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Reviews > Navigation and Map Gear > GPS > Magellan eXplorist 350H GPS > Test Report by Coy Ray Starnes
Magellan eXplorist 350H North American
Test series by Coy Starnes
Initial Report: November 25, 2013
The Magellan eXplorist 350H
(image courtesy of Magellan)
I live in Northeast Alabama. I enjoy biking, hunting, fishing, canoeing/kayaking and most other outdoor activities, but backpacking is my favorite pastime. I enjoy hiking with friends and family or solo. I hike throughout the year and actually hike less in the hot humid months of summer. My style is slow and steady and my gear is light. However, I will sacrifice weight for comfort and durability. A typical 3-season load for me is around 20 lb (9 kg) not counting food or water.
Other Specifications (from manufacturer)
Battery Type 2xAA
Battery Life 18 Hours
Available User Storage 500 MB
Temperature Range (F) 14 F to 140 F
Temperature Range (C) -10 C to 60 C
Suspend Mode Yes
Internal Memory 2 GB
Display Resolution, WxH QVGA, 240 x 320
Screen Size 2.2 in (56 mm)
Display Type Color, Transmissive
GPS & Sensors
GPS Accuracy Up to 3-5 meters
High-Sensitivity GPS SiRFstarII
Antenna Type Multidirectional Patch
Mapping & Navigation
Preloaded Maps World Edition - NA Detail Only + Topo Contours + Hunting GMU's
Uploadable Maps Yes
Points of Interest Yes
Vertical Profile Yes
Hunt & Fish Calendar Yes
Sun & Moon Information Yes
Coordinates Systems & Datums Yes
Audible Proximity Alarms Yes
User Generated Content
Accepts GPX Files Yes
Legs Per Route 500
Picture Viewer Yes
Points Per Track 10000
User Data Online Sharing Yes
Interface & Communications
Communication Protocol USB Mass Storage
USB Port Yes
PC Compatible Yes
MAC Compatible Yes
The Magellan eXplorist 350H was designed with the hunter in mind. It is lightweight , waterproof to IPX-7 standard and said to be built rugged. The entire unit is fairly small with a 2.2 inch (56 mm) screen measured diagonally. However, the screen is sharp and the brightness is adjustable. I have used it in bright sunlight and can see it fairly well, albeit with reading glasses, but in all fairness, I need these same reading glasses to view my smart phone. The unit is flat across the face with the screen at the top. The control buttons are clustered just below the screen. These include the center enter/toggle (joystick), upper left back, upper right menu, lower left zoom out and lower right zoom in buttons. The power button is located at on the top right side of the unit. The outside of the unit appears to be made of a hard plastic and is covered with a camo pattern while the control buttons are orange. However, the power button is the same camo pattern as the shell and flush so it is a little hard to find and takes some effort to press. This is not really a bad thing though, it just means there is less chance of accidentally turning the unit on or off.
Though a new model, the 350H is a bit old school, relying on the buttons mentioned above for selecting a task or entering text. Many of the newer models have touch screens. One advantaged of buttons is when needing to navigate or enter data in wet and or cold conditions. Sometimes those units with touch screens will not respond to a gloved hand or even a bare hand if it is cold and wet. I have already experimented with several types of gloves and found that I can use them all but can most accurately manipulate the control buttons of the 350H with my thinner and tighter fitting gloves.
The 350H is powered by two AA batteries. These can be lithium, alkaline or rechargeable. It comes with two Energizer Ultimate Lithium batteries but they are not installed. Installation is very easy though. There is a latch on the back which must be lifted and twisted. The back cover then slides easily off. Battery polarization is clearly marked but just remember to place the negative (flat) end against the spring. Once installed and powered on the user needs to select the type batteries installed in order to get an accurate remaining battery life indication.
The shell has a long narrow slot along the bottom which could be used to attach a lanyard or perhaps a small carabiner. There is another slot on the back which is designed to be used with eXplorist-specific mounts. I saw a handlebar (bike) mount and an all-purpose mount listed.
