I love maps but the thought of replacing them with a GPS makes me uneasy. The fact is, I very rarely get lost because I know how to read a map, I’m an expert with a compass, and I carefully chart my progress during the day by frequently referring to my map and watch.
As a map addict, the thing I’ve always dreaded the most about GPS units is the time suck spent mapping routes on a computer and transferring them to a GPS unit. I’d much rather spend that time looking at a big map and weighing the benefits of different routes. The fact is, I find this process to be extremely relaxing and pleasurable, and the possibility of eliminating it has always made me anxious.
On the other hand, I can see that having a GPS is advantageous under certain conditions when you want to avoid walking off an unfamiliar mountain in a whiteout or to avoid getting horribly lost in the hilly wastelands of Scotland where there are a paucity of landmarks. Both of these are possible during the TGO Challenge, a coast to coast hike across Scotland that I hope to participate in next May. So I’ve been obsessing the past 6 months about what kind of GPS to get as a safety measure for that adventure.
That is, until last Friday, when I remembered a post about GPS loggers on a friend’s blog. These are GPS units that log your route and waypoints, but don’t provide any mapping capability and weigh next to nothing. I saw that my friend Baz Carter had commented on that post, so I shot him off a facebook message to see if he had gotten a GPS logger or what he recommended. Baz replied that he had a Garmin Geko 201. This is a very lightweight GPS receiver that will give you a position fix, but doesn’t have a mapping display. It’s also powered by AAA batteries, which I feel are a must-have for international use on long distance treks.
I did some searching and found a refurbished Garmin Gecko 301 for sale at Amazon for $99 that comes with a 1 year factory warranty from Garmin. Like the 201, it doesn’t have a mapping display, but it has a few more features that I liked including an electronic compass and a barometric altimeter that retains a 12 hour history and is useful for predicting the weather. It stores way points, routes, and all that and uses AAA batteries. I checked the UK Ordance Survey maps I own to see if they have Lat Lon position on them and they do, so I purchased the Geko 301 and plan to try it out when I’m in southern Scotland in a few weeks.
At 3.1 oz, the Garmin Geko is 301 is not the lightest GPS unit out there, but it is over half the weight of Garmin’s fancy new color mapping models like the battery guzzling Garmin Montana or Garmin Oregon. The refurbished model I bought is also 5-10 times less expensive when you factor in all of the additional software, memory cards and digital software you need for a map capable GPS unit these days.
I still have mine and use it as a backup to my compass navigation on bushwhacks, 4 years later. You can also still find used Gecko 301 units on sale on eBay.
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