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Garmin ETrex 20 Review

   
Best Buy Award

Handheld GPS

  • Currently 4.0/5
Overall avg rating 4.0 of 5 based on 5 reviews. Most recent review: September 1, 2014
Street Price:   Varies from $159 - $200 | Compare prices at 5 resellers
Pros:  Lightweight, good battery life, reliable push buttons, above average display.
Cons:  Small screen, no electronic compass, buttons are harder to push than Garmin's 62 series, less accurate than $400+ models.
Best Uses:  Lightweight hiking and climbing, best value GPS.
User Rating:     
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 (4.0 of 5) based on 4 reviews
Recommendations:  75% of reviewers (3/4) recommend this product
Manufacturer:   Garmin
Review by: Chris McNamara ⋅ Founder and Editor-in-Chief, OutdoorGearLab ⋅ August 2, 2013  
Overview
This is the best value GPS available anywhere. It locates your position with reasonably efficiency and accuracy and helps to get you back on route or navigate in low visibility conditions. This is our favorite GPS for backpacking because it's the lightest GPS we've tested (up to 4. oz lighter than others!!) and it has great battery life.

This is the best value of the models in the eTrex series. The eTrex 10 loses the colored display and doesn't support maps or aerial imagery. The eTrex 30 adds features found on more powerful units: a barometric altimeter, wireless data sharing, and a -axis electronic compass. However, if you're going to pay more for other features we think it's worth stepping up several levels to the Garmin Oregon 600.

Check our complete Handheld GPS Review to compare all of the models tested.

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OutdoorGearLab Editors' Hands-on Review

Performance Comparison
Ease of Use
This GPS device operates with six buttons. A multi-directional toggle lies on the top face, zoom and menu buttons are on the left side, and the power button (also the backlight) and back button are on the right side. This configuration is easy to operate with your right hand. We usually run the zoom and menu buttons with our index and middle fingers and the toggle, back, and power buttons with our thumb. This configuration is easier and faster than the Magellan eXplorist 310's cramped design, which packs five buttons close together on the lower half of the face. Many of our testers choose the eTrex for winter mountaineering because its push buttons are more reliable in cold weather than touch screens.

The main menu is very similar to the ones found on the company's Dakota 20 and Oregon 550 units the difference being you navigate to and select pages with the toggle, not your finger. Main menu items can be arranged by pressing the menu button. Like with the 62 series, the zoom buttons will skip a page in the main menu and will move between keypads when entering text. Pressing the power button once will display the battery meter. Excepting the Magellan eXplorist 710 and Garmin Oregon 600, the 20 offers a more expedient workflow than any touchscreen device we tested.

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Zeb Engberg navigates in the High Sierra with the eTrex 20 GPS, our Best Buy Award recipient. Also pictured: Black Diamond Carbon Cork poles, 3/4 length Therm-a-Rest Ridge Rest pad, and Black Diamond Speed 30 and 40 packs.
Credit: Max Neale

This is compatible with Garmin's 24k US Topo and BirdsEye satellite imagery (~$30/year, not recommended). You can also save money and transfer
free maps and custom maps. It comes with the same navigation features as its more expensive siblings and can display the distance to the next waypoint as well as the distance to the final destination (DeLorme and Magellan units can't do both).

The eTrex series comes with six profiles that allow you to customize the display for various activities. For example, you can have four data fields for biking and two for hiking. You could track up (map orients in the direction the GPS is pointed or traveling) for hiking and north up (north is at the top) for kayaking. Or you could have a specific profile that displays certain maps or custom maps, such as Yosemite National Park trails on top of aerial imagery.

It has a plastic rail mount (the Oregon 550, 600 and GPS Map 62sc have metal mounts) that allows you to attach an excellent carabiner clip, bike mount, or other optional accessories to the device.

Weight
Though we didn't rank each GPS on its weight and packed size it's important to note that the eTrex is the best lightweight GPS we've tested. It's .9 oz. or 20% lighter than our Editor's Choice winner, the Garmin Oregon 600. This weight savings is fantastic because our testers never want to carry a GPS on multi-day trips where weight matters, and use it for only a very small percentage of the total trip duration. (We primarily only turn it on to confirm our position or to navigate in bad weather.) It's also among the most compact GPS units we've tested, another advantage in for many applications.

Related to weight, Garmin measures the device's battery life at 25 hours, which is considerably better than most other units tested. Our tests show that the 20 was much more efficient than touchscreen units and those that had electronic compasses. We started out bringing extra batteries for it, but after several trips up to one week long we stopped. Unless, we are doing a lot of navigation we don't bring extra batteries on most trips. Another benefit.

