Sunday, September 7, 2008

Trail Tested: Garmin GPSMAP 60CSx

I purchased my Garmin GPSMAP 60CSx GPS unit several months ago specifically for the project. There are a ton of bells and whistles on this product, including an odometer, altimeter, electronic compass, mapping, geocaching, various outdoor calendars, and many other options, statistics and functions. I use the Garmin extensively for all the mileage and elevation figures on my web site. This product review will focus on the functions I primarily use.

As you might guess, I need accurate mileage data for the trails on my website. The odometer on this product provides me with that accuracy. I have tested the Garmin GPSMAP 60CSx against known distances and have found it to be nearly exact, if not exact, in its distance measurements. People intimately familiar with Great Smoky Mountains National Park might notice a few instances where my reported mileage figures are slightly different than what the Park has listed on their maps. I believe the Garmin to be more accurate. I spoke with a backcountry park ranger in Glacier National Park a couple years ago and he scoffed at the "officially" reported mileage figures for the trails in that park. He claimed that he didn't trust any of those figures because of the way they were calculated.

My other primary use with the Garmin GPSMAP 60CSx is with its altimeter function. I've seen elevation measurements on this unit fluctuate by as much 20 or 30 feet for the same location from one measurement to another. The reason for this is because it uses barometric pressure to calculate elevation. That measurement will fluctuate when there's movement in barometric pressure, such as when a front or a storm passes through the area.

Additionally, elevation figures on the unit have always been within 20 or 30 feet of known elevations within the Smoky Mountains. I’ve only had one issue with obtaining a reasonable elevation figure. This occurred at the Alum Cave trailhead where I noticed that I was off by more than 500 feet when compared to the known elevation of this location. However, once I got to the top of Mount LeConte, the problem was corrected and there was only a 10 foot difference compared to the known elevation at the summit. This anomaly is easy to explain though. A very strong and powerful storm swept through the Smokies just hours before our hike that morning. I returned to the same trailhead on three additional occasions and the Garmin reported elevations that were very close to the official elevation for the trailhead.

Despite the small fluctuations, elevation measurements are reasonably accurate.

This particular Garmin model allows me to link the unit directly to my computer so that I can download elevation data from each of my hikes. Elevation is recorded every few yards by the unit, and is saved to what Garmin calls a “track”. I then load the tracks into Microsoft Excel and create the elevation profile graphs that you see on each of my trail pages.

This product seems to locate satellites fairly quickly, usually taking only about a minute or two to find one. In all the different terrains and in the deepest old-growth forests of the Smokies, I have never had a problem acquiring or keeping a satellite, except on one occasion. This happened to be at the Alum Cave trailhead on the same day as previously mentioned above. On that day, it took several minutes before I was able to finally locate a satellite. Again, I chalk this anomaly up to the storm.

As I mentioned above, the GPSMAP 60CSx has many bells and whistles. I found that the unit interface makes it very easy to navigate through each of functions. Additionally, I thought it was fairly easy to learn how to use and to set-up most of the options as well.

All in all, I really like this product and would recommend it to anyone.

If you would like to see more in-depth product information, please click here.

Jeff Detailed information on trails in the Smoky Mountains; includes trail descriptions, key features, pictures, video, maps, elevation profiles, news, hiking gear store, and more.

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