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Garmin eTrex 32x Review

The addition of an altimeter and electronic compass make this lightweight unit one of the most cost-effective options on the market
Garmin eTrex 32x
Photo: Garmin
Best Buy Award
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Price:  $300 List | $280.00 at REI
Compare prices at 3 resellers
Pros:  Reasonably priced, includes barometric altimeter and electronic compass, small and lightweight, long battery life
Cons:  Small screen, lack of connectivity, tedious user interface
Manufacturer:   Garmin
By Aaron Rice ⋅ Review Editor  ⋅  Jun 25, 2021
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73
OVERALL
SCORE


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

Our Verdict

The capstone product of the baseline models offered in Garmin's handheld GPS lineup, the eTrex 32x is much more capable than its price-point suggests. This petit handheld offers a user-friendly blend of simplicity and performance, by integrating higher-function sensors common in more expensive units in an entry-level package. Notably, this new-and-improved version features an electronic compass and barometric altimeter, which greatly enhance its ability to accurately navigate off-trail. While we wouldn't necessarily want to use this for navigation while driving due to the relatively small size of the full-color display, pre-loaded topo maps and routable navigation do make this packable unit a highly versatile option for practically any adventure.

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Garmin eTrex 32x
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Garmin eTrex 32x
Awards Best Buy Award Editors' Choice Award    
Price $280.00 at REI
Compare at 3 sellers
$450 List
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$550 List$99.13 at Amazon$300 List
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Pros Reasonably priced, includes barometric altimeter and electronic compass, small and lightweight, long battery lifeExcellent reception, large buttons, big screen, smart notifications and connectivityStraight-forward touchscreen interface, preloaded topo maps, camera for easy geo-tagging and sharingLow-cost, miniature-sized, reliable durability, accurateLightest touchscreen, Responsive, Preloaded with Geocaches, Bluetooth connectivity, Intuitive touchscreen controls
Cons Small screen, lack of connectivity, tedious user interfaceExpensive, bulky, complicated connectivity between devicesTouchscreen performance when wet, potential battery issues, expensiveNearly non-existent basemap, lack of mapping capability, insufficient internal memoryMinimal base maps, Battery life shorter than some, No preloaded topos,
Bottom Line The addition of an altimeter and electronic compass make this lightweight unit one of the most cost-effective options on the marketOur favorite model, this reliable and accurate GPS unit is full of featuresThis touchscreen unit strikes a nice balance between straightforward functionality and high-end capabilitiesPerfect for geocaching or tracking your next adventure, but not designed with mapping in mindThe Garmin eTrex Touch 35 introduces a nice touch screen and features to the lightweight eTrex line
Rating Categories Garmin eTrex 32x Garmin GPSMAP 66st Garmin Oregon 750t Garmin eTrex 10 Garmin eTrex Touch 35
Reception (20%)
6.0
8.0
8.0
6.0
6.0
Ease Of Use (20%)
7.0
7.0
8.0
6.0
6.0
Display Quality (20%)
7.0
9.0
8.0
8.0
7.0
Speed (15%)
7.0
9.0
8.0
7.0
6.0
Weight And Size (15%)
10.0
8.0
8.0
10.0
9.0
Versatility (10%)
7.0
8.0
8.0
4.0
7.0
Specs Garmin eTrex 32x Garmin GPSMAP 66st Garmin Oregon 750t Garmin eTrex 10 Garmin eTrex Touch 35
Battery Life 25 hours GPS Mode: 16 hours
Expedition Mode: 170 hours
16 hours 25 hours 16 hours
Water Resistant? Yes, IPX7 Yes, IPX7 Yes, IPX7 Yes, IPX7 Yes, IPX7
No. of Waypoints 2,000 10,000 10,000 1,000 10,000
Saved Tracks / Points per Track 200 / 10,000 250 / 20,000 250 / 20,000 100 / 10,000 200 / 10,000
Preloaded Maps Garmin TopoActive;
Routable (OpenStreetMap)
Topo 100k, US and Canada Topo 100k, US Simple Basemap Simple Basemap
Dimensions (in.) 2.1 x 4.0 x 1.3 2.5 x 6.4 x 1.4 2.4 x 4.5 x 1.3 2.1 x 4.0 x 1.3 2.3 x 4.0 x 1.3
Weight w/ Batteries (oz.) 5 7.5 7.4 4.6 5.7
Display Size (in.) 1.4 x 1.7 1.5 x 2.5 1.5 x 2.5 1.4 x 1.7 1.43 x 2.15
Display Resolution (pixels) 240 x 320 240 x 400 241 x 400 128 x 160 160 x 240
Built-in Memory 8 GB 16 GB 4 GB 6 MB 4 GB
Accepts Data Cards microSD microSD microSD No microSD
Touchsceen or Buttons? Buttons Buttons Touchscreen Buttons Touchscreen
Electronic or Differential Compass? Electronic Electronic Electronic Differential Electronic
Barometric Altimeter Yes Yes Yes No Yes
Wireless Communication? ANT+ Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, ANT+ Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, ANT+ No Bluetooth, ANT+
Satellite Systems GPS, GLONASS GPS, GLONASS, Galileo GPS, GLONASS GPS, GLONASS GPS, GLONASS
Ability to Add Maps? Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Support Satellite Imagery? Yes Yes Yes No Yes
Automatic Routing Yes Yes Yes No Yes
Vertical Profiling Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Camera/Video No No Yes, 8MP Camera No No
Picture Viewer Yes Yes Yes No Yes
Geocaching (paperless) Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Hunt/Fish Calendar Yes Yes Yes Yes No
Sun and Moon Information Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Area Calculator Yes Yes Yes Yes No
Battery Information 2 AA Batteries 2 AA Batteries 2 AA Batteries; Rechargeable NiMH pack (optional) 2 AA Batteries 2 AA Batteries
Online Connect Communities No Garmin Connect Yes No Garmin Connect
Screen Info Transflective, 65K color TFT Transflective color TFT Transflective color TFT Transflective, monochrome Transflective, 65K color TFT
Interface Information mini USB High-speed micro USB; NMEA 0183 High-speed micro USB; NMEA 0183 mini USB mini USB
What Comes in the Box? -USB cable
  • Documentation
-BirdsEye Satellite Imagery subscription included
  • USB cable
  • Carabiner clip
  • Documentation
-BirdsEye Satellite Imagery 1-year subscription included
  • Rechargable battery pack
  • USB Cable
  • Wall charger, w/ AC adapter
  • Carabiner Clip
  • Documentation
-USB cable
  • Documentation
-USB cable
  • Documentation

