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Best GPS for BFE


waszak
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I want to know which handheld gps is the best, for land navigation assistance, for remote areas that have no cell phone coverage and in scenarios where getting lost could mean some hiker accidentally finding your sun bleached and animal scattered remains a decade or two after you died of thirst, exposure, hypo/hyperthermia or whatever.

 

I have a lot of fun geocaching but, just for a moment, let's forget about the bells and whistles, the paperless this or that, and how many mouse clicks it takes to do this or that. Also, let's put on pause the consideration of the benefits and capabilities of WAAS and Assisted-GPS. Since I'm not stupid enough to go anywhere in the boonies without a weather proofed paper map and a good compass, I don't care about most detailed this or prettiest that.

 

So I want to know which available handheld has the best combination of chipset, antenna, power consumption, and external antenna options for areas that have ZERO cell phone coverage. Terrain and conditions varies from desert to heavily wooded to mountainous.

 

Thanks in advance to all who share thoughtful and considered responses and opinions....

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Sounds like you are looking for a good cheap option, I would say the Garmin Etrex Venture HC. It has a newer high sensitivity chipset, good battery life, easy to use, color screen, 24mb map storage, & is very compact. You can find one online for around $130.

 

Since you are not interested in any of the at home ability's I wasn't going to mention this units USB connection, but Decided to anyway because it makes updating this units software much easier.

 

You can buy the Garmin etrex H with a similar chipset, no color screen & even less features, but this unit uses a serial connection to the PC and doesn't include the cable. This unit is only about $30 less than the Venture HC, so it would seem silly to buy this model.

Edited by hogrod
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It's not the GPS, it's the MAPS!!!

 

Whether you choose a Garmin or a Delorme, it's the maps which you care about. Those maps give context to your position, whereas coordinates are simply numbers, worthless numbers. Any of the units in the chart below will hold many states worth of 24K Topos to assist you in making land context decisions to get your sorry bones out of the wilderness and back to your PC to ask more questions. :(

 

Triad-NF-Marker_7975.jpg

 

From my experience with many solo wilderness backpacks, bigger (more pixels) screens equate to better map viewing, hence better decisions.

 

GarminCompare.gif

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It's not the GPS, it's the MAPS!!!

 

Whether you choose a Garmin or a Delorme, it's the maps which you care about. Those maps give context to your position, whereas coordinates are simply numbers, worthless numbers. Any of the units in the chart below will hold many states worth of 24K Topos to assist you in making land context decisions to get your sorry bones out of the wilderness and back to your PC to ask more questions. :(

 

That's correct. But, it speaks to the value of a USB connection to transfer data to the unit - not necessarily to the size of the memory in the unit. 24 mb should be more than sufficient for most wilderness applications. And, as waszak indicated, the gps application is intended to complement a paper map, in which case maps at 1/100k should be sufficient.

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Maps are nice, but the OP said he would always have a waterproofed map and compass. Anybody who thinks that "coordinates are simply worthless numbers" needs to learn a bit more. Setting the GPS to UTM along with a gridded topo map gives you a very good picture of where you are. I used a non mapping Geko 301 quite happily for several years until my aging eyeballs demanded a larger screen. That said, the satelitte reception of my new 60CSx is far better than the Geko. It has an external antenna connection, but that's not too useful in the woods; external antennas are more for vehicles where the unit itself isn't where it has a clear view of the sky. The newer Garmins with the SIRFStar III chipset do much better under the trees than the older models.

 

Not sure what cell phone coverage has to do with it?

 

Even with the best GPS, though, I wouldn't ever put myself in a position where I was completely relying on it to get me out. Batteries and electronics do fail, so if you can't find your way out with just a map and compass then you shouldn't be there.

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Rule out the Delormes if you want good battery life and external antenna jacks. The Garmins are probably your best bet; I see that the Garmin site shows the Legend HCx and Vista HCx at 25 hours typical use. I don't know which Garmins have external antennas--if any of them do. I don't know that I'd worry about their receptivity with the high-sensitivity chips, though.

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I want to know which handheld gps is the best, for land navigation assistance, for remote areas that have no cell phone coverage and in scenarios where getting lost could mean some hiker accidentally finding your sun bleached and animal scattered remains a decade or two after you died of thirst, exposure, hypo/hyperthermia or whatever.

