Application to test the Delorme Earthmate GPS PN-20 Bundle
- And I tried to keep this short....
Application to test the Delorme Earthmate GPS PN-20 Bundle
Name: Rebecca Sowards-Emmerd
Email Address: rebecca@...
Location: San Francisco Bay Area, California
Most of the time I am a weekend warrior style backpacker, although I
like to get out on longer trips a few times a year. California has
such variety in scenery and terrain that I am never lacking in a place
to visit, and most weekends find me off in the mountains exploring new
trails and peaks. I follow lightweight, but not ultralight,
backpacking techniques, but am known to carry a few luxury items from
time to time. In addition to traditional backpacking I enjoy
snowshoeing, skiing, and snowcamping, as well as long dayhikes,
geocaching, and peak bagging. These activities are enough to keep me
busy year-round in the great state of California.
Background relevant to this test:
I am an experienced GPS user of 3 years. My Magellan SporTrak Color
is used in several scenarios, the most common being geocaching and
route finding (especially in the snow). It is carried on every hike
whether I am using it as my primary navigation tool or not. I
regularly take tracks to assist in return route navigation and take
waypoints to record important and interesting locations, such as a
waterfall I photographed or an unmarked trail junction I don't want to
miss on my return.
I also regularly use two different topographic softwares: National
Geographic Topo! and Magellan MapSend Topo. I use the National
Geographic software to plan my hikes, and the Magellan Software to
load the corresponding topo and route data into my current GPS.
Other software used with my current GPS are
- ExpertGPS: I use this to edit geocaching waypoints and overlay
them on topo and calibrated park maps. This software contains
functionality to upload waypoints into my Magellan GPS.
- Geocaching Swiss Army Knife (or GSAK): This is a program that
allows complex manipulation of the data contained in a geocaching data
file (.gpx). This data can be manipulated for upload into a GPS to
include more information than a simple waypoint, if the GPS supports
it. This software also contains functionality to upload waypoints
directly into my Magellan GPS.
My computer is capable of running the Delorme Topo software and
connecting to the Earthmate GPS PN-20.
The next four to six months provide an excellent testing window for
the Earthmate GPS PN-20. I have several trips planned during this
time in a variety of conditions, terrain, and difficulty levels.
March and April are prime snow months in the Sierra. I rarely plan
on specific locations more than a week in advance, but I know I will
be getting out for overnight snowcamping trips during these months. I
usually choose to head to Yosemite or the Tahoe Area for snowcamping,
and I can never know exactly what conditions I will face. I have been
out in the spring Sierra snow when it is 70 degrees F and sunny (with
the sunburn to prove it), and I have been out when it is below 0 and
stormy. I often don't know what to expect until the weather forecast
the day before the trip!
In the weekends in between my trips to the mountains I usually pick a
local park to do a long dayhike and geocaching. In the mild Bay Area
climate, March and April are usually cool (50s F) and rainy, but we
have days of sunshine and warmth as well. One weekend in March I am
leading a local geocaching event where we will car camp and do a
'geocaching deathmarch' - 14 miles and 4500 of elevation gain, with 12
caches along the way! It will be my responsibility to plan the route
and caches and share that GPS data with the participants.
May is a difficult month to predict since the conditions in the
mountains will depend greatly on the snowfall over the rest of the
season. I have one trip confirmed so far - I will be doing a four day
hike in Northern California in an area known as the Lost Coast. This
area is known for dramatic winds and rain storms, but we're hoping for
sunshine! I will likely also plan a few 2-3 day trips in the
mountains, but again, the details of those trips will depend strongly
on how the rest of the snow season plays out.
I'm planning on hitting the trail quite a lot during June, July, and
August. Several trips are already planned, and a few others are in
the works. My plans include an early-season five day, ~52 mile loop
in the Yosemite High Passes, in which we may still encounter some snow
(but hopefully be too early for the mosquitoes) and have to rely on
our routefinding techniques. I will be finishing the John Muir Trail
over two trips as well - a three day, ~36 mile trip from Tuolumne to
Yosemite Valley, and a two week, ~120 mile two-leg trip from Yosemite
to Mt Whitney. Finally, depending if the test period stretches into
the end of August, I'll be able to test on a four day, ~36 mile trip
out of Mineral King in the southern Sierra.
All of these summer trips will be in similar conditions - high
altitude (~10,000 ft, and including the highest point in the
contintental US), mostly above treeline, and warm with possible
afternoon thundershowers. I will take a few side trips that are not
on trail, so routefinding among the granite moonscapes will be a
technique I will need many times.
