Garmin eTrex 30 Handheld GPS – Review

garmin-01Several years ago I had an eTrex Legend unit and I loved it (it was instrumental in helping me avoid getting lost in India) but unfortunately it was lost over the years and I really wanted another one. Thankfully Santa was good to me and treated me with the new eTrex 30 adding to my collection of GPS units (I also have a NUVI for the car and a ZUMO for the motorcycle). Yes I’m partial to Garmin units over some of the other ones that I’ve tested.

In the box comes the handheld unit, a USB cable and a quick reference guide to get you started. The actual user manual is stored in the internal memory of the device in various languages so you have to plug it into your computer to access that. Surprisingly, it only has USB 1.1 and not the current standard of 2.0 so uploading large amounts of data to the handheld can be a time consuming process. I was a bit disappointed that the user manual doesn’t clearly explain all of the internal functions of the device, so certain features will need some fiddling about with to figure it out. I was also disappointed that it didn’t come with some sort of strap or lanyard. It does have a small slot to attach your own though, which is what I did so I can secure it to me. This isn’t a cheap device so the idea of losing it in a lake didn’t sit well with me. There is a clip on the back of the unit but the mounts you have to buy separately.

garmin-02The internal storage is a fair 2GB which is pretty reasonable unless you’re like me and like to load in a lot of detail and lots of maps. It also has a MicroSD card slot behind the batteries, so I installed a 32GB card which is more than enough for my current mapping needs. It runs off two AA batteries and you can use either Lithium, Alkaline or NiMH rechargeables. Just be sure to configure the GPS to know which batteries you are using so the device can optimize it’s power use depending on the type of batteries you choose to use.

As with many current GPS devices, this one has a colour display but unlike it’s larger cousins, it is not touch screen. This allows for a very compact unit that can fit into most common mobile phone cases, or your front pocket. It has a water resistance rating of IPX7 and that means it can handle being submerged for up to 30 minutes in water that is 1m deep. You certainly won’t have to worry about getting water damage in heavy rain.

The Base Map that comes pre-loaded is pretty umm…basic. Personally it wasn’t good enough or detailed enough for my needs so I loaded more detailed road and street maps that are of interest to me as well as detailed topography maps and all the trails in my extended area. You can either download various maps online or purchase maps on MicroSD cards that you can install into the card slot. Be warned though, Garmin maps aren’t cheap and you need to take a real close look at which ones provide the information you want for the area you are interested in. If you spend enough time searching around online, you will find lots of goodies that may be of interest to you that you can load into your e30 GPS. Need help finding your nearest StarBucks? Not anymore once you’ve loaded them all into your Garmin.

When added to the BaseCamp software that can be downloaded from Garmin’s website (Mac or PC), you will find a wide range of features and functions when it comes to establishing waypoints, routes, or other points of interest. If you’re into GeoCaching, this is a great little device for taking your hobby to a whole new level. If you’re taking on some world travels, like backpacking through Europe, you can find lists of hostels online and load those locations into your GPS for every country you will be visiting. Be sure to load all the places of interest that you want to visit while you’re away and your e30 will get you there. This is a real perk when you can’t speak the local language.

To my knowledge, this is the only navigation unit (at this time) that combines both the United States’ Global Positioning System (that we know as GPS) and the Russian GLONASS satellite navigation systems. By combining both systems into one unit, you can be reasonably sure that no matter where you are in the world, the e30 will be able to get a fix on your location. With that added coverage, being on the ‘wrong’ side of an escarpment or down in a gorge will be less frustrating. In those situations, most other units give wildly false readings and turns into little more than an expensive paper weight. I know first hand how annoying that can be.

garmin-03At about $350, this GPS isn’t exactly cheap when compared to the e20 model which is one step down and $100 less expensive. The e30 though comes with a barometric altimeter, a 3-axis compass, wireless sharing, and the ability to be paired to wireless accessories like thermometers, speed/cadence sensors for your bike and heart rate monitors. The e2o model isn’t capable of all that. The reason I wanted the e30 over the e20 was largely due to the barometric altimeter, a 3-axis compass, both of which I’ve found very handy to have. Hey…I’m a guy and sometimes need help finding things. Remember though…guys don’t get lost! We just find alternate routes! šŸ™‚

Choosing the right GPS for you can be a daunting task, so you will have to be very honest about how you will be using it, why you want it and what exactly you want it to be able to do. Once you’ve established that, then consider how you may use it down the road and consider features that may come in handy for that also.

