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Need advice for casual hiking and bicycling use

gggoodgggirl 0 Points
edited November -1 in GPS Recommendations
I want to purchase a handheld GPS as a gift for my husband's 50th birthday. I have no experience with GPS technology and am feeling a little lost. I have been trying to read up on and compare the various units that seem to be popular, but I never seem to find the exact answers to my questions. Hoping to get some assistance here!

My husband is a CASUAL hiker and bicycle rider. His typical excursions range from 4-8 hours but rarely longer than that (exception was a 3-day hike to the bottom of the Grand Canyon). He does a bit of mountain climbing, trail hiking, and explores the city, parks, and bike trails on his bicycle. He hinted to me that he may be interested in an inexpensive GPS unit just so he can figure out where he is or wants to go when he is out there.

I know that he will not be comfortable with any elaborate or complicated features.

He wears reading glasses, so I think a larger screen will be helpful.

I am not sure he is interested in training features, but he might use them if they were present.

So far I have looked at the Magellan Explorist series (310, 510, 610) and the Garmin Oregon series (450 or 450t). I am open to other units as well, I just don't know what is recommended. I was initially looking to spend $200 - $250 but am flexible if I could find the right combination of features.

How critical is the difference between the 1:24 (magellan) and the 1:100 (garmin) topo maps? Will that matter for my husband's intended use?

Can any of these units upload a report of his retraced activity so he can analyze his excursions after he is home? (he loves to do that)

Do any of these units have the ability to send activity back to the home computer in real time (like a SPOT tracker)?

For his intended use on the bicycle, will the pre-installed maps on these units be sufficient, or will I need to purchase additional maps? For example, the Magellan Explorist comes with 1:24 TOPO maps, but I cannot figure out if the base map provides regular street navigation as well. I think the Garmin Oregon comes with 1:100 TOPO maps, but here too I am unsure of any included street maps. Do these maps need to be purchased, or can they be downloaded for free?

I have read a lot about storage and the need for SD card expansion. How much room does an add-on map take when installed? If a unit only has 850 mb of space, can it hold more than one map?

How important is having an electronic compass feature? It seems like it would be important, but then a lot of GPS units are sold without them, so I am confused what the benefit is.

I will probably get a handlebar mount to go with it, so any suggestions for that would be helpful too.

Thanks in advance for any suggestions you can offer.


  • Boyd 1999 Points
    Features like a large screen and satellite messaging are not necessarily consistent with the desire for an "inexpensive" device. :)

    Too bad, you just missed REI's sale on the Oregon 450t for $200, which was the best price I've seen on this model.

    Garmin has the lion's share of the market by a large margin. One reason is the availability of high quality, free user-contributed maps such as those here:

    The Garmin 100k topo (as provided on the Oregon 450t or other "t" models) doesn't get much love, it isn't very accurate. I have it, and think it's fine for casual use. Also nice since it covers the entire US whereas the Garmin 24k maps are regional and expensive.

    The Magellan models have gotten pretty good reviews but I have not used them (although I have an older Magellan). Their product support has been the subject of much negativity, not sure if that has improved recently. Their computer software for managing the GPS has also been criticized by many people.

    All makes and models of devices are capable of saving your track (record of where you have been).

    On Garmin, unless you buy a "t" model, there really isn't any kind of useful map on the device. It will include a "basemap" that is so crude that it won't be good for much more than looking at major cities and state boundaries with a few major roads and water features.

    The electronic compass is nice because it works when you are standing still. Without the compass, there will be no indication of which direction you're facing unless you're moving. That said, many people are happy without the compass.

    I would not buy a device unless it has a slot for a memory card. However, 850MB will allow you to load detailed maps for one or more states typically (depending on the map). Garmin's software allows you to choose which section of the map you want to load but ONLY IF you purchase the DVD version of a map. MicroSD memory cards are very cheap - a 4GB card is only a few bucks and should provide all the memory that most people will need.

    Of the models you have listed, I personally would prefer the Oregon 450 (or 450t if you can find one for $200 like the REI sale). The only device with a larger screen would be the Garmin Montana 600, but it's above your budget.

    I would say the eTrex 20 is also a lot of bang for the buck, but it has no compass and the screen is tiny. The new Oregon 600 also looks really nice, but it's also above your budget.

    No experience with DeLorme. Garmin is rumored to annouce a new model - the Monterra - very soon. Evidently it will be Android based and have some capability to send and receive data via a cell connection. It will be much more expensive than your budget though.

    My only other thought is that the choice of GPS can be a very personal thing, and looking at pictures and specs on the web doesn't tell the whole story. Perhaps a gift certificate would be a better approach, so that he could go to a store and pick the model he likes best? Otherwise, be sure to check the return/exchange policy wherever you make the purchase. REI has a really liberal policy, for example.
  • Thanks so much for your detailed response. Let me ask another question...

    Since the 1:100 topo maps which are included in the Oregon 450t are not ideal, am I better off buying the 450 model (with no installed maps) and then purchasing the 1:24 topo map for our region?

