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Thread: Is your GPS Durable?

  1. #1

    Default Is your GPS Durable?

    I've been working with GPS units for over 20 years at work. However, I've never owned one. The only two times I personally needed a GPS were in the Arctic, but I'm finding a need for one in the mountains. At the end of the day a GPS, at least for recreational purposes, can tell you only two things: Where you are & Where do you want to go.

    That being the case I feel that durability is the number one requirement for a GPS, so was just wondering if the one you have is durable? Here are the three hand-held GPS's that I am most familiar with.

    Garmin eTrex Summit HC = Very durable (5 stars). Our crew here has used these for about 5 years straight, every work day. Most all of them are still going strong. Other Garmin eTrex's that have similar packaging, just a different color than the Summit HC, I'm quite sure are just as durable.

    Garmin Dakota 10 = Pathetic (0 stars). Of the ones we used, probably had about 25% that did not make it to warantee, but the ones that did are starting to fail, just after two seasons of use. The back battery support reminds me of a Matel toy. I would not buy a new one for $20.

    Magellan Explorist 100 = Durable (4 - 5 stars). I only used this for about two weeks but it was in some serious weather, what I call the hypothermia season where the weather hovers around 33 degrees F. I was impressed that it held up so well, with little to no protection. If I had used it a little more time with it, I would give it a 5 star & even considered purchasing one.

    Trimble = 5 stars, Every Trimble product I've ever used was bomber, but most all of it was professional, survey-grade stuff, so really can't report on their more recreational-type equip. There was a story some years ago about a receiver attached to a boat getting sunk in the ocean over 100' down, after recovering the unit & drying off the exterior, they turned it on & fired it up like nothing happened.

    So how durable is your handheld GPS?

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    I've had Lowrance iFinders for about 10 years. I really like them. They are quite durable.

    The iFinder hunt is about $50 on eBay. That is a good deal.

    One caveat: it is hard to find maps and other accessories since the GPS is discontinued.

  3. #3
    Member JOAT's Avatar
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    None of the Garmin touchscreen devices are worth looking at (Oregon, Colorado, Dakota, et al) as none of them are very durable, nor are they very user friendly with the touch OS. The Nuvi devices are less so, but they are designed for automotive use.

    That said, the "real" Garmin GPS outdoor handheld devices are very durable. This would include anything in the 60, 62, 76, or 78 lineups. I've used them all and never had a durability issue. The marine grade 76CSx was my primary carry unit for many years. It's been strapped to everything from boats to ATVs to snowmachines, run in every season, every weather, and all over the country. I've dropped it, kicked it, dumped it in the mud and water, and literally beat the krap out of it on snowmachine rides in sub-zero temps. Dang thing just keeps on running.

    I now carry a 62STC as my primary and I only upgraded to get the new OS with advanced geocaching features (which didn't exist on the 60/76 line, but does on the new 62/78 line). From a geocaching standpoint, the 60/76 units would allow you to load up to 1000 caches as waypoints, but they didn't have any additional info beyond the name, comment, and location. The new 62/78 series support direct GPX file access, allowing one to load up to 5000 geocaches with their complete online listing (from geocaching.com) directly to the unit via USB file transfer or SD card.

    Anyway, IMHO Garmin wins hands down in every aspect of GPS rating. Nothing else comes even close.

    One more thing, I disagree with your assessment of what good a GPS is. Yes they tell you where you are and can tell you where to go, but they also tell you where you've been. I wouldn't buy a GPS that doesn't support maps. Having the USCG topo maps for the entire country already in the GPS is about as handy and useful a tool as you can have. I've found Garmin GPS to be so reliable, that I rarely bother with carrying paper maps as a back up any more, unless going wayyyy off the grid or into unfamiliar terrain.
    Winter is Coming...

    Go GeocacheAlaska!

  4. #4

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    Great input, JOAT. Thanks.
    "One more thing, I disagree with your assessment of what good a GPS is. Yes they tell you where you are and can tell you where to go, but they also tell you where you've been." No argument here, most GPS I've seen will handle a minimum of 500 Waypts., plus tracks, more than enough for most folks, especially if you can transfer this info. to & from your computer to use at a later time. I don't Geocache, but it would definately be necessary for saving a secret fishing hole Waypoint.

    Of those units you mentioned above, do they float or does it just depend on the model?