I think I should also mention that I am not a gadget person and they intimidate me a little. This is one of the reasons I was excited to read that the Magellan eXplorist 350H was designed for ease of use by eliminating the need to tediously enter text for waypoints, not that data can not be entered. For the record, a waypoint is a marker placed on the GPS screen to identify the location of such features as camp, tree stands, water source etc. The waypoint can then be found on later trips to the same area. This could be important to a hiker but perhaps even more important to the hunter who need to be concentrating on the hunt rather than fiddling with a GPS.
The 350H comes with a quick start guide which covers the basics. There is a more in-depth user manual available online in PDF format. It could be printed off but they specifically mention it was done this way to save a few trees. I respect that and will refrain from printing out the manual.
There is no way I can cover all the features of the unit so I will highlight the ones I feel are most important. The heart of any GPS unit is the receiver and maps it uses. Fortunately, the 350H features the comes with preloaded 1:100,000 scale topo maps of North America, or more specifically, Mexico, Canada and the entire United States including Alaska and Hawaii. There are also GMU (game management units) on the maps which will alert the hunter if he has gone off the unit. Unfortunately, my state of Alabama is not included in the available GMU maps. However, I did the most recent upgrade which added several surrounding states. I inquired via email and received a reply informing me that they are working on adding the remaining states not covered. Additional maps that are more detailed can be purchased and downloaded onto the unit.
As already mentioned, this unit is designed to be simple to operate. To start tracking my movement I must select either Hunt or Hike mode and highlight "Track Me" and press the center button. The unit automatically marks where I am now standing as the starting point and then creates a track line which represents my movement. Waypoints are added very easily. Whether in the Hike or Hunt mode, when viewing the map, just press the menu button, then highlight (with the joystick) MARK THIS SPOT, and then highlight the icon that most closely represents the spot to be marked and press the center button. In the Hunt setting there are a total of 37 waypoint icons, 23 Prey Tracking and 14 Landmark. In the Hike setting there are 14 waypoint icons available. Most of these are landmark icons and several are duplicates of the Hunt Landmark icons. For example, camp and water are on both menus. The waypoint markers are pretty intuitive, for example, camp is marked with a drawing of a tent, small game is shown as a rabbit, a deer looks like the deer crossing sign and a rub is a zig-zag line. I can add field notes to each icon, in fact, after I enter one it prompts me if I want to save with a field note or just save it. Adding a note could be important at the time if, for example, I sighted several deer at different locations but wanted to note that one was a 10-point buck. I find it quite humorous that the unknown icon is represented by the universal Bigfoot symbol.
One of the really cool features of the 350H is the Active Suspend Timer. It puts the unit in Sleep mode after a per-determined time the user selects. The choices are 30 sec, 1, 2, 5 and 15 minutes or never. I chose 1 minute but may decide I need a little longer. It is timed from the last pressing of any button on the unit. The best thing about the Active Suspend Timer is that it does not deactivate the tracking feature so the unit will still keep up with my route and allow me to retrace it back to the starting point. Anytime I need to view the screen I can just give the power button a quick press and it comes back up until it goes asleep again. There is also a power off setting which actually will completely power the unit off. The choices are 1, 2, 3, 5, 8 and 10 hours or never. I set this to 3 hours under the assumption that I would at least look at the unit that often but it would prevent it from completely draining the batteries if I somehow forgot to turn it off when staying overnight. Of course I can power it off at anytime just by holding the power button down a few seconds. One other quick note, assuming I am camping overnight, the hunt or hike can be resumed the next time the unit is powered up if I don't want to start a new trip. I do not know if changing the batteries would automatically end a trip but I will try to find out.
Trying it out
My first two experiences using the 350H were pretty frustrating, but I eventually figured it out. However, before I did anything, I read the manual on the Magellan website. Unfortunately, it was 3 days later before I got a chance to try it on a hike, and by then I must have forgotten a lot. Oh, and I put the unit in demo mode when I was setting it up and thought it was going crazy when I turned it back on for the first shakedown hike. It was showing me that I was in California on some GMU. It continued to change screens several times before it finally went to the main menu. I had guessed it was the demo by now and went to settings and turned that back off. It would have been nice if this was mentioned in the manual. One other slight problem was that I was wearing my 1.25 power reading glasses instead of the 2.0 power I needed. I was still able to mark a waypoint (an abandoned moonshine still) and even added a field note. If I highlight, "enter a field note", and press enter, it brings up a small keyboard. Anyways, this took awhile because I would accidentally press straight down too much (which enters the letter) as I scrolled about the screen hunting the correct letter. Once this happened I would scroll over to the delete key but would often enter another wrong letter as I navigated over to the delete key. Of course once I finally made it I could delete however many letters (or numbers) I needed to.
