Boots N All

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Boots N' All  -  An activity of Scripture Union Tasmania…
Tasmanian wilderness hiking with a difference!

GPS Observations by Boots N' All participants:

Some time has gone by since we first put up a page discussing aspects of GPS devices which are extraordinarily useful for navigating in Tasmania's wilderness (and elsewhere, of course!). Technology has continued to advance, so we have updated the information.

Hand-held GPS or Mobile Phone with GPS?

This discussion started as something of a debate between two schools of thought - those who prefer the wider range of features and on-screen maps available on mobile phones, and those who feel that the rugged construction and different ways of operating make the hand-held GPS a safer option.

Hand-held GPS

Like mobile phones, hand-held GPS devices have improved over time. The most noticeable improvement in the current generation, such as the Garmin Etrex 10 and its more expensive stablemates, the Etrex 20 and Etrex 30, is antenna performance. One of our walkers was comparing tracks created by his mobile phone and a slightly older Garmin GPS, and noted that in forest areas, the hand-held GPS gave a poor track accuracy compared with the phone. Another walker had the later Etrex 10 and when both tracks were uploaded to a computer, the accuracy was a) the same, and b) very good indeed for both devices,  even in marginal conditions such as forest and valleys.
Older models, including earlier Etrex models, perform poorly in forest and valleys, and even earlier ones suffer from a lack of a USB interface. [they have "serial" interfaces, which are obsolete, and not found on modern computers and laptops.]
Ease of Use:
CLICK HERE for some notes on how Basil uses the Garmin Etrex 10.
More recent GPS devices such as the Etrex 10 and presumably rival brands such as Magellan, can be simply hooked up to your computer with a USB cable, drop the .gpx file into a particular folder, and the track and waypoints accompanying this email are loaded and ready to use. [gpx files are the most common way of saving and sharing tracks and waypoints, and are usually included on this website to help people prepare for forthcoming walks.]
The more up-market models allow maps to be uploaded and viewed on their screens. However, the screens are quite a bit smaller than those on smartphones! We would need some additional comments from people who are familiar with using uploaded maps on GPS devices, instead of the basic track and waypoint method described in the linked page.

Other advantages:
Apart from the rugged build, the main advantage of the basic model compared with a smartphone is that it can be used in any weather without risk that a touchscreen might behave erratically when wet or when fingers are very cold.
The entry-level Garmin Etrex 10 now retails from about $130. Occasionally it has been seen discounted to $100 or less, but prices have firmed! Expect to pay $230 for the Etrex 20 and $340 for the Etrex 30. They can be bought from outdoors outfitters and Tamar Marine in Launceston, or from on-line sellers.

Mobile Phone GPS

All modern smartphones have an internal GPS chip. This makes them superb for turn-by-turn navigation when driving, but they are just as useful for wilderness navigation, provided the user has installed suitable maps and software enabling the loading and saving of tracks and waypoints. On that basis, they can be even more useful than hand-held GPS devices, especially if a change of plans during the walk has resulted in visiting an area that was not covered by waypoints and tracks pre-loaded into the device before setting out.
As mentioned in the comparison test above, modern mobile phones have a GPS component which is highly accurate.
As many people these days already have a smartphone, any associated cost will be in relation to maps, software and accessories that assist in protecting the phone and using it under adverse weather conditions.


Text below here still to be edited, culled or incorporated in the section above.

Phil A:

Etrex 10 certainly looks like a good entry point for those who want to spend ($99 at Tamar Marine).

For those who want to try GPS free of charge on their Android smart phone, free apps like Cardiotrainer will allow someone to simply track their walk and read off distance and speed as they go, and see where they are on a google map if they have a data connection. It will also upload the track to the web where it can be accessed as a GPX file and overlaid on google earth like any other GPX file. All free of charge and a simple way to get used to GPS tracking. Iphones I am sure have similar apps but I am not very familiar with iPhones.

