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Garmin eTrex 10 Review

Perfect for geocaching or tracking your next adventure, but not designed with mapping in mind
Top Pick Award
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Price:  $110 List | $86.62 at Amazon
Pros:  Low-cost, miniature-sized, reliable durability, accurate
Cons:  Nearly non-existent basemap, lack of mapping capability, insufficient internal memory
Manufacturer:   Garmin
By Aaron Rice ⋅ Review Editor  ⋅  Jun 9, 2020
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70
OVERALL
SCORE


RANKED
#6 of 7
  • Reception - 20% 6
  • Ease of Use - 20% 6
  • Display Quality - 20% 8
  • Speed - 15% 7
  • Weight and Size - 15% 10
  • Versatility - 10% 4

Our Verdict

The Garmin eTrex 10 is the most price-point option in our review, and is our Top Pick for an entry-level unit for the geocaching crowd. But despite its price, we could not name it our Best Buy option, because it also severely lacks the GPS capabilities of even the next model up in the affordable eTrex line. This baseline unit impressed us with its speed and accuracy, making it a reliable option for tracking and waypoint marking. The size, durability, and battery life of the eTrex 10 also make it a great option to use in nasty weather. But its absence of a useable basemap and lack of internal memory doesn't make it very useful for navigation, particularly on anything longer than a day-trip.

Compare to Similar Products

Our Analysis and Test Results

The eTrex 10 is about as simple as it gets, and even Garmin considers it to be a "non-mapping GPS unit." While its preloaded basemap may appear blank — with the exception of major cities and borders — it does have the ability to mark waypoints and save tracks, which then allows you to plan and save routes later through Garmin BaseCamp. It is the most basic GPS unit in the eTrex lineup: the simple design features a monochromatic screen, only 6MB of internal memory, and does not include a microSD slot for any additional memory.

Performance Comparison


Small  portable  and plenty capable as a back-up just in case you get lost  this unit is perfect for alpine climbing.
Small, portable, and plenty capable as a back-up just in case you get lost, this unit is perfect for alpine climbing.

Reception


All of Garmin's units we tested employ WAAS/EGNOS-enabled receivers to help increase the accuracy of their signal by up to five-times. The acronyms stand for Wide Area Augmentation System (to support US-based GPS) and European Geostationary Navigation Overlay Service (to supplement GPS units when they cross over into pan-Euro territory.) At their most basic, both systems are a series of, "satellites and ground stations that provide GPS signal correction." This means that even a baseline unit, like the eTrex 10, boasts solid GPS reception — even if it seems like it pales in comparison to the competition.


In wide-open spaces with an unobstructed view of the sky, this handheld was able to track us with an accuracy down to +/- 7 feet — seriously impressive for a "basic" GPS unit. Even in areas that severely limit the extent of sky — and thus limiting the line-of-sight required for satellite reception — the eTrex 10 was able to operate on 4/5 bars, in both narrow slot canyons and under dense tree cover.

Thanks to the quality reception of this unit  we were still able to track our location in canyon country with impressive accuracy.
Thanks to the quality reception of this unit, we were still able to track our location in canyon country with impressive accuracy.

Ease of Use


This is a simple GPS unit, and as a result is very easy to use. Straight out of the box, you will be able to quickly flip through the single-screen menu of the eTrex 10, and figure out its major capabilities — the unit even comes with four, pre-set profiles to help you better manage options and settings.


While it does include somewhat superfluous features like a calculator and stopwatch, it's not really possible to do a whole lot of extra with this GPS. Using the eTrex 10 is almost inherently intuitive, thanks to a clean, five-button layout combined with a single toggle for moving about the screen — and very easy to use in cold weather while wearing gloves.

In order to get the most out of a handheld GPS — even an uncomplicated one — we cannot overstate the comprehension one will gain from reading the operation manual, and maybe even doing a little digging for tutorials online.

Great for marking water sources while scouting backpacking routes  not great for actually navigating those routes without an additional map.
Great for marking water sources while scouting backpacking routes, not great for actually navigating those routes without an additional map.

When it comes to using it as a navigational tool, the gigantic fault of the eTrex 10 is the lack of mapping capability. While it is technically possible to layout a plan on the unit through the Route Planner function, without a secondary topographic map you would be blindly placing waypoints on a blank basemap. If you pre-plan with Garmin BaseCamp, it is easy enough to upload and then follow a preset track to your destination. But even then, it would be nice if you were able to zoom into the map to track your progress at something better than the minimum resolution of 20 feet.

Following a pre-set track is easy enough through the forest  but if you are navigating complex terrain  it's impossible to tell from the blank basemap just what's going on around you.
This unit is capable of marking waypoints at preset intervals -- either distance or time -- which can make it easier to review and re-work your plans for later.

