My daily to-do list typically entails hiking off-trail from lake to lake in the Sierra, so a reliable GPS is my most important piece of technology. The Dakota 20, an entry-level version of the Oregon (Editors’ Choice winner, 2009), helped me navigate through miles of tricky terrain and the learning curve was next to nil.
The touch screen is easy to read: With 24k topo maps ($130 extra, it doesn’t come preloaded), I was able to see the tiniest creeks when searching for water. In the deepest valleys, the Hot Fix satellite reception gave me a lock in less than a minute. I loved the “where to” feature, which let me see all the nearby major landmarks (like Half Dome) and then navigate there with a few clicks.
The hard-shelled Dakota is tough, too: It withstood many drops on hard granite and several immersion tests. The only bummer: It sucks batteries. Using my USBCells (below), I averaged about 6.5 hours of run time between charges. $350; 5.2 oz.; buy.garmin.com.
The rugged, waterproof Oregon 550 combines a high-sensitivity GPS navigator featuring 3 touchscreen with a built-in 3.2-MP autofocus digital camera. Each photo is automatically geotagged with the location of where it was taken allowing you to navigate back to that site. The Oregon 550 features a built-in 3-axis tilt-compensated electronic compass to show your heading even when youre standing still. A barometric altimeter helps keep track of the altitude and certain weather conditions. Includes a microSD card slot. And you can wirelessly share routes, tracks, waypoints and geocaches with other select Garmin devices.