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Princeton Tec Vizz Headlamp – Review

ptech-03This powerful little headlamp puts out a whopping 150 Lumens on it’s maximum brightness setting and casts a narrow 90m beam. On its maximum brightness setting, the lamp is claimed to last about 110hrs on the three included AAA size batteries. Personally I think that’s a tad optimistic since the low battery indicator came on after only several hours of use. It hasn’t actually stopped working yet so perhaps the low battery indicator is a tad premature. I certainly haven’t noticed any drop off in the brightness once the indicator comes on. As a general rule of thumb though, I always like to keep an extra set of batteries on hand anyway so that I’m never suddenly left in the dark.

ptech-04The Vizz has three different illumination modes – Maxbright, which is a single high-power LED acting as a sort of spotlight. Be sure to not point this in the eyes of your fellow campers. If you happen to be deaf and unable to hear them swearing at you, you will certainly be able to see their rude finger gestures, which will be well illuminated. There is also the Ultrabright white setting that uses two smaller LED’s (that you can vary the intensity from bright to dim) and the Ultrabright Red that uses two red LED’s that provide a decent amount of light that won’t mess up your night vision or that of your fellow camp mates (they will appreciate this mode and so will you). All of these settings is done via a single push button on the top and is also used as the power button. The same button is also used to engage the ‘lock out’ function to prevent accidental use (say when the button may be pressed while stuffed in your pack, thus preventing wasted batteries). Yes, it’s quite easy to get confused with the button combinations/sequences but it’s hardly rocket science so just keep messing about with it and you will get it to do what you want it to do.

ptech-02Obviously as a headlamp, it comes with an elastic headband, which is rather comfortable and adjustable so there should be no issues with getting it to fit your noggin. The lamp mount can also tilt downward allowing you to point the beam of light right down to your feet while walking to help you avoid tripping over roots or stubbing your toe on the coffee table while in a power outage.

Another really nice feature is that it has a water resistance rating of IPX7, which means it can be fully submerged in 1m of water for 30 minutes without being damaged. With that in mind, you really don’t have to worry about getting it wet in heavy rain or should you drop it in a shallow stream.

Overall, this is a great performing headlamp and it’s certainly worth more than many other headlamps of equal features and functions. Many other comparable headlamps cost about $80 but the Princeton Tec Vizz costs a modest $50 or so (depending on your retailer obviously). I would highly recommend having a headlamp handy not only as a camper but also just to have around the house and part of your emergency kit. Like with all other electronics, if you aren’t going to use it for long periods, be sure to remove the batteries (batteries tend to leak). As far as headlamps go, I would highly recommend this one. The only feature it doesn’t have is a flashing mode which is commonly used as a distress signal out in the woods.

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MEC Tarn 2 Tent – Review

Tarn-2-2I’ve had this tent for about six years now and it still works as well as the day I bought it. It’s an ideal choice for hikers thanks to its reasonable weight and how small it packs up. It’s not too hard to pack this gem right inside most hiking or expedition backpacks. It’s a simple three pole design and can be set up in just a few minutes by one person.

As a solid three season tent, it can handle pretty much anything you can throw at it…well within reason of course. It has stood up remarkably well in gale force winds but obviously it isn’t going to handle a hurricane. I was pretty surprised actually at just how good this tent performed in winds strong enough to throw you off your feet. Every tent around me was destroyed by ripping, snapping poles and outright being blown away. Not this little guy.

