Stay On the Right Path

May 13, 2011
Filed under Feature Stories

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Gadgets play a role in practically every part of our lives, and with the proliferation of smart phones, laptops, MP3 players and other electronics, it’s getting harder for people to disconnect from technology. When my family and I leave the pavement behind, we have a rule that anything with a plug or batteries stays behind, with one important exception.

Electronic navigation plays an important role in our outdoor getaways. From helping to find that perfect lakeside campsite or backcountry trailhead to guiding us safely back to camp after a long day of trekking, today’s sophisticated and user-friendly GPS units are indispensable.

We’ve beaten the bushes, as it were, to bring you these examples of the latest and greatest offerings in automotive and hand-held GPS navigation systems that can help to enhance your camping experience.

Bushnell BackTrack
For 2011, outdoor-optics leader Bushnell introduced two new models of its key fob-sized BackTrack GPS, BackTrack Point 3 ($70) and BackTrack Point 5 ($90). Both are simplicity defined — just press a button to set a location you wish to return to, whether it’s camp, trailhead or car. Both new models feature improved graphics and have the latest in GPS technology for quick satellite acquisition and signal sensitivity. The BackTrack Point 3 comes with a key ring attachment, while the BackTrack Point 5 includes a carabiner clip, allowing for easy attachment to backpacks, belt loops or zipper pulls. With the BackTrack weighing only about 2 ounces, campers and hikers likely won’t know it’s there.

The BackTrack Point 3 allows users to mark up to three separate locations or waypoints and it guides them with an electronic compass-arrow. The BackTrack Point 5 stores up to five separate locations and features an integrated digital compass and latitude/longitude coordinates. It also displays time of day, temperature and altitude.

Both offer distance-to-go with an arrow. A backlit screen is provided for low-light conditions. To extend operating hours from the two AAA batteries, an Auto Off feature powers down the unit five minutes after the last button is pushed. Bushnell: 800/423-3537; bushnell.com.

Delorme’s new Earthmate PN-60w is the first hand-held GPS specifically designed for combi­nation with a SPOT satellite communicator. It can provide outdoor enthusiasts with a safety net and reliable communication with the world back home.

When matched with its jointly developed SPOT satellite communicator, the PN-60w can send customized text messages even when far beyond cellular range. Using Earthmate’s internal keyboard, freeform text messages can be sent to individuals or groups. The SPOT unit also has stand-alone capability to send location-based SOS notification signals to emergency responders anywhere in the world.

The PN-60w ($550 with Spot) is no slouch as a stand-alone hand-held navigator, providing a 32-channel GPS receiver, fast dual-core processor, three-axis electronic compass and sensitive barometric altimeter. A large library of available mapping and data includes high-resolution color aerial imagery, USGS 7.5-minute Quad Maps, USGS high-resolution city maps and 150,000 Canada topographic map sheets. For an annual subscription fee of $29.95, navigators can download all the updated land or marine charts and imagery they desire. Delorme: 800/561-5105; delorme.com.

Celestron reTrace
Renowned optics manufacturer Celestron has ventured into GPS navigation with two simple yet sophisticated devices, the reTrace Lite ($60) and the reTrace Deluxe ($100). The reTrace units are relatively inexpensive but worthy of note because Celetron kept the features pared down while making sure the units had the essentials. Small enough to carry in your pocket and easy to use, they are perfect for tasks ranging from locating your car in the parking lot of a crowded stadium to getting back to that favorite fishing spot.

The Lite is a WAAS-enabled GPS unit that measures up to IPX6 water-resistance standards, and offers a 2-inch, icon-style screen that displays satellite signal, battery status, distance to location, latitude and longitude, and a digital compass. It has the capability to store five waypoints. The Deluxe (pictured) gets a 1.8-inch color TFT screen, an altimeter, pressure and trend barometer, a thermometer and a real time display. In addition, it has the ability to upload 50,000 trail data logs though a mini USB cable, create map routes and store up to 20 waypoints. Celestron: 310/328-9560; celestron.com.

