GPS devices are a dime a dozen these days. It use to be fairly easy to go into your favorite gear shop and plunk down your hard earned money, and walk out with a handheld device from Garmin or Magellan. Now though, there are a number of other options to choose from, all with a host of features to help you navigate your way through the backcountry.
One such option is the Active 10 Trek from Satmap, a company with a strong reputation in Europe, but a bit lesser known here in the States. As you would expect, the Active 10 Trek has all the features you could ever want in a handheld GPS device, including a built-in base map with a good level of details, the ability to mark way-points and chart courses, and a digital compass to keep you on course. The device is also ruggedized to protect against all sorts of weather and has a color screen to help the maps easy to read, even in the bright sunlight. A red backlight for navigation at night helps protect your eyes, and large buttons make the Active 10 easy to use, even while wearing gloves.
The device is well built and screams high quality and refinement at every turn. It has a nice heft in your hands, but isn’t too heavy either, and you get the feeling that it can stand up to all kinds of punishment on the trail. There are eight buttons on the unit, plus a tiny joystick. Those can be a bit daunting at first, but once you get the hang of how it works, you’ll soon be using all of those buttons easily and without thinking. The interface is intuitive and easy to use. So much so, that I took it out on my first trial run without even reading the manual, and used it to successfully navigate off trail between two points. That should say something about how easy it is to use the Active 10.
Of course, a number of GPS devices could be described in the same manner that I described this one above. But the Active 10 has something that no other handheld GPS device can boast, which is access to the library of National Geographic Maps right on the unit. The Active 10 has an SD card slot along the left side of the device, which facilitates expansion maps that can add far more detail to the built-in base map. SD cards with the Nat Geo maps are purchased separately, but deliver the kind of expertise that can only come from National Geographic.
With my test unit I received two of the Nat Geo map cards to try out on the Active 10. Those cards included the Trails Illustrated: America’s Greatest National Parks and the Topo! Texas maps. The latter of those would prove very useful on weekend hikes in my home state. The first time I zoomed down to the highest detail level while out hiking, my eyes nearly popped out of my head. Seeing all of those topographic lines, trails, and POI’s was very impressive, and a HUGE upgrade from my previous GPS device that is over eight years old. Similarly, the National Parks card includes a similar level of detail for 25 of the best parks in the U.S. That list includes: Acadia; Arches; Big Bend; Bryce Canyon; Canyonlands; Channel Islands; Death Valley; Glacier/Waterton; Grand Canyon; Grand Teton; Great Smoky Mountains; Isle Royale; Joshua Tree; Kings Canyon; Mount Rainier; North Cascades; Olympic; Redwood; Rocky Mountain; Sequoia; Shenandoah; Voyageurs; Yellowstone; Yosemite; and Zion.
Satmap didn’t scrimp on the accessories that come with the Active 10 either. Inside the box you’ll find a lanyard, as well as a very nice case, for carrying your GPS on the trail. There is also a USB cable for connecting the Active 10 to your computer, 3 AAA batteries and a rechargeable battery pack. There is also a car charger and a wall charger with every international adapter you could ever hope for. The batteries last for a good long time, especially the included rechargeable pack. It is difficult to give you an accurate number, as how you use the device greatly impacts battery life, but I had no problem getting 15+ hours of use, and with the USB cable I could connect the device to my Solio solar charger to recharge the batteries on longer treks.
Performance on the Active 10 is excellent. The first time I turned it on, it took it awhile to connect to the satellites, but it managed to lock on to every one of them, even under a decent tree cover. Subsequent uses of the device showed a marked improvement in locking on to the satellites as well. I’m not sure why there were performance gains, but I suspect that the first time out of the box, there was an initialization process that the Active 10 had to complete.
After an initial get acquainted session, I found the Active 10 very easy to use, and I was quickly drilling down into some of the more high level navigational functions without even thinking about it. Setting way points was a breeze, and navigating to them was even easier. The electronic compass was useful in a number of circumstances, and the interface was so quick, that I could turn the device off, and store it in the case, only breaking it out as needed.
I haven’t had the opportunity to go geocaching with the Active 10 yet, but I’m told that it is easy to load up geocaching coordinates and go in search of those hidden treasures. I hope to give it a go sometime in the near future.
If you couldn’t tell, I’m highly impressed with the SatMap Active 10 Trek. By itself, it is an excellent, easy to use GPS device with all the features you could ever hope for. Throw in great battery life and an interface that is easy to use, and you have a real winner. Pair the device with the amazing National Geographic Maps, and you have a GPS unlike any other o the market. Those maps unlock a lot of potential for hikers, backpackers, mountain bikers, and just about any other outdoor enthusiast. You won’t get the Nat Geo maps on any other handheld GPS device, and that puts the Active 10 in a class all it’s own. (MSRP: $369.99)
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