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Etrex Vista

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I love my new Vista, but haven't yet been on any Caches (hopefully will go this wknd) Anywho, I've gotten a best of 7 meters accuracy, but the cover wasn't too heavy. I've been reading a bunch on here about problems with the Vista losing it's satellites. Is there any add on I can get for it to help alleviate the prob?? Is it the only one having this problem, or is the problem characteristic of all Etrex units? Is Garmin planning on offering a fix for this? It works great on the water and all, but I'm really worried about woods use. Does it just lose signal altogether, or does the accuracy just go down? Also I've heard probs with the click sticks, is there anyway of preventing failure there?? Really drives me nuts, because I REALLY like the unit, but if I'm gonna be losing sats all the time, I'm not gonna be too happy w/ it.

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The reception on the eTrex's isn't nearly as bad as it's played up to be. In fact, I've been doing some sensitity comparisons between my eTrex's and Sportrak and have found that the eTrex is probably more sensitive, but the antenna has a narrower band that it's sensitive in, and there are all sorts of software differences that that make comparing difficult. Right now I'm trying to run side by side tests in numerous different reception problem areas to add to my webpage, but at the moment I'm having trouble with my Palm connection which is messing me up in logging the NMEA data.


Bottom line, with your eTrex you'll have to be more careful about how you hold the unit, but once you've learned to use it, you should be able to get as good or better results most of the time as you'll be able to get with any of the current units out there.





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I've had a Vista for a year. WHile it does lose coverage on and off under a tree canop, I've always made it to the cache location. If you lose te sat, slow down, lay the unit down and usualy you'll pick them up again. OR mov a little to get a better clearing.


Since you've got the unit already, start using it and you'll fnd that like most things you work around it's limitations. Every unit you wil buy has it's limitations; nothing's perfect.


Try using in in local parks with tree coverage until you gain some confidence. Then you can attack more difficult hikes in bigger woods.


I've had problems with my click stick but Garmin will repair it free. Since you probably just purchased your unit, I assume Garmin has corrected this problem on the recent units they manufacturered.


Just get out there and have fun. The Vista is a great unit.


Good luck



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I own both an eTrex Venture and a lower cost Magellan. The eTrex seems to always lose reception at the mere suggestion of trees (sometimes the sky can be 60% clear and I still lose signal), while the Magellan has not lost signal in recent memory (I can use the Magellan indoors and on airplanes).


I'm aware of a number of people out there who defend the reception of their eTrex's, and it makes me wonder if Garmin has some quality control issues where some units perform well and others perform poorly.

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I have had my E-Trex Vista for four months now - using it on all of our finds so far (63). I decided it was time to get another GPSr for the kids to use. Not needing all the bells and whistles this time I went with a Magellan Sportrak (yellow).


I received the Magellan yesterday, not a chance to take it out in the woods yet but I have a few points to note already:


1 - Indoor reception.

When holding the Vista and Sportrak side by side inside my house, the Vista tried but couldn’t lock on enough satellites for a fix. The Sportrak had a good lock on 4.


2 - Vehicle reception.

Inside the vehicle, both had good locks, Sportrak’s strength meters read a higher lock which may mean absolutely nothing depending on their scale differences.


3 - Acquire time for a fix.

Outside in clear view, both receivers off but “hot”, when I turn them on, the Sportrak has a fix in a few seconds (2-3). The Vista takes 20-30 seconds.


4 - General feel of construction.

The Vista is way better in feel and quality of construction, it is built extremely solid and durable. The Sportrak feels “cheap”, like a toy. Some buttons on the Sportrak stick when pushed (hopefully this will work itself out). The way the Sportrak’s batteries install it is very hard to pull the “tray” out - I don’t want to pull too hard on the lanyard attachment point since it seems to be as strong as a small paperclip.


5 - Stability

After initializing the Sportrak, going through the pages “locked up” the unit. Removing the batteries was the only way to turn it off. I was using my NiMH batteries at the time, thought they might not have been fully charged, switched to new alkaline batteries and the same thing happened. This happened 4 or 5 more times and hasn’t happened since.


We’ll see what happens when we put it to the real test in the woods this weekend and I’ll post my findings.


