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Garmin etrex 30 GPS review

Sunday, May 7, 2017 @ 11:03

Garmin etrex 30 GPS review

An incredibly versatile GPS that is ready to unleash your imagination.

Depending which hemisphere you are on, some of us are starting to enjoy this year's riding season! I thought of writing up a review of my trusty Garmin etrex 30 GPS which I use on many occasions. When riding, too!

When it comes to travelling I used to be a strictly paper map guy – old school all the way! However, I came across the etrex 30 when looking for a GPS for mountain bike trips. I needed something durable, equipped with an altimeter and reliable in forest camping conditions.

The little Garmin combines all of the above – it's water, dust and shock proof and it can track changes in altitude flawlessly. Touring through woody areas means not much sunlight – few possibilities to recharge batteries. A unique property of the etrex series is that the device runs on two AA batteries. The etrex 30 specifically, lasts for up to 25 hours with a single pair, even though I end up not buying any – rechargeable batteries are the way to go! That was exactly up my alley!

Soon I began to see the potential of my GPS. More often I would take it when travelling – apart from offroad and geocaching profiles, it also boasts one for automotive transport. Although the base-map that comes with the device is rather limited, I found that downloading free open source maps (OSM) works great! However, I have to download new maps and re-upload them manually to get the newest roads or maps of additional countries.

Some drawbacks include the small 2.2" screen and the rather slow processor which makes you wait if you have many maps/points stored. The user interface also takes some time getting used to: there is no keyboard or touchscreen, all typing is done via a single joystick.. Oh and I had to buy the handlebar mount (works both with bicycles and motorbikes perfectly) separately as it wasn't included in the original box.


The simplicity of it, especially when riding in off-road navigation mode, gives the experience a Dakaresque feeling to it. It lacks voice  command and guides the rider in text, accompanied by beeps when turns are coming up.

Check out this ride by the Youtube user Carlos Simões in Brazil: www.youtube.com with the Black & White etrex 10.
As you can see, the screen offers great visibility in direct sunlight and, as I've tested many times, at night. Apart from several scratches left as a reminder of my clumsiness, the GPS is in perfect order despite being in my possession for almost 4 years now!

Even though I usually plan my trips by adding points of interest directly into the GPS and letting it do the route planning, I tried it with several Tourstart.org user-made tours. It works great with importing shorter tours. However, it's important to have a good basemap for the country in question. I've noticed that longer tours sometimes need to be split into two or be recalculated on the way.

Making a fully custom route on the gps is definitely not easy, though – the small screen combined with the slow processor will make it a rather long project. Check out my motorcycle trip in Equador, the Garmin had no problem following and guiding me after uploading it from tourtart.org: www.tourstart.org/tour/Ecuador.


But with the introduction of the Tourstart Transfer (TT) software, uploading tours became even easier.. I've recently made a short tour and tried TT with my Garmin. It was easy peasy – the installation took less than 2 minutes and the software itself had no issues with recognising my not-so-mainstream GPS, which was pleasantly surprising!

I didn't even need to download the GPS file of the tour – by simply clicking on the Tourstart Transfer button under the “Download GPS data” link on wwwtourstart.org, the software started and I could upload the route straight away! Super exciting. Check out my weekend tour to the Lithuanian lake region: www.tourstart.org/tour/To the lakes and back while you're at it!

While on the road, I noticed that it's not worth bothering with removing waypoints on the way (e.g. if there are road works or something) – I simply navigate from or around the problematic part of the road myself. Meanwhile, the GPS recalculates the route and adjusts it according to my current location.

The Garmin performs well also when switched off mid-tour: despite the rather long booting time, it knows what's happening and allows for continuing the trip.

Should you and your buddies get such etrex 30s, it's also possible to transfer routes and tracks wirelessly, unit-to-unit. Not to mention it's versatility when combining sports, e.g. riding and hiking or riding off-road.


Lukas J.

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