Which GPS for Hill Walking?

Choosing a GPS (for Hill Walking)

A friend recently asked me this question as someone involved in organising GPS training courses that can be trusted to give an unbiased view. However, even being objective and unbiased I could only provide an answer within my experience (being confined to Garmin, SatMap and ViewRanger).

The Smart Phone / View Ranger.
I’ve had View Ranger on my Phone and smart phone for 5 years and though I find its functions as good or better than any proper GPS device (easier to use and better functions) I’d never rely on it for when the chips are down. Phones have poor battery life and don’t run View Ranger for more than 8 hours. Phone’s are not usually shock proof, dust proof or water resistant. Great in good conditions.  Keep your phone in tact with the batteries fully charged in case you need to summon help!

GPS Devices.
You need to make a choice: firstly do you want one that has OS mapping installed or one with out? Secondly if you have chosen to opt for one with OS mapping, do you want one that is touch screen or one that you work by pressing buttons?

If you are a competent navigator perhaps you only need a device in your rucksack for emergencies. If this is the case and you only want a grid reference to confirm where you are and the ability to do a “take me to” function then you only need to go for a bottom of the range model.  For this choice I’d go for the new Garmin Etrex10. A fantastic device at entry level and so much better than the EtrexH that it replaced.

If you want a device with OS mapping, you now need to decide whether you want a touch screen model or one that requires you to press buttons to make it work. I can definitely use the whole Garmin range using winter gloves though it takes a bit of getting used to so don’t be put off using a touch screen for this reason.

For me the there is no real difference in what either the Garmin Oregon touch screen can do over the cheaper Etrex 20. At the time of writing the Oregon 450 with full UK OS mapping at 1:50 is retailing on Amazon at £350 whilst the Etrex 20 with the same mapping is around £320.

The Oregon has a bigger screen, 50% bigger than the ETrex.
The Etrex battery life is 25 hours whilst the Oregon is 15 hours.

The Etrex weighs 140 grams whilst the Oregon weighs 190 grams.

The Garmin 62 is a button controlled model with a screen roughly the same size as the Oregon but this is a big clumpy machine (I have one).

The Garmin Montanna is a bigger touch screen model than the Oregon.  Big and Clumpy.

In the non Garmin range, the SatMap 10 has a great reputation though I find the logic difficult to get to grips with after the Garmin. It is also rather big. Jane (of Peak Navigation) uses this by choice. The SatMap has a bigger screen than the Oregon.
                              Etrex 10           Etrex 20           Oregon 450        SatMap10           

Overall Size          5.4 x 10.3 x      5.4 x 10.3 x      5.8 x 11.4 x       7.5 x 13.0 x
                              3.3 cm              3.3 cm             3.5 cm                3.5 cm

Screen Size           3.6 x 4.3 cm     3.5 x 4.4 cm    3.8 x 6.3 cm        5.3 x 7.1 cm

Battery Life           25 hours          25 hours          16 hours          approx 20 hours

With batteries        141.7 g            141.7 g            192.7 g               175 g

OS Mapping            No                   Yes                  Yes                   Yes

Cost  of Unit          £109.99          £179.99            £329.99             £299.00

Cost of full U.K.        N/A            £175.00            £175.00             £200.00
OS Mapping 1:50k

Total Cost               £109.99          £354.99           £404.99             £499.00
These are manufacturers RRP’s you will always find them cheaper online!

 Left to right:  Garmin Etrex 10    Garmin Oregon 450    SatMap Active 10

In the end it’s a matter of personal choice.  Any of these models will do the job. Read the manufacturers specifications, which are available online. Once you have decided whether you want mapping or not, either come on one of our courses to try them out or go to a reputable retailer and try them out.  Don’t be swayed by pushy sales staff expressing an opinion, go for the one that you find easy or straightforward to use.

My Choice                Etrex 10
Jane’s Choice            SatMap

Michael Hunt

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