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Reviews > Navigation and Map Gear > GPS > Garmin Colorado 300 GPS > Owner Review by Cheryl McMurray

GARMIN COLORADO 300 GPS  OWNER REVIEW

Review Date:  April 19, 2009

PERSONAL BIOGRAPHY

Name:  Cheryl McMurray
Age:  50 
Gender:  Female
Height:  5' 8" (173 centimeters)
Weight:  145 lbs (66.6 kilograms)
Email Address:  cherylswan@earthlink.net
City, State, Country:  Garden Grove, California, U.S.
Date:  April 19, 2009

BACKPACKING BACKGROUND

I've been backpacking and hiking for 3 years, mostly on weekends.  Backpacks are usually 2-3 day trips in the Eastern Sierra's with 38-50 lb loads (17-22 kg) depending on the season and distances around 30 miles (48 km).  One class 2 rock climb with day packs is common.  I am working towards lighter weight loads.  Day hikes are 10-15 mi (16-24 km) in the San Bernardino, and San Gabriel Mountains with loads of 15-20 lbs (7-9 km).  I have camped in snow, freezing temperatures, winds (once was gale force), but mostly fair weather encounters so far.

PRODUCT INFORMATION

Manufacturer:  Garmin
Year of Manufacture:  2007
Manufacturer Website:  http://www.garmin.com
Listed Weight:  7.3 oz (207 g) with 2 AA Batteries
Actual Weight: 7.75 oz (219 gm) with 2 AA Sanyo Eneloop Rechargable Batteries (carabiner attachment adds 1.25 oz (35 gm))
Unit Dimensions, WxHxD:  2.4 x 5.5 x 1.4 in. (6 x 14 x 3.5 cm)
Display Size, WxH:  1.6 x 2.8 in (4 x 7 cm)
Battery Life (according to Garmin):  up to 16 hrs (actual is 13 hrs using AA alkaline or NiMH Sanyo Eneloop)
MSRP: $499
PC/Mac Interface: USB Cable
Software:  Mapsource for Windows (Macintosh users read review)
Waterproof:  yes (claimed but not tested)

GENERAL INFORMATION


I ordered this GPS after trying a friend's CSX 76 and just loved the downloaded maps and color screen on that unit.  I had been using a non-downloadable GPS prior to this which did work fine but when I saw how valuable uploading maps was, I was hooked. The Colorado 300 had just come out and I decided to splurge on their latest technology.  This has turned out to be a good decision but only because it has the ability to update the firmware through the computer.  As usual, new models have bugs to work out and this unit was no exception.  Garmin has done a good job of addressing issues through their firmware updates.

Colorado 300 with carabiner attached in Map screen                                           Colorado 300 side view with carabiner attached  

COMPUTER INTERFACE

 I'm a Macintosh user but the software only came PC-compatible at the time so my husband was kind enough to let me load it on his laptop (if he wanted to be fed for next week). Mapsource and TOPO USA 100 K (priced $100) sold separately worked well for uploading maps into the GPS and viewing my trips afterwards (as well as editing tracks) on the PC.  One issue I had, though, was when I would upload  maps to the GPS and then later upload another map quad everything I had loaded previously disappeared and only the last map uploaded showed up.  Garmin said that this is the way it is designed.  My solution was to purchase the California/Nevada 24 K SD card that has much more detailed mapping.  Just insert the card, turn on the unit and there it is in all it's glory.  Garmin recommends removing it when making firmware updates or loading information from the computer to the GPS to avoid writing over the card.   I have not received a definite answer from them as to whether the card is write-protected or not.
 
Now for the Macintosh users who are stuck with PC software.  Garmin has created Macintosh software downloadable for free from their website that will enable one to convert the Windows maps to Macintosh compatible mapping along with the software to install and use on the Macintosh.  They started out calling it "Bobcat" but is now renamed  "Road Trip".  I have just finished installing all of it on my Macintosh and it works well.  The only thing the software won't do is print the map from the computer.  Screen capture is the only workaround so far that I've found.

One note:  The Colorado 300 is also compatible with National Geographics Topo software so if one has the latest version of that software, Mapsource or US Topo 100 K may not be needed.  I do recommend the 24 K SD card, though.  It's great.

