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3d-view

These days it’s rare for me to head out for a hike without a GPS unit in tow and over the past few weeks I’ve been putting the Garmin Colorado 400t through its paces. The Colorado 400t is a rugged, high powered, and full featured GPS that’s ready for any adventure you can dream up.

Hardware

Before we get into software, let’s talk hardware. The Colorado 400t is compact – about the size of a cellphone, only thicker and a bit heavier. The case is rated IPX7 waterproof which means it should be safe for up to 30 minutes of accidental immersion in water (though sadly it doesn’t float so be prepared to dive after it!). The GPS runs on 2 AA batteries which in my opinion is a mixed blessing: yes, you can power it continuously in the field by replacing batteries as needed but it’s not nearly as convenient as a rechargeable, integrated system for trips closer to home.

Perhaps my favorite hardware feature on the Colorado 400t is the Rock ‘n Roller input wheel. With one hand you can quickly navigate from screen to screen, even with gloved hands. The input wheel also makes entering descriptive track and waypoint text a cinch, an operation that is painful on most other Garmin GPS models.

map-view

The Transflective color TFT screen offers up plenty of detail in brilliant color but I found I needed to use the battery-sucking backlight in all but direct sunlight. For hikes that move in and out of tree cover, an ambient light sensor would certainly do the trick in adjusting backlight on the fly to save battery power.

Satellite fixes were snappy and I even got a decent signal indoors thanks to the high-sensitivity WAAS receiver on board. There’s an SD card slot to expand the Colorado 400t’s built in memory, though sadly accessing it involves removing the batteries.

antenna-port

Software

There are 3 different versions of the Colorado 400 and the letter on the end of the model name designates which pre-loaded maps your GPS includes. The 400t, which I tested, is the topographic version and includes topographic maps covering the US baked right in. To those who may be new to the GPS game, this is a big deal because in the past you had to buy topographic software separately and even then it was nearly impossible to fit maps of the entire US onto your GPS at one time. I’m don’t know if future map updates are included with the Colorado 400t but fortunately topographic data doesn’t change very often. The pre-loaded maps also include roads and other landmark data, though you’ll need additional software to use turn-by-turn navigation features.

colorado-screen-topo

Marking waypoints (custom points of interest) is simple: just hold down the center button on the input wheel while viewing the map and your current location will be marked. Recording tracks is a little more difficult and involves resetting previous track data before heading out but once you’re done the Colorado 400 includes a cool tool for cleaning up your data. When you save a recent track, the Colorado 400 prompts you to find the start and end points for the track using the input wheel so you can cut out the trek across the parking lot or the part where you accidentally left the GPS on for the car ride home. Name your recorded track and the Colorado 400 saves the data to a standard GPX file. Simple.

Speaking of GPX, the Colorado 400t is one of Garmin’s most compatible GPS units to date. To load a GPX data file on your device, just plug the GPS in via the included USB cable to your Mac or PC and drag and drop the files in place. You can also access track files created on the Colorado 400t via drag and drop. No need for clunky desktop software, especially now that basemaps are preloaded.

Garmin has taken openness a step further and includes support for custom KMZ-formatted basemaps. I won’t go into a ton of detail here but basically you can create your own maps (or download them online) to overlay on top of the included Garmin basemaps. Garmin even has a great tutorial for creating your own custom maps on their website to help you get started.

Aside from the basics of track and waypoint management, the Colorado 400t has a raft of features to help you find your way outdoors. From wireless sharing between Colorado units to location-based games and geocaching-specific tools, the Colorado 400 can do it all. There’s even a 3D view to help you visualize terrain that’s connected to the internal compass so you can spin around your surroundings to get an idea of what lies ahead. I also noticed a data field for temperature – both air and water – though I couldn’t find references to this feature in any of the printed or online literature. In any event, at a glance the temperature readings seemed fairly accurate.

Summary

If you’re looking for a GPS that can do it all – from geocaching with the kids to multi-day backcountry exploration, the Colorado 400t is up to the challenge. With powerful software in a rugged, easy to use package, the Colorado 400t is quickly becoming the GPS of choice for serious adventurers everywhere.

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# Comments

  • Forrest

    Have you tried Garmin’s Oregon series of GPS? It’s very much like the Colorado, but with an internal antenna ( which, from what I hear, makes no observable difference in terms of reception ) making it a bit smaller, and an iPhone-like touch screen interface.

  • MountainMan

    I haven’t tried the Oregon yet but I’d be concerned about the durability of a touch screen on an outdoor GPS unit. Plus I probably wouldn’t take my iPhone on a backcountry trip either. 🙂

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