With the recent growth in technology and the desire for cyclists to go further, GPS units have become a must have on your handlebars for any bikepacking adventure. In my search to find the best device for navigating the Colorado and Arizona trails, I soon realized that the majority of people use one device, and for good reason. It is a small and light, AA friendly, simple enough to navigate and most importantly, easy to load waypoints and files to. I looked no further than the Garmin Etrex Series. The Device: I’m the type of guy that needs the best thing on the market, so the Etrex 10 and 20 were out of the picture for me. This does not mean that those are not great devices. The Etrex 30 comes in at 5oz with two AA batteries. The device feels great in the palm of my hand, with the navigation button on the top right making it more right-hand friendly. The power button, as well as a few navigation buttons, are on each side of the unit – making things less cluttered and easy to access. extres7   Flip the unit over and you will see a silver lever to turn and open the back cover where the batteries and micro SD port live. The lever provides a secure piece of mind as it is easy to tell when the back is locked or unlocked. In general, the unit is strong and has rubber edges which provide shock protection in case of a fall. The screen produces 176 x 220 pixels in color. The attachment point for mounts is on the backside of the device connected to the battery plate. Garmin designed a sliding motion mount that is simple yet extremely reliable.   etrex3   User Friendly Programs: The best feature of the Etrex is the mapping programs that it is compatible with. Personally, I have had a horrible time with non-Garmin units and figuring out how to upload maps and waypoints. If you have Windows, Topo Fusion is your go-to mapping program. If you have an Apple computer, you will be using Garmin Basecamp. I am an Apple user, and I love how user friendly Basecamp is. I download free maps from http://www.gpsfiledepot.com/, I tend to download maps by state. I then use Garmin Map Install/Manager to load the map onto the device. This takes away the step of having to physically drop the file yourself. From Basecamp you can open each map under the maps tab once they have been uploaded.  Basecamp allows you to easily import GPX files- you can also export the GPX file to Google Earth, giving you a 3D visual of the route which is extremely helpful when studying your upcoming ride. Once you have the GPX file uploaded you can drop your waypoints at ease. Make sure to save your route to your Etrex and you’re good to go. Etrex 30   On the trail: The device is very easy to use especially if you are following a track. Once you are ready to go, find the track manager category under the main screen, select your track and then click “start track”. Your waypoints and track will show up making sure you don’t miss a beat. One thing to be aware of is if you are too far zoomed in you may not be able to see your waypoints on the map. Be sure to either put the waypoints directly on the route, or make sure you are zoomed out far enough to see each waypoint. As far as durability goes, the Etrex is a beast. I have tested it in every condition you could think of. It has functioned well in Arizona, where temperatures top off at 100 degrees, as well as on the Colorado Trail where it was completely soaked in numerous rain/hail storms. Although it may have run a bit slower than usual, it also functioned in -40 degree temperatures in Northern Minnesota for the Arrowhead Ultra. The Garmin Etrex series is the most user friendly GPS device and is the standard for bikepackers. If you have any questions please feel free to send us an email or comment. We would love to help you figure out your next adventure.

10 Comments

  1. Barry Ritchey

    I’ve been using a 30 for over two years now. I have three issues with my particular unit:
    1- Every once in a while the unit just shuts down for no apparent reason. Power back on and life is good again.
    2- With only one [big at 9000 points, but under the 10K limit] track to load, my unit take almost 3-1/2 minutes to boot. When Issue-1 above happens, those three minutes and 25 seconds can be very stressful.
    3- No matter how I change the color, in TopoFusion, or on the actual unit itself, the saved track to follow will always revert to display purple. I can change and save a track as green in TopoFusion and it will display as purple on my eTrex 30.
    Other than those three issues to live with, it’s my best friend when biking out in the middle of nowhere.
    -Barry

  2. Just wondering where you got the bike mount? I cant seem to find one like it.

  3. I know that it is powered by two AA batteries. Can it be charged from a dynamo-powered USB while riding? Will this charge the AA batteries, or just run the GPS without draining the AA’s? Thanks! Great website.

    • Neil Beltchenko
      Neil Beltchenko

      It can be, but we have yet to try it. Kinda scares me to be honest, especially if I’m depending on it. Hit up Kerry Staite at K-lite, he will be able to inform you how to do so.

      http://www.klite.com.au/

    • Without the back light, compass and tones on, the batteries will last a very long time.

      You should get at least 20hours out of one set of batteries. I rarely get into my second set of batteries on a two or three day hiking trip.

      • Duncan Cook

        I usually get around 25 hours on two Procell (commercial Duracell) batteries. you can power the gps but not charge the batteries from a dynamo but you need to keep your speed above 12-15mph.

  4. Pingback: A Photo Journal: Bikepacking the South Chilcotin Mountains - Bikepacker

  5. Hi,
    When you say you loaded a 9000 point route, how many miles was that route approx? Any issues within loading a course that is 500-600 miles then riding it? If stoping overnight can you keep the unit recording, or power it off? Will it start recording whee it left off the day before? Thanks

    • Neil Beltchenko
      Neil Beltchenko

      It does not matter the milage, only the points. Either way, if you keep it on or power it off, it will start recording where you left off. Once you get one, I urge you to play around with it, once you get the hang of it, it is a very simple unit.

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