Those who can afford $25 can purchase OziExplorer for Android which will add all the features you could want to your phone to make it a full GPS receiver - go to, waypoints, routes, tracks etc. and it will read Ozi maps just like the PC version. Of course you don't get the battery life and waterproof shockproof features of an eTrex, but for $25...

... Happy to give further info if anyone wants it.

Phil D:

I should point out MemoryMap ( )is free for Android and iPhone, as is the 1:250000 map series. To get a licence for tracking recoding printing etc including 1:100000 and 1:25,000 tasmaps is cheap, $50 per device, or $150 for a four device licence. Two of our walkers shared the licence so for $75 each they had MemoryMap on a computer and on an Android phone. While Etrex10 is cheap it won't run topographical maps and has no card slot. For a bit extra either get a Garmin with a card slot so you can load maps eg shonkymaps, or get a holux which runs MemoryMap. A good freeGPS tracker for Android phone is GPS Info which simply gives position, time, altitude etc ad tracks as .gpx. And you can email the .gpx track from your phone. The latest Motorola Android phone is $99 and is waterproof and drop resistant.

Rugged is the Holux GPS. Rugged is Motorola 3.5" smartphone. Both run MemoryMap topographical maps in glorious colour. BTW I'm investigating the USA Usgs system of geopdf. The topo maps of whole USA are a free download and also include satellite photos and other layers. Can see them on Acrobat reader but if you add the free Terrago toolbar and compositor you get all the functions you need and more. Plus they now have an Android app for navigation. Can also navigate off a windows notebook with usb gps attached. This should work on Windows 8 tablet, not sure about WindowsRT. Geosciences Australia has released free 1:250k maps and is getting into this system which seems the next best thing. The map sizes on disc are much smaller than eg Tas topo. I have loaded the Android app and some USA maps. Trying to work out how to download Aus maps. However the memory map android app and tastopo 1:250k are also free. I have them on dvd for anyone who wants to try. You can follow position on android device without a licence but not track or view tracks.

I use Samsung Android phone (S4?). Around 25% of battery used for the day. Although not a waterproof model with a case and screen protector and a goog hat with brim, I have had no problem in rain or snow. Except in very cold and wet conditions, if your finger gets cold and numb you can't operate the capacitative touch screen!

Further comments from Phil D:

Tracks and routes all over Tasmania and some interstate can be downloaded from here you can import them into memory map, ozi explorer, viewranger; or google earth and save them to 'my places" if you have a google earth account (free).

 The website has free tracks from all over the world available for download, plus with a free account you can upload your own there.

 Peter Zund's website has lots of tracks and route descriptions of Tasmanian tracks.

 MemoryMap Tasmania map is around $150 for licences for 1:25,000 and 1:100,000 for two PCs and two portable devices (compatible GPS or smartphone (android or ios only) therefore a licence for 1 pc and 1 portable device is $75 if you have someone to share it with.

By contrast OziExplorer is $130 per computer and $40 per portable device software only, you have to supply your own maps. Tasmaps digital costs $1100 for 1:25k  series, $275 for 1:100k seires and $247 for all the town maps=$1622

 Viewranger is even cheaper and has NZ maps but hasn't done Australia yet, says it will soon.

 The USA uses geoPDF for digital mapping by the US Geological service and the military. These maps are all a free download(US taxpayers have paid for them), and while they can be viewed in acrobat reader, you get the full mapping capability by adding Terrago toolbar and compositor on your computer ( any operating system that installs acrobat reader), and they have an android app, also free, so you can track and create routes etc. It is designed for anyone from walkers navigating to serious surveyors, has layers which include full aerial and satellite photos so you can compare the map to the photos, can layer on roads etc not just photos but proper ground surveys of where they really are). This appears to be the future. Geosciences Australia are releasing 1:250000 of all Australia for it (free), more will follow. As the android app is not on google play but only available as an apk from the Terrago website it requires "install third party apps" permission, and to add maps you connect phone to PC and copy the maps into a folder in the operating system. So there will never be an iOS or windows phone ap (they won't allow users to do this), but if Firefox operating system for mobiles, and maybe another Linux based system gets going there may be alternatives. If you have an old iPhone you can connect it to a Linux computer, root it, and install android over the top. Warranty kaput! UBUNTU Linux is a free download and will install as a dual boot on anything.