 

I have a lot of fun geocaching but, just for a moment, let's forget about the bells and whistles, the paperless this or that, and how many mouse clicks it takes to do this or that. Also, let's put on pause the consideration of the benefits and capabilities of WAAS and Assisted-GPS. Since I'm not stupid enough to go anywhere in the boonies without a weather proofed paper map and a good compass, I don't care about most detailed this or prettiest that.

 

So I want to know which available handheld has the best combination of chipset, antenna, power consumption, and external antenna options for areas that have ZERO cell phone coverage. Terrain and conditions varies from desert to heavily wooded to mountainous.

 

Thanks in advance to all who share thoughtful and considered responses and opinions....

 

One option, if you don't care about mapping and want emergency protection, is the SPoT Personal Satellite Tracker.

 

It won't guide you to anything, but if you are lost you can use it to send a Help message to personal contacts or a 911 emergency rescue signal. It uses sat-phone coverage, so it will work where there is no cell phone coverage.

 

But, to repeat, it is not a personal GPS.

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Sounds like you are looking for a good cheap option, I would say the Garmin Etrex Venture HC. It has a newer high sensitivity chipset, good battery life, easy to use, color screen, 24mb map storage, & is very compact. You can find one online for around $130.

 

Yes, that is what you need. Anything else is just fluff for your intended purpose.

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I use a Garmin GPS V with an external antenna (both mounted on a 'stick' so it's one handed). I can get about 6ft-7ft accuracy in the clear to light cover and between 15ft-30ft accuracy in heavy tree cover or thick clouds. I've never had over 40ft accuracy unless it's been super thick cloud cover and pouring rain. The advertised battery life is 8 hours on four disposable alkaline AAs, but I think the external ant. and backlight reduce that-mine also will NOT run properly on rechargeable batteries-it turns off without warning after a few minutes. It can use most of the maps Garmin sells: road, TOPO, fishing, water/marine charts. It does not have much internal memory for maps-but you can always swap out for maps of the area you plan on going to. The screen is B/W and easily viewed in the daylight by adjusting the contrast, wearing polarized sunglasses will mean you have to tilt the screen in order to view it properly though. I think it's a good unit that has the capability of being used in many different ways.

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Sounds like you are looking for a good cheap option, I would say the Garmin Etrex Venture HC. It has a newer high sensitivity chipset, good battery life, easy to use, color screen, 24mb map storage, & is very compact. You can find one online for around $130.

 

Yes, that is what you need. Anything else is just fluff for your intended purpose.

Yup - what they said. - I'll add rugged to the feature list.

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I've never used one myslef, but I'm thinking the Garmin GPSMap 60CSx might be the best combo of chipset/antenna/battery life/ruggedness/screen display to meet your requirements. Plus it's a time-proven unit with all the bugs worked out of it, it's just a well-honed and rugged GPS unit. Not sure if it has an external antenna connection (let me check garmin.com... looks like it does), so I'm going to say the 60CSx.

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I want to know which handheld gps is the best, for land navigation assistance, for remote areas that have no cell phone coverage and in scenarios where getting lost could mean some hiker accidentally finding your sun bleached and animal scattered remains a decade or two after you died of thirst, exposure, hypo/hyperthermia or whatever.

 

I have a lot of fun geocaching but, just for a moment, let's forget about the bells and whistles, the paperless this or that, and how many mouse clicks it takes to do this or that. Also, let's put on pause the consideration of the benefits and capabilities of WAAS and Assisted-GPS. Since I'm not stupid enough to go anywhere in the boonies without a weather proofed paper map and a good compass, I don't care about most detailed this or prettiest that.

 

So I want to know which available handheld has the best combination of chipset, antenna, power consumption, and external antenna options for areas that have ZERO cell phone coverage. Terrain and conditions varies from desert to heavily wooded to mountainous.

 

Thanks in advance to all who share thoughtful and considered responses and opinions....

 

One option, if you don't care about mapping and want emergency protection, is the SPoT Personal Satellite Tracker.

 

It won't guide you to anything, but if you are lost you can use it to send a Help message to personal contacts or a 911 emergency rescue signal. It uses sat-phone coverage, so it will work where there is no cell phone coverage.

 

But, to repeat, it is not a personal GPS.

