Garmin eTrex GPS Review

Garmin eTrex GPS with Waterproof Exterior (Yellow)

Garmin eTrex GPS Review
A few years ago, when personal GPSs first became available, every geek from here to Poughkeepsie was enthralled about the possibility of always knowing exactly where on the planet he or she was. While the Garmin eTrex isn't the most feature-rich GPS out there, it will definitely come in handy if you don't want your next camping trip to end up like a scene from The Blair Witch Project.

The eTrex is sort of a dumbed-down, rugged version of the company's more advanced eMap. Designed specifically for hiking, biking, and camping, the eTrex is one of the easiest-to-use GPS units available. It offers the ability to track up to 12 satellites so you never lose contact with one. The eTrex won't work inside--however, we don't anticipate that you'll get lost inside a building very often.

Among the eTrex's notable features is its ability to calculate your current and average speed. We used the eTrex to determine the distance from work to home, and to calculate how fast we were walking. This helped us gauge the average time it should take to get to work. This feature should really come in handy on extended hiking, camping, or cycling trips where planning your average speed and tracking the distance traveled is critical.

Main menu
Map page
Pointer page
Mark pointer page
Sticking with its theme of simplicity, the eTrex has only five buttons, making it easy to use with just one hand (It's specifically designed for the left hand.) Weighing only 5.3 ounces with the batteries installed, the eTrex is also ultralight, making it an easy addition to a daypack. The eTrex is also waterproof, so a little water shouldn't damage the unit.

The eTrex can hold up to 500 user-created waypoints. And using Garmin's TracBack feature, it's easy to plot a course with up to 10 waypoints and follow it in both directions. --Julian Strate


  • Easy to use
  • Light
  • Waterproof
  • Batteries only last about 20 hours

Garmin eTrex GPS Product Description:
All the power of a 12 parallel channel GPS receiver in a palm-sized package / Waterproof / Stores up to 500 waypoints All five buttons are placed on the sides, for simple, one-handed operation that doesn't obstruct your view of the display Bright yellow case makes it easy to locate in the boat or backpack And the eTrex is waterproof, so a splash or dunk is not a watery grave for the eTrex The high-performance, GPS receiver runs 18 hours on two AA batteries Even under canopy forest conditons, the eTrex maintains a tight satellite lock Stores up to 500 waypoints with graphic icons Exclusive TracBack feature provides a reverse course home

Customer Review:
I recently bought an E-Trex primarily because of the low cost of the unit. I am very satisfied with my purchase. I am surprised how rugged it feels and it appears to have a little more knock-ability than some other handheld GPS units I have used. I would have preferred a GPS with cross track error capability because I am also a recreational pilot, however the latest software revision (1.07) does show your position relative to the track line between two current waypoints on the map screen and this can be used to correct cross track error.

I imagined the lack of buttons would have proved to be frustrating however this is not the case as the menus are logical and concise. Alphanumeric entry is via drop down menus, which let you quickly select numbers and letters for waypoint entry. Up to 500 waypoint entries are available and names are limited to combinations of up to six letters/numbers and there are many icons to choose from. You can quickly mark your present position as a waypoint by holding down one of the buttons for a second. It has all the usual nav formats and measurements can be displayed in Nautical (knots included), Statute (yards not included) and Metric.

I have used it bushwalking through fairly dense scrub and tree canopy and it did tend to track satellites well. There were a few short occasions where it lost signal in particularly dense cover (to be expected with a relatively small internal antenna) however it recovered within about ten seconds in lighter cover. I would not recommend relying on the GPS compass feature in dense cover because it did have trouble maintaining heading information updates in low satellite coverage areas. I am not disappointed with its performance in dense bush, and as anyone familiar with units with small antennas will know, it is just something you live with. I was using a magnetic compass in particularly dense areas where I experienced poor coverage and it is good navigation practice to use a magnetic compass and map in conjunction with your GPS anyway. In light and open cover I routinely get 8 metre accuracy and sometimes as good as 5 metre accuracy. If I turn it on outside near my last fix it usually gets a lock in about 10 seconds.

It maintains accuracy on the passenger seat of the car and is even better up on the dash. It gives a good presentation of speed, heading, time and distance to go on one big clear screen and the backlighting is very good. It has a nice rubbery casing and this makes it ideal to wedge it in an upright position between the dash mat and the windscreen while I am driving along.

I decided the genuine Garmin data upload cable was too expensive and made my own lead from a cannibalised mobile phone charger. Uploading the latest free Garmin software revision (mine was shipped with v1.05) was a snap and I was very impressed with how easy it was to update. The new software has some nifty features worth getting. I have used some shareware utilities such as "GARtrip" and "GPSutility" to upload waypoints from scanned paper maps and street directories, and you can edit, upload and download waypoint info and track info. It is obviously faster to modify waypoint info from your computer keyboard and then upload the new waypoints in seconds. It has a non-volatile memory so flat batteries don't present any risk of losing your stored data.

Any disappointments? Only a couple of minor ones. It is very hard to tell if the backlight is on in sunlight, and because it toggles on and off by momentarily pressing the power button, you can accidentally bump it on and be wasting batteries. You can't scroll the map around; you can only zoom in and out. This makes it difficult to review your recorded trail in any detail, and you need to zoom out and lose definition to see much of your trail. It gets cluttered with waypoint info when you zoom out trying to see your whole trail although you can turn the waypoint display off.

In summary, it is a compact gem of a GPS with a big screen and for the price I believe it represents excellent value. Make yourself a data lead or buy one from Garmin because the shareware computer-based utilities are cool. Two thumbs up.
Via Amazon