Display Quality


The eTrex 10 is a stand-out in our review as the only GPS unit with a monochromatic (black and white) screen. The screen measures only 2.2 square inches, and offers a display resolution of a meager 128 x 160 pixels. While you might think that all of this would add up to a not-so-friendly user experience in terms of display quality, instead, we found that the screen was surprisingly easy to read.


Although the screen size is limited in comparison to many other models on the market, we expected to have a small screen attached to this particularly small, handheld GPS. Regardless of size, what impressed us most about the display quality was how easy it was to read the monochromatic screen in bright sunlight, especially when compared directly to other units in the eTrex lineup.

With many units  it's necessary to have the backlight at max in order to read the screen in full sunlight; we were impressed at just how visible this one was  even with the backlight all the way down.
With many units, it's necessary to have the backlight at max in order to read the screen in full sunlight; we were impressed at just how visible this one was, even with the backlight all the way down.

Speed


The eTrex series boasts the claim of the "first consumer grade GPS" to use both GPS and GLONASS satellite systems simultaneously. With both systems enabled, Garmin claims that, "the time it takes for the receiver to 'lock on' to a position is (on average) approximately 20 percent faster than using GPS [alone]." Through field testing, we found that the eTrex 10 absolutely lives up to this claim. This unit astounded us by taking less than one minute to go from powering on, to locating us within its finest resolution.


The differential compass requires movement to track your relative position, and it updates at a rate that we estimated to be about every 0.5 seconds. This amount of time was enough to notice a slight lag, but easily fast enough to keep up as we navigated our way through the forest on skis. The only time the eTrex 10 is truly slow is when entering waypoint information on its T9-style keyboard — unless, of course, you are a non-smartphone user with enlightened T9 skills.

With the GPS and GLONASS networks engaged  even this basic unit has a ton of satellites to choose from  increasing both speed and accuracy.
One odd thing we noticed is that this unit tends to drift  even when sitting still at home. The lack of electronic compass likely means that it isn't able to calibrate it's true location  unless you are on the move.

Weight and Size


The eTrex 10 is the definition of a handheld GPS unit. Its size and shape perfectly fit in your palm, which makes it incredibly easy to operate with one hand. For the sake of a readable screen and similarly sized battery storage compartments, almost every GPS in our review has nearly the same dimensions when considering width and thickness. The eTrex series — including the 10 — show off their miniature size when it comes to length: these units measure nearly two inches shorter than most others. Tipping the scales at 1/4-pound, the eTrex 10 is easily one of the lightest in our review as well. This comparatively tiny unit is as easily tossed into a pocket for a day-hike as it is stashed into the top of your trekking pack. We found it was even ergonomic and lightweight enough to simply hold in our hands while out on adventurous trail runs.

Perfectly palmable  just in case you need a GPS unit at hand to help navigate thick forests.
Perfectly palmable, just in case you need a GPS unit at hand to help navigate thick forests.

Versatility


This is where this GPS unit really loses points. Garmin states that the eTrex 10 is pre-loaded with a worldwide basemap — similar to their other basic models. But on the screen of the unit, that map is completely blank, with the exception of major cities and borders.


You have the ability to pre-plan routes, set waypoints, and review tracks post-trip on a computer through their proprietary GIS software, Garmin BaseCamp. But out in the field, plan to navigate somewhat "blindly" by following a track to each waypoint, or via the differential compass. We're sure that this next statement will come across with supreme irony: it may help to supplement this GPS unit with a topographic map. This eTrex 10 might work well for the geocache crowd, but we wouldn't want to take it along on an expedition.

Not much going on with the pre-loaded basemap! As you can see  all we get to go off is NM's most major city  and the CO/NM border at the top.
It is easy to download topo maps into BaseCamp  so that you can plan detailed routes and upload those tracks onto your unit.
A major plus of this unit is its capability for paperless geocaching: you can upload coordinates  descriptions  and hints; unfortunately  you can't store nearly as many as other models  due to the lack of internal memory.

Value


This unit is by far the least expensive in our review, but that comes with some pretty major sacrifices. For its simplicity, speed, and size, the eTrex 10 is hard to beat. But one must consider that the lack of mapping, in many cases, severely limits its capability as a GPS. With the ability to save and track waypoints — such as where you parked your car — we like to think of the eTrex 10 as more of a safeguard from getting lost, rather than a stand-alone navigation unit.

Need to get from up here  to back down onto that trail? No problem. The tracking ability of this unit will make sure you head back in the right direction  even if you have to go way out of your way first.
Need to get from up here, to back down onto that trail? No problem. The tracking ability of this unit will make sure you head back in the right direction, even if you have to go way out of your way first.

Conclusion


The Garmin eTrex 10 has all of the capability you need to get you where you want to go — just as long as that destination is pre-planned. The eTrex 10 is pocket-sized GPS unit with impressive reception quality and accuracy. A perfect, price-point unit for the casual geocacher, but not likely very useful for expeditionary travel.

Aaron Rice