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    Member Daveintheburbs's Avatar
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    Garmin Etrex venture HCX was very durable until stolen. Has any body tried the new line of Etrex; 10,20,30? None of them float btw.

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    [QUOTE?None of them float btw.[/QUOTE]

    One trick, use lithium batteries. If it still doesn't float, use a floating keyring from boating store

    Sent from my SPH-L710 using Tapatalk 2

  7. #7

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    Quote Originally Posted by mad_angler View Post
    [QUOTE?None of them float btw.
    One trick, use lithium batteries. If it still doesn't float, use a floating keyring from boating store

    Sent from my SPH-L710 using Tapatalk 2[/QUOTE]

    According to Garmin's website the three GPSMAP 78 series handhelds float. In addition, so does the 72H. Has your experience been different?

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    I'll second most of everything JOAT said. I have had a Grmin GPSMap 76 since 2006. I have few complaints, but durability isn't one of them. It's waterproof (IPX7, so 3' for 30 mins) and it floats. I've verified both of these features. Mine was in the top cover pouch of my pack when the pack went over a 30-ish ft drop to the gravel floor below. (Crow Creek Pass) The Silva compass in the same pouch shattered into dust-all that was left was the needle. I haven't put mine to quite the abuse JOAT has, but mine has seen its share.

    My complaints are about accuracy, batteries, and software compatablity.

    The GPSMap76 is not very accurate-at least not in AK. I usually see "Accurate to within" circles of around 17-40 feet. If I attach the external antenna however, that drops to around 6'. 17-40' isn't enough accuracy to do geocaching, and that is the sole reason I simply (and quickly) gave up on geocaching as a hobby.

    As for the batteries, battery life isn't very good, certainly not the 12 hours that Garmin touted, more like 6-8. In regards to using lithium batteries-you can't use lithium in these; when I install lithium batteries (regardless of brand voltage or environmental factors) I get a grey screen with a single vertical line in the center. Swap in alkalines and it's ready to go agani. Apparently, it's a rather well known issue, either with all Garmins or the 76's. (Or so say my hardcore geocaching friends.)

    The Garmins have never, to my knowledge or experience, ever worked with Apple computers. In 2007, Garmin announced that thre was going to be a Apple version released that would let Mac users update their Garmin devices on their OS X iMacs and MacBooks. To my knowledge, this has never actually come to pass. My GPSMap76 has had one firmware update it's whole life-someone else did it for me on their computer.

    So there yo have it. A few drawbacks (for me at least) on the GPSMap 76, but overall, a very durable, waterproof/floating unit. Even with my complaints, I'd buy another and I'd recommend one to a friend-unless they were geocaching with it.

  9. #9

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    Actually, I would say that is pretty good accuracy for a handheld unit. It has been my experience with taking test shots day in & day out on a known location, that if the manufacturer says they are accurate to say 20 ft., you can pretty much double that to 40ft. If you need more accuracy for geocaching in a handheld, I would suggest having a couple of bearing trees or bearing markers to your cache. Of course that info. would have to be written down somewhere & called upon later for use. You would also have to bring a tape measure & compass for that. Another option would be to look into Trimble or Topcon professional units, but now you are talking big bucks & the accuracy statement above still holds true.

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    Member JOAT's Avatar
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    Disagree with the accuracy complaint. I've gone through the growing trend of eTrex Vista, GPSMap 76CSx, and now 62STC for geocaching. They will all get you to within 20 feet of pretty much any spot. They all use the same satellites. What affects accuracy is signal bounce and blocking. If you're in the city, you have signals bouncing off buildings that generate notable errors in your position. If you're in heavy forest or mountains, the terrain is blocking some of the satellite signals. You'll get the best accuracy with larger numbers of satellites in view, but that constellation needs to include birds from all areas of the sky from horizon to overhead with signals coming from all cardinal directions. If you have 4 sats, but they are all the same direction from you, the accuracy will suck. If you're surrounded in a full half-spherical arrangement, you're accuracy will be great. If you question your current accuracy, just flip to the sat page and actually look at the constellation. If you have at least 8 sats and they are spread all over the sky, you should be good. But if you're standing in downtown big city with a lot of tall glass & steel buildings scattered around, your probably getting signal bounce off those buildings and that can really screw you without you realizing it. You might be off 40 feet or more, but the GPS is showing 20 or less because it doesn't know the extra distance the signal traveled was after bouncing off the side of a building a 1/4 mile away.

