Gear Guy

eTrex H GPS     Photo: courtesy, Garmin

Q:

What’s the best way to track how many miles I’ve hiked?

I can't find an accurate pedometer to take hiking with me. I've tried several different brands and have found them all unreliable when it comes to calculating mileage hiked. Any recommendations? Lori Grand Junction, Colorado

A:“Accurate pedometer" is one of those phrases that ranks up there with “green SUV," “low-fat hamburger" and “military intelligence." There just ain’t any. The technology is so imprecise—pedometers basically take a guess at your stride length, and otherwise just count the number of times you jiggle up and down as you hike—that they have a hard time coming within 200 yards over a 1,000-yard walk.

Besides, pedometers are just so pre-digital. Sort of like comparing my old IBM Selectric to the 24-inch iMac I now use (and, it must be said, love dearly). What you need is a small GPS unit. Accurate to a few feet, easy to use, and reliable.

You could, for instance, purchase a Garmin eTrex H GPS. At $100 it’s a real bargain. And it’s super-compact, clipping easily to a belt or backpack. Yet it has lots of good features, such as the ability to track up to 12 satellites for better accuracy, peer through (fairly) deep forest canopy, and resist rain. Two AA batteries keep it going for up to 17 hours.

Garmin also makes a wrist-wearable GPS unit—the Forerunner 205 ($199, but currently $125 at REI). It has all the capabilities of a bigger unit—ability to track waypoints, measure calories burned, and more—in a smaller size. The only real drawback is that it takes a rechargeable battery that needs to be plugged in after ten hours. So you can’t pack extras.

Or, take a look at Magellan’s Triton 200, a quality basic unit that shows you where you are and how far you have gone, and comes with a color screen. It’s $120.

Time to dump the pedometer, I think.

The 2008 Summer Outside Buyer’s Guide is now on newsstands. Look for it online soon.

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