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Unread 06-19-2010, 09:09 AM   #1
Karma
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Navigation Systems; What Do You Have?

HI All,
Ten years ago, when I bought my YJ, one of the first things I invested in was a laptop computer based navigation system. I mounted a computer pedestal on the floor and used a Garmin 3 Plus GPS interfaced to the computer. The computer runs on an inverter; the GPS on vehicle power.

For software I bought My Topo's (then Maptech) Terrain Navigator. This provides beautiful USGS topo maps for large areas in several different scales from 7 1/2 minute to 250,000 to 1. You buy whole states. I now have New Mexico (my home state), Colorado, Utah, and Arizona. Of course, when on the move, the current vehicle position tracks across the current map based upon GPS position information. The maps are stored on a 32 gB thumb drive. It's an excellent system.

I have since upgraded to Terrain Navigator Pro and run it on a Panasonic Toughtbook laptop. A tough computer is needed due to trail abuse. My original Dell Latitude computer fell apart.

So, I am curious which, if any, navigation system you have and if you use it off road? I use mine constantly.

What computer? What GPS? What software? What is your verdict?

Sparky

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Unread 06-19-2010, 10:47 AM   #2
solarpower
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Unread 06-19-2010, 02:54 PM   #3
1222
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Cool set-up but a little bulky if you ask me. Why not just get one of the small hand-held units that would do just about anything you could ask for? Sure the display screens are small compared to your laptop, but they take up hardly any space unlike with what you have now. Plus you can take it with you out on the trail while hiking.
I have the Garmin 60gsx by the way. Great unit. There have been times when I thought of having a laptop but then I realized it would just get in the way. I even was looking at getting the Toughbook (couldnít afford it) like you have at one time. I guess if you donít take a passenger with you then it might not be so bad then.
How about some pics of your set-up? Would love to see it.
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Unread 06-19-2010, 07:04 PM   #4
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HI 1222,
First, the passenger seat went bye-bye. Its place is taken now by my ARB freezer/fridge. This caused a major revolution in the cab. My Toughbook, which used to be mounted on a pedestal, is now mounted on the ARB top cover. It's very secure and all that and just as usable as before.

The maps I use in Terrain Navigator are unbeatable. No GPS unit can compete. My Garmin is used for only two things. I use its trip computer and it supplies real time vehicle location information to the Terrain Navigator software. If I need to, I can dismount the Garmin and use it handheld. Of course, if I don't have the computer with me, like on local highway trips, I use the built-in Garmin maps. They are no better than OK but they usually work for this limited use.

Also, the Terrain Navigator software has many, many features that can't be duplicated with a straight GPS. Maybe someday GPS units will catch up. But not now.

The main virtues of this system is its large display (a touch screen, BTW), accuracy, the maps, and features. Between the large laptop display which is designed to operate in bright environments, and the excellent USGS maps, you know exactly where you are within ten feet. This is great when searching some for some obscure trail (and making sure you stay on it) or a specific campsite or a trail feature. This, plus the ability to plan trips then transferring the routes and waypoints either to or from the laptop via wi fi using the same software installed on my desktop machine is really good. I do all my pre-trip planning on my home desk top machine. But if I'm staying in an RV campground, I can plan trips on the Panasonic with the same ease for use the next day. This system has a great deal of flexibility.

Terrain Navigator has a neat feature where the displayed maps can be linked and locked to Google Earth and both displayed in a split screen mode. Very handy.

BTW, I bought a one generation old Toughbook, lightly used, for $1600. For this use, you don't really need the latest and greatest computer. So, they are not out of range for those who really want one. And for this use, you really do, but you can get away with other, less "tough", laptops for a while. But, eventually, trail abuse will take its toll. What you don't want is to be in the middle of nowhere and have your computer fail. It's always a good idea to have paper maps as a backup which you can obtain by printing the Terrain Navigator maps. I always carry a Canon portable printer in my trailer. It prints great maps. And as another backup, you can always back track using the Garmin breadcrumb routes.

BTW, I have no connection with My Topo. I'm just a very happy and impressed customer. I would love to see other wheelers become familiar with this great product. It is a professional level product used by many back country professionals and agencies. It fills a need for those of us who explore unknown places rather than spending the afternoon climbing rocks or wading through mud, fun as those activities might be.

Actually, I detest mud!!

Sorry, I can't post pictures because I don't subscribe to a photo storage website.

Sparky

Last edited by Karma; 06-19-2010 at 07:21 PM..
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Unread 06-19-2010, 11:41 PM   #5
1222
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Wow. Youíve got quite a set-up. Sounds kinda like a hobby too. Since you took out your front seat that answers my question about if you take anyone along with you. I like to do day trips alone when Iím in the ghost town exploring mood but at other times I like the company and ability to share first hand any exciting moments that arise when off-roading. So I guess for now my hand-held Garmin is the way to go for me.