It’s also seen more than its fair share of torrential rains and even to this day, the inside remains bone dry in even the heaviest downpours. I do strongly recommend getting the footprint ground sheet for the tent though or at least put a tarp underneath it. This holds true for nearly every tent though. The last thing you want is to puncture the bottom of the tent on a stone or twig and have a puddle form inside and soak your sleeping bag.

Tarn-2-1The tent itself is mostly an open air mesh, which is lovely on those really hot summer nights and makes for a great bug tent. The rain cover is very thick and heavy duty so putting it on in hot nights, makes it stifling hot inside. The rain cover comes right down to the ground and does a great job keeping out the elements but I suspect that if in a sand storm, sand would surely get under it and being sand, it would certainly get through the mesh and collect all over you and your gear. The other nice thing about the rain cover is that it creates a nice vestibule by the door allowing for a dry place to store your gear, instead of taking up space inside the tent. This is important because although it’s technically a two person tent, it’s very cramped inside and is better used as a single person tent.

I’m 5’11” and barely fit inside length wise. My toes touch the bottom while my head touches the door, so sleeping on an angle is more comfortable for me. Not to say that you can’t squeeze in two adults but it’s going to be really cramped inside. The tent is also very low in height so sitting fully upright simply isn’t going to happen. This makes changing clothes inside somewhat challenging and it gets very old, very quickly on multi-night trips. The other problem with being used as a two person tent is on cool or rainy nights. A lot of condensation develops on the underside of the rain cover and eventually drips down onto you. I’ve never experienced this while camping alone though.

The Tarn 2 has been around for about a decade now and is a favourate among campers. Once again, you get what you pay for and this tent usually retails for about $225. It’s not cheap but it’s worth it if you want a solid tent that can handle pretty much anything and will go the distance. You won’t have to worry about having to replace this in a year so long as you take care of it and keep it clean. If you have to pack it up wet, be sure to set it up again as soon as you can to air it out (even if that means in your living room) to ensure it doesn’t get moldy. It really is ideal for one person, with plenty of space for your gear but you can certainly fit two in there, with your gear in the vestibule but it will be cramped.

All in all, this is a great tent. It has never let me down and if something ever happens to the one I have, I will be sure to buy another.

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Maxpedition Mongo VersipackĀ® – Review

Mongo-1I recently picked up one of these Maxpedition Mongoā„¢ Versipack’s and I absolutely love it. Maxpedition has a huge line-up of different types of bags so no matter what your needs are…they will have something for you. From backpacks, to belt pouches, to travel luggage, to shoulder bags…they really do have something for everyone.

The reason I picked up one of these bags, is because I needed something I could comfortably use as an Everyday Carry bag (EDC) and that could carry all my stuff. GPS, folding knife, tools, food, water, tablet, phone, multi-tool, gloves, toque, etc…the Mongo was able to handle it all with space to spare. If a guy needs a good ‘murse’, this is worth considering.

The bag itself is made of 1000-Denier water and abrasion resistant nylon with heavy duty stitching and para-cord pull zippers (YKK ones). If you get it dirty, just wash it off with a damp cloth. If something gets poured on it, no worries. The water or rain will just bead right off of it (although it will collect on some of the seams but shakes right off). Now it’s not water proof though so don’t dunk it and expect the contents to stay dry. All the webbing, straps and clip points are all heavy duty and reinforced for some serious abuse. Since I’m pretty hard on my bags, I really needed one that could handle a beating and this one sure does.

Mongo-TopThe top flap has a large zip pocket which is the whole size of the flap and on top of that is a double zipped ‘administration’ pouch. Inside that is a zipped mesh pocket and several elastic loops that you can tuck things into. The flap itself is secured with a heavy duty 2″ quick clip. On one side of the bag is a pocket that can hold a 1L Nalgene water bottle and has adjustable draw ties to ensure that smaller bottles don’t fly out. The other side has one well sized zippered pouch that you can stuff in a handheld radio and behind that is a slip pocket that you can stuff a small umbrella into (which is how I use it). On that side, at the base of the shoulder strap, is a mobile phone pocket that can handle most commonly sized phones and a small quick clip to secure it in place. On the other side of the shoulder strap is a bunch of moly webbing for you to clip a few things. The strap also has a large 2″ quick release clip to make it easier to get the bag off. If you really weigh it down, you won’t have to worry about having to hoist it over your head…just pop the clip.

