Application to test the DeLorme Earthmate GPS PN-20 Bundle
Please accept my application to test the DeLorme Earthmate GPS PN-20.
I have read and fully
understand the BGT Bylaws (ver. .0609), the appendices, and all
pertinent materials, with all of which I will comply.
53 years old
6 ft 1inch tall (1.85 meters)
215 lb (98 kg)
erd <at> wilsey.net
Catskill Region, New York State
I enjoy walking in all its forms, from a simple stroll in the
woods to multi-day backpack excursions. Though by no means an extreme
ultralight enthusiast, from spring to fall my preference is to carry a
packweight of 12 lb (5.5 kg), more or less. In recent years, I've
rapidly moved to a philosophy of "lighter is better," within the
constraints of budget and common sense.
I have a fascination with maps and mapmaking. My first exposure to
DeLorme's products was the original edition of their "Topoquads 3-D"
program, purchased many years ago, and subsequently updated. These are
state-by-state collections of USGS quads on CD, paired with a powerful
program that can custom-print maps, show the elevation profiles for a
projected trip, etc., etc. I love Terraserver, Google Earth (and
Mars!) and similar opportunities to frivol time away.
My first (and only) GPS is the Garmin Vista, at the time of purchase
(probably around 2000) one of the more powerful units on the market,
with the ability to display maps from Garmin's proprietary software,
Topoquads. While the maps are often useful, they are primitive in
comparison with a USGS 7.5 minute quad, and I have long been waiting
for a GPS that can display these, and indeed one reason I have not
purchased a replacement is that I have been waiting for this feature
to emerge (another is that I'm fond of my old GPSI become attached to
gadgets, which is why I still drive my 300,000 mile old Volvo). To my
knowledge, DeLorme's product is the first on the market with this
capability, and it has the potential to be a revolutionary tool.
The ability to display layers of imagery present in the new DeLorme
unit is fascinating. While I'm not yet clear if this enhances
navigation with GPS (one of the things that I will examine if chosen
to test the unit), it does add a great deal of interest. To be able to
see one's location from a bird-eye perspective is cool, to say the
least. It may also be extremely useful. This is something that I want
to examine in the field.
My primary navigation technique is still map and compass, coupled with
the techniques of observational navigation. That is as it should be,
in my opinion, Navigation by GPS alone in the backcountry leads to
some distinctly interesting hiccoughs (there seems a tendency on some
people's part to trust the GPS over the terrain and common sense in a
manner that's distinctly scary). I have taught GPS technology and
theory, and I stress the need to navigate in the traditional manner in
addition to using the GPS as an adjunct. It's just another tool,
though an extraordinary one.
However, as a backup to conventional navigation, GPS is unrivalled.
Dead reckoning, for example, can result in some interesting mishaps,
easily corrected with a GPS and a UTM-ruled map. With a mapping GPS,
it's especially nice to be able to confirm that I am on the ridge I
need (much Catskill navigation follows ridgelines, which are
surprisingly easy to mislay). Once I have reception, as simple glance
at the screen is often all it takes. I've also used GPS navigation
off-shore at seathere's nothing more reassuring when kayaking through
a pea-soup fog than a waypoint for one's destination.
As I mentioned at the beginning, I'm a map junkie, and I like nothing
better than to be able to track a hike on my GPS, and then export the
track to a mapping program. I also have a substantial interest in
natural history, and I know of no tool better for marking an
interesting site (plant station, concentration of animal sign, or even
rock formations) than the GPS. Indeed, I often find it hard to imagine
how I did without.
If chosen, I will use the DeLorme unit as my GPS on all of my trips
for the test period (and, if it is as good as it sounds, all trips
thereafter)! These will include day hikes and backpacks in the
Catskills and Adirondacks of New York State, and other destinations in
the North-East. I am out every weekend, and some weekdays, all year
round. In the test period I will be at elevations to 5000 feet (or a
bit above), and will (depending on when the unit is received) be using
the GPS at temperatures from freezing or below to (at least) 70 F. My
region is densely wooded, and I will be very interested to see how
well the GPS acquires a signal through the forest canopy.
I do not geocache, but for the duration of the test I will become a
geocacher, as I realize this will be one application of the GPS that
will have wide interest.
Specifics (in partan exhaustive list would be unreadable)
1. Computer Interface.
I run a Windows XP machine, with 1 GB RAM. Since much of the
functionality of the Earthmate GPS PN-20 is controlled by its
interface with the Topo USA 6.0 program, I will want to examine how
stable that program is, and how easy and intuitive it is to learn. How
straightforward is it to use the program to load DeLorme Aerial Data
Packets, which appear to be the primary means by which quads and
aerial imagery are uploaded to the GPS? Will the GPS synch with
DeLorme's Topoquads? Will I be able to upload to the GPS quads that
I've previously purchased for use with that program from DeLorme (a
preliminary phone call to the manufacturer indicates that this should
be possible, and I'm very interested to put this to the test).
