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I will be more specific. The article about OSM in the the Dec 8 Wall Street Journal got my attention. When I looked at the area in SC where I live I could see that the map for the area needs lots for work. This looks like fun and I would love to work on it. I am a beginner at map editing but can see that uploaded GPS traces would add to the detail of the area. Also, it seems that the streets don't even line up with the satellite image.

So, I began looking at many different GPS units to see if any one in particular rose to the top. What I found was that many users of Garmin were very unhappy with the base map and complained about the cost to get useful maps. At the moment, I am not sure what unit makes the most sense for this application. I should add that I might also want to try my hand at geocaching.

I would summarize with two questions:

First, a recommendation for a specific GPS unit that will easily upload traces to my computer and in the $150 to $200 range?

Second, if detailed maps are the issue with the Garmin units, can I download OSM maps and use in a handheld GPS?


asked 10 Dec '10, 15:31

discus277's gravatar image

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edited 10 Dec '10, 15:33

Great to have you on board.

The most popular GPS unit for use with OSM, by a long chalk, is the Garmin eTrex Legend HCx. It's rugged, has plenty of memory (if you put a MicroSD card in it), lasts a day on standard rechargeable AA batteries, and is fairly easy to use. You can put your own maps on it, and indeed many OSMers either use the mkgmap program to create their own Garmin map 'images' from OSM data, or download one of the many pre-built images. These include customised walking, cycling and boating styles and even 'no-name' styles which highlight unnamed roads in OSM.

Uploading traces to your computer, if you have a MicroSD card installed, is a simple matter of connecting the two via a normal USB cable, putting the Garmin into "mass storage mode", and copying the file across. (If you also want to copy waypoints, you'll need to use GPSBabel or a similar program.)

After years with a little map-free yellow eTrex and a Geko 201, I got a Legend HCx for Christmas a few years back and have been delighted with it. Having the OSM map on your GPS really does make a difference.

Don't take too much notice of the list price on the Garmin site - in the UK these units are widely discounted, and I presume the same is true in the States.

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answered 10 Dec '10, 15:53

Richard's gravatar image

Richard ♦
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edited 10 Dec '10, 15:54


I've been recommending the Legend HCx for a long time, but I recently upgraded that to the Vista HCx since there's now only about £5 difference. See

(13 Dec '10, 10:14) Andy Allan

Second, if detailed maps are the issue with the Garmin units, can I download OSM maps and use in a handheld GPS?

You can find prebuilt OSM Garmin maps at Dave Hansen's site - just choose the size and range you wish to cover. They are simple to load on Garmin devices with a Micro SD card:

  1. Download the image file covering your range of interest
  2. Unzip if necessary and rename the file to gmapsupp.img
  3. Plug the GPS unit in “mass storage mode” (Setup->Interface->USB Mass Storage)
  4. Put the file gmapsupp.img in the Garmin directory (create the directory if it does not exist)
  5. Unplug the GPS unit
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answered 11 Dec '10, 20:17

Mike%20N's gravatar image

Mike N
accept rate: 17%

You haven't mentioned what secondary uses you have for a GPS unit. Do you really need on-device maps?

Worth mentioning are MTK-based devices, which are typically marketed as "photo taggers". Photo taggers are marketed towards photographers who want to geotag their photos, but they're great for OpenStreetMap'ing too.

Most photo taggers have no screen, minimal buttons, and almost no human-device interaction. A toggle power switch starts logging location to their internal memory, while some other units can tether via USB or Bluetooth to your laptop/phone. Typically, there's a single button for marking waypoints. Tracks are then downloaded to a computer via Bluetooth or USB. MTK-based devices are MUCH more accurate than low-end Garmin units, and also don't have odd restrictions on tracks (e.g. many Garmin units are limited to 10,000 points/track).

I own and love my Qstarz Q1000-BT ($100 USD at Amazon). It stores some 100,000 points and has some 10+ hour battery life, with user-replaceable Nokia mobile phone battery. A cheaper alternative popular with many OpenStreetMap'ers is the Transystem i-Blue 747, which you can find for less than $60 USD.

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answered 04 Jan '11, 00:21

Samat%20Jain's gravatar image

Samat Jain
accept rate: 0%


I recommend to use a PDA, because its extra cost for map services is 0. Just search the wiki ( ) for PDA Operating systems like "Windows Mobile", "Android" or "iPhone" and you will find plenty of free applications.

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answered 07 Jan '11, 14:27

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Unless you already have a PDA or smartphone, I'd not recommend it — the battery life and accuracy (if you're not using a tethered GPS) don't hold a candle to dedicated units.

(07 Jan '11, 21:12) Samat Jain

hi I have tried three devices 1. garmin etex. ok with 2000mah NMH batteries but would need download traces each day as it has a small memory, no map display,serial cable extra and its not usb so you wiil need an adaptor it will cost more than legend in the end. 2. the garmin vista HCX. is great with 2000mah NMH batteries (as settingfor them and good ones will last 30 hours) takes osm map (the best) and its routable I've a 4GB card installed which will hold a big map and record months of traces,day light viewable (the sun lights it up) screen is small only downside. 3. Road Angel Adventurer. its a car sat nav that will display expensive British Maps.the battery is built in and after 5 hours you may be lost with no battery. My advice go for new model vista or legend,set on save to memory card,don,t lock to road,set to record every second,upload your trace, edit with potlach2.Buy the little windowed pouch with it to protect it.A visit to a mapping party would have helped get going much quicker I think.So welcome and good luck

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answered 07 Jan '11, 23:19

andy%20mackey's gravatar image

andy mackey
accept rate: 4%

Hi again If I want to know about a device I look on the makers site for the instructions PDF file then you can really read the instruction first! please ignore if you've already thought of this.A lot of sales staff haven't had time to read the manuals so they may not be much help.

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answered 07 Jan '11, 23:31

andy%20mackey's gravatar image

andy mackey
accept rate: 4%

Since asking this question I have purchased a Garmin etrex legend HCx at the suggestion of the first person to respond and I am very pleased with the unit. Battery life seems excellent. I have been using it for a month and have made many traces, often walking over some distance, and have yet to need new batteries. I then convert to GPX format using GPSBabel and upload to Potlatch 2 to edit and covert to streets, paths, etc. The learning curve on the Garmin was pretty simple and the GPS reception seems very good even in tree covered areas.

The learning curve for editing in Potlatch 2 has taken some time but I am now doing much better.

A big unanswered question is how to get my map that I am working on back into the Garmin...see recently posted new question.

Thanks for all the good answers to my original question

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answered 08 Jan '11, 22:37

discus277's gravatar image

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question asked: 10 Dec '10, 15:31

question was seen: 38,386 times

last updated: 26 Sep '13, 07:58

NOTICE: is being shutdown on 1st March 2024. Please use the OpenStreetMap Community Forum