    With geocaching, I frequently test the accuracy and after recording a waypoint on one day with one GPS (and allowing a long position averaging time), I can go back 6 months later with a different GPS and it takes me to the exact same spot. Yes, the display says something between 12-20 feet accuracy, but the position display physically puts me back on the exact same square yard of the planet, every single time.

    If you're in the southern region of AK (within relative sight of the ocean), turn on the WAAS system in the GPS and it will correct atmospheric signal errors by receiving the WAAS correction signal. This correction signal is hard to get the further north you go, and it will drain your batteries faster.

    I only use NiMH rechargeable batteries in my GPS. They are far cheaper and last a lot longer than alkaline batteries. My 76 would run about 22 hours continuous and my 62 will run about 14 hours continuous on a fresh set of NiMH. Just remember that rechargeables have a terrible shelf life, so if you're not using them, they will drain down (over just a few weeks). If they drain down and sit for a long time (months), they will be ruined. You have to use them and recharge them frequently to keep them in good working shape.

    As to the lithium batteries... I'm surprised that Garmin doesn't splash the fix to that old problem on the front page of their website. All the newer units support lithium batteries. The older units may or may not, depends on model. Go to your setup screen and scroll through your battery types list. If lithium appears, you're good to go. If it does not, there is a way around it.

    The units that have lithium problems do not have an internal voltage shunt to handle the spike voltage from lithium batteries. These batteries (when new) have a very large initial voltage build up. When you first put them in, that high voltage overloads the device when you slam its 3.3v circuits with up to 4 volts. If you need to run lithium batteries in one of these old units, just get a mini-mag light (the old style with the krypton bulbs). Put the lithium batteries in the flashlight and turn it on for a couple minutes. This will drain off the spike voltage that these batteries build up when sitting on the shelf. Take them out of the flashlight and put them directly into the GPS and turn it on. It should power up and run just fine. After running your lithium battery set for at least a few hours, they should cause that power up problem any more, as long as you don't let it sit in the off state for more than a couple days at a time.

    Oh yeah, all of the 76 and 78 series units DO float. And that's the only difference between the 60 and 76 or the 62 and 78 units; the physical case. The 60/62 series are in a compact hiking case that is waterproof but doesn't float. The 76/78 units are in a larger case that has built-in air space that makes it buoyant. Other than that, they are the exact same GPS as far as function and operating system.
    Winter is Coming...

    Go GeocacheAlaska!

  11. #11

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    Good point on accuracy. Most of my check shots were done before all these new satellites came on board, although I do remember testing when GLONASS was onboard, but most of this was with survey-grade GPSs, not handhelds. I'm not sure of the timing of these new sats (also WAAS/EGNOS), but accuracy has greatly improved in say the last 5-10 years. Surely there is a review site that has done some testing. Old Town, you might have a new lease on life with geocaching with one of these newer GPS that pick up more Sats. JOAT have you noticed the accuracy differences between your 76 & 62. Do they have the same sat technology?

    Old Town, you may have to turn on your WAAS. I know on are units it does not default to this.

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    Member JOAT's Avatar
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    The new 62 leaves the 76 in the dust, which left the old eTrex in the graveyard, which made the old 12XL look like a toy. My 76 was an "x" series, high sensitivity receiver, which was new technology at the time and improved the accuracy at least 10 fold over previous units. The 62 is the latest and greatest in high sensitivity receivers that adds in some new software that is better at detecting spoofed signals and ignoring them. The key to accuracy is having an extremely accurate clock in the GPS since everything works on timing.

    The easy way to tell how accurate your GPS typically is, is to find a nice clear spot with view of the horizon for 360 around you and no visible buildings. Have your GPS turned on for at least 20 minutes prior to this test so that it has had plenty of time to acquire all possible sats and get the full almanac data. Now, set the GPS down with the antenna in ideal orientation (straight up for most units). Make sure you are recording a track log, and clear the current track log to start with a clean screen. Mark a waypoint and select the average waypoint function and start the averaging process. Leave the GPS sitting there and walk away for at least 15-20 minutes. When you come back, look at the waypoint averaging screen to see how far the GPS has adjusted your initial waypoint. That distance (in feet) is going to give you a good idea of the average accuracy. Now, stop the averaging function and go to the map screen. Zoom in until you can see the track log "wander" that was recorded while the GPS was sitting still. The diameter of this roughly circular area is going to show the outer range of your accuracy circle. You can use the rocker key to move the pointer to an edge of this pattern and it will tell you how many feet away that is. When you go to a set of coordinates, you will be up to this distance away from it.
    Winter is Coming...

