A good handheld GPS device is extremely helpful for hiking, backpacking, mountaineering, and canyoneering. Even with poor visibility, no distinguishable landmarks, and minimal navigation skills, you can easily find your way.
While many recreational hikers have taken to smartphone navigation, a handheld GPS device has several advantages. GPS devices are much more durable and have a longer battery life, with rechargeable or disposable AA batteries. GPS-enabled watches are also increasing in popularity and are a great option for many outdoor pursuits. However, their screen size is usually extremely small, resulting in poor terrain overview and difficult-to-use interfaces.
No matter your choice, best practice for wilderness safety is to never rely solely on any kind of GPS device. A dead battery, unavailable GPS signal, or damaged unit can mean serious trouble. It is always recommended to bring a map and compass when exploring new terrain.
Related: Best Multitools for Backpacking
Garmin eTrex 30x Spec Review
|Physical dimensions||2.1 x 4.0 x 1.3 in.|
|Display size||1.4 x 1.7 in; 2.2″ diag|
|Display resolution||240 x 320 pixels|
|Display type||2.2″ transflective, 65K color TFT|
|Weight||5 oz including batteries|
|Battery||2 AA batteries; NiMH or Lithium|
|Battery life||25 hours|
|Storage and Power Capacity||microSD™ card (not included)|
|Tracklog||10,000 points, 200 saved tracks|
|Automatic routing||Yes (with optional mapping for detailed roads)|
The Garmin eTrex 30x is a lightweight and compact handheld GPS device, making it perfect for hiking, mountaineering, canyoneering, trekking, biking, and other outdoor pursuits. The eTrex 30x is glove friendly and boasts an excellent sunlight-readable display alongside an impressive 25 hour battery life. The interface can take some getting used to, and feels a bit sluggish at times. The eTrex 30x is equipped with a barometric altimeter, electronic compass, GPS + GLONASS, WAAS, HotFix, and wireless connectivity. It can also be paired with accessories like heart rate monitors, foot pods, thermometers, etc. The Garmin eTrex 30x is compatible with GoogleEarth and BaseCamp, making it easy to plan your next trip with all the information you need.
What We Like
- Excellent battery performance
- Compact and lightweight
- Durable and water-resistant
- Fast and reliable positioning
- BaseCamp and GoogleEarth compatible
What We Don’t Like
- Sluggish map navigation
- Joystick button cannot be locked
- Interface takes some getting used to
- Topo maps not included
Garmin eTrex 30x Review
The best handheld GPS units use high quality materials and a sturdy design. They are also water-, abrasion-, and shock resistant. The Garmin eTrex 30x succeeds in all of these areas, offering good durability and an IPX7 water resistance rating. This means it can be submerged 1m deep for up to 30 minutes and still provide reliable service.
A longer battery life means you’ll be able to change your batteries less often, carry less of them, and not have to worry about charging or changing batteries multiple times per day.
The eTrex 30x battery life is exceptional at approximately 25 hours, depending on display brightness, duration of use, and outside temperature. For longer backpacking trips, we recommend rechargeable batteries and a backpacking solar charger.
The eTrex 30x features a 2.2”, 65k color display with a resolution of 240 x 320 pixels. It can be easily read in bright sunlight or at night, and has adjustable brightness to improve readability. The eTrex 30x does not have a touchscreen, which is prone to failure during inclement weather and does not work when wearing gloves.
Like many handheld GPS units, the screen is the most vulnerable part and benefits from extra protection. Consider purchasing a screen protector such as this one – for just a few dollars you can add some peace of mind that your new GPS will be safer.
Without a touchscreen, the eTrex 30x uses the joystick to control everything. This joystick also acts as a button. While this saves space on the unit and is generally easy to use, it also means the button can be accidentally pressed while being carried in a pouch or pocket. These accidental taps may end up recording waypoints or otherwise altering your settings.
Unfortunately, the eTrex 30x can sometimes run a bit sluggish, with user inputs taking 1-2 seconds to perform. This is most noticeable when pressing the joystick, or panning/zooming on the map.
The Garmin eTrex 30x is a class leader in size and weight. It weighs just 5oz including batteries, and is 2.1 x 4 x 1.3 inches. This makes it perfect for those ultralight trips, day hikes, mountaineering objectives, or other outdoor activities.
Planning software allows you to easily create routes and waypoints which can be stored on the GPS unit. Garmin uses their own BaseCamp Software for this purpose. This powerful tool provides helpful information including distance, terrain, difficulty, hints, ascent, descent, etc.
