Most accurate backcountry GPS handheld? Wed Mar 28, 2012 10:19 pm
Hi, I am currently in the market for a new GPS for work. I did some research but I am honestly not sure where to start to compare. I bought a Garmin Oregon 450t a couple years ago but for recreation and not work and now I want something that is more accurate. I cruise timber and use my GPS to find waypoints in order to do sample plots. I need to be as close as possible to these waypoints often to within 33ft (which I know is somewhat unreasonable on steep ground with a thick canopy, but I don't make the rules). The Oregon usually did pretty well but I would often totally loose reception and/or have terrible accuracy which can basically stop my work day in its tracks. Some of my co-workers have Garmin Map 60s and they seem to often do much better than my oregon.
Anyway, I was wondering what you guys think is the best handheld GPS within a reasonable price range (less than $700 preferably) as far as accuracy and maintaining satellite reception in thick tree cover and steep ground (bottoms of deep draws, etc). So it must:
easily load topo maps and waypoints (preferably thousands of them)
and have a good compass
I dont really care about other bells and whistles but a radio (like the rhinos) would be nice if theres any worth while that have those.
I have been happy with Garmin thus far but if there is something you think is better I am all ears.
Joined: 05 Jun 2008 Posts: 12415 Location: New Jersey
Thu Mar 29, 2012 11:36 am
I don't suppose GLONASS would hurt, but not sure if it will make any significant difference either here in the US, based on reports I've read on the eTrex 30. You said you wanted an accurate compass, so the eTrex 20 won't work (no compass).
The GPSMap 62s and Montana 600 are a couple other models to consider. Montana has greater waypoint storage than any other Garmin unit and also the nicest screen (big, bright and many more pixels). Here's a comparison of these units with the Oregon 450:
You need to see all of these in person also - the eTrex is really tiny and the Montana is very large.
Aside from the eTrex, all of these use the same GPS receiver chips so I don't think you will see much of a difference in accuracy. The 62s *might* be at an advantage due to the antenna design, but I don't know that there is any hard data to back that up. It has the same antenna design as the 60csx.
Really, all modern consumer handhelds are going to have similar performance. Spending $700 will not get you any more accuracy than a $300 unit. For more accuracy you will need a survey grade unit and then the price jumps way up into the $4,000+ range. And these units are not user friendly and don't accept the kind of maps you will find on Garmin. They are for professional GIS users:
I think your requirement of 33ft accuracy (10 meters) is reasonable for a consumer unit however and fits within their specs. You should use waypoint averaging (available on all the models I've listed) and let the unit sit for as long as possible in order to get accurate readings.
The 60csx is not a very good option today IMO. It has been discontinued, and about 3 years ago Garmin switched to a different kind of chipset on the 60csx. So any older reviews you read about it will be based on the SiRF chips while any remaining new stock is going to have MTK chips. See 60csx no longer uses SiRF chips.
I have one of the old SiRF 60csx units, and when using waypoint averaging for ~40 minutes I have been able to get more accurate readings than an Oregon in the same location. However, both units did better than 5 meter (16 ft) accuracy.
Thanks for all the info guys, its greatly appreciated.
I supposed I dont need a compass but it does save me time from having to pull out my traditional compass all the time. I have a friend that has an etrex 30, maybe Ill borrow it and see what I think. I also noticed that Garmin recently introduced "Hotfix" on their newest models like the Montana, do you think this would make a noticeable difference in dense canopy over older models? or does it just help with acquiring satellites on start up?
It's unbelievable how accurate my "old SiRF" 60CSx is. I have many, many averaged waypoints (along hiking trails, shooting spots, etc) and I routinely get within a couple feet of them, even with the unit posting accuracy readings of +/- 30 ft or greater.
I'd like to see how it compares with a new 62 unit but, if/when I get a new one, I'll go all in and get a Montana...or whatever über unit Garmin has released at the time...
I also noticed that Garmin recently introduced "Hotfix" on their newest models like the Montana, do you think this would make a noticeable difference in dense canopy over older models? or does it just help with acquiring satellites on start up?
It's just for quick start-up/sat fix. I don't really see it as that big of a deal or a "must have" feature. All of my Garmin units (none, except maybe the 3790T, have "hotfix") get initial fixes pretty quickly, even after being shelved for weeks. If they've been used recently, they'll already have a fix and be resolving accuracy when the start-up process is finished.
Joined: 05 Jun 2008 Posts: 12415 Location: New Jersey
Thu Mar 29, 2012 8:29 pm
I routinely get within a couple feet of them, even with the unit posting accuracy readings of +/- 30 ft or greater.
I'd like to see how it compares with a new 62 unit
Here are the tests I did last year with an Oregon 400t and SiRF 60csx. I have to admit, I was skeptical about some of the 60csx accuracy claims, but it does indeed appear capable of 1 to 2 meter accuracy UNDER CERTAIN CONDITIONS. Each data point on the images below was created with waypoint averaging during ~45 minute period. In other words, each of those points is averaged from ~2,700 readings. This may not be practical (waiting 45 minutes to record each waypoint) for many applications.
FYI, I used Globalmapper with extended precision coordinates to create these images. Consumer level software, such as mapsource, can't accurately display this amount of detail. In fact, Garmin's map format uses 24 bit numbers which limits its accuracy to +/- 2.5 meters.
Now if you just need to grab waypoints on the fly without averaging, I don't think this chart would be so pretty on the 60csx. Each of those green dots would look like big shotgun blasts.
Wow thats interesting, thanks so much for the in depth comparison. I'm not sure what to think now. In fairly open canopy/terrain my Oregon has always been great, not sure why my co-worker's 60's seem to be better in denser canopy, maybe that little bit of antenna makes enough difference in these particular situations. Well I am already set on buying a 62 or possibly a Montana 600, ill use whatever I buy in the coming weeks and let you guys know what I think.
Yes, thats a good idea, I will probably buy from Cabelas, them seem to be good about that kind of thing (knock on wood).
Look into L.L Bean as they have Oregons and Montanas. Best warranty ever. 100% satisfaction guaranteed and you can return it any time for any reason. Warranty never expires and they stand by it. I'm on the "same pair" of hiking boots I bought in the '90s. I specifically asked them about electronics and their warranty applies to everything they sell.
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