Our Analysis and Test Results

The eTrex 32x is just as small and portable as others in the lineup. But behind the scenes, this is a much more capable model than the others. The most significant difference is the inclusion of an electronic, 3-axis compass and a barometric altimeter. These provide sensitivity to put this price-conscious unit on par with much more expensive units in terms of position accuracy. Another great improvement is the inclusion of preloaded Garmin TopoActive maps, which provide the ability to re-route in the field and support routable navigation, both on- and off-road.

Performance Comparison


Compact, lightweight, and accurate, the eTrex 32x is the ideal...
Compact, lightweight, and accurate, the eTrex 32x is the ideal companion for extended backcountry trips.
Photo: Jill Rice

Reception


Considered against more expensive units — some with price tags more than twice that of this unit — the deficit of total accuracy in lieu of cost-savings balances out with the eTrex 32x. The small, lightweight body of this pocket-sized unit simply doesn't have the space to fit more advanced signal receivers. While definitive accuracy and position processing tend to get a bit jumpy under a thick forest canopy or in narrow canyons, the loss of one bar of reception is understandable — and really doesn't impede your ability to practically navigate complex routes.


Like most modern Garmin handheld GPS, this unit supports the ability to switch between GPS and/or GLONASS satellites for remarkable accuracy, regardless of where you are on the planet. For areas that support it, the eTrex 32x also has the ability to toggle WAAS/EGNOS for signal correction and enhanced position accuracy. Since these WAAS/EGNOS reference stations don't exist everywhere, we perform our accuracy tests without this option toggled. In areas of limited reception — we test inside, using a roof and walls to simulate the thickest overhead coverage — this unit tends to fluctuate between 25 and 35-foot accuracy. But in areas with better sky-view, the eTrex 32x averages a location accuracy of 11 feet. Considering that the basemap resolution is 20 feet, this is more than accurate enough to precisely follow a contour.

This unit out-performed any of our expectations, even when tests...
This unit out-performed any of our expectations, even when tests included navigating mountain roads that wind through narrow canyons.
Photo: Jill Rice

Ease of Use


Right off the bat, the inclusion of Garmin TopoActive maps — which include things like roads, trails, points of interest, and water sources in addition to topographic lines — makes the eTrex 32x so much more useful than lower-level eTrex units. Although the preloaded topo-maps eat up a chunk of the 8MB internal memory, it means you can essentially take this unit out of the box and out on an adventure, rather than spending time on start-up to manually add maps. This unit also supports Garmin's BirdsEye Satellite Imagery (through an additional subscription) to improve off-road navigation. To that point, you can also set up multiple user profiles, including options to "lock on-road" for driving, which allows you to take full advantage of the routable navigation.


A simple, easily configured button layout — featuring a joystick as the main mechanism of moving through menus and maps — makes it easier to use this unit with gloves on. Though the lack of a touchscreen will likely be cause for alarm for those accustomed to smartphone-like interfaces, the layout of the eTrex 32x is intuitive and user-friendly, making it more accessible to new GPS users. The 25-hour battery life, and the ability to choose efficiency of use based on battery type, is just another reason that this is a great option for winter use.