    Go GeocacheAlaska!

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    Thanks for your two very knowledgeable posts, JOAT.

    Quote Originally Posted by JOAT View Post
    Disagree with the accuracy complaint[...]You'll get the best accuracy with larger numbers of satellites in view, but that constellation needs to include birds from all areas of the sky from horizon to overhead with signals coming from all cardinal directions. If you have 4 sats, but they are all the same direction from you, the accuracy will suck.
    While your assessment is logical and agrees with everything I know about radio wave propagation, all I know is, regardless of where I'm standing, what is around me, or what vehicle I'm in or on, as soon as I connect the external mag-mount antenna (the little square one) my accuracy circle plummets to about 6 ft or so. That tells me that the GPS' internal antenna has some inadequacies.


    Quote Originally Posted by JOAT View Post
    [...]I can go back 6 months later with a different (emphasis added) GPS and it takes me to the exact same spot.
    I thought this was kind of funny. How man GPS units do you own? (I couldn't justify owning more than one; they're not exactly cheap.)

    Quote Originally Posted by JOAT View Post
    If you're in the southern region of AK (within relative sight of the ocean), turn on the WAAS system in the GPS and it will correct atmospheric signal errors by receiving the WAAS correction signal. This correction signal is hard to get the further north you go, and it will drain your batteries faster.
    I think mine has an issue. When I turn on WAAS, the unit freezes or shuts down or something. I can't remember which, but I know that WAAS causes problems on my particular unit. (However, it didn't do it 5 minutes ago when I activated WAAS.)Besides, I thought WAAS was primarily for maritime environments. (Although, most airports now have WAAS as it is required to shoot an IFR approach using GPS.)


    Quote Originally Posted by JOAT View Post
    Go to your setup screen and scroll through your battery types list. If lithium appears, you're good to go. If it does not, there is a way around it.
    Mine doesn't have a battery list on the setup screen.



    Quote Originally Posted by JOAT View Post
    Oh yeah, all of the 76 and 78 series units DO float. And that's the only difference between the 60 and 76 or the 62 and 78 units; the physical case. The 60/62 series are in a compact hiking case that is waterproof but doesn't float. The 76/78 units are in a larger case that has built-in air space that makes it buoyant. Other than that, they are the exact same GPS as far as function and operating system.
    So is the 78 the newer "replacement" for the 76 then? After reading this and another recent thread about GPS units, it appears the neer ones do a lot more than mine. (Like "Alaska Hunting Chip")

    I think mine has 8mb of internal memory, no way to install a chip and, because I use a Mac, no way to load a Garmin MapSource to it. (Besides, how much of a map area could you load with only 8mb of memory and still have anything that resemble map quality?)

  14. #14

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    "I think mine has 8mb of internal memory, no way to install a chip and, because I use a Mac, no way to load a Garmin MapSource to it. (Besides, how much of a map area could you load with only 8mb of memory and still have anything that resemble map quality?)"

    It looks like you can get about 6 quad maps based on using Garmin 24K digital maps. If you are doing a long distance trip that's not much, but it should be plenty if you are just hunting or fishing a certain area. I used a program called Basecamp to check this out. It is supposedly the updated version of Mapsource, but I've had heaps of problems with it. Mapsource is a better program IMO, but for loading maps Basecamp works just fine. Have you considered getting Bootcamp for your Mac in order to run PC programs?

    Sounds like you might be in the same predicament as myself: too much technology & not enough dough. It's a shame to have to buy a new computer every third year, when there's nothing wrong with the old one. It's liking having a working car with no gas in it.

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    What are y'all using for topo maps &/or sattelite imagery?

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    Member JOAT's Avatar
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    Feel free to laugh, but I actually have 6 dedicated GPS units... In a junk drawer full of electronic stuff is my old Garmin 40 and 12XL units. Yes, they still work. I actually use the 12XL every once in awhile when teaching geocaching classes specific to GPS operation. It is an interesting experiment to set a modern GPS next to the old 12XL and look at the differences in the displayed coordinates for the same spot.

