ETrex Summit


Page Type Gear Review
Object Title ETrex Summit
Manufacturer Garmin
Page By mpbro
Page Type Jan 29, 2002 / Jan 29, 2002
Object ID 128
Hits 8040

  • This tiny palm-size unit combines a full-featured GPS with an accurate (barometric) altimeter and electronic compass

  • The electronic compass provides your current bearing; declination adjustment-auto compensating

  • Picture compass displays broken down into 5 or 6 degree increments

  • The precise (given calibration and no drift; pretty unlikely) altimeter states your current altitude, as well as your rate of ascent

  • Sleek in design and similar in size to many compasses, yet the display window is as large as most full-size units

  • Operational buttons are located along the side for easy 1-hand operation

  • Track up to 20 routes, marking up to 50 waypoints on each

  • Find your way back with Garmin's exclusive TracBack[tm] feature

  • Store up to 500 waypoints with names, elevation or graphic icons

  • Summit maintains tight satellite-lock, even through dense forest (Hmmm...), by continuously tracking up to 12 satellites

  • Weatherproof case is completely waterproof to withstand full immersion in a meter of water for 30 minutes


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mpbro - Jan 29, 2002 8:29 pm - Voted 3/5

Untitled Review
12 Mar 2002 Update: Upon more reflection, I'm downgrading my rating, primarily due to poor satellite tracking in places that you wouldn't think would be problematic. A narrow canyon, yes. A forest with 180° of sky visible, no. Especially since they tout the unit's ability to work under a dense forest canopy.

I would like to comment about the battery problems mentioned by snwburd in his above review. I would estimate the battery life of the Etrex Summit at somewhere between 4-6 hours. There is a battery saving option that I haven't experimented with, so the 4-6 hours assumes battery-save "off", and also continuous recording of tracklogs. I have no idea where Garmin gets 16 hours!
Nice little unit, though I haven't had much occasion to use it. I always avoided getting a GPS, but they're becoming more and more useful and smaller as time goes on. At less than 6 ounces and palm-size, you can bring it almost anywhere.

So far, I have used it only to track some of my runs in the hills near my house. An example of this can be seen here, for a couple 6-8 mile runs. I use the tracklog feature to record lat/lon/altitude automatically. A couple tracklog features are irritating: 1) The unit only stores around 2 hours-worth of tracklogs; certainly not long enough for a hike of any duration, and 2) The unit seems to record a new tracklog point whenever it senses a strong change in bearing. This feature makes it hard to know just how long you can record tracklogs. If you're on a curvy route, you might only get 30 minutes of tracklog recording. On a straight road, it might be five hours.

I cannot comment on how the unit manages the input and manipulation of multiple waypoints, but I will try it the next time I take a backcountry trip (though it seems like cheating).

I also cannot comment strongly on the unit's accuracy. Looking at the image I linked to a couple paragraphs ago, it is interesting to note that the two routes are coincident over much of the run. You can see that the error (discrepancy between successive measurements) is quite large in some places and systematic in time. There are many possible explanations, and I do not know if the unit itself is to blame.

Bob Burd - Feb 19, 2002 2:15 pm - Voted 3/5

Untitled Review
I have a Garmin ETrex Venture, but it's similar to the Summit. Two comments:

The accuracy is quite good. I downloaded the coordinates from TopoZone to the nearest Starbucks, and my wife was able to get us within 20 yards of the place without knowing ahead of time where we were going. That seems pretty damn good to me if you need to find a place in the mountains.