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Max Neale testing the Dakota 20 and eTrex 20.
Credit: Kirsten Lindquist
Satellite Reception
The small size impacts its reception and accuracy. We found that its recorded tracks were less accurate (farther from a known point, like a road) than other units. The device is also slightly slower to pinpoint your location in dense clouds and heavy canopy cover. However, this slight reduction in reception is not a drawback in most circumstances. Unless you're doing a lot of navigation in whiteout conditions or are marking the locations of important small objects, such buried treasure, the eTrex works great.

Display Quality
The small screen leaves little space for data fields in the map view and the buttons are harder to push than those on Garmin's GPS Map 62 series. The screen is easier to see than many plastic touchscreen units (such as the Garmin Oregon 550, Dakota 20, and Magellan 710) but not as good as the newer Garmin Oregon 600.

Conclusion
Whether you're looking for a GPS for backpacking, mountaineering, or paddling we highly recommend the eTrex 20. It gets the job done well and costs $200+ less than top-tier models. We feel that coughing up the extra cash for a more powerful unit is only worth it if you do a lot of navigation in foul weather or are mountaineering, where a better screen and more powerful navigation features could help you to avoid crevasses and cliffs in whiteout conditions. Though our testers rarely bring a GPS for backpacking they often choose the eTrex 20 because it is simple, lightweight, and has good battery life.

Other Versions
We believe the 20 is the best value model in the eTrex line. The Garmin eTrex 10 loses the colored display and doesn't support maps or aerial imagery. The Garmin eTrex 30 adds features found on more powerful units: a barometric altimeter, wireless data sharing, and a -axis electronic compass. If you want a more powerful navigation aid we suggest putting up the extra cash for the Garmin Oregon 600.

Garmin eTrex 20 Owners Manual

Chris McNamara and Max Neale

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OutdoorGearLab Member Reviews


Most recent review: September 1, 2014
Summary of All Ratings

OutdoorGearLab Editors' Rating:   
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  • 5
 (4.0)
Average Customer Rating:   
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  • 5
 (4.0)

75% of 4 reviewers recommend it
Rating Distribution
5 Total Ratings
5 star: 40%  (2)
4 star: 40%  (2)
3 star: 0%  (0)
2 star: 20%  (1)
1 star: 0%  (0)
Sort 4 member reviews by: Most Recent | Most Helpful
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   Sep 1, 2014 - 01:20pm
etrex10.ru · Skier · St.-Petersburg, Russia
The eTrex 10 loses the colored display and doesn't support maps

The eTrex 10 DOES support maps; as for the colored display loss and some else "fails" in design, as I have described in my review http://etrex10.ru/en/review.html, have given the user some very important features of hansheld gps device: long battery life (even longer, than the manufacturer declarers) and fasr screen redraw without freezes like eTrex 20.

But of cause I would trccomend eTrex 20 to my friend, if he would refuse my favorite but rather austere eTrex 10. However, I give 4 stars to this device.

Bottom Line: Yes, I would recommend this product to a friend.
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   Apr 18, 2014 - 11:18am
SCseagoat · Climber · Santa Cruz
I love mine! If you aren't familiar with handheld GPS units any of them can be complicated. You need to spend some time with them or preferably take an hour long class at a local outdoor store and you'll learn all you need to get going. Never use it to replace a Topo. Always carry both!
I'm really pleased with mine….love downloading maps.
Susan

Bottom Line: Yes, I would recommend this product to a friend.
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   Apr 18, 2014 - 08:25am
EWD · Skier · MIAMI
Not a good product to start with. Limited, unclear directions - loaded with unclear jargon and acronyms that users need to be able to understand for safe operation. The Garmin tutorials are marginally helpful as they assume I know GPS language. A HOW TO USE feature, in ordinary English, would be good for business.

Bottom Line: No, I would not recommend this product to a friend.
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
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   May 19, 2012 - 12:48am
The Etrex 20 fits my needs perfectly. I needed a low cost gps that I could use for navigating hiking trails near the bay area, as well as mount on my bike handlebars for a better bike computer. Highly recommended. Navigation on the map could be a little frustrating, but it's not a big concern really, and it's plenty customizable for any reasonable expedition.
Click to enlarge
after a 33km mtb ride
Credit: Biswaroop Mukherjee


Bottom Line: Yes, I would recommend this product to a friend.
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