For hunters, fishermen and outdoorsmen, navigation to and from our recreation site has become much easier in recent years. As GPS units become cheaper, smaller and more accurate, we have run out of reasons to procrastinate the adoption of this technology into our outfit. The eTrex unit in this review came in a package deal with a Burris Fulfield II rifle scope. Though this exact model is not in production anymore, it is virtually identical to the newer eTrex H, which has a more sensitive receiver with the same basic features. Garmin’s eTrex line is a no-nonsense trail tracker unit designed for ease of use, long battery life and enough navigation features to get you home safely.
The eTrex controls are simple and the entire unit is waterproof rated at IPX7 (1m for 30 min). This means that a quick wade through a shallow river won’t shut it down.
The power button also turns on the display back-light if you are hiking in the dark.
When you first turn the unit on, it takes a few minutes to track your location. You will see the progress on the satellite tracking page above. Once you see “ready to navigate”, you are good to go. Ideally, you will have line-of-sight view with at least four GPS satellites. If not, you can get by on only three with a bit less accuracy.
The next page is the track log, which generates a small “map” of your journey. This unit does not actually contain any real maps that you would normally install via data port. However, it does give you a zoomable visual reference of where you have been so you can easily backtrack to your trail head. You can store 10 track logs, 20 routes, and 500 waypoints.
The compass screen provides an accurate heading and speedometer. Just remember, the unit does not have a real magnetic compass built in, so you have to be moving to get an accurate reading. Additionally, if the unit loses signal, runs out of batteries, or otherwise fails, your compass is gone too. No one ever said that a GPS unit is a replacement for a good old fashioned compass and map. Think of it more as a navigation enhancement accessory to add to your existing orienteering arsenal.
The trip data page allows you to customize the data that is displayed in the five fields. You can select things such as bearing, odometer, ETA, vertical speed, etc.
The menu page is easy to navigate and allows you to setup the eTrex GPS to your own specifications. This is also where the time/date and battery meter is located.
The Garmin eTrex 12-Channel GPS runs on two AA batteries. Garmin claims up to 22 hours of continuous-use battery life according to their website. In my experience, you can realistically expect about 15-17 hours with alkaline batteries depending on how much you use the back light. You can get slightly longer life out of lithium batteries. Nonetheless, this is plenty of juice for day trips, and with a hand full of spare batteries, you could leave it running for an entire weekend.
The eTrex has some cool features built in such as “hunt/fish” which gives you estimates for the best times to find game in that area. This is a somewhat rudimentary estimate as this data can vary greatly from one species to the next. It also gives you sunrise/set and moonrise/set and phase for a given waypoint. You can also use “project” to create a new or future waypoint from your current location.
The “go-to” feature allows you to select any marked waypoint to navigate towards. It gives you bearing and heading markers, speed, ETA, and distance remaining.
The Garmin eTrex GPS is a decent little entry-level unit for basic outdoor navigation and venture tracking. It is easy to use, lightweight, and affordable. You can expect to pay between $80-100 for one of the eTrex H units online.
The only problem I have had with this unit is that it can be sensitive to how and where you hold it. For example, don’t expect it to work well if you toss it in your pants pocket and hike 12 miles into the back country before checking it. If you lose signal, the unit cannot track your course, so when you regain a decent signal, your tracks will have chunks missing. It seems to work best when you hold it in your palm, away from your body with the screen facing skyward. When I do this, I get perfect reception every time. I am assuming that the newer eTrex H will not have this issue as it is endowed with stronger reception due to improved receiver sensitivity.
I also noticed that the elevation of my waypoints can vary from day to day by as much as 40 ft even when I have at least four satellites to track. So, don’t expect pinpoint accuracy to the nearest inch. It will however, help you find your way back to the car/camp/boat after a long day of fun in the sun.
So, if you are looking for a compact, easy to use GPS unit to toss in your tackle box, take a good look at the Garmin eTrex or eTrex H GPS. If you are like me, you will be pleasantly surprised at just how useful these simple units can be in the field.
Have Fun Out There!