Garmin eTrex 30 Hiking GPS Review

The eTrex 30 is the top of the line of Garmin’s popular eTrex series. It has all the functionality of both the eTrex 10 and eTrex 20 models, then adds the brightest, clearest screen, wireless connectivity, a barometric altimeter, and assorted other bells and whistles that make the eTrex 30 almost as capable a device as Garmin’s bigger and more expensive handheld navigators.

When choosing handheld navigators, bigger isn’t always better. While a larger screen is always useful when you’re looking at it, lugging around a big device when you’re hiking, hunting, or geocaching can be tiresome. That’s where a device like the eTrex 30 actually outperforms more capable but larger GPS navigators. It’s small, light, easy to use and supremely durable, and for many people that require navigation devices when they’re out in the wilderness, any additional capability would be superfluous, and a bigger size would only be an annoyance.

Garmin eTrex 30 Hiking GPS

Garmin eTrex 30 Worldwide Handheld Hiking GPS Navigator

 

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Specifications

  • Ruggedized handheld GPS-enabled navigation unit
  • Optimized for both GPS and GLONASS connectivity
  • 2.1 inches x 4 inches x 1.3 inches thick
  • 1.4-inch by 1.7-inch full-color TFT display
  • Weighs 5 ounces with batteries installed
  • Up to 25 hours of battery life
  • Takes two AA batteries
  • Waterproofed to IPX7 standard
  • USB connectivity
  • Wireless connectivity to similar devices
  • 1.7 gigabytes of internal memory
  • Can accept microSD cards to expand memory capacity
  • Saves 10,000 waypoints and 200 tracks
  • 3-axis electronic compass
  • Built-in barometric altimeter
  • Paperless geocaching enabled
  • Custom map compatible
  • Also functions as a picture viewer
  • Compatible with Garmin Connect online community
  • 1-year limited warranty

Features

Like the entire line, the eTrex 30 is entirely controlled by only six buttons that are arrayed on either sided of the unit, with one small joystick on the front face. The buttons are intuitive, and they do double and triple duty depending on what mode the unit is currently in. Users can zoom in and out and navigate menu lists, call up the main menu, hit a back button to return to the last menu item or function, turn the unit on and adjust the backlight, and pan the map and mark waypoints easily with the ruggedized buttons. While the display needs to be small to fit on such a small device, it’s full color, sharp, and easy to read even in direct sunlight.

Icons Make Menu Navigation Easy

The eTrex menus use icons to make operation of this hiking GPS simpler without reading a lot of text in dropdown menus. The main interface lets you choose a compass, map, waypoint, trip compute, and the setup menu with the touch of a button. Choosing any of these utilities immediately brings up an application or an easy to read list of available functions.

Aerial Views Are Great For Getting Your Bearings

The eTrex 30 is equipped with Garmin’s bird’s eye aerial views, and users love being able to see where they are on detailed topographical maps and satellite views to look for visible landmarks and anticipate the appearance of upcoming waypoints. Downloading a set of maps and aerial views incurs a one-time cost, or you can get a yearly subscription that will keep them updated continuously if you prefer.

Customize Your Route on the Fly

Garmin’s advance track navigation is as good as any manufacturer’s offering. When you choose a track or route, the device displays an optimized path that you can follow along with on the device as you travel, but you can also alter it at will as you go without starting all over. You can set waypoints to suit your schedule and stamina instead of relying on markers based solely on geographical points of interest.

The Garmin eTrex 30 has a handy profile utility that lets you set up groups of setting that are optimized for different users, or different activities for the same user. If you like to bike, horseback ride, kayak, and hike, the device lets you have the proper settings ready for you at the touch of a button.

A Capable Compass Can Be a Big Help

When you’re socked in with heavy fog, in the dark, in a slot canyon or tunnel, or under deep forest canopy, the ability to read a compass instead of relying on a topographical map can be crucial. One problem with electronic compasses is that they don’t work when you’re not moving in the way that a mechanical compass can. The eTrex 30 is equipped with a 3-axis electronic compass that allows you to stop and get a reading, and doesn’t require you to hold the device perfectly level to achieve an accurate result. It’s a very useful backup to GPS connectivity, and for some users that like orienteering, it can be a fun alternative to using a map all the time.

Pros

  • Bright, sharp, easy-to-read display, even in bright sunlight
  • Extremely accurate positioning
  • Small and easy to carry
  • Extremely rugged case is ready for rough use
  • Menus and user profiles can be customized for easy use
  • Long battery life
  • Electronic compass can be used when standing still, without being held level
  • Bird’s eye view over topographical map makes identifying landmarks easy
  • Allows geocaching information to be gathered and saved without paper
  • Advanced track navigation allows users to modify path at any time
  • Altimeter helps users take grade information into account when planning treks and routes

Cons

  • Small display for such a capable device
  • Instructional materials aren’t thorough

Final Verdict

Garmin eTrex 30 Hiking GPS

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The affordable price coupled with the big feature set of the Garmin eTrex 30 makes it into a winner in the handheld GPS market. Users have almost nothing but good things to say about it in reviews. Over 65 percent of reviewers give the eTrex 30 four or five stars. Users are impressed with the ruggedness and durability of the device, and many recount stories about abuse that the devices have suffered during hard use out in the wilderness and kept on working.

Some users like the device so much that they load additional map sets and use the unit for driving, walking, riding, and boating. Users also report that they like the freedom that comes with not having a rechargeable battery to look after, and like simply putting in AA batteries and forgetting about chargers. The eTrex 30 is highly recommended.