Have you looked into a Photobucket account? Itís free and a lot of people here use it. I would love to see how you have things set-up regarding the computer and ARB fridge.
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Unread 06-20-2010, 02:21 AM   #6
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Quote:
Originally Posted by 1222 View Post
Cool set-up but a little bulky if you ask me. Why not just get one of the small hand-held units that would do just about anything you could ask for? Sure the display screens are small compared to your laptop, but they take up hardly any space unlike with what you have now. Plus you can take it with you out on the trail while hiking.
I have the Garmin 60gsx by the way. Great unit. There have been times when I thought of having a laptop but then I realized it would just get in the way. I even was looking at getting the Toughbook (couldnít afford it) like you have at one time. I guess if you donít take a passenger with you then it might not be so bad then.
How about some pics of your set-up? Would love to see it.
I have the Garmin GPS 60C and have had a blast with it. If you ever decide you need or want to paly with a laptop for GPS. You can use the Garmin handheld as the receiver.
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Unread 06-20-2010, 05:51 AM   #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by 1222 View Post
Wow. Youíve got quite a set-up. Sounds kinda like a hobby too. Since you took out your front seat that answers my question about if you take anyone along with you. I like to do day trips alone when Iím in the ghost town exploring mood but at other times I like the company and ability to share first hand any exciting moments that arise when off-roading. So I guess for now my hand-held Garmin is the way to go for me.

Have you looked into a Photobucket account? Itís free and a lot of people here use it. I would love to see how you have things set-up regarding the computer and ARB fridge.
HI 1222,
I don't view it as a hobby at all. I see it as a better way for me to use my Jeep. Consider: most of us already have,
1. A capable Jeep
2. A GPS
3. A laptop computer
4. A need to know where we are at all times.

To this list I added the computer mount, an inverter to power the computer, the necessary wiring and cables, the Terrain Navigator software and an organized way to use this system on the trail. I won't down play the effort to get it all set up. It took a fair amount of work and thought but not much additional money. But compared to the work and money we all put into modding our Jeeps, it was very little extra.

The printer was added after I had everything else working and realized that the printer added some nice features. The printer is only used in campgrounds. I never take it on the trail.

A lot has to do with how I wheel. I do belong to a Jeep club. On club trips I usually am the group navigator. But, I also wheel alone a lot. My entire Jeep gig is based upon self-sufficiency. This places a priority on the reliability and capability of my navigation system as well as my Jeep. It's both a safety issue and just plain wanting to get to where I intend to go.

Wheeling alone causes some discussion. A lot of people advise to not do it. Unless you are properly set up, I agree strongly. But I can't stand the limitation of having to be with others when I decide to go on a trek. So, what happens if I break down or something else incapacitates me? As you know, cell phone coverage is very spotty in the back country. I consider cells to be useless. Well, to take care of these situations, I bought a personal location beacon. If something happens I can activate the beacon and help will be on its way. Guaranteed!!

This is the one I have:
MicroFix 406 GPS Personal Locator Beacon: Handheld GPS at L.L.Bean

How does it work? The beacon is a bit bigger than a large cell phone. It contains a GPS receiver, a transmitter, a short range RF beacon transmitter and a long life battery. When activated, it determines your location using its GPS receiver. Then it transmits your location to an array of special satellites run and monitored by the US Air Force. The satellites relay your distress signal to a ground station. Then, the Air Force contacts the Emergency Response Team in the area where you are stranded, no matter where you are, and the rescue is under way. The Beacon also starts to broadcast its beacon signal on a special frequency that the rescue team monitors. Using your GPS coordinates and the beacon signal, your location can be pin pointed exactly. And you are saved.

This is a great system but itís not cheap. I paid $700 for the beacon. It's a onetime charge. You must register with the Air Force and provide contact information so an emergency request can be verified to be real and not a mistake. I view this purchase as cheap insurance that frees me from having to travel in groups. Fortunately, I have never had to use it. Hopefully, I never will. But if I do need to, it is there to potentially save my life.

However, Iím basically an idiot! When I first got the beacon I was playing with it, trying out the self-test feature. I pushed the wrong button and sent a real emergency request. Within 5 minutes I had a phone call from one contact person, 5 minutes later a call from my second contact person, and 5 minutes later a call from the Air Force. All within 15 minutes!! Of course, I, with a very red face, had to explain that I was perfectly fine but I might die from embarrassment. The Air Force person was very nice and did not guilt trip me at all. My other contact folks just laughed. The point is, other than me being an idiot, the system worked. I was impressed.