 

But, do personal GPS's have the same capability to send emergency signals when in distress? I'm just wondering - I ordered a Garmin Colorado 400t this week - should be here in a day or two...

Edited by Wesley1117
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For the intended use, the etrex is better. It is more compact and has quite a bit better battery life.

 

I don't agree. Size wasn't a criteria for him, and while the battery life of the eTrex is longer, the difference is about 7hours +/-1 hour (I got 25 hours out of my Legend HCx sitting on a windowsill, and the 60CSx is claimed to get 18 hours), so while there is a decent difference, I think the 60CSx still has a very good battery life, and the antenna/chipset combo in it and external antenna option for it make it a better unit that meets his requirements much better than any eTrex.

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I don't agree. Size wasn't a criteria for him, and while the battery life of the eTrex is longer, the difference is about 7hours +/-1 hour (I got 25 hours out of my Legend HCx sitting on a windowsill, and the 60CSx is claimed to get 18 hours), so while there is a decent difference, I think the 60CSx still has a very good battery life, and the antenna/chipset combo in it and external antenna option for it make it a better unit that meets his requirements much better than any eTrex.

 

Size is important in his use. The antenna and chipset make no difference. They are close enough to not matter. The difference is around 20 hours to 30 hours on the battery based on actual real world use.

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60CSX (external antenna jack) or Venture HC. Choose your price.

Actually, to be fair, you should compare the 60 CSx with the Vista HCx (both have high-sensitivity receiver, barometric altimeter, compass, auto-routing and expandable memory), or the 60 Cx with the Legend HCx (high-sensitivity receiver, auto-routing, expandable memory, but no compass or barometric altimeter). You are comparing different feature sets when you put the 60 CSx up against the Legend HCx.

 

https://buy.garmin.com/shop/compare.do?cID=...pareProduct=310

 

Then of course, you could also consider the 76 series (which float), the various Oregon & Colorado models, the Summit HC, Venture HC, .... :)

 

(For what it's worth - feature-for-feature, the eTrex range are typically cheaper than the equivalent model in the 60 series. For most users, even though they use different GPS chip-sets, their performance is pretty much the same in terms of accuracy, ability to hold a lock, etc. My main advice is whatever you do, buy a recent unit with a high-sensitivity receiver - it REALLY makes a difference in the real world. Everything else is pretty much 'bells and whistles" - choose the features that you NEED, then check those that are "nice to have", set your budget, and find the best deal you can.)

Edited by julianh
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I've had an Etrex yellow, a venture, a Legend csx and now a 60csx, and my vote would be the 60csx. I have no experience with other manufactures, so cannot comment on their products.

 

It's rugged and has good battery life. (Not quite as good as the legend did, but you have at least 2 sets of spare batteries anyway with you, right.....?)

 

I have never used an H model in the etrex line to compare it to the 60csx, but I cannot think of a time when I have ever lost reception with the 60csx....in the glovebox or center console of the jeep, in the camera bag, even right now, in my computer room (no windows) in the basement of my house. Somehow it can sit on my desk, and grab a signal through a wooden door, across a hall, up a flight of stairs, and out through a steel entrance door that leads under a carport and still have a reported accuracy of 6m. My previous Legend CSX (non-H) gave me absolutely nothing, sitting on the same desk)

 

The external antenna likely gives it a bit of an edge over the etrex line with the internal patch antennas.

(I'm sure that theory will be shot down, but......)

 

Also, the 60 has a bigger screen than the etrex line also. Some would consider that a 'frill' but since the main use of the GPS is looking at the screen and interpreting and acting on what you see there, the easier it is to see, the better.

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I think battery life should be one of you main criteria. Every minute that a unit runs longer is very important under such circumstances. I would go for an Etrex Vista Hcx. Mind you, if you life depends on it, take a backup GPSr with you!

Unfortunately I don't know if there are any "professional" solutions out there that have been made specifically for that. Would like to hear about this if anyone knows anything.

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In the past I've used an old black and white screened Garmin Vista along the continental divide in the US and in Canada. In many areas it is exactly like the description that you mention, extremely remote, no cell service, desert, mountains. The only problem with that unit was when I was down in a valley or under tree cover, it was unable to acquire my position. That said, you ALWAYS have your maps and compass with you (and know how to use them). The best, IMHO, device available now for wilderness backpacking, etc., is a Garmin 60csx.

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In the past I've used an old black and white screened Garmin Vista along the continental divide in the US and in Canada. In many areas it is exactly like the description that you mention, extremely remote, no cell service, desert, mountains. The only problem with that unit was when I was down in a valley or under tree cover, it was unable to acquire my position. That said, you ALWAYS have your maps and compass with you (and know how to use them). The best, IMHO, device available now for wilderness backpacking, etc., is a Garmin 60csx.

 

I'm looking for a GPS and found Garmin e Trex venture cx just checking about any good info about it.

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...

 

I'm looking for a GPS and found Garmin e Trex venture cx just checking about any good info about it.

Not as good as the more modern eTrex series with the "H" in the name. Stands for high sensitivity and is a real bonus when under heavy tree cover or near cliffs and buildings.

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Don't you just love it when someone drops in, posts a question like this one and then doesn't bother to check back to provide additional detail? :laughing:

 

...ken...

 

SORRY just got back to a computer thanks for the info I'm new to geocaching and just found my first cach using a friends gps. I dont have a lot of money so i thought i would ask what is a good gps

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Don't you just love it when someone drops in, posts a question like this one and then doesn't bother to check back to provide additional detail? :laughing:

 

...ken...

 

SORRY just got back to a computer thanks for the info I'm new to geocaching and just found my first cach using a friends gps. I dont have a lot of money so i thought i would ask what is a good gps

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Battery life is important but we don't know if he's going to leave it on all the time or just have it as a backup. If I was in BFE, I'd have a primary GPS and a small backup. Personally. for this situation I'd go with a 60CSx as the primary and some sort of eTrex as a backup (plus maps and a compass of course). Then again, sometimes I overplan so what do I know?

 

I have a Spot beacon. The tracking works but there is a fair amount of dropout depending on how the unit is carried. I've never had an OK signal not go through. It's a highly recommended BFE device.

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Battery life is important but we don't know if he's going to leave it on all the time or just have it as a backup. If I was in BFE, I'd have a primary GPS and a small backup. Personally. for this situation I'd go with a 60CSx as the primary and some sort of eTrex as a backup (plus maps and a compass of course). Then again, sometimes I overplan so what do I know?

 

I have a Spot beacon. The tracking works but there is a fair amount of dropout depending on how the unit is carried. I've never had an OK signal not go through. It's a highly recommended BFE device.

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Don't you just love it when someone drops in, posts a question like this one and then doesn't bother to check back to provide additional detail? :laughing:

 

...ken...

 

SORRY just got back to a computer thanks for the info I'm new to geocaching and just found my first cach using a friends gps. I dont have a lot of money so i thought i would ask what is a good gps

I was refering to the poster who started this thread a few days ago. Without that person's participation to guide the discussion it invariably degenerates into a lot of speculation, much of which may not be useful at all, even though it is all very well-intended.

 

...ken...

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Battery life is important but we don't know if he's going to leave it on all the time or just have it as a backup. If I was in BFE, I'd have a primary GPS and a small backup. Personally. for this situation I'd go with a 60CSx as the primary and some sort of eTrex as a backup (plus maps and a compass of course). Then again, sometimes I overplan so what do I know?

 

I have a Spot beacon. The tracking works but there is a fair amount of dropout depending on how the unit is carried. I've never had an OK signal not go through. It's a highly recommended BFE device.

I had borrowed a SPOT and routinely ensured it was laying horizontal on top of my backpack during the entire hike. It was supposed to track my entire progress. It caught the first hour and the final 45 minutes. It missed 5 1/2 hours of tracking in between. Some of it was ON TOP of a mountain so should have been caught. It isn't something I would recommend to anybody if they were to depend on it for help.

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I had borrowed a SPOT and routinely ensured it was laying horizontal on top of my backpack during the entire hike. It was supposed to track my entire progress. It caught the first hour and the final 45 minutes. It missed 5 1/2 hours of tracking in between. Some of it was ON TOP of a mountain so should have been caught. It isn't something I would recommend to anybody if they were to depend on it for help.

 

Correct, they do not track well.

 

BUT, the OK signal seems to work all of the time, so one assumes the 911 signal will as well. I suspect the GPS is not the best and when moving can not lock on in the short time it runs.

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Correct, they do not track well.