These are just my planned trips - I know I will get out on several as
yet unplanned overnighters on the weekends in between these trips as
To spare the application readers, there are so many things to test
with this Earthmate GPS PN-20 bundle that I'm only touching on the
major themes. As the owner of another mapping GPS, I've already
developed a set of scenarios where I use a GPS regularly. I know for
certain that the following things will be done regularly with the
Earthmate GPS PN-20.
Scenario A: Geocaching
I go geocaching approximately two times a month, usually while doing a
long dayhike. Planning for these geocaching dayhikes can involve
several pieces of software and many different functionalities on the
My current process:
1. I download a set of geocaches (.gpx file) from www.geocaching.com.
I then use ExpertGPS to view the waypoints on a topo or calibrated
park map. This helps me pick a good hiking route for the day. I
discard the caches not on my route and save the updated .gpx file.
2. I then open up the .gpx in GSAK to prep the waypoints for upload
into my GPS. GSAK allows me to customize certain fields such as the
coords, the waypoint name, a notes section, the icon, and others. I
then upload the waypoints into my GPS from either ExpertGPS or GSAK -
3. I then open my Magellan Mapsend Topo software and upload the topo
map data to the GPS for the area. Then, on my GPS's map screen, I can
see the caches on top of a topo map of the area. If I do not have a
good park map, I will also print out a map of my intended route with
the cache waypoints from National Geographic Topo.
4. While out in the field, the functionality of my current GPS suffers
as it is difficult to update any waypoint notes once I have found a
cache. I usually bring a pen and paper for any notes I need to take.
How will this process change/be tested with the Earthmate GPS PN-20
and DeLorme Topo USA?
1. The first step will be to see if both ExpertGPS and GSAK are
compatible with the Earthmate GPS PN-20. Will I be able to upload my
waypoints into the GPS with these programs? If it is not supported,
does the DeLorme Topo USA software support the .gpx format, or do I
have to go through a convertion process in GSAK to get it to a
supported format? Many geocachers use ExpertGPS and GSAK, but not as
many use Delorme Topo USA, so it would be good to test this new GPS's
compatibility with these programs.
2. Next, I will see what kind of cache information I can include in
the waypoint on the GPS. One thing I am really excited about seeing
is that Delorme has taken geocaching into account when designing the
waypoints screens and icons. They have a 'geocache' and a 'geocache
found' icon - it looks like I will easily be able to mark my found
caches directly on the GPS. There is also a 'comments' field for
every waypoint - I wonder what piece of cache information I will be
able to include in this comments field? Or, is it easily editable in
the field so I can make notes on my find?
3. During the test period I will also hide a cache. This will involve
taking a detailed coordinate measurement using the Average function on
the Earthmate GPS PN-20 that will later be tested over and over again
by visiting cachers.
4. Sometimes caches are 'offset', meaning that you use information in
one location to get details for the final cache location. In these
cases, I have to be able to manually enter waypoint data into the GPS
on an ad-hoc basis. How easy is this with the Earthmate GPS PN-20?
Scenario B: 4WD/backcountry navigating
Although I do not use a GPS as a 'main roads' navigational tool, I use
it regularly for backroad travel. There are many places in California
where trailheads are hidden among a maze of logging access roads or
old desert mining roads. I like to plan these drives in advance using
my topo software and upload the important waypoints into the GPS.
I am curious about the level of detail in the basemaps provided in the
Earthmate GPS PN-20. Will I be able to see two track forest roads, or
should I have the Topo maps uploaded for this level of data? Are
these types of roads even on the Topo maps?
This is also an area where I expect to use the aerial images. When
driving around, having an aerial image of the roads (many of which
never made it onto any maps) with my waypoints overlayed will be
incredibly useful, I imagine. There is nothing like coming to a
intersection of five 4WD two track roads when only two are on the map
and all I have is a waypoint with a note 'turn right here'. Which
right?? Having an aerial image of the area to see where the unmapped
roads go would be great!
Scenario C: Planning hiking routes (both day and backpacking trips)
I am incredibly detailed and anal about planning hiking routes in
advance. When I'm actually out in the field I am flexible and nowhere
near as picky about daily distances and intended campsites, but part
of my planning process includes painstakingly planning out each and
every step. I like to know how far I will go every day, how much I
will climb and descend, where I will camp, where I want to stop for
breaks, etc. I like to think that it is just my impatience - if I
can't be out there yet, I might as well pretend I am by thinking about
each and every detail! I currently do this in National Geographic
Topo software, carefully tracing out all the trails and marking
important waypoints for later upload into my GPS.
With the DeLorme Topo USA software provided as part of the GPS bundle,
I will do all of my upcoming hike planning in it. All the topo data,
routes, and important waypoints will be transferred from the software
into the GPS, which will then be taken out into the field and used for
navigation. I will also use the software to create the backup paper
maps that I always carry with me when on the trail.