2. Construction of the unit.
How robust is the unit? Are the buttons conveniently laid out, and
easy to operate? Can they be used with a lightly-gloved hand (it seems
unlikely that they can be operated with a heavy shell but I'll also
give that a try)? Is operation of the unit fairly intuitive? Is the
screen resolution (176×220) adequate for display of aerial
photography, etc. Is the unit indeed viewable in bright sunlight? Can
the brightness level be controlled to conserve battery use? Are
batteries easily replaced? Is the unit thoroughly waterproof? If so,
will it (as with some GPS units) float? How easily are the SD cards
inserted? Is there any provision for an external antenna, handy in
mapping work? What is the battery life like with alkaline cells? With
lithium cells? How accurate is the built-in battery charge sensor?
3. Signal acquisition and quality
A GPS that cannot acquire a signal is a good paperweight. How good is
the PN-20's ability to pull in signal? How long does it take from a
cold start i.e. when the unit has traveled a considerable distance
from its last point of useit's usual for GPS units to take much more
time to (in effect) relocalize themselves? How quickly is a signal
acquired subsequently, with a warm start? How well does the unit
operate under dense tree cover? How quickly are positions updated, and
can the interval be controlled?
How good is the acquisition of the satellites that enable WAAS, which
provides the most accurate positions (these are geostationary
satellites in equatorial orbit and even when in line of site can be
hard to receive on some units advertised as WAAS-enabled, as it is).
How does the PN-20 establish elevation informationby GPS signal, by
barometric altimeter, or jointly? This is an interesting point to me,
as vertical positionselevationare by their nature less accurately
established by GPS than horizontal.
4. Firmware etc.
How stable is the firmware (i.e. the "operating system" of the GPs)?
Is it regularly and easily upgraded? Does the unit ever lock up or
exhibit other anomalies? How quickly is data uploaded/downloaded? How
useful is the built-in roadmap for, for example, getting to remote
trailheads? Is the data storage (stated as up to 10 tracks of 10,000
points etc.) indeed sufficient for all eventualities? [I find it hard
to imagine it's not, but
] How quickly does the screen redraw when in
Quad and aerial view mode with zoom-in and zoom-out, pan, and similar
This is such a huge subject that I can only touch on it. I've read the
Earthmate manual (available on PDF) and it appears to be set up
similarly to most GPS units, with a series of virtual "Pages," each
with its own set of options. I do have a few specific inquiries in
mind, but this just touches the surface. I haven't mentioned all pages.
Is the satellite constellation easily read? How orientation-sensitive
is the unit, and can the satellite page be used to optimize
acquisition and accuracy?
This is the single most important of the pages, and I have so many
questions I can't begin to go into the list
The Earthmate does not have a magnetic compass (many GPS units,
including most used for geocaching, do). It is therefore entirely
dependent on acquired signal for directional indication. Does this
prove to be a concern?
Trip info page
Is the information accurate and useful? Which information fields (from
the manual, up to 8 are possible; these are programmable) prove most
Are waypoints quickly findable? Can they be arranged in order or
proximity, alphabetic order, etc? Is it possible to toggle between
these modes? How useful are the "address" waypoints, which are
generated from the basemap? Can I find my way home using this feature?
What other waypoint lists are built in?
How easy is it to enter waypoint names on the virtual keyboard? How
easily are waypoints edited?
Sun/Moon page and Tide page
Both of these pages are potentially very useful. It's always nice to
know when night-hiking when the moon will be around (weather
permitting), and I like to know sunrise times when backpacking. How
accurate are these functions? As a kayaker, how good are the tide
tables; can they be relied upon?
Device setup page
To what extent is the unit customizable through this page? Are all of
the options logically arranged and easily navigated? Is it easy (say)
to switch from UTM to Lat/Long and back again? From NAD 27 to WGS 84?
What support is there for regional datums worldwide?
I will endeavor to keep the length of my report in line, and not to
rival Shane's epic production of a few years ago, though I make no
My extensive owner reviews and test series may be viewed at:
I am presently testing the Henry Shires Double Rainbow, the test of
which has just been suspended for an indefinite period, while Henry
tweaks the product. I have just completed and uploaded the IR of the
Valandré Mirage sleeping bag, and recently filed the IR of the P.O.E.
Hyper High Mtn pad. I was just selected for the test of the ULA Rain
Wrap. I don't foresee any problems handling my test load if I am
selected for the Earthmate GPS PN-20, as I use the Report Writer to
keep on top of my reports, making it comparatively easy to stay current.