 

BUT, the OK signal seems to work all of the time, so one assumes the 911 signal will as well. I suspect the GPS is not the best and when moving can not lock on in the short time it runs.

A friend has a SPOT unit. I've travelled with him a couple of times and we have found that if you wait for it to signal that it has a lock and then hit the button to send the "I'm here and I'm okay" message, it always works and it's accurate enough that nobody would have trouble finding you.

 

We've checked the messages when we arrived home and viewing the location in Google Maps satellite view you could see that the location was always quite close to where we had been at the time. These trips were mostly done in the mountains in British Columbia and Alberta.

 

We used our GPSs for navigation and tracking (he has a 76CSx and I've got a Legend HCx). We were almost never anywhere with cellphone coverage. We just used the SPOT to keep the concerned relatives posted on our whereabouts. My friend's daughter insisted he buy one after he turned 65 and was showing no signs of giving up his penchant for heading off camping and hiking in the boonies alone without telling anyone where he was going.

 

...ken...

Edited by Ken in Regina
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Don't you just love it when someone drops in, posts a question like this one and then doesn't bother to check back to provide additional detail? :laughing:

 

...ken...

 

SORRY just got back to a computer thanks for the info I'm new to geocaching and just found my first cach using a friends gps. I dont have a lot of money so i thought i would ask what is a good gps

I was refering to the poster who started this thread a few days ago. Without that person's participation to guide the discussion it invariably degenerates into a lot of speculation, much of which may not be useful at all, even though it is all very well-intended.

 

...ken...

 

Dear :o,

 

Thank you for your concern as to whether or not my initial question has been satisfactorily answered etc. In addition to my original question being answered, a number of additional useful considerations were brought up. Judging by the quality and number of replies, my original question/post has generated interesting discussion without the need of guidance. Sometimes speculation leads to relevant but previously unconsidered considerations and can often fuel interesting discussions.

 

However, I was not aware of your expectations, and perhaps those of some others, when I ended my original post with: "Thanks in advance for all considered and thoughtful responses." With few exceptions, regardless of whether or not they addressed the intent of my initial question, all responses enriched the discussion because they were considered and thoughtful. In the future, I'll try to be more responsive to any requests for guidance and/or clarification that are specifically directed to me, either via PM or within the thread. My apologies if I did not notice or respond any such requests in this thread.

 

Regards,

 

Waszak

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I had borrowed a SPOT and routinely ensured it was laying horizontal on top of my backpack during the entire hike. It was supposed to track my entire progress. It caught the first hour and the final 45 minutes. It missed 5 1/2 hours of tracking in between. Some of it was ON TOP of a mountain so should have been caught. It isn't something I would recommend to anybody if they were to depend on it for help.

 

Correct, they do not track well.

 

BUT, the OK signal seems to work all of the time, so one assumes the 911 signal will as well. I suspect the GPS is not the best and when moving can not lock on in the short time it runs.

Here's the inherent problem...assumptions. The fact is there is no good feedback any of it works in a reliable manner.

 

And, I do know the OK does not work all the time. I ran tests before I took it out on the trail.

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I guess YMMV. It's never not worked for me with an indicated lock in testing or the field. I've used mine extensively while mine exploring over the past year. Never had to send a 911 or "Need Help" message yet though.

 

Here's the inherent problem...assumptions. The fact is there is no good feedback any of it works in a reliable manner.

 

And, I do know the OK does not work all the time. I ran tests before I took it out on the trail.

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I won't discount the fact I may have had a lemon. I was very out in the open and not under a lot of tree cover. I have a suspicion you may need a good clear and wide southern horizon and this may have been a factor with the trail I was on, but not with the location of my home and my placement for the testing.

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BFE???

 

It's not a term I know, so I had to Google it. Found some interesting (but irrelevant) links:

 

Black Fire Energy Ltd? No, I don't think so.

Biofeedback Foundation of Europe? Unlikely.

Biotechnology and Food Engineering Group ..... errr, no.

British Forum for Ethnomusicology. No. (But I might have to go and visit that site anyway - sounds fascinating!)

 

Let's try Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/BFE :

 

Base Flood Elevation

Bochs Front End

Biofeedback Foundation of Europe (there it is again - maybe that IS what I'm looking for?)

British Forum for Ethnomusicology (again)

Bum *?!@ Egypt - "a place far away from populated areas".