Though it is certainly not as streamlined as other user interfaces...
Though it is certainly not as streamlined as other user interfaces, the joystick is still the easiest (and most reliable) solution for use in a variety of environments.
Photo: Jill Rice

Display Quality


Units in the eTrex line are the smallest devices in this review, and it should be expected that you will not have the same accessibility as more expensive options with much larger screens — the screen on the eTrex 32x only measures 2.2-inches on the diagonal. While the touchscreen version does have a larger screen, this unit is actually superior in terms of quality, with a respectable pixel resolution of 240 x 320 of the full-color display. So even though the screen is small, we never found any issue with navigating topographic maps to their full potential.


Although it loses a bit of its color saturation, the transflective screen is easily readable even under the harsh, midday sun of the desert Southwest. This unit features a specific button for adjusting screen brightness, which can quickly be adjusted with the press of a button to low, half-, or full-power, or can be incrementally adjusted using the joystick. Though it does support routable navigation, we wouldn't recommend trying to use the eTrex 32x without the aid of a co-pilot — the screen is still a bit too small (and perhaps a bit too dangerous) for regular, on-road driving navigation.

The screen may be small, but there was never a time where it wasn't...
The screen may be small, but there was never a time where it wasn't easy to read a map, even under the harsh glare of the midday sun.
Photo: Jill Rice

Speed


The standout feature of the eTrex 32x is the inclusion of a barometric altimeter and a 3-axis electronic compass. This is a big deal in terms of processing speed and position accuracy — particularly along a vertical profile — and is especially significant considering the price-point of this GPS since these sensors are typically reserved for more advanced units. A cheaper differential compass will only update your bearing when in motion, while an electronic compass continually updates your positioning. The addition of an automatically calibrating barometric altimeter provides an accurate fix on elevation, and all of this happens with only a minimal bit of lag-time — really, only a split second between reads.


While the price-point eTrex 32x is a bit more jumpy than more expensive models, it is not any less useful when navigating on a bearing. In fact, when directly compared to the rest of the field, this is one of the fastest units to gain reception and gather your location. After powering up, this unit takes an average of only 38 seconds to acquire a location with relative accuracy and tends to refine that to its best precision in less than two minutes. This means that if you're traveling a well-trodden path, you can opt to leave it powered off in your backpack, knowing that you won't have to hang out long on the trail if you need to pull it out to check location.

The user interface of the eTrex 32x takes a bit more than compared...
The user interface of the eTrex 32x takes a bit more than compared to touchscreen models, but that is balanced by the reception speed when you just need to quickly check your position.
Photo: Jill Rice

Weight and Size


Any device in the eTrex lineup is really a standout in terms of size and weight. But the eTrex 32 is truly remarkable because it is able to maintain the same packability despite its additional sensors and increased capabilities. While the manufacturer lists 5 ounces (with batteries), our scale measured only 4.6 ounces — remember, for ultra-light packing, every fraction of an ounce counts. This unit is small and lightweight enough to slide into a pant's pocket for a day-hike, as it is convenient to stash in a backpacking pack for extended trips.


More compact than slim, this unit is still comfortable sitting in...
More compact than slim, this unit is still comfortable sitting in the breast pocket of a lightweight rain jacket or windbreaker.
Photo: Jill Rice

Versatility


Small, lightweight, and more capable than other price-point models, the eTrex 32x is a highly versatile unit for practically any outdoor adventure. While its basic user interface may not be as streamlined as some of the other touchscreen models, it is comparatively much more adaptable to both wet and snowy conditions. This is definitely designed to be a walking device but does still come preloaded with road-routable maps — a feature particularly handy for navigating complex systems of forest roads. Although these simple devices are lauded by the geocaching crowd, the addition of the barometric altimeter and electronic compass make the eTrex 32x a standout in the lineup as a much more powerful unit for complicated forms of navigation.


While the eTrex 32x doesn't offer the same level of additional...
While the eTrex 32x doesn't offer the same level of additional options and widgets as more expensive options, it solidly performs in all of the key areas critical to a quality GPS.
Photo: Jill Rice

Value


Enhancements aside, the eTrex units have long been our favorite in terms of balancing performance and value. But considering the additions of altimeter and electronic compass to the eTrex 32x, this unit presents an exceptional value. These two sensors, in particular, are often reserved for GPS units at a much higher price point — while you may not get all of the bells and whistles of those more expensive units, you can count on the same core functionality.

With the mapping capabilities of the modern smartphone, it is a...
With the mapping capabilities of the modern smartphone, it is a tough contest for GPS-specific units. However, the minute size of the eTrex 32x puts up a good argument for carrying this for navigation, instead of your phone.
Photo: Jill Rice

Conclusion


As a basic, well-designed handheld GPS — now with the enhanced capabilities of an electronic compass and barometric altimeter — there are very few places that the eTrex 32x cannot take you. Considering that you can access this level of functionality at a fraction of the cost of comparably advanced devices makes this unit a remarkable standout as an entry-level option.

Aaron Rice