Garmin has introduced innovations for both the car and hand-held GPS markets. Drivers will appreciate the new Garmin nuvi 2400 Series auto navigators, with five-inch displays and a new range of optional features including voice-activated navigation, real-time traffic alerts and enhanced route calculation.

The 2400 Series has four models: the 2450, 2450LM, 2460LT and 2460LMT. The 2460LT and 2460LMT let operators “wake” their nuvi with a customizable voice command, and then begin speaking menu options to control the unit. Both of these units also offer lifetime traffic and hands-free calling with compatible Bluetooth-enabled phones. Prices range from $250 to $400.

Garmin’s new GPSMAP62st ($550) comes preloaded with TOPO 100K maps covering the U.S., including Alaska, Hawaii and Puerto Rico, as well as worldwide base maps with shaded relief. Map details include national, state and local parks and forests, along with terrain contours, elevation information, trails, rivers, lakes and points of interest.

Rugged and waterproof, this hand-held uses a quad-helix antenna for reliable reception in trees, canyons and other challenging terrain. A built-in three-axis tilt-compensated electronic compass shows your heading even when standing still, without the need to hold the unit level. Garmin’s built-in barometric altimeter tracks changes in pressure to verify altitude and can alert hikers and climbers to changing weather conditions. Garmin: 800/800-1020; garmin.com.

The Sierra ($400) is the top of the line in Lowrance’s three-unit Endura hand-held GPS family, which also includes the Safari and Out&Back models. The Sierra can be operated using either the 2.7-inch color touch screen or with dedicated buttons for times when you’re wearing heavy gloves.

The Sierra comes preloaded with more than 3 GB of maps, including AccuTerra outdoor content with 100-foot topographic contours, detailed land use and shading, river and lake detail, all NAVTEQ road levels, 1.7 million outdoor points of interest, and popular trails. Optional mapping can be added on a microSD card (up to 32 GB), providing 20-foot topographic contours, advanced hillside shading, land-use shading, full NAVTEQ street maps and even more points of interest (POI) data.

Adding the NAVTEQ road network for the contiguous 48 states also enables voice turn-by-turn navigation, making the Sierra a fully functioning car navigator as well. All Endura models also accept GPX trails, geocaches and user-outdoor POIs downloaded from the Web for added versatility.

The Sierra hand-held features a 42-channel WAAS-enabled receiver for reliable position fixes, an altimeter and an IPX-7 waterproof rating for rugged outdoor use. Users can expect 10 to 15 hours of operation on two AA batteries. Lowrance: 800/324-1356; lowrance.com.

Magellan added the new RoadMate 9055 GPS to its car navigation lineup for 2011, and also expanded its popular eXplorist hand-held GPS family.

The RoadMate 9055’s large display was designed for drivers of RVs, SUVs, pickup trucks and other large-cab vehicles, with a high-definition 7-inch screen, Bluetooth connectivity and a lifetime traffic subscription to help drivers navigate around congestion.

The 9055 ($300) comes loaded with maps for all 50 states, Canada and Puerto Rico with 6 million POIs and special AAA content, including ratings and descriptions for motels, restaurants and roadside attractions. Highway Lane Assist helps drivers get in the proper lane early for exits and interchanges. A video-in jack connects to a backup camera, great for hooking up travel trailers or boats.

Magellan’s new eXplorist 310 ($200) hand-held was developed to give outdoor users some high-end features in an affordable unit. It offers a 2.2-inch transflective color LCD display, a highly sensitive GPS chipset for three-meter accuracy, and a range of essential navigation features. The eXplorist 310 comes loaded with Magellan’s World Edition map, which includes a road network of more than 200 countries. Users can expand map detail by adding regional versions of Magellan’s Summit Series topographic maps. Two AA batteries provide up to 18 continuous hours of use. Magellan: 800/707-9971; magellangps.com.