In addition to Garmin’s proprietary software, the eTrex series is also compatible with Google Earth. You can create custom maps to save onto the GPS unit, as well as upload your GPS tracks into Google Earth.
The eTrex 30x features a 3-axis compass and barometric altimeter, both of which continue to work even if the GPS signal is not available – a great feature for those exploring deep canyons or densely wooded areas.
With 3.7GB of onboard storage and a microSD card, you have plenty of space to load a number of maps. The eTrex 30x works with TOPO 24K, HuntView, BlueChart g2, City Navigator NT and BirdsEye Satellite Imagery.
A proximity alarm can be set to alert you when you are within a chosen distance to a specific location, a helpful feature for both on- and off-trail travel.
All told, the eTrex 30x is a capable and pragmatic handheld GPS that gets the job done. There are certainly higher-end options that offer more bells and whistles, but the cost is much higher and many users do not need or use most of the extra features.
Precise and quick positioning is important for staying on trail, without wasting valuable time or battery life. With the right positioning technology, a good handheld GPS unit can be extremely accurate and efficient.
The eTrex 30x tracks GPS and GLONASS satellites simultaneously. The GLONASS system was developed by the Russian Federation, and reduces positioning time by approximately 20%.
The eTrex also has a high-sensitivity, WAAS-enabled GPS receiver and HotFix satellite prediction, which improves positioning accuracy and speed.
Garmin eTrex 30x vs 20x
The eTrex 20x costs less than the eTrex 30x, but is missing several key features. The eTrex 30x includes an electronic compass and barometric altimeter, both of which the eTrex 20x lacks. The eTrex 30x is also compatible with other units, allowing for transfer of maps as well as accessory data. For a small cost difference, the eTrex 30x is well worth the upgrade over the eTrex 20x.
Garmin eTrex 30 vs 30x
The eTrex 30x is the updated version of the now-discontinued eTrex 30. It features an improved screen with higher resolution and more storage space (3.7GB vs 1.7GB). These are both welcomed upgrades, making the GPS device much more usable and readable.
Garmin eTrex 30x vs 32x
The eTrex 32x is the new successor to the eTrex 30x. It once again improved on storage space (8GB vs 3.7GB), and includes a preloaded Garmin TopoActive map. This preloaded map does take up most of the additional space, and we generally find it is not worth the additional cost compared to the eTrex 30x.
|eTrex 20x||eTrex 30x||eTrex 22x||eTrex 32x|
|Physical dimensions||2.1" x 4.0" x 1.3"||2.1" x 4.0" x 1.3"||5.4 x 10.3 x 3.3 cm||5.4 x 10.3 x 3.3 cm|
|Display size||3.5 x 4.4 cm; 2.2" diag||3.5 x 4.4 cm; 2.2" diag||1.4" x 1.7"; 2.2" diag||1.4" x 1.7"; 2.2" diag|
|Display resolution||240 x 320 pixels||240 x 320 pixels||240 x 320 pixels||240 x 320 pixels|
|Display type||transflective, 65-K colour TFT||transflective, 65-K colour TFT||2.2" transflective, 65K color TFT||2.2" transflective, 65K color TFT|
|Weight||5 oz with batteries||5 oz with batteries||5 oz with batteries||5 oz with batteries|
|Battery||2 AA batteries (not included), NiMH or Lithium recommended||2 AA batteries (not included), NiMH or Lithium recommended||2 AA batteries (not included); NiMH or Lithium recommended||2 AA batteries (not included); NiMH or Lithium recommended|
|Battery life||25 hours||25 hours||25 hours||25 hours|
|Memory/History||3.7GB||3.7GB||8 GB||8 GB|
|High Sensitivity Receiver||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Preloaded maps||No||No||TopoActive (routable)||TopoActive (routable)|
|Ability to add maps||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Storage and Power Capacity||microSD™ card (not included)||microSD™ card (not included)||microSD™ card (not included)||microSD™ card (not included)|
|Track log||10,000 points, 200 saved tracks||10,000 points, 200 saved tracks||10,000 points, 200 saved tracks||10,000 points, 200 saved tracks|
|Automatic routing (turn by turn routing on roads)||Yes (with optional mapping for detailed roads)||Yes (with optional mapping for detailed roads)||Yes (with optional mapping for detailed roads)||Yes (with optional mapping for detailed roads)|
|Compass||No||Yes (tilt-compensated, 3-axis)||No||Yes (tilt-compensated, 3-axis)|
|Geocaching-friendly||Yes (Paperless)||Yes (Paperless)||Yes (Paperless)||Yes (Paperless)|
|Custom maps compatible||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Sun and moon information||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Garmin Connect Compatible||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes|