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Is the Garmin eTrex Vista HCx the be all and end all of rugged, portable GPS receivers? After stumbling in the dark for what must be decades, we found that one afternoon we simply had too much time on our hands. For some reason, we ended up discovering the art of Geocaching and with our friend’s trusty Garmin eTrex Vista HCx in hand; we wasted a whole day getting absolutely wet trying to find stashes. Our Garmin eTrex Vista HCx Review is below:

Our geocaching day was an experience, but it also gave us a great chance to take a look this portable and functional GPS receiver. After adventuring around the country geocaching, we’ve since realized that if you’re at all into going off the beaten track, then a handheld GPS receiver is so much fun.

For under $250 at Amazon, the question you’re most probably asking however; is should you buy it? Let’s take a look at the main features:

  • Highly sensitive WAAS enabled GPS
    The WAAS enabled GPS is the biggest attraction to potential buyers, and we found that Garmin weren’t kidding when they said it was highly accurate and super sensitive. While running about the country isn’t the most accurate of tests, we found that we really were where it said we were! It’s not only sensitive, but locks on quickly and provides pin-point accuracy even without WAAS.
  • Color screen
    The reasonably sized, full color display is a pleasure to use. It’s all too often these days that you get something which works great indoors, only to be a complete failure outdoors. The Garmin eTrex Vista HCx had no problems on even the sunniest of days and the unit’s backlight is bright and does a great job in ensuring that regardless of conditions, the display remains clear.
  • Waterproof housing
    One of the main strengths of the Garmin eTrex vista is the fact that the device is fully water proof and ruggedized – perfect for the outdoor enthusiast. Keys are vulcanized rubber and easy to use and the device really is waterproof. It is NOT buoyant however so while it’ll survive the harshest of weather conditions, who knows what might happen if it sinks to the bottom of a lake!
  • 25 hour battery life
    The Garmin eTrex Vista HCx takes AA batteries and lasts for around 25 hours on a single charge. You can probably expect between 18 – 23 hours of realistic usage.
  • Digital compass
    Obviously, knowing where you’re going is kind of the point of a GPS – so with the digital compass that’s included with the Garmin, we have to admit we were somewhat disappointed, as you can’t use the digital compass until you get below a certain speed. That’s all very well and fine, but combined with the fact that you have to ensure you hold the GPS completely level like a table’, it’s finicky to use and more of a gadget than a tool.
  • Barometric altimeter
    The barometric altimeter was just as you’d expect – and while it needs to be calibrated, it does exactly what it says and integrates with the Garmin in recording waypoints, automatic routing and letting you know exactly where you are. Once it’s set up it’s a breeze to use. If only the compass was this simple!
  • Automatic routing
    With two modes of automatic routing, you can choose from an ‘as the crow flies’ direct route to your destination for off-road pursuits, or alternatively use the on-road navigation. To get the most out of automatic routing and the Garmin, one has to purchase optional Garmin eTrex Vista HCx maps such as the CityNavigator which provide a great deal more detail.
  • Maps
    The Garmin eTrex vista comes with the standard Basemap that’s included in all Garmin products. If you want to make the most out of the Garmin eTrex Vista HCx, you’re going to need to upgrade the maps at some point and buy more.
  • Track log
    It’s actually really easy to store your journey information as you go with eTrex vista as the track logs marks what’s essentially a breadcrumb trail along your destination recording your speed and altitude.
  • Geocaching support
    For the fans of geo caching, Garmin included a special geo caching mode which switches to compass navigation when you get closer to the destination.


Great value, high quality GPS receiver, but no maps included other than the basemap means that you’ll need to buy additionalGarmin eTrex Vista HCx maps

On the whole, the Garmin eTrex Vista HCx lives up to its reputation as one of the most affordable, rugged hand-held GPS receivers out there. There’s a reason why Garmin is one of the market leaders, and that’s because they know what they’re doing. With the Garmin eTrex Vista HCx best price now below $250 from sites such as Amazon, you can pick-up an award winning GPS that really can take you anywhere.

Overall, while we found this a fantastic piece of kit, the eTrex Vista lacks some more advanced features and there are some minor quirks in the software, for example the Geocaching and Compass leave a bit to be desired, and a few more Garmin eTrex Vista HCx accessories such as Micro SD card would be fantastic. However, for under $250, you really can’t find a more affordably priced GPS unit

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