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Application to test the Delorme Earthmate GPS PN-20 Bundle

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  • Rebecca Sowards-Emmerd
    And I tried to keep this short.... Application to test the Delorme Earthmate GPS PN-20 Bundle Biographical Information Name: Rebecca Sowards-Emmerd Age: 29
    Message 1 of 1 , Mar 2, 2007
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      And I tried to keep this short....

      Application to test the Delorme Earthmate GPS PN-20 Bundle

      Biographical Information
      Name: Rebecca Sowards-Emmerd
      Age: 29
      Gender: F
      Height: 5'5"
      Weight: 125
      Email Address: rebecca@...
      Location: San Francisco Bay Area, California

      Backpacking Background:
      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.

      Field Information
      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

      Testing Strategy

      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 -
      both work.

      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
      alkaline batteries.

      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
      Survival Guide!

      Test Status/History:

      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
      MontBell arrives.
      - 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
      Designs Electra.

      Of particular relevance to this test call, my earlier GPS reports are here:
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