* Prices may differ from that shown
I won't go into the details of how GPS works as there are a number of reviews round these parts that do a good job of explaining it. What I will do is explain why, after two years, I decided to upgrade my trusty old (bright yellow) Garmin eTrex to a shiny new (silver) eTrax Summit. Garmin are well known for their GPS offerings, with the eTrex range being aimed squarely at people who enjoy the outdoors. The old yellow eTrax (which I reviewed a while back) was, and indeed still is, at the bottom of the range. This is not to say it's a bad product, but after a few years of use, I started to realise it's limitations. Not wanting to cover too much old ground (and without trying to force too many more reads of an old op), the eTrex is a basic GPS device that is capable of storing up to 500 waypoints and a single route (which can be made of up to 50 waypoints). It maintains a tracklog and can allow you to retrace your steps and will let you navigate (using the word loosely) to any stored waypoint. But that's about it. So when you are going away for a week and won't have a PC with you, it can be a bit tricky working with a selection of routes. It's not unworkable, but it could be better. The improvement comes in the form of the eTrex Summit. A unit that comes in a sleek, waterproof silver case, the Summit boats a capacity for 500 waypoints, but can store up to 20 routes (of 50 waypoints each). It also seems to have a larger tracklog memory, meaning that more records can be stored before you need to download them to a PC. The interface is the same, a large LCD screen with luminous green backlight for night-viewing, sensibly placed buttons for single-handed use and a tough plastic case that will take being dropped from waist height without complaining. While the interface remains the same, the hardware (and software) has been upgraded from the base model. Whereas the base eTrex would only give you a compass bearing w
hen you were on the move, the Summit comes with an electronic compass for accurate bearings even when stationary. This does take it's toll on the battery life but can come in handy, especially when you have lost the GPS signal. In addition to the compass, the Summit also improves on the GPS-based altimeter function in the base model with the addition of a full barometric altimeter. This allows for a much more accurate plotting of elevation and gives an excellent calculation of ascent/descent rates. Both of these new functions come with their own GUI modes, the compass being the most familiar and the altimeter being the least useful, but it's all information and for the gadget-fans out there, it's good stuff. Because of the new features, the battery life of the Summit is poorer than the base model (around 12 hours compared to 18 without the compass) but this is bearable and should see you good for one or two long walks although in particularly cold weather you could get caught short by the batteries suddenly deciding they have had enough. So far, then, the Summit does everything the base eTrax can do and a few things more which make it much more useful for a hill walker/rambler type person. What the unit DOESN'T do is provide base-maps that you can use to navigate around unfamiliar territory. The Summit does have a map page, but all you will find on it are waypoints that you have marked and the track showing where you have been. It is very much a case of only getting out what you put in. Indeed it is the lack of base-map information that keeps the cost of the unit so low while still providing all the navigation features of the more expensive models. Where the Summit really does come into it's own is when it is used in conjunction with some mapping software on a PC (such as the excellent Memory-Map navigator). This allows you to create your own routes from Ordnance Survey maps and then upload them, waypoints and all, to the GPS fo
r future use. It's then a simple task of selecting the appropriate route when you reach the start point and the GPS will guide you all the way round (if needed). In summary, the eTrex Summit is an excellent upgrade from the base eTrex. The additional route capacity makes it a tool much better suited to a week long feast of walks and the addition of a proper altimeter and a digital compass turn it into a comprehensive navigation tool. The robust case and waterproofing, complete with the lanyard or even handlebar attachment makes it ideal for anyone with a keen interest in finding their way around the great outdoors, but it works best if you invest in a PC data Cable some mapping software and a bit of time using it before you go out. It just remains for me to remind you that a GPS should not be relied upon 100% for navigation. The signals are only accurate to within around 15m, but this isn't always good enough and there is always the chance that the batteries could run out etc. You should always venture out in the hills properly equipped with a compass and the relevant OS map.
This new all-in-one navigation device for the outdoor enthusiast is the first combination GPS, altimeter, and electronic compass.