Mongo-2On the front of the bag are a couple more zippered compartments that are very spacious. Both can hold a great deal of stuff. For those of you who live in places where it’s legal to carry a concealed handgun, you can easily tuck a pistol and a few magazines in either one of them. Moving inside the main compartment, which is covered by the top flap, it’s pretty much a cavern. If you can’t fit it in there…you’re gonna need a full on backpack. It closes up with a paracord cinch storm collar to help keep the inside dry. There is also another zipped pouch near the back (on the outside) which they call the CCW pocket (Concealed Carry Weapon) again for storing a handgun. In my case, I keep all my paperwork from work in there.

The back of the bag features closed-cell foam padding material to ease the strain on your back or hip. Speaking of hips, it also has a removable hip strap to help take the weight off your shoulders. If you’re like me and have the bag loaded up heavy, that hip strap comes in really handy when you’re off hiking in the woods or just strolling through the mall.

All of the Maxpedition bags are built tough and you really do get what you pay for. Yes these bags are pricey but in my books, they are worth every penny. If you want to find out more about this bag or any of their other products, check out their website at

To see what’s in my bag and for more details, watch the video below.

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Survive Outdoors LongerĀ® Emergency Bivvy – Review

SOL Emergency Bivvy2(feature photo from Lesley Wimbush)

The SOL Emergency Bivvy bag is pretty much a required part of any survival or camping kit. These little things take up such little space in your pack or car that there really is no excuse to not have one with you. I actually carry one with me in my EDC bag (my ‘murse’) every day. Unlike those generic space blankets, these things actually work. Made of heat-reflective polyethylene, they can reflect 90% of your body heat back to you. Thanks to its obnoxious orange colour, you could also use it as a distress signal.

I recently tried it out during my ‘Winter Stranded in a Car for 24hrs’ exercise (the post right below this one on the right) and I can tell you first hand that it really made a difference and helped save my bacon. Now SOL makes several versions of this bag ranging from very thin (like the one I have) to rather chunky for some serious cold weather survival. Most people aren’t likely to find themselves sleeping near the summit of Mount Everest, so the lower level ones are probably sufficient for most people’s needs. In my case, I needed a sleeping bag also because the temps just got too cold and dropped below the limits of the bag. At minus 11 Celsius, the entry level bag (for $15) just wasn’t cutting it. In hindsight, I would have fared better with the $33 one, which can handle much colder temperatures (and which is now on my shopping list).

The ‘Emergency’ bag I tried was very thin and flimsy and the seams are pretty weak so you will have to take your shoes or boots off before trying to slide into it (keep the rest of your clothes on though). The bags also rip easily so a lot of caution is required when getting into the bag and while inside. Once you blow a seam or rip a hole in the bag, it’s not going to be able to reflect your heat anymore. You could always use some trusty duct tape to patch it up but that’s assuming you have some with you. It’s also important to note that these are to help keep you warm by retaining your body heat. They are not for warming up once you get cold. So the key with these things is to slide into them before you get cold…not afterward.

If you usually camp with another person, you can actually fit two of these bags into the pouch that they come with. Although, packing these bags up again isn’t easy, so getting two bags back into the pouch will be difficult and you may find that you will have to pack them separately. That’s ok though because they are really only designed to be used in emergencies…not every night.

These little bags are certainly worth more than they cost and are ideal for an emergency car kit (especially in the winter), hikers, campers and minimalist campers (combine this with a tarp, a ground sheet and a nice fire and you may have a winning formula).

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