Overview

Garmin has many handheld mapping GPS'es and as I get access to others I'll review them. My current favorite model is the Etrex Vista 30, mostly due to it's very bright screen, long battery life, and birdseye satellite imagery/overlays support. Before I used to take my HCx and Oregon, now all I need is the Vista 30. The battery life is so long, in fact, that my last backpacking trip I left it on all the way in and out without a hitch. The Oregon would have needed a battery change or two. The Oregon's biggest pluses are the Birdseye feature, custom maps, and shaded relief (makes viewing topos much easier), and larger screen size.

Summary

  • Etrex Vista HCx:

                Pluses: cheaper, one-hand operation, (16-40 hrs?) hour battery life with battery
                save options, sim cards, routable maps, topo maps, very very bright display

                Cons: No Birdsye, no shaded relief, smaller screen size

  • Etrex 30:

                Pluses: one-hand operation, (16-40 hrs?) hour battery life with battery
                save options, sim cards, routable maps, topo maps, very very bright display, birdseye, shaded relief
                GONAS russian and GPS american satellitetracking

                Cons: smaller screen size, slow screen refreshes

  • Oreong 400t:

                Plus: Birdseye satellite imagery (subscription), shaded relief, custom maps, routable maps, topo maps, 65,000 colors
                Cons: more expensive, much dimmer screen, much lower battery life (4-8 hrs?) on typical use with battery save options
  • Details

    You can't see the display brightness difference in these phots because I've altered the photos to make them somewhat more readable. The photos (Etrex Vista HCx, Etrex 30, then the Oregon) show size comparizons of the screens. The first set of photos show the Oregon in with just topo maps on. The second set of photos shows the Oregon in with Birdseye and topo on. The third set of photos show the Oregon with custom map overlays, in which I've put scanned a topo map from my collection. The Etrex Vista HCx can't do any of the other map options (overlays and Birdseye), show I've just shown the same topo for comarison. The Etrex was just too bright and everything was appearing washed out! Here we have 24k Topos from Garmin for the Northwest. See the difference between having Birdeye and not? Topo lines are still available, but you get satellite imagery also. I'm not crazy that Garmin dings you with a subscription fee for Birdseye satellite imagery, but I think it is worth it. Last summer I was doing cross country (ie no trail) backpacking and the satellite imagery saved me from many mistakes. I could see clearings and less dense forest areas, and together with the topo lines figured out if it was a cliff vs clearing up ahead. It also makes it easier to decide where to base camp since you can see open areas before you actually get there. You could do this all before at home, but it sure is nice to have a way to review when you're on the trail. If you like using Google Earth to visually plan ahead for trips, you'll love Birdseye.

  • Notice the dotted lines on the maps to the right of the lake? That is a wilderness trail, and yes, it is routable. Plug in the lake you want to go to from home and both units (assuming you've bought/found the 24k topos) will route you via the road, then the trail, then straight cross country at the shortest distance/time. Of course, shortest distance/time isn't always the best, but that's why you have the topo maps, right? This works the same way on all Garmin GPS'es with routing capabilites and 24k maps. 100k topos can't do this, they don't have routing capabilities.
  • Screen shots