    You mentioned that there are lots of user-uploaded free maps... why kind of maps are these? Are they street maps? TOPO maps? POI maps? Would the combination of the purchased 1:24 TOPO and some downloaded freebies be enough? Or would I still be lacking a critical base map?

    Unfortunately REI no longer carries the 450/450t line, but I am finding some decent deals on eBay. Looks like I can get a new 450t for about $255 shipped.

    Any advice on buying a used unit? I am somewhat skeptical because I imagine that people can really abuse this type of equipment.

    Thanks again.
  • Boyd 1999 Points
    I would say that the choice between the 450 and 450t should be made completely on the basis of cost. At $200 it was a no brainer. At $300 I would pass. $200 for the 450 would also be a good deal. Garmin has released a new version of the 100k topo and it has gotten very good feedback. I suspect any 450t that you find will have the old version however. The 450t also has more memory than the 450 to hold the topo map (which takes almost 3GB), so there's some value there even if you don't want the map.

    The 24k Garmin topo maps have routable roads and trails, meaning the GPS can give you turn by turn directions. The 100k topo can't do that and only shows your position on the screen. Most of the GPSFileDepot maps are also like that.

    You can't generalize about the quality of GPSFileDepot downloads because there are many different authors. But they are free, so just download anything of interest and look for yourself. You can view them on your computer without even owning a GPS - see this:

    Personally I wouldn't buy a used GPS, but that's just me. IF you can find a Garmin reconditioned model for a good price, I wouldn't hesistate however. They have the same warranty as a new unit.
  • alanb 556 Points
    You can get the Garmin Oregon 450 factory refurbished with full warranty direct from Garmin at their eBay store for $199.99.
  • Thanks for the tip... Amazon is selling a brand new 450 for $217.00. I just need to decide if I want the version with no maps.
  • alanb 556 Points
    I have the Oregon 550T which came with the 100K topo map. I didn't find the 100K map to be useful, so I deleted it from the unit and replaced it with the free Open Street Map USA which is more accurate and routable (but doesn't have topo). YMMV
  • @AlanB - Is the Open Street Map USA a Garmin map or is it a user uploaded map? Is it readily available? Do you think it would be acceptable for general bicycle excursions?

    What is the reason for not leaving the 100K TOPO installed and also use the Open Street Map USA? Is it a space issue? Do they not fit on SD cards?

    It sounds like my best bet may be to go ahead with a new 450 (nonT), the free Open Street Map USA, and then let him decide at a later time if he actually needs the regional 24K TOPO for our area. Any reason that would not work?

    Thanks, Jill
  • Boyd 1999 Points
    Read about openstreetmap here:

    Download maps here:

    Personally I would not remove the 100k topo from the 450t, especially if giving it as a gift. You are correct that a memory card can be used for whatever other mapping you want. If you later decide you don't want it you can remove and archive it on your computer.

    And in general, why not just get the basic device and let your husband download free maps - either openstreetmap or gpsfiledepot - if he desires? It should be a fun project for him and he can choose exactly what he wants.

    He might also be interested in the Birdseye series whichd provides unlimited downloads of satellite imagery for $30:

    Or also scans of "classic" USGS 24k paper topo maps for $30. These behave differently than Garmin's 24k maps, which are digitally created. Each type of map has its own advantage, but some people actually feel the USGS paper maps are a sort of "holy grail" and for $30 you get all of the US and Canada:

    If you aren't buying the T model and feel you must provide him with some kind of map "right out of the box", then Garmin's 24k topo is probably the best bet for all-around use. I suggest that you get the DVD version as opposed to the download or memory card version if possible. There are technical reasons that make this more versatile.
  • alanb 556 Points
    Yes, you can leave the Topo map on the Oregon and still add other maps on the SD card as Boyd suggested. I deleted the Topo from my Oregon because I never used it, and it was just one more thing that had to load when I plugged my Oregon into Basecamp. Removing the topo map opened up some space on the Oregon that I used to store Garmins Birdseye satellite images. I did back up the Topo map so I can reinstall it if I ever sell the Oregon.
  • Thanks so much to both of you. Your advice and suggestions have been so helpful. I have decided what I will do.

    Amazon just reduced the price of a brand new 450t to $258 (shipped). I will leave the 100K topo installed and not purchase any new maps until my husband has a chance to explore the available free maps in the user community. I did look at the OpenStreetMap links and this may be perfect for his bicycling excursions.

    I will also purchase a bicycle mount and a 4gb SD card to round out the package.

    Thanks again! Jill
  • Boyd 1999 Points
    Cool - your husband is a lucky guy! :D
  • babj615 41 Points
    Living up to your screen name, I see!

    Indeed, a lucky man to have such a thoughtful wife :)

    You might want to keep the following link bookmarked, most of the information needed to understand and operate all that the Oregon 450t has to offer can be found here:

    Of course, we will be happy to help with questions her also.

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