Tuesday Rando Gear: Garmin updates eTrex GPS line

The Garmin line of handheld GPS units, particularly the AA-battery powered eTrex Vista HCx, have been a favorite of mine and our friends for the last few years. Combined with good mapping software — we’re partial to Garmin’s City Navigator programs — and a sturdy handlebar mount, the Vista HCx has been a stellar performer. I highlighted it during the 2008 12 Days of Randonneurmas.

On Tuesday Garmin announced a refresh to the eTrex line, unveiling a simplified threesome called the eTrex 10, 20 and 30. The $300 eTrex 30 appears to be the unit closest to the HCx, with a slightly bigger 2.2-inch 65K color display, tilt-compensated compass, altimeter, something called “wireless unit-to-unit data transfer,” and the glove-friendly joystick we’ve come to love with the older units. As with the HCx, other options are accessed through side buttons.

The major upgrade appears to be the screen, compared to the 1.7-inch, 256 color HCx.

The new Garmin eTrex 30, the successor to the much-loved Garmin HCx.

Garmin claims up to 25 hours of use with the eTrex 30, the same rating as the Vista HCx, though I get somewhere around 15 hours with high-capacity rechargeable Ni-MH batteries using turn-by-turn prompting and automatic backlighting. I suspect their estimate is with all power-saving options enabled.

If you have considered getting an HCx, this might be a good time. REI put it on sale for $149 during their just-ended Memorial Day sale, which could signal the end of life for the venerable little guy.

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8 thoughts on “Tuesday Rando Gear: Garmin updates eTrex GPS line

  1. Very cool. Your post back in 2008 got me thinking about how cool it would be to use GPS for bike nav, and I wasn’t even thinking about rando stuff at the time. Now I’m leaning that way more and more, and came VERY close to buying the HCx at REI this last week. But I held off, realizing that I still didn’t have a defined use for the equipment, so not worth the purchase. Might have to change that thought now.

    Will be curious to watch for some reviews of the new eTrex; looks like the 20 model is the sweet spot. Not sure an altimeter, compass, and funky wireless sharing are all worth another $100.

  2. What do you do when the batteries die? Do you carry around an extra set?

    Is there a reason, other than price, why you prefer these to something like the Edge 800?

    • Matt: I like the price and ability to swap out batteries on the road. Two pairs of AA rechargeables get us through a 600K. The run time of the Edge series will not get us through a 400K or longer without some external power source.

      It also makes a very good handheld unit for hiking/sightseeing.

  3. Wouldn’t you know it? Just as I plan to get the Vista HCx out of the box and figure out how to use it, they come out with an upgrade! Oh well, glad to hear you love the HCx. I rode with a guy on LEL who had one and it sold me completely. Rain, night, swapping out AA batteries, you name it. Now I just have to figure out how to download and/or create routes . . .

  4. George — it’s still a great unit and if you bought it at a great price, that’s reason enough to give it a go and let the newer units drop in price.

    You probably know this, but you need a software program to send routes to the unit, either ones you download or create yourself. Garmin City Navigator will do it all — you can make your own routes, or import routes made by others either in universal GPX format or Garmin’s GDP format, then upload them via USB cable to the unit. It is also the program you can use to download your data after the ride. See Nick Bull’s primer: https://thedailyrandonneur.wordpress.com/how-to-train-your-gps/

    • Thanks, Felkerino for the additional info. I’m sure it’s shockingly straightforward to use once you get the hang of it. My next project. Thanks for the link to Nick’s primer. May the wind be at your back this season.

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