Second, I find the 2 hour limitation for tracklogs a huge problem. Being able to retrace my route in a whiteout seems to me the biggest reason for carrying a GPS in mountaineering, but if the batteries run out in 2hours I won't get far without carry a whole bunch of AA batteries. What a pain. If I was going to buy another GPS, I'd wait until this improved to 6-8 hrs to make this a useful feature. For now, the GPS mostly sits in the map box...

mavs0 - May 4, 2002 11:07 pm - Voted 4/5

Untitled Review
I got the ETrex Summit a few weeks ago and have been playing with it on a few hikes around my home in a multitude of weather conditions (Rain, Overcast, Sun, and Fog). So far it seems to work mostly as advertised. I am in agreement that route tracking does get interrupted under tree cover and leaves a little to be desired. However, that’s not the purpose I bought it for. The most important thing to me is that the GPS locator (on this unit) is pretty accurate and does seems to work well in rain and fog (have not tried snow yet), which is the rule rather then exception, here in the Northeast.

As for waypoints, They worked for me. I set them, located myself, got a bearing and headed that way. I had to stop on occasion to find my bearing and re-route, but I got there and the unit tracked my route okay, with some skips. The point is I got there. One of my hikes, I bushwhacked (in light rain and dense overcast) into a wooded area I know pretty well. I set a waypoint at the start and stopped every 5 minutes or so and set another one. About 20 minutes out I turned the unit off and ambled about for a bit. When I turned it back on. I used the unit to locate me and my last waypoint then headed out to it and so on. It brought me out of the woods about 20-30 feet from where I went in. That’s good enough for me. The unit did not always know where I was, but I was always able to stop and get a signal.

The Compass & Altimeter (once calibrated) seem to work pretty good to. Overall, for what I look for in a GPS (location and map reference) this unit is more then enough.

All I need really need out a GPS is a reliable locator that works in a multitude of weather conditions. The electronic compass and altimeter is nice too. Waypoints, route tracking (which do work most of the time) and those are nice, but will not be depended on to save my life. It would be nice if they could find a way to do this for under 250 bucks though.

marcminish - Jul 18, 2002 1:01 pm - Voted 4/5

Untitled Review
I bought an an eTrex Summit a few months ago and really enjoyed it. Using the different features and modes is fairly easy even if you haven't picked up the owner's manual in awhile. Unlike some other types, you won't feel the urge to carry the manual in your pack. The unit is very accurate and I did not experience the same difficulties in tracking satellites as the other reviewers. The only problems I ever had was in preprogramming coordinates from USGS maps using a UTM grid. Sometimes the programmed points were off by a couple of hundred feet.

If I had to buy another unit, I might upgrade to one that I could download maps into. Beyond that, I really like the Summit and consider it money well spent.

cluck - Sep 16, 2002 7:02 pm - Voted 4/5

Untitled Review
I tote this thing up all kinds of Northwest mountains and have found it very useful and easy to use. You can plot waypoints on your PC, upload to the GPS, and you're never lost (unless your batteries are dead). It's helpful to store a few waypoints on your way up too so that you can backtrack if needed.

The battery life on this guy is pretty limited so I leave mine off for most of the hike. It gathers satellite data pretty quick above treeline so its no big deal to fire it up when I want to take a bearing or set a waypoint. I often will turn it on at the summit and plot my course down the trail to the car. This doesn't use battery life like leaving a breadcrumb trail up and produces great maps when loaded into a topo program.

- Very light
- Easy to use
- Cheap (relatively)

- Short battery life
- Can't load maps into the unit

SherpaKroto - Oct 6, 2002 4:14 pm - Voted 4/5

Untitled Review
For what I need, it's near perfect. It ie relatively accurate on location, usually within 20 feet or so. I've tried logging in waypoints and then returning to the location weeks later to see the results with good success.

Battery life is about 8-10 hours with 1800mah NiMH batteries with the unit on battery save mode (the only mode I use). With Lithium, I would guess that you could get near double that. It is useless to use anything less than Alkaline. I never use the light (use a headlamp - duh), which would severely cut into the battery life. All of my equipment now uses AA batteries, and I carry 3 extra sets.

Altimeter is quite accurate, particularly if you calibrate eahc time you reach a waypoint. Compass can be finicky to get "level" but is very accurate.

Unit somewhat affected by temperature down to -10F (coldest that I've had it for very long), as it does get more sluggish at cold temps.

Overall, a very simple to use, useful gadget to supplement the rest of your orienteering skills (i.e. a "second opinion")

Bryan W - Jun 4, 2003 4:42 pm - Voted 4/5

Untitled Review
I like this unit a lot. It is small, light, and very user friendly. Also, you can use when you are in a car or airplane. Some hiking GPS units will shut down at a certain speed. That is their way of making you buy more products. I find that the altimeter is very accurate, even if you forget to calibrate at the TH. Battery life is an issue and even more so if in cold conditions. I do wish there was a moving map feature. That would make this unit a premo model.

meepers - Dec 20, 2003 9:22 am - Voted 4/5

Untitled Review
I have been using this for three years. I has proven to be very reliable, but it did fail while I was in the Nepal mountains. ( dropped it ) They fixed it for me free of charge and I have been using it ever since.

Great for finding camp in white-out conditions!

I don't leave home without it.

justin - Jan 22, 2004 2:47 pm - Voted 4/5

Untitled Review
used this GPS for about two years now its one of the best even in the car its pretty acurate for the speed and location.

Karl S - Mar 31, 2004 2:50 pm - Voted 4/5

Untitled Review
I like the unit overall, but a few items that are frustrating. 1) There is no indication in the waypoint window which of the 2 numbers is E or N. The manual (which is almost worthless) said nothing. When entering in coordinates you must know which number is which. I had to mark a point and compare it to a map to determine that the top or first number is E and the bottom number is N. They should indicate this with the number.

2) The barometer graph has no units. I emailed Garmin and asked them what the incremental units were on the graph. They said there weren't any. mmm.... that makes it almost worthless for looking at the barometric pressure graph over time to determine how much its changing for weather forecasting. I guess I could remember or write the baro pressure down and compare it a few hours later--but why have the graph, then? My 5 year old Casio altimeter watch has values for the incrementals on the barometric graph. - Jan 23, 2005 6:39 pm - Voted 4/5

Untitled Review
Just received my eTrex Summit GPS about 1 month ago and still haven't tested it in the mountains but onyl done some geo-caching which has gone great thanks to this little piece!

I love the altitude function as well and it's fun to compare it with your altimeter to see which one is most accurate!

Bignick - Aug 24, 2005 2:51 am - Voted 5/5

Untitled Review
Excellent backcountry tool. Everyone has their own personal favorite functions. Mine are distance covered, elevation gained, miles per hour, and average speed. I recently climbed a peak over 13k' and when on the summit my GPS read 2' over the actual elevation and when you consider it was in my hand 2'-3' above the peak and hadn't been calibrated in a few weeks it's even more amazing. This is my second Gps and does far more than I ever need. I have used it probably on fifty hikes and climbs over the last 3 years and it works perfect.

John Climber - Dec 28, 2005 6:38 am - Voted 4/5

Untitled Review
This is a very goog GPS receiver. It is very payable product, small and relatively light. It is simpler than other types of Garmin receiver, but it fulfills all mountaineer´s needs.

dan2see - Sep 19, 2007 3:23 am - Hasn't voted

Compass and Altimeter
Lots of Summit users complain about battery life, and I think the problem is that rechargeable batteries provide a lower voltage. My Summit runs all day long on alcaline.

I think the built-in compass has a software error. When I "go to" a waypoint, the direction arrow is correct, but the compass rose goes crazy. So I shut off the built-in compass, and use my pocket compass.

I hike in the Rocky Mountains. The most reliable way to relate my position to a topo map is with the altimeter, which works great.
I do a lot of off-trail bushwacking, and I am frustrated by the eTrek's limited ability to track the satelites while in the forest.

CSUMarmot - Jan 5, 2011 6:39 pm - Voted 4/5

As my first GPS I do like the summit, although it can eat batteries and has some problems finding my location in or out of wooded cover. Overall having the summit along with a topo with a UTM overlay has helped tremendously when i'm bushwhacking

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