Remember - the above is just MY findings and MY opinion. Everyone play nice.

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Thanks for the info, I'll have to get out in the thick of things and find out how it performs. I saw on garmins site, under the oem/sensors option that they have other antenna/receiver units that can be plugged in to either a computer or a gps, has anyone had any experience with that sort of setup (hooked to an etrex). Also, Searching I saw you made mention of a "narrower band" it's sensitive in, what exactly does that mean. Also (sorry for all the newbie questions) what is the difference between the patch and quad helix antennas?? What units other than the etrex series use it (other brands included)

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Another newbie here....haven't had a chance to take my Vista caching yet either.


If you lose sat. reception, do you lose the breadcrumb trail? I was playing w/ the Vista on the NJ Transit this week, and that seemed to be the case. Is there anyway to keep the track in memory?

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While satellite lock is lost it won't be adding any additional tracklog points (breadcrumbs) since it doesn't know where it is, but it won't erase the points that have already been recorded.

Note that the Vista can also SAVE up to 10 tracklogs and optionally have those displayed on the map along with the current "Active" tracklog. The saved logs are compressed to save memory so fewer points are included and they also lack the time/datestamps of the active log. But they are a nice way to save some favorite hikes or other route so you can easily repeat it and they are also good for adding a few trails/bike paths/etc. to the maps.

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Regarding the "strength bars", they indicate signal to noise ratios, not strength, although in some ways you could argue it amounts to the same thing. With digital signals, the bars don't matter much as long as the receiver can read the signal. To see what sort of satellite signal strength you're getting you must look at the NMEA data.


As for the directional nature of the antennas, you can get a pretty good idea of how the antenna works just by moving whatever receiver you have around and watching what it does to your reception. With the sportrak, lean it more than about 45 degrees from vertical and you'll completely loose reception in anything but good reception conditions. With the Etrex, tilt it upright more than about 30 degrees and reception will suffer in the same way. You'll often find the best reception involves some tilt towards the biggest grouping of sats so to speak. Slight movements with the eTrex seem to affect signal considerably more than movement affects the Sportrak.


As for reception in general So far I've tested one of three eTrex's with one of two different sportraks in a wide variety of reception difficulty areas. Having so far recorded differences in more than 80 different areas. To date, in my house, 3 out of 4 times when one of the receivers used more sats in the solution than the other receiver, the eTrex has been the receiver with more satellites. In combinations of terrain and tree cover, the eTrex has had more satellites in view two times more often than it was the other way around. In flat gound with heavy trees, the sportrak is ahead by about 5 to 4. All these readings are with the units stationary, given at least 30 seconds to stabalize, and me moving my body out of the way.


To get good results with an eTrex can be a little bit harder. You tend to have to hold it higher, and farther from your body to get the best results. I tend to do this naturally with the Sportrak since it has to be held vertical, I hold it more upright and at upper chest to head level. My natural position to hold the eTrex is about belly button level more towards my body which kills reception. You also have to be very careful about where you hold your hand, as it can affect reception quite a bit. I've found the best way to compare the units is set them on the ground, step back, and wait about 30 seconds or so, if possible recording the NMEA data stream with a laptop or palm computer. If you really want to see how the unit works, record tracklogs and check them out on the computer. Then you can see how your receiver did under a whole lot of different conditions.


Finally, regarding time to lock. I've found the eTrex's are generally quicker when cold, the sportrak is quicker with a warm aquire. Both units tend to be quite innacurate with their initial locks however if you've moved at all since the last fix. Personally I think the receivers should wait to report you're position until they're more likely to be accurate.


For what it's worth



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Without being as scientific as the other folks here I can add my two cents.


I had a Garmin II+ for years and a few months ago I upgraded to a Vista.


There is no doubt in my mind that the reception on my Vista isn't nearly as good as with my old II+. In almost every other way the Vista is an upgrade however.


Like everyone else, I lose the signal under tree cover while caching. I also lost the signal when driving on roads with steep mountain sides in Colorado. This was surprising and disappointing, but I'm not sure if every other other GPS would have lost the signal as well under those circumstances.


I would sum my experiences up this way:

The Vista is fine for most people who want to use the unit in their car, boat or caching.