    Then I have my old eTrex Vista, which also still works and I've kept around simply due to the incredibly small and lightweight package. Going way off grid and want a backup GPS in the bottom of your bag? This is a perfect unit for that task.

    I have the 76CSx which is a good unit to put on the GPS mount on the ATV where it is subjected to crappy conditions. It went hunting with me last fall and spent the entire week strapped to the front rack on the ATV in the pouring rain, sleet, and snow. I think I may actually retire this unit as I'm finding less reason to carry it, but then I think that it might be just the perfect unit to "permanently" mount to a boat or at least keep in the ditch box next to the signal flares.

    My current handheld is the 62stc and gets used for nearly everything requiring a GPS.

    The 6th unit (if you were counting) is an automotive GPS. I can't even remember the manufacturer's name, but it's essentially a palm PC type touch screen device with city navigation functions. It's a low end unit and I received it as a gift from someone who didn't (and still doesn't) realize how little I have any use for a city navigating GPS. It's in the glove box of the truck and I take it out every couple months to run it down and recharge the battery. I've pulled it out and used it in Anchorage to find someplace maybe a dozen times over the last 5 or 6 years I've owned it. I've also taken it with me when traveling down to 'Merica to help navigate a rental car around a strange city. Works pretty good for that as none of my Garmin handhelds are equipped with auto navigation functions.

    As to your other items... Yes, the 78 is the new version of the 76. The 62 is the new version of the 60. The new versions are completely revamped and bear very little functional resemblance to their predecessors.

    Garmin retired the MapSource software and now uses a product called BaseCamp. They have a dedicated Mac version. Might want to check it out. http://www.garmin.com/en-US/shop/downloads/basecamp

    You'd be surprised at how many maps you can squeeze into 8mb, but yes, that is not very much space. The core road triangle of Alaska that includes the entire Kenai Peninsula and everything within the area from Anchorage to Fairbanks to Valdez, is a 112MB topo map. By comparison, my 62stc has so much internal memory that it contains topo maps for the entire USA, room for 5000 waypoints, Lord knows how many track logs, and since it has a built-in 5mp camera I have been accumulated a ton of photos on it as well. I have a 4GB SD card in the thing and not a single file on it yet as I've not even made a dent in the internal memory. I'm seriously considering buying one of those hunting map SD cards and I also need to pick up a BlueChip SD card for marine charts. (it's only m-m-m-money, right?)

    Does your 76 model have any letters after the model number? If not, it is probably the black and white (grey) screen with what is essentially the 2nd generation Garmin software. And it doesn't display maps very well. Things have advanced so far beyond that model. If you're serious about wanting to view maps in the field, you must purchase something newer with color display and SD card capability. You can probably yard sale that old unit online for about $50 if it's fully functional and doesn't have any physical case damage.

    BTW... if you haven't noticed, I think the GPS system is pretty cool.
    Winter is Coming...

    Go GeocacheAlaska!

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    Joat,

    You certainly seem to be up on these things.

    So, which Garmin would you recommend? Are the touchscreen s.Amy good? How do they work in the rain?

    Sent from my SPH-L710 using Tapatalk 2

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    Quote Originally Posted by Kushtekaa View Post
    What are y'all using for topo maps &/or sattelite imagery?
    National Geographic "Topo!" for mapping and Google Earth KML files for sat images.

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    Yard Sale my 76? Never. It's starting to feel like hunting with my pre 64 Winchesters LOL. (meh, I guess that would be a Sextant, not a GPS lol)

    Looking at the Basecamp website, the first thing I notice is that the OS on my Mac is too old for it. Can you feel the irony? =)

    The thing I can't tell from the garmin site is, if I had the right mac OS (10.6) would the mac recognize the older 76 (or would the 76 recognize and accept data from the Mac and base camp)? Since it was made in the PC only days.

    And yes, it's the original GPSMap76 greyscale screen. Although, I think the basemap that came with it displays just fine.

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    Quote Originally Posted by JOAT View Post
    As to your other items... Yes, the 78 is the new version of the 76. The 62 is the new version of the 60. The new versions are completely revamped and bear very little functional resemblance to their predecessors.
    That's interesting because the 72 looks exactly like my 76 case. Those units are all pretty expensive. Think I'll be keeping my dinosaur for a while longer. Would be nice if the newer mac compatible software would work with it though, or if I could at least do firmware updates with it.

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