Background: Some years ago I purchased a Magellen Explorist 300 GPS unit for hunting, hiking, kayaking and other back country activities. It was a reasonably priced smaller handheld unit that has a basic screen (no color and no touch screen), could not download maps nor did it have a companion computer program for mapping, planning, etc. Additionally, now that I have to wear gosh darn reading glasses the small, low contrast screen had become frustration. Finally, I have a habit of going fair distances off trail and in the swamps where distinguishing features can be hard to see. One morning, many years ago while turkey hunting near the Suwannee river and Gulf of Mexico I was working towards a gobbler I heard deep in the swamp. As I went deeper and deeper into the swamp a heavy fog rolled in and it wasn’t long before I was unsure where I was. The day was overcast to start with then with the heavy fog I couldn’t see the sun, there were no roads nearby to listen for cars or trucks, nothing to provide any bearings and I was in a very generic looking swamp in an area I had never hunted before. I had decided last minute to go turkey hunting that morning and was light on supplies and didn’t tell anyone where I was heading…..all the ingredients for getting lost or worse. I hadn’t brought my trusty handheld Silva compass, no first aid supplies, no food, nothing to start a fire with, no whistle, I’m not sure I had even brought my water bottle. I decided that my best bet was to head in a Easterly direction the only way I thought to choose the direction was to look at the lichen growing on many of the trees in the swamp and interpolate what an Easterly direction was. Because Lichen often (but not always) grows more on the Northern exposure of many trees it seemed like a good bet. I did make it out eventually to a road a mile or two further South than I had hoped but hey, I eventually made it back to my truck, with lessons learned. I’ve never claimed to learn easily or fast and most of my better habits have been learned through experience, sometimes dangerous experiences. The lost turkey hunt experience has led to always having a compass in my gear kit and often a GPS unit.
It’s worth a brief mention of why I never, ever want to use my smart phone as a navigation tool in the woods or on the water. First, I've been hunting since long before the invention of the mobile phone…. yes, that may seem unbelievable to all the whippersnappers out there! These days I use my iPhone in my car and truck all the time when driving, even off road driving however, it has too many limitations in the backcountry. A few of my gripes are, fragile build, not water resistant, comparatively short battery life. And, yes I know you can get water resistant cases, carry back up power, and there is lots of good software out there. It’s just not my choice; I want to keep my phone packed safely in my kit and take it out as little as possible.
Being a thrifty guy I set up a budget of approx. $300 and started reading up on handheld units that units with a color touch screen and mapping capabilities. It didn’t take too long to determine two things, one, my budget wasn’t large enough and two, that the Garmin Oregon 600 was the front-runner. To deal with the budget problem I looked for a refurbished one. I always buy refurbished computers, and just about everything else I can. I found GPS Nation had a factory refurbished Garmin Oregon 600, in a factory box with all the docs, etc. that fit my budget and they double the factory warranty from one to two years and threw in free shipping. I also ordered the rechargeable batteries. Happy with that I ordered it online and just a couple days later it showed up.
The unit was easy to install the standard AA or rechargeable batteries. When the unit is connected to a computer with the supplied USB cord it is also charging the rechargeable batteries. The quick start guide was easy to follow and connecting it to the computer and getting a basic feel for Garmin’s free mapping software called Basecamp was decent. Getting a basic feel for the home screen went well and the visibility of the screen is great, even in the Florida sun. I did a walk about the neighborhood and found it sooooo easy to record a waypoint and add a description and choose an icon thanks to the touch screen. There is no going back to any unit without one.
The unit seemed to acquire satellites quickly and it appears to be very accurate. I liked the compass and line of sight feature also. A couple other attractive features are the customizable “dashboard” where you can choose what information you want displayed in various windows, the moon phase feature and the ability to download topo and other maps.
Going to take it hiking and start hunting with it in the near future and will provide a field report at a later date.
I’ve given the Magellen unit to Hoginator and we may do a follow up post on what he thinks of it. Finally, another reason I wanted to upgrade my GPS is to upload waypoints to my computer for trip planning and digital scouting.