If I were doing serious hiking in an unknown place and my main source of navigation was my GPS, I'm not sure I would feel comfortable using the Vista because of the reception problems.

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Wow, thanks, this place is has a wealth of info. I went on my first two cache hunts tonight!!! I WAS THRILLED!!! What a blast. I think the fact that I went at night made it that much better, I took two friends along, and they also had a lotta fun. Only lost reception with my vista once, and that was the one time it wasn't held flat out in front of me, other than that, it's accuracy stayed pretty good throughout. Hopefully the trend will continue.

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Glad you're enjoying your new toy. They can be a lot of fun to play with, and great navigational tools.


Regarding the lost signal in the Colorado canyons. This is normal, all receivers do it, and believe it or not, it's the way the system was designed to work. Because the system works by measureing the time the signal takes to get to you from each sat, to work correctly you to have a direct line of site to each sat used in the solution. If the signals get to you in an indirect manner, such as a reflection off a mountain, or somehow bend around a ridge, the computed position will be wrong.


As for using the eTrex for serious hiking, I'm not sure what that is, but I've logged a little over 1500 hiking miles using one as my primary navigation device over the last 3 years. This on numerous dayhikes to 10 day backpacking trips ranging in area from the white mountains in New Hampsire to the Sierra Nevadas of California. They're tough, dependable, accurate, and with the exception of a couple snowshoing trips have never let me down. Just don't let them get too cold. ;-)


Have fun caching



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I guess what I meant was this:


I'm hiking 2000 miles from home in the beautiful Rocky Mountain Nation Park.

Being a relatively inxperienced hiker, if say I was trying to get to camp before dark and my GPS wouldn't work because I was in only moderate tree cover, I would be somewhat irritated.


Now if I was tring to get to camp before an impending serious storm and my GPS wasn't working in moderate tree cover (where other similarly priced GPS's might have worked) and my life were in danger because of it I would be much more that irritated.


In my opinion there's no excuse why a GPS at this price level and with this many features shouldn't be able to find itself in moderate tree cover. I'm not willing to trade my Vista in because I do like it but I don't feel comfortable trusting my life to it.

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My only personal warstory regarding getting back to camp and needing the GPS was when the snowstorm I didn't expect already arrived. On that trip though, the vast majority of my travel was above timber line, so trees didn't come in to play. Once the storms come in, and visability goes to nothing, GPS really becomes a worthwhile, if not life saving tool, and I fully understand your desire to trust and believe in your receiver.


If you're loosing reception in moderate trees, there might be something wrong with your receiver. I've purchased 5 eTrexs,(Three as gifts) and they all seem to do great in moderate cover, but as do my other receivers, they loose reception in heavy trees from time to time. I also currently have a GIII+ (which I generally use with a Mighty mouse II antenna) and a sportrak map. Because I try and map trails, I almost always have 2 receivers going on my journeys. I haven't found an area yet where one of the other receivers would work okay when the eTrex would fail completely. I often find areas though where I have to move my position somewhat to get a reading on any receiver, or where I have had to let them sit for a bit, or turn them off and back on to get a fix.


Finally, have you actually compared your GII+ and eTrex side by side? I've got a hiking partner who initially bought a 76S, but felt it a little big and awkward for hiking. When he bought a Vista, he initially complained about the reception, most likely because he expected it to be bad. Once I got him carrying them side by side for awhile, he decided the vista wasn't so bad after all, and has since sold the 76 and bought a G-V for his vehicle, but still uses the vista for all his handheld adventure.


Whatever the merrits of the receiver, the best one is one that you trust, and that works in a manner that fits your needs. From the little geocaching I've done, it seems to be a great method of getting people out and navigating.


Have fun on your adventures in the Park, I love that area of the US


For what it's worth



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Thanks for the vote of confidence!! I feel much better about my purchase now. As far as trusting your life to it I guess that's why Garmin puts the disclaimer statement on their startup screen, the whole "for reference purposes only If you die it's not our fault thing"

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I started geo-caching several months ago with an e-trex legend. I kept experiencing power downs when the unit was bumped around and it got very aggravating. I took it back and upgraded to MAP76S for a number of reasons, size of screen, compass feature, and, hopefully, accuracy.