Motorola’s new MotoNav TN765t ($160) auto navigation system features a 5.1-inch, wide-format display to maximize the benefits of its preloaded maps, 3D landmark graphics and information windows. The touch-screen MultiView display shows your location and driving maps front and center.

The left-side view shows route details and POIs and the right-side view keeps you connected to your important contacts and information.

Preloaded maps for all of the U.S., Canada and Puerto Rico cover everywhere you’re likely to travel. Lane guidance helps drivers position themselves for smooth transitions and exits. Other navigation features include speed limits, spoken street names and voice destination entry.

The TN765t is compatible with any Bluetooth-enabled phone to keep you safely connected behind the wheel. Motorola’s MotoExtras service, free for the first 90 days, helps drivers
make other better decisions, too, with streaming traffic updates for your specific route, local fuel price comparisons, weather forecasts and flight status updates. It also includes voice-prompted searches through Bing for instant connection to everything from stock quotes and travel information to sports scores and local movie times. Motorola: 847/523-5000; motorola.com.

According to the company, TomTom’s new VIA Series (starts at $170) was developed to provide drivers with a sleek, new design, enhanced software and new features like voice recognition and hands-free calling at prices normally associated with midrange units.

VIA Series models include the 4.3-inch VIA 1405 and 1435, along with 5-inch display VIA 1505 and 1535 units. Drivers have the option to purchase any of these models with optional Lifetime Maps (for U.S., Canada and Mexico) and/or Lifetime Traffic.

Both display sizes provide drivers with sharp graphics and easy touch-screen access to operational menus. The VIA 1435 and 1535 feature a brushed aluminum finish, while the VIA 1405 and 1505 offer a black finish. All VIA models feature a slim case design and a new integrated fold-and-go Easy Port mount. This mounting system allows for flexible positioning of the device on the dash or windshield.

The VIA 1435 and 1535 offer drivers premium safety features such as Intuitive Voice Control and hands-free calling via Bluetooth, so drivers can stay focused on the road ahead. The full series features TomTom’s Help Me! Menu for assistance while driving, spoken street names and advanced lane guidance to prepare drivers for smooth, safe exits and transitions on crowded highways and interchanges. TomTom: 866/486-6866; tomtom.com.

Multichannel Receivers
Many of today’s GPS receivers have up to 40 channels or more. What’s the point, given that these channels outnumber the satellites the receiver could realistically track at one time? Your GPS might be tracking six to 10 satellites, but other channels can be used to search for new satellites that might be coming into view. This can improve performance and maintain consistent position fixes if ground obstructions or natural features block satellite signals.

Waterproof Ratings
The IPX-7 waterproof rating means an instrument can withstand one-meter submersion for 30 minutes. Most hand-held GPS units that don’t meet this standard are generally referred to as IPX-6, able to withstand heavy rain and splashing.

LCD Displays
Transflective LCD displays use ambient light to provide illumination for the display, making them shine in direct sunlight. TFT LCD displays are a variant on liquid crystal displays that use Thin-Film Transistor technology to improve image quality and contrast. Screen resolution is measured in pixels (for example, 320 x 240), with the higher the number indicating a sharper picture.

The Wide Area Augmentation System was developed by the Federal Aviation Administration to improve GPS accuracy. Using a network of ground-based reference stations to measure variations in GPS signals, these deviations are sent to geostationary WAAS satellites, which then broadcast the appropriate correction signals back to Earth. WAAS-enabled receivers use these corrections to improve accuracy, usually to within a distance of three to five meters.

2D/3D Positioning
A lock on three GPS satellites is required for a GPS unit to determine your position in 2D (two positions), latitude and longitude. Some units can use the signals from four satellites to fix and provide a 3D position, latitude, longitude and altitude.

Onboard Altimeters
Hand-held GPS units can provide altitude information based on GPS location and topographic map data or barometric pressure measured by an internal sensor. Pressure-based readings are generally more accurate and have the added benefit of providing barometric pressure trends to indicate changing weather patterns.

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