SPECIFICATIONS (taken from Garmin Website)

Physical & Performance:
Unit dimensions, WxHxD:     2.4" x 5.5" x 1.4" (6.0 x 13.9 x 3.5 cm)
Display size, WxH:     1.53"W x 2.55"H (3.8 x 6.3 cm); 3" diag (7.6 cm)
Display resolution, WxH:     240 x 400 pixels
Display type:     Transflective color TFT
Weight:     7.3 oz (206.9 g) with batteries
Battery:     2 AA batteries (not included); NiMH or Lithium recommended
Battery life:     15 hours
Waterproof:     yes (IPX7)
Floats:     no
High-sensitivity receiver:     yes
Interface:     USB and NMEA 0183 compatible

Maps & Memory:
Preloaded maps:     no
Ability to add maps:     yes
Built-in memory:     384 MB
Accepts data cards:     SD™ card (not included)
Waypoints/favorites/locations:     1000
Routes:     50
Track log:     10,000 points, 20 saved tracks

Features:
Automatic routing (turn by turn routing on roads):     yes (with optional mapping for detailed roads)
Electronic compass:     yes
Touchscreen:     no
Barometric altimeter:     yes
Geocaching-friendly:     yes (paperless)
Outdoor GPS games:     yes
Hunt/fish calendar:     yes
Sun and moon information:     yes
Tide tables:     yes
Area calculation:     yes
Custom POIs (ability to add additional points of interest):     yes
Unit-to-unit transfer (shares data wirelessly with similar units):     yes
Picture viewer:     yes

FEATURES

The Colorado is a full-feature GPS usable for hiking, driving, and nautical navigation.  Separate maps must be purchased for those uses and can get expensive but it will do it all.  I have no experience with nautical or road features, though, only trail.  It comes with a clip-on carabiner attachment for attaching to ones pack.  The Satellite screen will tell me how many satellites it is locked into along with current elevation.  The Map screen shows a visual map of the area along with two data fields that can be customized. The Compass screen also has customizable data fields for navigating in this mode.  The  Elevation Plot screen shows elevation ascent and descent with two customizable data fields.   The unit also has the ability to Geocache.  Other than Geocaching, these are the screens I use the most.

There are so many settings and features on this unit that in order to make the most of this GPS, I needed to experiment and "play" with it a bit.  The manual is very general and, I found, limited.  Settings should also be researched like map data, coordinate settings, etc so that the GPS is compatible with the paper maps used.  It does claim to be waterproof but I have not tested that except in a light drizzle and the unit was fine.  It has a digital compass which works very well but it must be calibrated every time the batteries are changed.  This is important as calibration affects both the Compass and Map screens.  

FIELD TESTING INFORMATION

Testing Locations: Eastern Sierra's & Southern California Mountains.
Field Use:  Mt. Pickering (Eastern Sierra's), Jean Peak (San Jacinto Mountains), Icehouse Canyon Snowshoe (San Gabriel Mountains).  I have used this GPS every weekend for the last 2 years but will focus on these 3 trips.
Weather Conditions:  Fair, temperatures from freezing to mid 80's F (around 30 C).

Trip #1
Mt. Pickering (July 2008):

This was a three day trip in the Eastern Sierra Mountains. just west of Lone Pine, California, 28 mi (45 km) total, and 3,500 ft (1067 m) of elevation gain from the starting point to the top of Mt. Pickering.  It was in the middle of July so the temperatures were mild, mid 40s F (around 4 C) at early morning and 70's F (around 21 C) during the day.  I wanted to record this whole trip so I would have the route for the next year when I planned to lead it.  I had the Colorado 300 on from the start at the trailhead all the way to camp and then turned it off.  The distance of 10.5 mi (16.9 km) was accurate along with the tracking route, noted at junctions.  Very helpful.  The next morning we had an early start cross country along Rock Creek, up slabs to Erin Lake and then up a class two climb to Mt. Pickering.  The GPS elevation was within 10 ft of the elevation stated on the map at the peak (very good).  We then descended and headed back to camp for a 10 hr day and checked the mileage.  Accurate again.
  
I am now on my second set of Eneloop rechargeable batteries.  I try to change batteries when I'm down to one bar left on the battery indicator but if I let the batteries completely run out, I would get a longer  battery life but will risk the unit shutting down without notice.
 
Upon returning to camp I turned off the GPS and restarted it again the next morning for the backpack out.  I had to use the last set of batteries about halfway out (again with one bar left) using a total of 6 AA rechargeable batteries with half use on the last set.  See photo below of the Mt. Pickering ascent using Mapsource/Topo US software.  I estimate  that the GPS was on 24 hrs and used up two sets of batteries and half of the third set, never completely draining each set but coming close.

