Using the Garmin GPSMAP 66 in the Field

I have a GPSMAP 66s, but what I have to say here applies to the 66st as well- the only difference between the models is that the 66st adds Garmin Topo maps. I prefer to load my own maps from gpsfiledepot.com, which are more detailed than Garmin's 100K maps and are free. So, when I refer to the GPSMAP 66 below, I mean both models.

Before I get started, let me say that the positives in this unit far outweigh the negatives, at least for my use. The core function, that of locking onto satellites and determining your position, is significantly improved over the already excellent GPSMAP 64 series.

GPS Navigation for Truckers, RVers, and Motorcyclists

Since I don't drive a truck or an RV, I haven't paid much attention to the differences between GPS street navigators that are intended for passenger car use, and units designed for drivers of large vehicles. But the differences are important! Both truck and RV GPS units allow you to enter the dimensions of your vehicle so that it can route you to avoid low overpasses and roads that are unsuitable for your vehicle. In addition, the trucker units include truck stops and other truck services in their POI databases, Likewise, RV units include RV parks and services in their POI databases.

New Garmin GPSMAP 66 Series

As my regular readers know, I'm a fan of the button-operated GPSMAP series from Garmin. So I was excited to see the new GPSMAP 66 series released. At first, it didn't seem like this was much of an upgrade from the GPSMAP 64, but a closer look revealed that some long-awaited features have been added. So I decided to order one to check it out. Until it arrives and I can evaluate the unit in the field, here's some thoughts on the new features.

Best Handheld GPS

After extensive use of various apps on my Android phone, as well as the Garmin GPSMAP 64s and Garmin Oregon 600 handheld GPS receivers, I've reached some conclusions as to which options are acceptable for critical use (meaning failure could be life-threatening) and non-critical use (where failure would be inconvenient but not life-threatening). Here's a list of advantages and disadvantages for each:

Garmin GPSMAP 64s
I strongly recommend the Garmin 64s for critical use in the wilderness (wilderness meaning remote areas where there are neither roads nor motorized access.)

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GPS Privacy

As more people, including myself, increasingly rely on my smartphone for street navigation, there's one glaring advantage that dedicated street GPS units still have- they don't report your position constantly. (All smartphones with Google Maps installed report your position to Google, unless you've turned off location services in your phone. The purpose of this position reporting is to collect data points which Google uses to generate the traffic data on their maps- see en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Google_Traffic.

Another Reason to Keep Using Map and Compass

More evidence that too much reliance on GPS navigation erodes your brain's navigational skills: http://www.nature.com/news/technology-use-or-lose-our-navigation-skills-1.19632

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Does GPS Make the Backcountry More Dangerous?

Here's an interesting article from a recent issue of Outside magazine: http://www.outsideonline.com/2060641/our-reliance-technology-makes-backc...

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Garmin Oregon 600 vs. GPSMap 64s

Now that I have a few months experience with the Garmin 64s and Oregon 600 in the field, I can say that the 64s is the best of the two. Although the touch screen on the Oregon 600 is very usable and is the best GPS touchscreen I've used, the Oregon's fatal flaw is that the software locks up. The screen freezes and the unit doesn't respond to any of the buttons. The only way to recover the receiver is to remove and reinsert the batteries. This happens several times a day and is simply unacceptable in a navigation device.

Garmin eTrex Touch

Garmin has brought touchscreens to the eTrex line with the eTrex Touch 25, 25, and 35t. All three units have the same color screen, 1.43 x 2.15 inches (160x240 pixels), which is slightly smaller than the Oregon 600. The smaller screen is appropriate for the smaller size and lighter weight of the eTrex series. This is the same size screen used on the non-touch GPSMAP 64 series, by the way.

I have to be upfront here- I've never been a fan of the eTrex user interface- I've always preferred the interface on the non-touch units, such as the current 64 series. But I admit that I like the touch screen and the interface on the Oregon 600 series. In their favor, the eTrex units are the lightest trail GPS receivers from Garmin and they do everything that's essential in a trail GPS, so if you're a serious backpacker where weight is a concern, they're worth a close look.

Street GPS vs. Smartphone

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