GearTools & Tech

Will more expensive GPS units perform better in dense forest?

You've never let me down, Gear Guy, and I know you won't this time either. My entry-level GPS (Garmin eTrex) seems unable to see the sky if there is a tree within 50 feet. On a recent Sierra backpack it did well above timberline but not in forest, even with big clear gaps in the canopy. Would a more expensive GPS do better? Help me, I need my waypoints! Frank Sacrento, California

A: Well, in theory the eTrex ($106; can lock on to as many as 12 GPS satellites, and it's billed as capable of receiving signals even in dense forest. So I'm a little surprised it didn't work in the Sierras—I've used the eTrex and found it to be pretty good at receiving signals. It's possible you were also getting some interference from surrounding peaks, which can indeed block signals—and very easily.

Garmin GPS 60

Still, it's true that more money will buy you better reception. Garmin's GPS 60, for example, costs a still-reasonable $193 but comes with what Garmin calls a quad-helix antenna, providing better reception than the antenna in the eTrex. The GPS 60 can also take a plug-in external antenna, although I wouldn't think you'd want to fool with that. It's also waterproof and very compact, with one megabyte of memory for a ton of waypoints. Where you can receive a signal, the GPS 60 is also WAAS-enabled, allowing you to tap into the Wide Area Augmentation System for GPS, which improves accuracy.

Magellan's eXplorist 300 ($200; also claims to have better-than-budget-model reception. It's also a mapping model with eight megs of memory—pretty impressive for the price. And it has barometric elevation (more accurate than satellite-based readings) and a digital compass. A good choice for your needs, I would think...

Hope this helps you stay on course!

For more expert reviews of GPS units and other great navigational gizmos, check out Outside Online's all-new GPS Buying Guide.

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Filed To: GPS Devices
Lead Photo: courtesy, REI
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