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Equipment - GPS
Thursday, November 30, 2006

I bought my first GPS back in 2000 when they first became affordable and had the links to interoperate with various TOPO and Mapsource software systems. It was one of the early versions of the eTrex Vista and featured 8 MB of space to store maps.

That GPS saved my butt up in Maine.  All you needed to do up there is walk 50 feet away from the truck in the dense woods and it was very easy to become disoriented.  I quickly got in the habit of marking my location as a waypoint as soon as I parked the truck. 

It was later that I discovered the value of the tracking feature in these devices.  After returning from any of the fishing trips, I would wonder exactly where I had fished, how far I had penetrated and where the good places were.  With the tracking feature, I could upload this information to my map and see the actual plot of where I had been.  This made it very easy to determine where I needed to go on the next trip to get full coverage of the area.

Two years ago, the GPSMAP 60C came out and I was captivated by the high intensity color screen as well as the increased capacity.  So, I gave the Vista to my son and grabbed a 60C as soon as I could save up for it.

This thing has been awesome.  The battery life is pretty good - I get about 3 full day fishing trips off each battery load.  It has proven to be pretty durable as well.  I've banged it on rocks, dunked it in the water, had it rattle around on the dashboard of the truck as well as inflicted any number of other horrors.  It's still alive.

On the down side, the instructions on how to really use this thing are not well written.  It takes awhile to figure stuff out - like the compass on this model does not work unless you are moving - something that strikes me as pretty stupid. 

The navigation feature is there, but has errors when you are looking to go on really remote roads.  In addition, to navigate, you have to plot your route by establishing waypoints - you cannot enter an address like you can on some of the newer models.

Features I use every trip are the waypoint marking and "go to" feature.  Just like in the Maine woods, it's sometimes hard to find the trail back up from the river.  I always mark the truck and where I hit the trail - or any other critical intersections.  On the way back, I just tell the GPS to "go to" the waypoint and it keeps track of the direction and distance.  It's nice to see all of the above on the topo map I downloaded into the system from the Mapsource CD. Important!  The only downloadable maps are the ones that Garmin sells on under the Mapsource brand.  The others will allow you to interact with the Garmin products by importing or exporting routes and waypoints, but that's it..

The Mapsource maps are pretty low resolution.  I really wish they would update their software to match the increased storage capability of the newer models to show more map features.

It is my understanding that the newer models have better, more sensitive antennas.  That would be a great improvement.  Both of the models I have owned will lose the satelitte in moderate woods.  The 60C is better than the Vista, and I understand that the updated GPSMAP 60CSx has an improved antenna array built in that allows it to connect through reasonable tree cover.  The bottom line on that is that you may need to find an open spot with a clear view to the southern sky to regain your signal.  This is not a big deal if you are fishing.  Typically, there is enough open sky over the stream to feed a signal.  However, in tight places, like the Shenandoah, you will lose it.

One approach to maximize the signal strength is to wear the GPS using the clip attachment.  I clip mine to the shoulder strap on my pack and have noticed a substantial improvement.  Prior to doing this, I would clip it to my trout bag.  When clipped there, it would ride low and not always have a clear shot at the sky.

Bottom line:  It does not really matter what brand you get as long as you have one of these.  I would not go fishing without it.

 Unless stated otherwise, this article was authored by Steve Moore

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