Trip #2                               TOPO US 100 K map with Mt. Pickering tracks
Jean Peak (March 2009):

This was a two day winter trip but temperatures only ranged from 35-70 F (2- 21 C).  I completed the trip on one set of rechargeable batteries with a total of about 8 hrs of use.  I did have to use it for navigation purposes when we took the wrong gully back and missed our camp.  I was able to locate the campground on the GPS due to the SD card I have with the 24 K detail but I could have also added a waypoint at camp before starting and navigated the same way.  I moved the cursor to the campground location in Map Screen mode, pushed enter and then enter again to "go to" and it led us back to our camp.  Note that if  the compass screen or even the map screen is used for navigating back, the GPS compass must be calibrated if the batteries have recently been changed.
  
One issue that I had with the unit is when I pushed buttons to navigate back, my fingers were quicker than the speed of the GPS computer inside and I confused the poor thing.  It decided not to cooperate any more and would not shut down so the only thing I could do was remove the batteries and replace them again to turn the unit off.  I then turned it back on and all was forgiven.  After calibrating the compass, we were on our way.  I contacted Garmin about this issue of "locking up" and they were not aware of any other reports for this problem.  They told me that I could send the unit in so that a repair technician could look at it.  It does not happen enough to warrant that yet.  When I got home and uploaded the tracking points to see the route and view where we had gone wrong I noticed my next issue which was the "phantom tracks" (tracking points that appear in an area that I never entered) with one straight line leading to the tracks.  I have had this issue with my previous GPS as well.  I contacted Garmin about this and they were not aware of any reports of this nature but said it could be "multipath error".  This is erratic tracking due to signals bouncing off of canyon walls.   This could be consistent with my location but I have been in many similar locations without experiencing this issue.  The photo below shows the route but this time with the National Geographic topo software.  The "phantom tracks" are at the end of the straight lines shown below.

                                                  National Geographics TOPO 24 K of Jean Peak trip with phantom tracks

Trip #3
Icehouse Canyon Snowshoe (December 2007):

We had starting temperatures around 30 F (around -1 C) and the Colorado had no problem starting up and locking into the satellites.  It is supposed to operate down to -4 F (-20 C) but thankfully I have not tested that feature yet.  We had around 2 mi (around 3.2 km) of fresh snow with footprints to follow but then the footprints disappeared and we were left to navigate on our own.  Since the unit was new at this point, I only had the 100 K map loaded but the trail under the snow still showed up on the Map screen mode.  It really came in handy to  be able to see if we were even close to the trail and navigate with the unit.  I then moved the arrow cursor to the saddle we wanted to go to and set a waypoint.  I then switched to the Compass screen mode with a "go to" and accurately headed up until we got a little too uncomfortable with avalanche possibilities (probably just our inexperience) given the slope angle and snow depth we were on so we turned around and just enjoyed the view of the winter wonderland all the way back out.

OTHER OBSERVATIONS

The backlight is useless out in the field unless I'm in shade or in very overcast conditions.  I can read the screen pretty well without it when I'm outside in good lighting conditions but sometimes it can be a challenge.  Inside I need the backlighting.
 
I have used alkaline batteries (disposable) yielding a 13 hr battery life and NiMH rechargeable batteries which will also gave me 13 hrs of battery life.  I have not tried lithium batteries yet.

I can manage (edit/delete) waypoints with the GPS that I have entered or saved but I cannot manage tracks or routes that I have saved on the GPS.  That is only possible on a computer PC or Macintosh and even then it is not very intuitive.  I would like to be able to view my tracklog on the GPS by date and have the ability to delete the tracking logs that I don't want to keep.  Maybe this feature will be added in a future firmware update.  I've not found the Elevation Plot screen to be very accurate.

THINGS I LIKE

Distance recorded is accurate on the highest setting
Altimeter is accurate once calibrated
Satellite reception is very good, even in dense tree areas
Scroll wheel is easy to use with one hand
Battery life is good and replacement is very easy
Able to update firmware
 
THINGS I DIDN'T LIKE

Manual is too general
Unit can "lock up" when it's confused
Cannot edit track logs on the unit
Elevation Plot screen is inaccurate
"Phantom Tracks" can show up on tracking

CONCLUSION

Overall, this is a good GPS unit.  With the ability to download firmware updates, the Colorado 300 has become a reliable and enjoyable tool in the backcountry.  It has more features than most people might use but it is an all in one unit.  I do recommend this product.


Read more reviews of Garmin gear
Read more gear reviews by Cheryl McMurray

Reviews > Navigation and Map Gear > GPS > Garmin Colorado 300 GPS > Owner Review by Cheryl McMurray



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