and the add draw files etc that can be uploaded to gps.

Which ever one you go for I would certainly think you would want one with a Map

The eTrex HCx . . .
. . . is map.

Excellant price at now has the Delorme PN-20 for $139 with free shipping. Even if the downloads were not included which they are the Delorme Topo it’s self is an excellant buy.

I’m so glad I never said…
that Garmin was THE best because that Delorme PN20 looks to beat the pants off the eTrex Legend model. Maybe even the GPS Map76S.

It does look very good! Anybody interested in a used Legend? :wink:

very helpful so far!

– Last Updated: Mar-15-09 1:42 PM EST –

Thanks for the replies.

Sounds like any hope of a road worthy GPS and a GPS for my people powered hobbies cannot be had. And im ok with that, ive never had a problem with traditional maps and getting where I need to be.

But I would like to know where I am and what my progress is on wilderness excursions via paddle or foot. I kinda figured they all came with mapping feature, it kind of sounds useless to not have a map and JUST the coordinates. Map is a must for me.

im not worried about a floating unit, but splash proof at least is a must.

As a noob and not fully understanding all that has being said here.... maybe you can clarify. Will I have to spend $100 for map downloads or be required to have a $50/yr fee to get a map download?

if thats the case ill stick to knowing my trip length and dividing it by the time it takes me to get there. what a completely useless and cumbersome technology if it takes $300 just to see where you are obn a map on a glorified cell phone kinda device. LOL I really hate technology and every time I try to abandon my disdain for overcomplication im reminded of why I hate gadgets.

end rant lol


Lowrance H2O
Check out the Lowrance IFinder H20C

A lot of people are satisfied with this unit.

It’s comparable to the Garmin Maps76cs.

The H2O C is $205

Maps 76cs $275

The only problem with Garmin is they get you on the maps. I would need 2 areas just to paddle my local area.

The Lowarnce Nautic Maps is $70 for the entire US.

the H2O has excellent reception. Mine locks in indoors, the car, or under very thick trees.

They are both IPX7 waterproofness.

I keep mine in a drybag most of the time on the coast. My dry bag looks like it’s been on the side of the road several years while my gps looks brand new.

The Lowrance built in maps are better than what comes with Garmin. I didn’t even bother to load my Lowarance Topo maps, the built in one is good enough for inland driving, and has all the channel markers on the water.

Although perhaps you can download free maps for Garmin?

For me the Lowrance is half as much when you include the maps… and I don’t want to be stuck buying a new map area every time I take a trip.

The only issue with the Lowrance is having to scroll through several menues to reset the trip. I also keep the “trail” function off and start a trail when I want one, instead of it starting one everytime I turn it on. but not a major issue at all…

The H20 is very rugged. I have pounded mine strapped to the back of a mountain bike, fallen off cliffs, battered in surf…

BTW, I’m wondering if Lowarance is due for a product update bc most of the H20c are out of stock?

GPSMap 76Cx

– Last Updated: Mar-16-09 8:22 AM EST –

I very strongly recommend the Garmin GPSMap 76Cx.

It is a little more expensive than some of the other options, and it lacks the "sex appeal" of the newer models.

It does have some under-appreciated features, though:
It's waterproof and floats; AND it has tide charts! I can't tell you how useful those have been for me. Wherever you are on the water, you can use the tide function and it will spit out a list of nearby tide stations. Pick whichever one you feel is most appropriate (and you can see where the are on the map) and it will give you the tides for the day.

You can also ask it for the tides on different dates (to see what the tides will be tomorrow, for example). All in all, a GREAT feature.

I refer to mine as "The Precious."

In terms of maps, I recommend using the US Topo series. A lot of people seem to be pushing the BlueChart series of nautical charts, but I feel these are overkill for a kayak. You're not anchoring out, you're beaching! I don't care that the Rosario Straight is 200 feet deep in its center (or whatever), but I DO care that the beach on Cypress Head is a nice gentle slope.

Topo maps also identify many campsites and hiking trails. Sure, a nautical chart can show you where a buoy is. But the topo map will show that intermittent stream that could potentially serve as a freshwater source. Which is more useful for a paddler?

The "big money" solution would be to carry both charts and maps, of course. Thanks to the SD card reader on the 76Cx, you definitely could do so. But if you have to pick one or the other, I'd go with topo.


The Nautic maps

– Last Updated: Mar-16-09 10:52 AM EST –

by Lawrance is a complete nautical maps. It has all the tide info. Just click and see what the current is doing in any tidal river. It has the tide info for each day, slack, flood, ebb etc. It's idenetical to the Blue Maps, and for $70 you get the entire US coastal and great lakes.

I prefer the Lowrance as it's more rugged design and they don't scam you on the good maps.

Edit: The Blue Chart Maps are very expensive. You have to purchase a code for each area, so the sky is the limit on how much you will spend on just the nautical maps.

Garmin are good, but don't assume Lowarance doesn't have key features or doesn't perform as well or better.

The Nautic Path maps are really good. They give the depth of all the tidal rivers as well.

So you would have to purchase all of the unlock codes for the Blue Maps for it to function as well .

By the way, I put mine in a dry bag upside down and clamp it to the bungie cord and tether it.

Also if you remove it from the dry bag just keep it out. Don't put it back in the dry bag wet. I have done this several times, however there will be too much vapor in the wet bag.

Free Topo Maps for Garmin

– Last Updated: Mar-23-09 12:22 PM EST –

You don't have to buy Garmin's topo maps for your GPS unit, because topos that will work with your Garmin are available for free online.

GPSFileDepot has most of the US states and some other places in the world like Iraq, UK:

Ibycus Topo Canada:

I haven't found any free marine charts yet, but I have found inexpensive marine charts for Garmin from Navimatics: The Great Lakes run only $150 vs. about $1500 from Garmin.

I've loaded these into Garmin's GPS program and they look very good.

If anyone knows a link to free marine charts, I'd be very interested.