I carried a Garmin eTrex 30 for 5 months over 2500 miles in 2013 on my Continental Divide thru hike.
I was not alone in relying on the device to find my way. When I was preparing for the hike I quickly became frustrated with the poor Garmin documentation. Their web support was no better. This stuff is not easy to understand. Nothing is intuitive about it. I needed to learn lots, and fast.
One great source of hiking information, specifically about that trail, is via the CDT list serv. The following GPS set-up information has been just listed on the CDT-l by Frank Gilliand, AKA Starman. He’s known in long distance hiking circles as the guy who knows about GPS. He’s also one of the rare individuals who is able to communicate how-to-info about GPS that’s understandable by ordinary people, like me. Thanks, Starman for letting me share your info on this blog!
Here are the facts from Starman himself:
There seems to be a lot of general confusion about the set up and operation of GPS units (Garmin Etrex in particular)
In the next couple of days I will put together a basic breakdown of step by step procedures to load data (waypoints, POIs, Maps and tracks)
I will post NEW set-up info on my “Web Site” soon: https://www.sites.google.com/site/frankgilliland/
Go to my Info page for some basic definitions: https://www.sites.google.com/site/frankgilliland/information
For purposes of setting up a handheld gps for CDT hiking you need:
1) Purchase a GPS unit (I prefer a Garmin Etrex 20 or 30)
2) Purchase a Micro SD card (4 or 8 gb)
3) Purchase a Garmin topo map DVD (either the TOPO 24k West or the TOPO 100k US)
(you can purchase the SD card version but it complicates things IMHO)
4) install Gamin’s Free software on your computer: BaseCamp, MapInstall, and WebUpdater
5) update the GPS units Firmware using WebUpdater (need to do this at purchase and check once a year)
6) install the needed Garmin topo maps on to your GPS using MapInstall from your computer
7) download and install the FREE Bear Creek POI file.
8) Optional: install Tracks I have posted
Some definitions for clarity:
1) Waypoint is a stored point. (name, coordinates, elevation, etc) It can be downloaded from another source usually saved as a .gpx file
(the Etrex 20/30 is limited to 2000 of these loaded or field created points)
2) POI point is an un-editable “waypoint” that can be loaded on to your Garmin GPS
(I have not found the upper limit of the total number that can be stored on a GPS)
3) Loaded/stored TOPO Map: A USGS based map that is installed and viewable on your GPS screen and Computer.
(You must get the Garmin TOPO 24k west or 100k US)
4) Tracks are no more than “line segments” between “track points” that are drawn on software or they can be “active” tracks created in the field.
(I turn off the “active” track creation feature on my GPS)
( For the purpose of hiking the CDT if you choose to load tracks I would only use the tracks I created roughly following the Bear Creek Waypoint/POI points)
5) Routes are generally reserved for lines showing “routes” on roads. So, for hiking purposes using the phrase “routes” only confuses the conversation.
Garmin does a really poor job of documenting basic operations of there handheld units and instead focuses on the bells and whistles…..
I feel your pain on the jumble of words and operations. Call Garmin on their Help line and ask for better documentation.
If you just can’t figure it out the set-up of your GPS I am willing to set up your Etrex 20 or 30 sent to me via USPS Priority mail. I have done several setups already. Contact me for mailing instructions. (You need to have the TOPO map file loaded onto either the GPS internal memory or the SD card)
Contact me off line at frankgilliland <@> gmail <dot> com
I am in the middle of planning my own Summer hikes, so I am busy and can not walk you thru “BASIC” GPS loading operation questions.
I would prefer to just load your GPS up with data and set it up once. But, you need to decide soon……
If you prefer Bear Creek will also do some GPS or SD card set-up for you for a nominal fee:
Bottom line: this is what I do in the field (on-trail) once I load the TOPO Map, POI point file and optional Track files:
1) Turn on your GPS and and you will see your location on your GPS screen as a digital USGS topo map
(this is helpful by itself and then you can find or verify your location on your paper map)
2) you should also see the loaded Bear Creek Way-point or POI point(s) near you.
3) if you have loaded and turned on the track viewing feature you will see the trail location as a line(s).
4) If you are “Off Trail” walk towards the closest or most logical Waypoint/POI point.
5) Walk to the next Waypoint/POI in your direction of travel
6) If it is obvious that you are on the trail then turn off your GPS to save your batteries until the next time you are “Off Trail”
(or you just want to see what the next POI point is and your physical location on your paper map)
Final Words of Wisdom:
You are responsible for learning the operation of your GPS. In the field in the Middle of Montana is to late…..
GPS units are known to fail, batteries die and you should always have Paper Maps and the skills to use them.
Get an Etrex 20, load your TOPO map, load the POI and Track files…….Stay Found!