 

Oh, I see! (You learn something new every day!) :laughing:

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I guess YMMV. It's never not worked for me with an indicated lock in testing or the field. I've used mine extensively while mine exploring over the past year. Never had to send a 911 or "Need Help" message yet though.

 

Here's the inherent problem...assumptions. The fact is there is no good feedback any of it works in a reliable manner.

 

And, I do know the OK does not work all the time. I ran tests before I took it out on the trail.

How does the 911 or the OK get back?

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I guess YMMV. It's never not worked for me with an indicated lock in testing or the field. I've used mine extensively while mine exploring over the past year. Never had to send a 911 or "Need Help" message yet though.

 

Here's the inherent problem...assumptions. The fact is there is no good feedback any of it works in a reliable manner.

 

And, I do know the OK does not work all the time. I ran tests before I took it out on the trail.

How does the 911 or the OK get back?

The OK will send a message to email addresses of your choice. It will also post your position on the website. 911 call gets routed according to your instructions. I had a primary and secondary contact set up.

 

From page 14 of the user guide

For all functions, SPOT lets you know what it’s doing. While preparing to send a message, the

function indicator and on/off lights will blink green every 3 seconds, in unison. Once SPOT

has determined your GPS coordinates and sent your message, the indicator lights will turn

solid green for 5 seconds and then continue flashing in unison. If the lights blink out of unison,

this indicates that the messenger was not able to determine GPS coordinates, usually due to a

blocked view of the sky. To correct, move the SPOT messenger to an area with a clearer view of

the sky, where SPOT will automatically continue searching for a GPS signal. The lights will blink

in unison once it is successful.

Watching for the green LED to go solid for 5 seconds is like watching grass grow. The engineers need to device a better method to communicate there was a successful send-off.... a numerical ticker or something. We had no clue the signal was not getting sent for 5 1/2 hours.

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Yes, the 60CSX does have an external antenna connector and would definitely suit your needs very well. I have thought about the exact same thing you're asking about and if I were in that type of situation, the 60CSx is the only unit I would trust my life with.

 

The 60CSx is an excellent unit for what the OP asked for, but it has some bells that it sounds like he would not need or want. Since he always has a map and compass, you could easily use a 60Cx and save some cash. The electronic compass and altimeter are nice to have, but must be recalibrated often to be usefull. A good magnetic compass wont need to be recalibrated, and if you have a good topo map the altimeter is another fluff item that has inherent inaccuracies.

 

So the bottom line to me is a good reliable GPSr without the other electronic gadget add-ons is what the OP wants and, The 60Cx really meets his needs. Of course extra batteries will always be needed until we can get a device with a built in solar panel, windmill, and power storage, but of course then we would need an extra packhorse to lug it--- extra batteries are not that heavy!

 

Good luck with your Adventures

 

Gary

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I have a VERY old eTrex Vista that I use for backpacking in the Cascades, but it does not get a reliable signal unless I'm in the clear. I've borrowed a friends 60CSx and it was much, much better. Some of my hiking is off the trail so now I'm looking into a PN40 because it has the ability to overlay contours on a satellite image, which is exactly what I need. If you're sticking to trails then the 60CSx will do just fine.

 

I also have a SPOT (used all last year) and the tracking is not worth it. I've always been able to get an OK message through but I just set it on the ground (clear above it) facing the sky while taking a break or making camp. Never had to use the 911 feature, but from my experience you'd better have a good view of the sky, or be able to crawl to it. The problem with SPOT reception, from what I've been able to determine, is that they use the same antenna for the GPS and for sending messages up to the satellites.

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I would choose the following, in order of preference:

1. Vista HCx

2. Legend HCx

3. 60CSx

 

If you're gonna be in BFE, IMHO battery life is most important. The Vista & Legend HCx win hands down over the 60CSx battery life. Accuracy wise & ability to hold a lock, all 3 are about the same, although the 60CSx may have a slight edge due to its external antenna. Weight & size wise, its a no-brainer, Vista & Legend HCx are the clear choices. Build quality, 60CSx seems better. All 3 units are waterproof to 1m (IPX7).

I've used all 3 units side by side & I feel the Vista & Legend HCx screens are much clearer & brighter than the 60CSx. The 60 seems to be using a previous generation TFT screen.

 

Have a great time in BFE :)

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