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Looking for recommendation o "on trail" device for

photojon 1 Point
edited November -1 in GPS Recommendations
Its been several years since I have shopped for a GPS and they have definitely improved in all areas. I am looking for a GPS recommendation for my son who will use it on multiple day Boy Scout outings.

Here are some of the items I am concerned about but please let me know if there are other items I should be concerned about but left of: weight, replaceable batteries, battery life, accuracy, use in cold/wet weather, accepts "overlay maps" from "scanned and geo-referenced documents

My research has lead me to three Garmin models: Montana, Oregon and the 62 series. From the Garmin website, they appear to be about the same in battery life, accuracy and use model with overlay maps. Are there other models/brands I should consider?

Does anyone have experience in how these work in cold/wet weather (touch screen vs hard button)? Many of the places they hike and camp don't have "canned" maps. I have heard people talk about a procedure of scanning a map in to a computer, tracing a trail and then "geo referencing" that against the "GPS map". Is this now a pretty straightforward process or does it require a PhD in cartography ;-)



  • sussamb 813 Points
    To that you could add the Garmin 20/30 ... I use one for hiking and find it more than adequate. You can read about Garmin custom maps here ... I've made a few and it's not difficult:
  • Boyd 1985 Points
    The Oregon, Montana and 62 series all use the same chipset, so you should expect very similar performance.

    The 62 has a very low resolution screen by todays standards (only 160x240 pixels). However the low pixel density makes it very visible under the most challenging conditions, even without the backlight. All Garmin handhelds have transreflective screens that don't require a backlight when there's enough ambient light. But really, the main appeal of the 62 series is the pushbutton interface, for people who don't like touchscreens.

    The Oregon 450 is one of the most popular devices on the market with a very large user base, mainly due to the fact that it has been highly discounted. If you catch a sale you can find it for less than $200. Much higher resolution screen (240x400), although somewhat less visible under difficult conditions (like a bright, cloudy day).

    The Montana is larger, with a much bigger screen that is just beautiful (480x272). It also has many advanced features not found on the 62 or Oregon 450.

    The Oregon 600 series is an update to the older 450, with a glass multi-touch capacitive screen (older models have resistive screens). I have never used one, but have heard the screen is very nice, but still the same size and resolution as the older Oregon (240x400). It has borrowed many of the advanced features from the Montana, but it's expensive.

    The Montana and Oregon 600 have advantages of you want to used scanned maps (raster imagery). Garmin's spec only supports a maximum image size of 1024x1024 pixels for this type of map. However, you can used multiple images in these maps (known as "tiles"). These two models allow you to have 500 of the 1024x1024 tiles. The Oregon 450, GPSMap 62 and eTrex 20/30 only allow 100 of these tiles in a map.

    The link sussamb posted is nice if your needs are extremely limited (ie: if your entire map will fit in jsut one 1024x1024 tile. That is not going to meet most people's needs though. So you will want some software to assist in making bigger maps with multiple tiles.

    This is more complicated than I can get into here, but here are two programs that are designed to help with this. IF at all possible, you will want to search the internet for maps that are already georeferenced because it's a real pain to have to do this yourself.

    But what are these places that don't have "canned maps"? Are you familiar with the traditional paper USGS 1:24000 topo maps? You could make your own maps by downloading these from the USGS, but it's kind of a fool's errand now. Garmin offers full US and Canada coverage of these scanned maps at $30 for unlimited downloads. And they are in format that doesn't have the size limitations of the maps you make yourself (only limit is the size of your memory card). Just download and install.

    You can also get satellite imagery at $30 for unlimited download
  • Thanks for the great advice/info on the different unit. I will take a look at the websites you suggested.

    I have a few followup questions about the "raster imagery and "tiles" and the garmin subscription maps as it sounds like this is the "devil's in the detail". I was planning on buying the 24k topo map of our area (California). Are the subscription maps different/in addition to that or similar? If you get the subscription, does that replace the need of scanning and tiling?

    My experience (admittedly limited) is that many parks have trail maps of their terrain. My goal would be to be able to look at one of those maps and be able to trace over that map with a mouse on a computer and be able to see the length and elevation change (and rate of change) so that we could predict the hiking time and difficulty. Is this readily doable with process you described?

    I found some information about georeferencing a papermap (in my ase it was a pdf) for use with a Garmin. As a "trial run" I downloaded a county park trail map and overlaied it in google earth following the Garmin tutorial. Unfortunately, I don't have a GPS to download it into but that process seemed to work pretty well. I haven't or wasn't able to "trace a trail" so I'm not sure if that is even doable. If I followed your message, it sounds like this section of "Google Earth" when downloaded to my GPS with overlay may need to be tiled and that process may not be very straignt forward. Correct?

    Sorry again if I am mixing ideas but I really appreciate your descriptons!

