At this point I am by no means an expert in the use of this hand-held GPS, but it is so much better than the lower level units that I have tried that I have now become a believer in the use of these toys in the woods. I’ve always considered myself a map and compass girl, but now I surely want this map and compass with batteries!
This GPS Unit does not belong to me. If you want to buy one they retail for about $290, with regional map packages (1:100, 000) an additional $75. I’m saving my pennies for sure!
I had previously used a cheaper GPS unit by Garmin on two different occasions. While Garmin makes good equipment, the features offered by the lower quality units just didn’t excite me the way the 76Cx does.
The first thing that impressed me about this unit is that it receives signals from up to 12 satellites. The more satellites, the better the accuracy. The unit I had previously tried would only receive from 3 satellites, and whenever it lost signal from one it would shut down. Then it would take as much as five minutes to find a signal again, if it even could until I moved to a different location. That was just way too frustrating for me. And the signal would get lost under heavy tree cover... well, that’s where I wanted to use it... in the woods!
However, the Trail Association that I volunteer with owns two of these 76Cx units for hikers to take to the trail, and the Map Coordinator suggested that I take it with me to the Adirondacks since my friend and I planned to do several bushwhacks (hiking where there is no trail). He said that it was already loaded with the maps.
I didn’t get the GPS until just 6 days before we were ready to head into the woods. I had to make sure that I practiced using it several times that week to become familiar with how it works. It’s hard for me to evaluate how difficult this would be for a complete novice to learn. Since I already understood the basics of how Garmin units without maps work I at least had a basis for working with this one. That said, I think this unit is much more user friendly than the other ones I’ve tried.
Once you power up, and the unit acquires five satellites it will begin to calculate your position and tell you how much error there is. When it has more than seven the accuracy is usually +/- 20 feet. It even managed to get 6 satellites from our basement! And I never lost signal on our hike. This was a great test, because we spent five days on the Northville-Placid Trail in New York. This is a valley trail, usually bordered by hills and always under tree cover- light to heavy. This gives me to confidence to want to take this unit to the Boundary Waters of Minnesota next year when we will be hiking the Kekekabic / North Country Trail in heavy spruce forest.
There are various screens that you can scroll through (press PAGE) for data. There is a “Trip Computer” which I didn’t ever use, but if you are trying to record waypoints along a route as you walk you would want to use this page. It gives you time, trip mileage, average speed, overall average, and elevation. The map page shows you maps, no surprise. They range from a large-scale showing several states, to zooming in to showing only a few contour lines on the screen at a time. You zoom by pressing IN-OUT buttons on the face. There is a route page that I think tells you how to reach a waypoint by road, but I never used that one.
Next is the compass page. This one is important if you are bushwhacking to reach a pre-entered point. Actually this works best when you are moving at a speed over one mile an hour. When we were moving at a rate of a half-mile-an-hour through the Hobble Bush, it was not happy. However, I was still able to use it. What happens is that the compass “needle” just swings somewhat wildly, and you have to eyeball an average reading. Even so, I was able to lead us through this bushwhack and come out to just where we wanted to be. It shows your average speed, and your estimated time of arrival at the waypoint. Somehow this data didn’t seem to be correct, but since I didn’t care too much about that I didn’t try to figure out how to get the correct reading.
Then you have an elevation and ascent / descent page. And finally menu options.
By pressing the FIND button on the face you can bring up There are lots of choices, but the only one I really used was waypoints. Some I entered from maps before I left on the hike, and others I recorded in the field (for example, our campsite each night). This brings us a list of your points, and you can choose to see them on a map or use the compass page to GOTO the waypoint. You can name each waypoint with a full alphanumeric and symbol keypad. It’s a little klunky to scroll through and select the letters, but it’s lots better than the lower level units where your choices are very limited.
You can set the units to degrees/ minutes / seconds, degrees and tenths of degrees, or UTM.
It takes 2 AA batteries, and unless you use the screen backlight a lot they last a long time. I didn’t leave the unit on continuously to record waypoints but we never changed the batteries for our whole hike, and they are still indicating almost full power.
It also has a calculator and games. It holds 1000 waypoints, and 50 routes (this info is not in the manual, but I found it on line). The display is color, and it can be read outside without turning on the backlight. You do have to hold it at a good angle for you, but I never had to turn the light when I was outside.
So there is a LOT that I don’t know about the capabilities of the Garmin76Cx. Other menu choices are for Geocache, Exits, Points of Interest, and Marine. But what I have seen I like a lot, and it was fairly straightforward to use.
It is a bit heavier than I would like it to be for backpacking at 8.5 ounces, and the manual is an additional 5 ounces. The manual is moderately helpful but isn’t really easy to find instant answers when you are standing in the woods trying to figure something out. It is 6" x 2.5" by about 1" deep, and has a wrist strap.
If you don’t already understand maps, and how to use a compass, don’t expect that this will magically make you an orienteering expert. You have to have a certain level of knowledge to make this handheld GPS work for you. That said, I now think that it would be almost impossible for someone who does have this understanding to become lost if they had this unit available.
There are so many features, that I’m sure I have left out some important piece of information, but at least you can tell that I really like this!