Handheld GPS Units For Navigation, Geocaching, Mapping Trails, etc...
If you are looking for an outstanding handheld GPS, I highly recommend the Gamin GPS's that have their new high sensitivity SiRF chip in them. I have owned several different GPS units and my Garmin GPSMap 60CSX this one is head and shoulders above the rest. It has just about everything I could ever imagine wanting. If you buy one, you should also buy Mapsource City Select or Mapsource City Navigator software which lets you download street maps to your GPS. This not only gives you a nice map to look at as you're driving, walking or biking around, it gives you something called "auto-routing", which essentially let's you enter either the name of a city or even a street address, like 123 Elm St, Pittsfield, MA and it will give you turn-by-turn directions to that location. And the auto-routing is incredibly sophisticated, you can tell it that you're in a car and want to take the shortest route or the fastest route. You can tell it your on a bicycle and you want to avoid highways and dirt roads. It's amazing.
The features I look for in a GPS are:
High Sensitivity SiRF Chip
Ability to Download Maps
USB interface (yes, some exist that are Serial ONLY so watch out)
The Garmin Handhelds that fit into this category are:
If you buy a GPS, you'll also need to buy software to download maps to it. Your GPS will come with some basemaps, but they're marginal, okay if you're on the highway, but not much help around town. So - here's what I'd recommend buying:
Garmin GPS Map 60CSx
Garmin GPS Map 60Cx
- OR -
eTrex Legend® HCx
eTrex Vista® HCx
- OR -
Garmin GPS Map 76Cx
Garmin GPS Map 60CSx
The difference between the CSx and the Cx is the CSx has an Altimeter and Compass.
Garmin's letters mean:
C = Color S = Sensors (Altimeter, Compass) X = Expandable Memory H = High Sensitivity Chip (this is a new letter for them and the 60 and 76 don't have use the letter but do have the high sensitivity chip)
Mapsource City Navigator
Mapsource City Select
City Select has been discontinued, but is still available for purchase online.
City Select and City Navigator let you use your GPSMAP® 60Cx, GPSMAP 60CSx, GPSMAP 76Cx, and GPSMAP 76CSx do Turn by Turn directions! You can enter a destination address and the unit will actually guide you - turn by turn - to the address you want to go to.
Garmin has a method of protecting their software which involves "unlocking" the software. Basically, you are allowed to use City Select or City Navigator on as many computers as you want, but only with 2 GPS units. And that doesn't mean - two GPS units at a time - that means 2 GPS units ever. So - let's say you want to buy a new GPS down the road or you want to have 3 or more, you can only use this CD on two of them and when you sell your GPS, you might as well give away the software with it. I really hate this scheme and I almost didn't buy my Garmin because of it, but the performance of the unit has made up for this lousy software protection scheme.
Also... I thought I might be able to put maps on a friend's micro-SD card using my GPS and then give them that card so they could use the maps on their GPS, but there Garmin checks which does not allow this.
This doesn't apply to Mapsource Topo (at least, the version I have).
City Navigator does the exact same thing as City Select, but City Select let's you download smaller areas of maps. It doesn't really matter which you buy (in my opinion), but if you aren't going to buy a lot of memory, I'd go with City Select. If you are going to purchase more memory, buy City Navigator (unless it costs a lot more).
Additional Accessories for the Garmin GPS Map 60 series that I'd recommend buying include:
Garmin Automotive Navigation Kit
City Select Software Car Dashboard Mount Cigarette Lighter Power Cable
Garmin Handlbar Mount for 60 series GPS's
Works with standard bicycle handlebars, but NOT with oversized bars!
SanDisk Ultra II Micro-SD Memory Card
Extra memory lets you download huge number of maps so you won't have to mess around with downloading bits and pieces of New England everytime you go somewhere, just down all of the East Coast and never worry about it.
Download Topo Maps so if you're out in the woods (and not near roads), you have something to look at. Topo maps do NOT give you auto-routing capabilities, but can be downloaded simultaneously with the street maps.
For several years, I had a Garmin eTrex Legend. I used it for geocaching, navigating on my bicycle and making maps. I would almost always loose the GPS signal under heavy tree cover, which is frustrating. Prices are much more reasonable but you get what you pay for.
There are other alteratives, but I haven't tried them so I have no idea if they work as well as the Garmin's that have the SiRF chip. The Magellan Explorist XL has the largest (3.5”) color display in a rugged GPS and 30 MB available memory plus you can expand the amount of memory using a SD card. Like with Garmin, you'll have to buy Magellan's Mapsend Products to download maps to the unit.
A very reasonably priced GPS is the Lowrance iFinder series. I seriously considered buying one of these units instead of my Garmin GPSMAP 60CSX. Lowrance has been making GPS units for aviation for many years and has a loyal following. Some of their units have built-in MP3 players and some can even record your voice, which would be handy. Sometimes when I'm making maps, I mark trail intersections and have to take notes on paper - this is the intersection of the Pine and Wolf trails - whereas with the Lowrance, you can actually record your voice with the waypoint and speed up that process tremendously! These GPS's did not support turn-by-turn directions so I decided not to go with them.
Some really basic units which you could use for geocaching are: