GPS-watch for hiking and city orienteering: Recommendations, and ? General practical, technical and feature-wise Differences between Garmin's marketing product lines of watches


I have a Garmin eTrex 30x as my general device for maps-on-the-go and (pedestrian) routing on the go.

I saw that there are watches available with GPS and maps that have a much longer battery live than the eTrex 30x. (And I still see the big advantage of the eTrex of beeing powered by AA batteries!)

I am considering getting a watch to replace my eTrex in daily usage because of smaller size and longer battery live.

I see that Garmin offers many different watches with GPS, where some also can show maps.

But the different products and product lines are overwhelming, and you cannot narrow down by feature but only by “use case according to marketing”.

So I want to ask here – besides all that “fancy” special sport applications, which watches do you recommend (does not necessarily need to be Garmin, but for Garmin there are many ready-made OSM based maps on the Internet)

  • that is not running Android but – like the eTrex – tailored to the specific purpose of map display, location display and navigation,
  • for usage with custom maps (e.g. OpenStreetMap-based maps),
  • that can hold seveal Gigabyte of map data (microSD card would be really welcomed, but 16 GiB or better much more internal memory would also do),
  • that can handle different custom maps with custom filenames on the storage (not just gmapsupp.img, but like DE-OEPNV.img),
  • that can have maps on the storage individually activated or deactivated,
  • that can display more than one activated map at the same time – overlaying (e.g. overlaying public transport and countour lines layer over a basemap),
  • that has GPS and ideally also other geolocation satellite networks,
  • that can do on-device routing,
  • that supports adding waypoints and waypoint management,
  • that supports seach for POIs and Adresses,
  • that is weather protected,
  • that, under bright conditions, does not need to fight with it’s own backlight against the sun but can be read by the sunlight (“transflective” or “reflective” display. But maybe also OLED could be an alternative; it still fights against the sun but might be workable and enough power efficient?),
  • that has a backlight or frontlight to be readable in darkness,
  • for data transfer can act as a USB mass storage device,
  • no prorietary software, and no smartphone needed to use all functionalities (except “optional” features like display of watch data on Smartphone) of the watch and to configure it,
  • including altitude in tracks and in routing (if the underlying map has altitude data)?

(The above, all the eTrex 30x can do.)

Plus, but not necessary, would be

  • microSD-card,
  • ideally a “standard” charging connector (USB-C, microUSB),
  • magnetic compass,
  • touchscreen that can be deactivated and reactivated easily,
  • quick map rendering,
  • easy creation of routes,
  • easy routing from custom-set starting position (use case: To compare the length of ways from different possible public transport stops),
  • more RAM than the eTrex 30x,
  • easy management and split-up of recorded tracks,
  • show sunset and sunrise; moonset and moonrise and moon phase

There might be other features that I find interesting which come not into my mind now.

General use case would be hiking, orienting in cities, browsing map (on the eTrex it’s slow but reliable; while on the train there is time to plan for where to get off to go into the woods and put my tent).

I would opt for long battery and larger display.

Which Garmin product lines I should look deeper into, or maybe which other manufacturer’s devices are there?

Besides the marketing aspects that Garmin does, what are the systematic technical or feature differences, and most important, the practical daily use differences, between the Garmin product lines?

I am also happy with Open Source projects dedicated to those use cases ;-).


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First of all a big disclaimer - I have never tried one of these! However, when I was looking myself earlier I came across this site (which based on other articles on it, I expect would be pretty trustworthy). That article is from 2019 though, so there will be newer devices not listed there that are compatible with maps you’ve made from OSM data.

What you really want is first-hand reports…

IMHO a watch doesn’t make sense for your use case,. Long list of reasons, but essentially they are not very good at what you want to use them for.

Credentials: I’ve had a long list of Garmin devices including watches starting with a Forerunner 305 way back and have a Fenix 6 Pro on my wrist right now.

Can you please give reasons?

The reason “small screen” I know; regarding in pixel count the eTrex also has not much, and reading tiny stuff I am fine with.

What are other reasons?

This point is difficult to achieve with Garmin watches, as they are tied to their app quite strongly.
At least the Forerunner 935 on my wrist now, (which cannot even use maps).

For what functionality is the app necessary?

This actually would be a hard show stopper for me, when the app is needed to transfer maps & data, make settings, etc., and there is no free software that runs on GNU/ Linux available for it if it does not support USB mass storage for this.

Other reasons: you really need a phone or some other way of connecting to a “real” device to use lots of the features. Battery life is far better than your typical smart watch but only if you are not using GPS/GNSS (smart watches are then even worse naturally). On device routing a bit meh. Position accuracy a bit meh (aka I wouldn’t trust the position to stop me falling off a cliff in fog).

Then as @habi pointed out proprietary software is the name of the game, proprietary USB connector (that is probably a good thing). I haven’t actually tried it with my current watch, but copying things to and from the watch just over USB should work.

Note that I’m not saying the watches are bad in any form, just that given your requirements I suspect they wont make you happy.

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Worse than eTrex 20/30, really?

That is not so important for me. The fine details I see with my eyes ;-).

That would be really bad. Which features are this that can be configured or used only with an external device and proprietary software?


Position accuracy on the Fenix 7 generation is actually very good, probably thanks to the dual band receiver. I had no problem copying and pastings custom maps in it. However, as others have pointed out, the watches have limited routing use as the maps are barely readable on the small screen.

For example you can only manage apps with Garmins software (firmware updates should work without that if you have wlan support on the watch and have enabled it). Notifications are a further thing that will only work if you have the Garmin SW installed on your phone.

Interestingly, I notice that over at Gadgetbridge (which is a replacement for proprietary Android software to support various devices) there’s now a mention of “initial support” for Garmin. What that actually means I don’t know; I certainly wouldn’t spend a lot of money just based on that, but it might be of interest to someone with a Garmin watch who is fed up with their companion software**.

** my only experience of this was when downloading “included in the price of sale” OSGB Explorer maps onto a GPSMap64sx. It was a horribly convoluted process when compared to the OSM equivalent, which is “connect to computer via USB; copy three files to device; eject device”.

I suspect the, maybe very obvious, course of action for @osmidal that would solve many of the issues of recommending a multiple 100s of € cost device that has a lots of pros and cons: is for @osmidal to find a “local” OSMer that has one and ask them for their experiences etc… Maybe OSM Italia whatever could help with that?

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Wow. Yes. Of course. Thank you for this obvious idea I was too stupid to come across!

But my region is Germany, mostly eastern Germany, but I can try here and in CZ.


I was slightly misled by the location of some of your last edits :slight_smile: Asking on the German forum is probably the best place in that case.