Scenario D: Use while in the Field
I will use the Earthmate GPS PN-20 for four major functions while
active in the field:
1. Keeping tabs on my position using the topo map. I really like the
ability to look at the GPS map screen and see my position on the topo
map in relation to my overall route, which I can then compare to the
wider frame paper map I have in my hand. This is going to be very
useful with the layering cababilities, being able to overlay
additional information such as a compass bearing. It is also useful
to get elevation data when I am in a big climb (there is something
very rewarding about watching the numbers tick away when I'm hauling
my butt up a Sierra pass).
2. Using the GPS topo map screen and find functionality to get field
data, such as nearest water sources, good campsites, etc, both entered
as waypoints prior to the hike or ad-hoc using the basemaps and
uploaded topo data. Creating routes to these locations right there in
the field on the GPS is a useful feature that the Earthmate GPS PN-20
allows and will be tested extensively.
3. Actively mark trail turnoffs, waypoints I'd like to remember for a
future visit, and other important locations which can be used on
backtrack or for transferring back into the mapping software at home
for later reference.
4. Routefinding in bad conditions: There have been times where I have
been caught in white out or foggy conditions where a compass and map
was incredibly difficult due to landmark invisibility. Having a GPS
with topo map to navigate by can make those situations much easier to
handle, eliminating some of the stress and danger. As mentioned, I
always carry and know how to use my backup map and compass, but there
have been times where it has been the GPS that saved my butt when the
map and compass were nearly useless. Whenever I am in even slightly
questionable conditions I will take a track so that I can use the
breadcrumb, or backtrack route, if necessary. Most importantly, I
will test the breadcrumb navigation feature on the Earthmate GPS PN-20
in good conditions first so that I am comfortable using it.
General features to be tested:
1. Signal Acquisition: How fast does the GPS lock on to satellites
under dense foliage (such as coastal redwood forest), in a moving car,
at high altitude above treeline (I'll get to test this as high as
possible in the continental US, on Mt Whitney!), or after turning it
off at one location and turning it on again hundreds of miles away?
Does it hold a signal or drop it frequently? Is there a 'slingshot'
effect when I am moving fast? I have access to two other GPSs with
different antenna technologies, and I will be interested to see how
fast they all lock on in comparison to each other in the same location
- but no shoot-outs of course, I'm just curious here!
2. The Earthmate GPS PN-20 has a feature where the GPS can be turned
off so that other features can be used without draining the battery.
Is this useful? How? Can I use the compass in this configuration?
What features are usable without the GPS turned on?
3. GPS altitude - does the altitude reading make sense based on my
position on the topo map? This specific question comes to mind
because it is a discrepancy I have noticed many times on my Magellan.
My GPS elevation reading will be significantly different than the
elevation reading from my displayed position on the topo map. This is
especially true on steep climbs up peaks and passes. Essentially,
does my position and elevation reading make sense with what the map
screen is showing me?
4. How does the color screen look in sunlight vs under cloudy skies?
What about when I am wearing my polarized sunglasses?
5. Ruggedness/waterproofness: This guy will be taken out in the rain
and snow, tossed in a pack, dropped on the trail - it won't be given
any special care and it will be treated exactly as a 'rugged,
waterproof' item should be.
6. Memory - is the GPS space adequate for tracking and mapping needs,
or will I need to use the SD card slot?
7. Batteries and battery life: Is the battery indicator accurate?
What kind of battery life do I get? What about different battery
types? I'll test with lithium, rechargable NiMH, and standard
8. How does the compass calibration work, and how useful is it in the
field (compared to my handheld magnetic compass). Do I need to be
moving to get a good reading, does the GPS need to be flat or can I
hold it at any angle?
9. How is the 'feel'? Can I hold and operate the GPS buttons with one hand?
10. Screen layering: What is the most useful configuration for
hiking/geocaching/navigating? Can I save a set of
layering/customization to apply later (like a template), or do I have
to manually change it every time? What kind of customization is
allowed on the different screens? Can I display different things
depending on what I'm doing (I like EPE and elevation when hiking in
dense foliage, EPE and distance when geocaching, and distance and
elevation when following a route).
Legal Mumbo Jumbo:
Of course I have read and agree to all that is required of me in the
I am currently selected to test three items, but only two are active
at a time since the Red Ledge will be complete by the time the
- Red Ledge Covert Fleece Vest: LTR stage, due on March 20
- Icebreaker Tops: FR stage
- Montbell Down Hugger: Expected at end of March
All of my reports are here:
Some recent reports include the Light My Fire Meal Kit and the Sierra
Of particular relevance to this test call, my earlier GPS reports are here: