GPS Review… the Garmin Etrex Vista

GPS Review…
the Garmin Etrex Vista

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Follow along for this GPS Review as I test this little Handheld GPS system in the field. This article will highlight the Garmin Vista’s important features, strengths and weaknesses!

This palm sized, 5.3 ounce, waterproof gps receiver packs a lot of punch for the money.

For this GPS Review, my personal GPS was used. I researched Handheld GPS’s for several months before deciding to purchase the Vista. Believe me, I looked at them all and to put it in simple terms, the Vista does practically everything I want and at a reasonable price.

This GPS was primarily designed for hikers, hunters, fishermen, boaters and 4×4 enthusiasts. The Etrex Vista works well for people who need to know where they are, how to get to a destination and how to return safely. I fit into all the above categories and many more!

Common Uses
This is not a GPS Review of known features, problems and technical aspects that you can read about on dozens of other websites. Most of what’s written about here… is from actual experience using the device in the outdoors, on the highway, in a boat and while flying an airplane.

Although my primary need for the Vista is outdoor use, I do use it occasionally while driving on the highways, as its base map includes, among others, major highways and exits, towns and points of interest.

It also makes a great backup unit while I’m flying. The base map includes most airports and the electronic compass and altimeter work great. I take it boating to mark fishing spots, boat ramps and, with my Topo software, it shows lakes and detailed shorelines too.

Mapping Software
You can purchase downloadable Garmin Mapsource software that includes directions, addresses, streets, highways etc. Also, you can get marine maps, fishing hotspots and more. I bought and use the Topo US CDs, which basically downloads selected US Topographical maps to the GPS unit to be display as needed.

Field Testing
Follow me through this GPS Review on an actual trip that included pre-trip planning, highway driving, 4×4 trail navigation, remote lake location and fishing…

Pre-Trip Planning A nice feature of the Etrex Vista is the ability to hookup the unit (through a serial port) to your computer. I had a day trip planned from my home to the nearby High Sierras to go four wheeling, hiking and fishing, so I connected the unit to my desktop and planned away.

The optional Topo US CD’s had just arrived so I loaded the program into my computer, picked the California and Nevada areas I planned to visit most and downloaded them into the GPS memory. That used up only 7K of my 24K internal memory. The base map covers North and South America, while the Topo US data gives additional topographical detail of selected areas.

For the fun of it, I placed identifiable waypoints along highways 395 and 88 enroute to my off road destination. After exiting the highway, I would really need the GPS data to help find the destination jeep trails and lakes. Using the big computer screen, mouse and keyboard made entering waypoints a snap.

With the waypoints and destinations downloaded into my GPS, I was ready to head out to continue my GPS Review, but first I wanted to know the best times to fish that day and review sunrise/sunset data. In seconds, the Vista can produce that information for anyplace you choose in the US, any day of the year.

The Road Test
With the Jeep loaded and ready to go, I turned on the Vista and propped it between the dash and windshield and in less than a minute it was ready to navigate for my GPS Review.

The Map screen showed me driving down my country road to the Highway. I used the zoom feature to enlarge and reduce the map display according to what I wanted to see both near and far.

The joystick/thumbstick control or the Page button allowed me to toggle between map and odometer pages to provide moving data such as speed, time enroute, miles traveled, distance to next waypoint and elevation.

It was nice playing with the highway capabilities, but the real test began as I turned off the paved roads onto the jeep trail. The jeep trail showed up nicely on the map page and steered me to my first destination, Lost Lakes located on California’s Pacific Crest Trail.

Have you ever been out in the Boonies four wheeling, trying to find a location that you kind of know where it is, but not really sure? Maybe you’re in familiar territory traveling at night or in a snowstorm and not sure if you are on the right trail. This happens to me all the time.

With a good GPS like the Etrex Vista using mapping software, there is no need to worry. The map display shows most of the jeep roads and trails to let you know if you are on the right path. Even without the software you can get coordinates from topo maps and manually insert them in the GPS to create waypoints and destinations.

Track Back Feature
While at Lost Lakes I put the Vista to the Hiking test. As I left the Jeep I marked that spot as a waypoint named Jeep! Normally, I mark the vehicle location and turn the GPS off for the hike and only turn it on occasionally to check my position relative to my destination or vehicle. In this case, the GPS was left on in my shirt pocket to record my tracks and never lost the signal.

The track back feature was tested on this hike because I planned to venture way off the trail in rugged, steep terrain. Finding my way back at night would be much easier by following my earlier recorded GPS track, rather then trying to blaze a new one.