Even with the MAP76S I would lose the signal in tree cover or it would be difficult to establish a satellite link while in the car or when it was overcast. So I bought a Mighty Mouse II. What a difference.


Before, I could only lock on to 5-6 satellites and might get 15'-20' accuracy on a good day. With Mighty Mouse II, I have locked on strongly to 8 satellites and have accuracy to within 6'.


I haven't tested it yet under tree cover, but in all other aspects where I had a problem before, the Mighty Mouse II antenna is performing quite well.


Nothing Worth Knowing Reveals Its Secrets Easily - A Friend

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There are some indications that different eTrex units don't have the same sensitivity. I've always thought that my particular unit was rather good, but I don't have it any longer. It wasn't working properly, so Garmin replaced it with another one. It will be interesting to see, when I get out in the woods again, if I can notice any difference in the bahaviour of these two similar units.



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Anders, I know what you mean, I think mine is a "wednesday" unit, hopefully I won't ever have to send it in, and get a different one, that may be a "monday" or "friday" unit. I wanna get some of those screen protectors, as the only thing I anticipate having to send my unit in for is a scratched screen (assuming of course, my click-stick never goes south.)


Speaking of the Click stick, did garmin ever upgrade these in the etrex line?? Any way of knowing if my unit has the upgrade already??

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Originally posted by Anders:

At least the feeling of the click stick in my replacement unit is different, more "clicky" than the original was. If that's better or worse, I don't know. But my first did on a few occasions go south, or north, but refused any action east or west. Repaired itself, though.



I think the click sticks are like fingerprints. No two alike. I have 2 Rinos in addition to my Vista. Every click stick is a bit different.

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Took my replacement Vista out for the first time, jogging about 10 km. I've done that trail several times before with my original Vista, so I knew what to expect.


The new one performed a little better than I had hoped for, so it doesn't seem to be inferior to the old one. There were quite a lot of sats available, though, so I'lll have to see what happens when it's a bad satellite day, before jumping to too many conclusions.



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My father currently has the E-trex vista, it has a lot of great features, but one thing stands out as a bit of a disadvantage. It's sat reception. My friend has a cheap magellan 330 and could lock on several sats immediately and not loose them in cover but the etrex constantly lost signal on me in median to thick cover. Well i got sick of borrowing my father's gps so i decided it was time to buy my own, i wanted a garmin with most of the features that the vista had so I started looking, I notice that the Rino 120 had most of the features that the etrex had but it had a quad helical antenna. I decided to buy a rino 110 to try it out from a local store before ording the 120 (yes i am still waiting) and it's sat reception was superb, i was locking 6 sats inside my house, the vista would only pull in one UNLESS it was hooked up to the computer via the data cable then it would pick up 6 or 7 sats. Before i could commit to getting a rino i needed to test the radio. I read several posts that stated that rino radio performance was less than stellar but i tested it in poor conditions with another cheap radio and could hear clearly for at least a mile on a regular frs channel. Any way, not to offend any Etrex Vista users, this is just my opinion.



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I have 2 Vistas, and I love them, despite having had to return one twice for hardware problems (slipping, oozing strap, stick problems) then having it replaced due to intermittent display problems. My other unit went back to Garmin at their suggestion when I reported that its reception was inferior to my first unit. They reported that the receiver was not properly tuned and, since they adjusted it, it has performed well.


I love the size, weight, and functionality of the Vista, and I rarely leave home without it. However, I have been even more impressed with the customer service that I have received from Garmin when I have run into problems. I wish they had resolved the problems before I purchased my vistas, but I am glad that I have had them. I hope they have resolved the problems for the current batch on the market. I would strongly suggest that people who are having reception problems contact Garmin and give them a chance to try and fix the problem.

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Very interesting thread...


I had a Vista just over a year before it died. icon_mad.gif I did like the features it offered. My biggest problem was reception in light cover. I constently lost my signal.


About a month ago, I picked up a SportTrack Pro, and the reception is great. I miss some of the bells and whistles the Vista offers, but in the end, I can live with out them. icon_rolleyes.gif


It sounds like the service from Garmin is pretty good. I guess I need to send in my Vista and see if they can fix it at a resonable price. If so, I can give it to my son.

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