  • Boyd 1985 Points
    There are two basic categories of maps: raster and vector. "Classic" Garmin maps, such as the California 24k topo you mentioned are vector based. This kind of map is really just a database of coordinates. Along with the coordinates there are instructions for what to do with them. A single point could represent a town or a hospital (a Point of Interest or POI). You can also have a polyline, like a road or stream, where each coordinate is connected to the previous one. Finally they can connect to form a closed polygon or area, such as a lake or park.

    Raster based maps are just images that have been georeferenced. Both types of maps have advantages and disadvantages. Raster imagery is only usable in a limited range of zoom levels - gets all blocky if you zoom in too far, turns into a unreadable blob when you zoom way out. Vector based maps maintain constant line thicknesses and text sizes throughout the whole zoom range. But raster images can show all the subtle details of a hand-drawn map or aerial photo.

    So the Birdseye 24k topos are a completely different beast than Garmin's 24k maps. THey are the real USGS maps that have been scanned. The Garmin 24k maps will have far fewer little details and look more like computer graphics. You can view the California topo online here:

    You should download Garmin Basecamp - it's free.

    You can import your "trial run" map into it and see how it works. You can also use the track drawing tool to draw trails as you describe. The trails will not have elevation values unless you have installed a Garmin map that contains the necessary data. There are some other tricks you can use to add elevation though.

    As mentioned before, if your scanned map is larger than 1024x1024 pixels, Garmin's tutorial will not really work for you (it will work on the computer but not on the GPS). See the programs I listed above.

    You can also create your own vector based maps, but this gets much to complicated to explain here. Garmin doesn't officially support this - you need to use third party tools that have been reverse-engineered. However, take a look at Mapwel, it has a good set of tools for tracing things and georeferencing. The demo version is free and fully functional on your computer, but it will not send the map to the GPS:

    Finally, take a look at the free maps at GPSFileDepot. Some of them are excellent. You can download and install them in Basecamp without buying anything.
  • Thank you very much for the detailed instructions. Sounds like the perfect project for the Christmas break! I'll report back with my findings and questions.

    Many Thanks!
  • I finally got a chance to download Basecamp and play around with it a bit. I also explored GPSFileDepot. Lots of good info but have a few more questions:

    1) I tried purchasing the $30 Birdseye 24k maps from Garmin, but it appears I have to have a "registered device" first. Is that correct or am I missing something.

    2) I wanted to get more info on your post on the difference between Garmin's 24k maps and Birdseye 24k maps. From your post, I get the impression that the Birdseye 24k is a much nicer map (more details) than Garmin's 24k map. The Birdseye is $30 for unlimited downloads for a year and the Garmin 24k map is around $100 for the DVD (just for US West). Why would anybody buy the DVD? (I must be missing something)

  • Boyd 1985 Points
    1. Yes, you must have a compatible device to buy Birdseye. Why would you want it otherwise? :?

    2. I have explained the difference between raster and vector maps in detail above. Please read it again. The Birdseye topos are raster maps. The Garmin 24k topos are vector. They have routable roads, meaning they can give you turn by turn directions to your destination. They also contain elevation data that show shaded terrain and full 3d in basecamp. This data will also provide elevation plots of your routes and tracks for planning purposes. Raster maps are just pictures and can't do any of this.

    You can view the USGS 24k topo maps - the same as birdseye topo - here:

    Drag the map to an area of interest, click the Topo button and zoom all the way in. These are scanned USGS maps, however they have hillshading which will not be shown on Birdseye.
  • for #1) I was hoping to be able to get the maps while my device is in transit. I'll just have to wait for it to be delivered!

    #2 re-read your description a couple of times and after seeing examples of actual maps, I finally understand (and least some) of the differences & benefit of each. Thanks again for the details!

    As a follow up, is there any way to "overlay" a raster AND vector map to get the best of both worlds? Here is a specific example I am thinking and if not, maybe there is a way to address this...

    If I have a raster map of a trail, I can geo-reference it and have it on my device but from the explaination, my understanding is that there is no altitude information. If I overlay it it on a vector based map I can get all the altitude information but unfortunately without the raster, I won't be able to "trace" the trail.

    Really appreciate all the info you provided. I has helped me make a decision to go with a Montana.
  • Boyd 1985 Points
    On Garmin, lines and points on vector maps will be drawn on top of raster maps, but areas will be hidden.

    So, for example, if you purchase the Birdseye satellite imagery along with one of the 24k vector maps, the roads, contour lines and points of interest will be overlaid on the picture. And elevation data from the 24k map will be available for any tracks/routes you create.

    If you make you own raster based map ("custom map" or .kmz file), you will see that Basecamp actually has draw order setting that determines which vector objects appear on top of it.

    Enjoy your Montana when it arrives. It's a great device, but don't expect to figure everything out the first day. There's a lot to learn, but once you get familiar you will be able to customize almost every aspect of the Montana to suit you personal tastes.
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