The track back worked great! All I had to do was activate the Track Back feature, adjust my zoom and follow the breadcrumb trail back to the Jeep. I’m an experienced outdoorsman, but all visual reference points are gone after dark. So I’m relieved to have a device that helps you know exactly where you are in poor visibility!

Jeep Trail 9706714

After fishing a while it was time to head out to Meadow Lakes. Again the GPS kept me on tract except for about a mile through some thick tall timber where I lost all satellite reception. It did work fine in thinner timber though. This little jewel guided me easily through the 65-mile round-trip outing consisting of both highways and jeep trails.

Compass Page
During the drive and hike, the Vista’s electronic compass was constantly referenced to note proper headings. The compass proved to be extremely accurate.

Even if the GPS quits you still have the compass feature available. Unfortunately, the GPS must be held horizontally for the compass to be accurate, so you will have to look down to view it.

Map Page
The map page is great, always showing if I was on the right trail, which fork in the road to take, changing elevations, nearby lakes, mountains and distance to the destination. Map Page 4751376 All this produces a generally good and secure feeling about your present location and where you’re heading. You have the option of showing varying degrees of map detail from more to less.

Trip Computer Page
The Trip Computer includes, among other features, a speedometer, trip odometer and trip timer. The desired features can be modified through a drop down menu to show the altitude, time of day, a larger readout etc.

I used the trip odometer to see how far I had traveled. Unless you are traveling on the highway, you probably won’t use most of the other features.

The Navigation Page
The Navigation Page display is used for primary navigation information. It includes an electronic compass, course pointer, along with time and distance to the waypoint. You can also change the display size and select the information you want shown in the data fields. For example, I select current altitude and time of day to be included. On this, and most legs, I constantly switch between the Map Page and Navigation Page.

The Altimeter Page
I seldom go to the Altimeter page as you can choose to have the altitude displayed in data fields on the other pages. The added features on this page are best suited for mountain climbers, skydivers and pilots.

It also displays barometric pressure to watch for approaching storms. Don’t get me wrong; always knowing the current altitude is a real plus while hiking and navigating.

Satellite Page
This page shows the current satellite tracking status, the coordinates for your present position and if the unit is ready to navigate, along with accuracy in feet or meters. The other pages will also alert you if you loose satellite reception so that you can take corrective action.

The menu page directs you to the Vista’s feature pages that include…

Mark Waypoint Page This page is where you mark and save a waypoint for your present position or a map pointer location.

Find Menu Here you can locate and Goto waypoints, cities, points of interest addresses and other places depending upon the software you have loaded.

Route Page The route page allows you to create, store and use routes.

Tracks Page Allows you to create, store and use the tracks feature.

Setup Page Allows customization of time format, units of measure, display backlighting, contrast, orientation and much more.

Accessories Page Displays best hunting and fishing times, sun and moon data, a calculator and an area calculator that allows you, for example, to walk around the perimeter of a small lake and come up with its size in acres.

Button Controls

Page Button The Page button, located on the upper right side as you face the display, cycles through the main pages and toggles the magnetic compass on and off.

Power Button The power button is located just below the page button and turns the unit on and off. It also turns the backlit display on and off.

Thumb Stick The thumb stick, located just above the upper left display, functions much the same as a mouse. The joy stick

helps you navigate throughout the various GPS pages and menus and pan about the map page. It also allows you to execute various actions the same as the enter key on a computer.

Zoom Buttons These two buttons, located on the upper left side when facing the display, allow you to zoom in and out when on the map page.

Find Button Located just below the zoom buttons, takes you to the Find Menu.

Batteries This unit takes two AA sized batteries which can be either Alkaline, NiMH, NiCad, or lithium. Battery life is as advertised, up to 12 hours with Alkaline and the rechargeable batteries. The more expensive Lithium batteries should double that time.

ConclusionI love my Etrex Vista. During this GPS Review it performed exactly as expected. It basically does what it was designed to do and is highly recommended for sportsmen, hikers, and off-roaders that like the added comfort of a magnetic compass and altimeter in a pocket sized GPS mapping unit.

The grayscale display is good, the battery life is short but adequate, the thumb stick is a little finicky and the patch antenna is prone to losing satellite signals in heavy sky cover. Still, I consider the full featured Etrex Vista GPS to be the most bang for the buck! $246 retail and about $200 street price.

For more Etrex Vista information, specifications and testimonials, click on… Handheld GPS

Also see my review of the Garmin 60CSx here…Gps review Garmin GPSMAP

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