When I got to where I wanted to turn around I selected the "navigate back to start" option and headed back. My location was shown by a small blue circle with a blue line going from it to the track line which was shown as a dotted line colored a light brown. The blue circle will change colors if I get off track. The circle also has a pointer on it and I thought it was showing which way I need to go. This is where I ran into problems. Now about those colors, I could tell blue was good, yellow was slightly off course, and red meant I was way off course and probably headed in the wrong direction. Only I could be walking in my exact track and it would show that I was off course. I had hiked in on a narrow trail and knew I needed to walk a little for it to start working correctly, however, I never was quite sure of what direction it wanted me to turn. It would turn yellow and start pointing me further away from the trail. I would go ahead and follow the arrow but it would soon turn red unless I just turned around and headed back to where I knew my track line should be located. It would soon turn back blue and I knew I was back on track. I was in heavy tree cover the whole time and thought this might be part of my problem (turns out it was not) but I suspect that if I followed the little arrow I might not have ever made it back home.
That pesky red circle....
It was interesting to see that I had hiked 2.41 miles (3.88 km) in 1 hour and 25 minutes and averaged 1.8 mph (2.9 kmph). The elevation gained is not correct even if it is saying that 69 ft (21 m) is the difference in right where I started and ended the hike because I went up and down several hills of at least 50 ft (15 m) elevation change. Plus, I actually gained and lost the exact same amount since I ended the trip at the starting point but probably gained 300 ft (91 m) and of course lost those same 300 ft (91 m).
I tried using it again a few days later only it was raining this time. I had on my stronger reading glasses but the screen was hard to read what with all the rain. I also read that rain can interfere with the satellite signal. All I know is I had the same problems, only this time the unit shut off twice (it said it needed to restart to work better), once about half way home, and again after I got home and forgot to turn it off before going inside. I walked back outside just in case it needed good satellite reception as it did its thing. Both times it did not ask me if that was OK, it just shut down and restarted. On the plus side, I jumped three does on this outing and marked the spot (all three were together) with a waypoint.
I took the 350H out a few days later and had much better results. I think I have finally figured out how to navigate with it. I took it out to a big field near my house and walked 1046 ft (319 m) in a fairly straight line. I then selected the "navigate back to start" option and started hiking back. I would purposely go to one side of my track line and then the other and carefully watched what was happening on the screen. I soon realized that the line from the blue circle to the track was acting like a pendulum. It would swing to whichever side of the track line I was on. The manual really should cover this most valuable bit if information. Anyways, just to be sure, I walked directly away from the track line, and sure enough, the pointer line was almost perpendicular to the track line. I then tried to see how close to parallel I could keep the blue line to the track line. It proved to be fairly easy and I knew I was doing it correctly when I passed right by an ant hill I had noticed earlier. I then went on a short hike in the woods to see how it did under heavy tree cover and it seemed to be working just as well. It started sleeting so I shortened my hike but I now have a lot more faith in my ability to use the 350H in unfamiliar terrain.
I do have one other concern, well two actually. One would be the warning not to operate the 350H any closer than 8 in (20 cm) from the user. Does this mean I can not carry it around in my pocket while hunting? Or that I just need to keep it that far away from my head? My other concern has to do with how I often hunt in a big circle. In other words, I will head away from where I have parked and slowly make my way back closer to my truck from a different direction. So, if I'm not sure where my truck is parked but I don't want to walk all the way back around the way I hiked to this point, how do I find my starting point? I have not seen an option for doing this while using the Hike or Hunt settings. I hope I can zoom out on the map view enough to see my starting point and present location and perhaps tell which way I need to go. I plan to do a field trail doing this with the unit before I head into an unknown area.
I have not used all the features on the 350H yet. In fact, there are couple that are not on the unit itself, but rather ways to use it with a computer for planning and sorting my activities. I have not downloaded it but there is a way to plan trips before heading out using the 1 year free subscription to DigitalGlobe. The satellite imagery DigitalGlobe provides can be used to scout areas ahead of time on the computer and then transferred over onto the 350H for use in the field. There is another program called VantagePoint that I did download but I have not played with it yet. It is free (forever) and is similar to DigitalGlobe in many respects. It can also be used to upgrade the 350H and purchase maps such as the Summit Series. It also allows me to manage information gathered on the 350H for viewing on my computer screen instead of the tiny screen on the GPS. I'll be honest, all this computer/GPS interface stuff seems a little complicated to me. I mainly want to be able to mark whatever I deem important (as waypoints) while I'm out in the field and then be able to go to them at a later date. Hopefully I will also be able to find my way back to my starting point if I manage to get lost. This concludes my Initial Review of the Magellan eXplorist 350H.
I have used the Magellan eXplorist 350H on four different squirrel hunts and two deer hunting trips. I have hunted on cold mornings and warm afternoons, the coldest being about 30 F (-1 C) when the hunt started but had warmed to around 40 F (4 C) by the end of the hunt. I have been rained and sleeted on but avoided snow. Elevations ranged from about 600 ft (180 m) to 1200 ft (360 m). All hunts took place either near my home (some on my own property) or on nearby TVA (Tennessee Vally Authority) land. Terrain was mostly wooded and steep. I followed trails when possible but did do some cross country trekking several times.
Field Test Results
I have been hunting land that I am pretty familiar with so I wondered if the GPS was going to be all that valuable for my situation. However, on one of my deer hunting trips I discovered a great use for the GPS. I had hiked along the back side of a long ridge for about a mile (1.6 km) along a trail. I then bushwhacked my way up and across the ridge and down the other side until I found a likely spot to sit awhile and hunt. As I crossed the ridge I found a scrape and tried to mark it with the GPS. Unfortunately I marked it as scat (I noted this problem in my Initial Report). However, just a short distance later I came across a tree stand and marked it correctly. This told me I was probably in a good area (keep in mind I was on public land). Now I know where that tree stand is and can avoid it in the future if I feel I might disturb another hunter. Anyways, I continued on downhill until I found a spot that looked like a good place to hunt from the ground. I was pretty tired from the hike even after sitting awhile so when I decided to head back to my truck I wanted the easiest way out. I first considered just using the back track feature, but after pulling up the map I decided to follow the contour line on this side of the ridge which looked like it would eventually met up with my original route about a half mile from my truck. I found the going much easier and in fact, marked where I met the trail. I didn't see an icon that really described what I wanted (fork in route) so I chose Trail Head. The next time I want to go to that spot I will follow my track from this point to my spot instead of the route with all the climbing. I estimate it will eliminate nearly 300 ft (91 m) of climbing and subsequent descending over some pretty treacherous terrain.
I was squirrel hunting near the house and had just carried the GPS along to mark any interesting things I might run across. It was raining and I jumped three deer. I was able to quickly mark the spot where I jumped the deer. Unfortunately, I went back a few days later to hunt them and saw nary hide nor hair of those three deer.
I did go ahead and download the free VantagePoint software and have used it a little. At first I thought the free copy watermarks the image, but after playing with it I found it was only that way by default. After I switched from DigitalGlobe to National Geographic Topo and then back to DigitalGlob the watermark was gone. Fortunately I did a screen capture of what it looked like originally. For the record, the distance recorded in the small blue square in the next two photos is where I was playing with the distance-measuring tool and is represented by the orange line.
