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Backpacker Magazine – March 2005

Backcountry Technology Review: Electronics and GPS

Your complete guide to the latest in outdoor electronics, including a smart watch, a weatherproof MP3 player, and the best in GPS.

by: Steve Howe, BACKPACKER Rocky Mountain Editor and Kris Wagner, BACKPACKER Map Editor

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©Matthew J. Reigner
Highgear Trailaudio 512.
Best Buy

Highgear TrailAudio 512

Finally, someone noticed MP3 players are going everywhere hikers go and made a unit up to the task. The TrailAudio is water-resistant and has a 'biner attachment for hanging it off your shoulder strap. And Highgear engineers say it shouldn't stutter at high altitude because it has flash memory instead of a hard drive. Beyond that, it's a sweet, light little unit with a ton of memory (512 MB); easy file transfer (just drag and drop); no fancy software to learn; up to 15 hours of playtime on a single AAA battery; an FM receiver; and voice recording. Our tester loved everything but the headphones; Highgear says they're including regular ear buds this spring. (Also available in a 256 MB version, $180.) $225; 3 oz.

GPS Receivers

Brunton Atlas MNS

This upgrade to the original Atlas adds an altimeter, 36-hour graph barometer, electronic compass, and expandable memory. But Brunton's new integrated mapping products are the real story. Start with regional Topocards ($199), which hold true USGS 1:24.000-scale topos-the highest resolution on-screen maps we've seen. For home use, add Topocreate software ($249), which lets you upload and customize maps and GPS info from your handheld (and vice versa). With Topocreate and a 512 MB SD card, you could store a lifetime of trips and customized quads on the GPS unit itself. In the field, the receiver was quick and reliable, and the large screen refreshed faster than others thanks to dual processors. Downside: It's bulkier and less intuitive than some. $359; 7 oz.

©Matthew J. Reigner
Garmin Foretrex 101

Bargain!

Garmin Foretrex 101

"This wrist-top unit may make you look like a Trekkie, but it's collecting more accurate data in the field than some of our more expensive handheld units," raves our map editor. We've seen consistently fast, steady reception, even in thick undergrowth. The waterproof unit is very intuitive to use, battery-efficient (uses two AAAs), and stores 500 waypoints and multiple track logs. Watch for a full review in the April issue. $139; 3 oz.

Garmin eTrex Legend C

This ergonomically designed GPS fits snugly into your palm and features the most vibrant color screen we've seen (side buttons adjust the backlight, making the 2-inch display readable in most light conditions). It comes with a built-in basemap with the ability to upload 24 MB of topo maps. A complaint: Reception is so-so in forests and canyons. $375; 6 oz.

©Matthew J. Reigner
Magellan Explorist 200
Magellan Explorist 200

Do you hate gizmos but like the stay-found security of a GPS? The Explorist 200 delivers all the basics, from points of interest to routes, in a small, tough, no-frills design. Equipped with a generic basemap of roads, streams, and park boundaries, it contains more than 70 map grids to overlay on the battery-friendly (two AAs) grayscale display. Drawback: The unit can't upload or download data, something you'll want as you head farther off trail or become more GPS-savvy. $149; 4 oz.

Garmin GPSMap 60C And 60CS

State of the art in handheld GPS, the 60C ($482; 7 oz.) includes a USB connection, large onboard memory (56 MB), razor-sharp color, big screen, and unrivaled battery life. Geocaching modes and training games make learning how to use the unit easy. The GPSMAP 60CS ($536; 7 oz.) adds a barometer, barometric altimeter, and electronic compass. Both come with a Trip/Waypoint Manager CD for storage and retrieval of routes from a computer. In the field, we've appreciated the user-friendly menus and vast trip information (average and maximum speed, time moving and stopped, distance traveled, and elevation gain/loss, to name a few). Garmin's MapSource Topo U.S. 1:100,000 software ($117), good reception, and 20- to 30-hour battery life make these excellent receivers for serious backcountry navigation.


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