Further remarks from Basil:

Phil D is right about the Etrex10 not supporting topographical maps, while the more expensive models do. Again, there are other makes such as Magellan, which you might investigate to see at what price point topographical maps become an option. However, for the way I use the Etrex - pre-loaded tracks and waypoints, with a printed map, it is a superb and rugged device with brilliant antenna performance compared with its predecessors. The fact that it is navigating using the American and GLONASS satellites (sometimes up to 20 at a time!) also enhances accuracy. Yes, my smartphone has GPS and supports maps, but I wouldn't see it as suitable for the very frequent handling in all weather conditions that the Etrex gets, such as the very wet finish to the recent Mt. Cripps walk. I'm sure there's room for difference of opinion/style/usage patterns, and we are very happy to circulate information about the smartphone options. For some BNA participants, the fact that they already have a smartphone but not a separate GPS will make the information Phil D has sent very valuable. In the meantime, sending out .gpx and .kml files ahead of each walk is certainly creating interest in how to use GPS.

Further remarks by David M:

In 2004 I joined the Boots N' All leaders team and purchased a Garmin GPS, OziExplorer and part licence of Tasmanian Maps 1:25000 and 1:100000 series.  There was never a problem with the maps except some of them being well out of date. OziExplorer had to be updated periodically and was successfully transferred from one computer to another at least twice. Difficulties in the field with the Garmin were it did not work well within the rain forest and I had to take spare batteries with me for walks longer than a day. Garmin did bring out an improved model, which I duly purchased but in my opinion reception was still not 100% in forest areas.
In going bush walking, I carried both GPSD and phone and batteries for both.
In 2012, I was persuaded to invest in a Smartphone and Memory Maps. In purchasing Memory Maps, I was given access to Tasmaps 1:25000 and 1:100000. There have been no issues with satellite reception.
I therefore favour the Smartphone solution as it is considerably cheaper as an investment than having a separate GPS, is less total weight to carry as the GPS is eliminated and is technical equivalent or better than the GPS.

Response by Basil T:

In response to David's remarks, I'd be extremely surprised if the antenna performance of smartphones in difficult conditions such as forest or deep valleys outperforms the latest generation of handheld GPS devices. Battery life is also a serious consideration if you are using GPS as I do, left powered up all the time to actually navigate by while walking. I can also leave my GPS in a pouch on my pack harness without worry about water penetration, and it will work under all conditions, regardless how wet or frozen my fingers are.

David M again:

One thing that we have not considered is the loss of the smartphone compared to the loss of the Etrex  losing my phone would be worth far more to me than a brand new Etrex.

Basil T:

That's true. Also worth considering that the average smartphone would take much less kindly to being dropped on a rocky track than a purpose-built GPS. Not sure about smartphones, but my Etrex10 has an attachment point for a lanyard which goes around my neck, so if I trip while I'm walking and navigating using the device (being a clumsy sort of chap), it's still safe. (Yeah, yeah, I know there are lots of other scenarios.)

**Technical glitch!

Some uploaded gpx map files on our file repository, when you right-click on them to download  and Save target as” to your computer, identify as xml files due to our mapping software not adding sufficient information to the file “header”. If you come across this, go ahead and save the file anyway, and then go to the folder where you saved it,  and change the .xml to .gpx  (you would need to have the View settings for the folder set to show file name extensions). You can then import in to your mapping software or device as usual.
Let us know, because we can manually edit the files and upload the corrected version to the website. We have progressively corrected many of the previously uploaded gpx files.