VantagePoint screen shot with DigitalGlobe watermarks
VantagePoint screen shot without watermarks (still in DigitalGlobe)
I did notice a discrepancy in the information gathered from my GPS onto the software from my longest hunt. My GPS was saying I hiked 4.6 miles (7.4 km) total but the VantagePoint software showed I went 5.6 miles (9 km). In other words, exactly a mile (1.61 km) farther. I do believe the GPS is correct but who knows. However, I did discover a few pretty neat features while playing around with the software. I could select the distance-measuring tool and it showed me how far it was between any points on the map. For instance, on the hunt in the above photo, I had hiked about 2.5 miles (4 km) to reach the point where I turned around and headed back to my truck. However, as a crow flies I was only about .65 miles (1 km) from the truck. Unfortunately, I cannot fly and was only able to save about a half mile (1 km) of walking but I did mange to find an easier route. I also discovered that I could determine distances in non-straight lines by advancing to a point and left-clicking my mouse, then continuing in a new direction, and repeating this until I reach the destination along what looks like could be a good route. When finished I can right-click and it will save that route for as long as I don't do anything else. Once I go to another route (saved hunt or hike) and come back the distance tool info has disappeared. However, I later discovered that if I used the "Plan a Trip: feature this same measuring tool would appear and I could save the information. I did not figure out how to do it on a new map though so I added it to an existing map. Now I have the new trip saved as "Trip to Goat Island" but when I open either map they both show up. I may not be doing something right, but as I noted in my Initial Report, computers are not one of my strong points.
I also discovered that I like the National Geographic Topo map a little better than the DigitalGlobe view. It displays a contour line for every 20 ft (6 m) and is marked with a darker line and number (100, 200 300 etc) every 100 ft (30 m). It also names the features (if they have a name that is) such as high points, hollows, rivers, creeks, springs and islands etc. The DigitalGlob is very handy though, as it is made from an actual aerial image and show houses, trees, open fields etc much better.
VantagePoint screenshot using National Geographic Topo
Other useful features
While not obvious (at least to me) there are some pretty neat features for locating things on the unit itself. I found that by using the "Plan a Trip" function I could go into several sub-menus and locate things based on Land Use or Water. Transportation and City are also available but I did not find those very interesting or useful. Anyways, I found that I live less than 11 miles (18 km) as the crow flies from not one but two Alabama State Parks. Little Mountain State park is 6.7 miles (11 km) and Buck Pocket is 10.9 miles (18 km) away. However, due to the Tennessee River, I have to drive about 20 miles (32 km) to reach Little Mountain and nearly 30 miles (48 km) to reach Bucks Pocket. I actually live even closer to Alabama's newest State Park (Cathedral Caverns) but it does not show up for some reason.
Using the water search I found a creek 11.8 miles (19 km) from here called Pigeon Roost Creek that I was unaware of. I could not tell much about it on the GPS screen but using the VantagePoint software I now have a pretty good idea it is navigable and plan to go explore it with my kayak as soon as the water warms up enough.
I have been impressed with the battery life so far. I probably used the GPS for 2 hours before I finally figured out how to use the track back feature. I used it for about 5 hours on my longest hunt and for a couple of hours each on a few more. During all my hunting trips I never paid much attention to the battery life symbol and never got any sort of message that battery life was getting low. I had not turned the GPS on for the last three weeks but did as I was preparing to write my review. I turned the unit on and was reviewing some of my trip information and shortly thereafter (maybe 15 minutes) I got the low battery warning and the unit powered itself down. I really would have liked to have had a warning of perhaps an hour beforehand. Anyways, this is what it looked like just before shutting off. I actually powered it back on and had my camera ready for this shot.
Low Battery warning!
I have now put in new batteries but I put in alkaline this time because I did not have any lithium batteries handy. It will be interesting to see how the batter life goes with these. I also changed the power setting to match.
Summary So Far
I am now a firm believer that the Magellan eXplorist 350H is a useful tool for hunting. As a matter of fact, it can prove useful for lots of other situations like hiking or exploring new territory. It not only gives me an easy way to mark landmarks and game sightings and signs, it provides an accurate way to retrace my steps or pick an alternate route back to my truck or camp. I would not totally depend on it (nor any other electronic device) if exploring completely unfamiliar areas but since I always carry a compass I can now find my way around and mark places much more easily than ever before. I still have a few landmarks (mainly remote cave entrances) that I have not had the opportunity to visit and mark. It may prove difficult to find a few (it has before after multiple visits) but once I mark them on the GPS I should be able to always go right to where I need to go. I think that is the beauty of any GPS. The free software has also proven to be somewhat useful even though I have not taken full advantage of it by getting the paid version.
This concludes my Field Review of the Magellan eXplorist 350H. Please check back in approximately two months time for the Long Term Report. I would like to thank Magellan and BackpackGearTest.org for this testing opportunity.
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Read more gear reviews by Coy Ray Starnes
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