Sparky
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Unread 06-20-2010, 08:48 AM   #8
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Wow! You're the only person that is like me. I've been on alot of jeep websites waiting to hear if another jeeper went the way I did. The difference between you and me is that I use Delorme software and like you, I am deeply satisfied! I am just waiting to buy a better laptop. I was using a Vaio. In addition, I have a Pioneer AVIC N1 as a back up. I, also, have a Garmin mounted on my dash. The Garmin is useless except as an altimeter because it loses satellite connections alot. The Pioneer and Delorme doesn't! I am thinking about pulling the front seat also but hesitate until I can get an idea how to use that area wisely. I have a double battery setup with an inverter also. In addition to the Rubicon, I have a 1941 Bantam trailer to carry out my adventures in. Likewise, I do solo jeeping. Love to talk to you on the phone, if you don't mind. I have a 65 quart Engel Combo in the jeep and one in the trailer. I am self sufficient for at least a few months. Being a retired chef, I use some culinary equipment to hold water and a food safe. Since I have the inverter and I like my coffee, I added an electric coffee pot. Since I can't see too well at night ( due to my age ), I added a infra-red system that hooks into my monitor. Coupled with some awesome lights, I can see! BUT....my jeep is set up for solo adventures or expeditions as they say now-a-days. Looking to add an ICOM set up as I am only running a Cobra 280.

Last edited by rubiconrich; 06-20-2010 at 08:53 AM.. Reason: forgot to say something!
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Unread 06-20-2010, 09:04 AM   #9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Karma View Post
HI 1222,
most of us already have,

4. A need to know where we are at all times.
Well, I'd disagree right there. One of the things I enjoy about my outdoor activities/adventures is not knowing everything all the time. Getting "lost" is kind of the point, to a degree. That said, there are practical and legal needs to be able to effectively navigate, and to that end, I've got several redundant systems in use at different times depending on the particular situation.

1) My iPhone provides communication, navigation and entertainment, it's mounted on a custom built RAM mount so it's secure against rough terrain and within easy reach. Now we all know that the mapping/navigation features of the iPhone are less than adequate for many situations, however for around town and highway use, it's enough. It can also display topo maps even if it's out of range of the cell systems that I can use with it's built in compass or a stand alone compass.

2) A Garmin Zumo motorcycle receiver. It's bigger than the handheld unit it replaced but still doesn't block much of the dash, vents etc. It's also on a RAM mount, has a good sized touch screen and is completely independent of any of my other navigation equipment. It's got a large memory and can take memory cards for additional storage. On the long trips my laptop goes along for numerous needs and rides in a Pelican case and it can be connected to the Zumo to do extensive updates, advanced routing, etc. if I want.

3) I always carry a compass and usually carry hard copies of my maps. Batteries fail, satellite signals can be obscured, solar flares can knock systems offline etc. but the Earth's magnetic field is (so far at least ) reliable. Good map and compass abilities are the foundation for all travel in my opinion regardless of whether it's on or off road.

4) I was taught and practice good navigation techniques and try to keep my common sense about me.

Also, with this navigation equipment, I can still seat 4 on or offroad. With my trailer, I can supply those 4 for roughly a week if I have gas resupply and a water source.

Cheers,
Adam
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Unread 06-20-2010, 09:10 AM   #10
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HI rubiconrich,
I PM'ed you.

Sparky
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Unread 06-20-2010, 09:14 AM   #11
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Originally Posted by Faramir66103 View Post
Well, I'd disagree right there. One of the things I enjoy about my outdoor activities/adventures is not knowing everything all the time. Getting "lost" is kind of the point, to a degree. That said, there are practical and legal needs to be able to effectively navigate, and to that end, I've got several redundant systems in use at different times depending on the particular situation.

1) My iPhone provides communication, navigation and entertainment, it's mounted on a custom built RAM mount so it's secure against rough terrain and within easy reach. Now we all know that the mapping/navigation features of the iPhone are less than adequate for many situations, however for around town and highway use, it's enough. It can also display topo maps even if it's out of range of the cell systems that I can use with it's built in compass or a stand alone compass.

2) A Garmin Zumo motorcycle receiver. It's bigger than the handheld unit it replaced but still doesn't block much of the dash, vents etc. It's also on a RAM mount, has a good sized touch screen and is completely independent of any of my other navigation equipment. It's got a large memory and can take memory cards for additional storage. On the long trips my laptop goes along for numerous needs and rides in a Pelican case and it can be connected to the Zumo to do extensive updates, advanced routing, etc. if I want.

3) I always carry a compass and usually carry hard copies of my maps. Batteries fail, satellite signals can be obscured, solar flares can knock systems offline etc. but the Earth's magnetic field is (so far at least ) reliable. Good map and compass abilities are the foundation for all travel in my opinion regardless of whether it's on or off road.

4) I was taught and practice good navigation techniques and try to keep my common sense about me.

Also, with this navigation equipment, I can still seat 4 on or offroad. With my trailer, I can supply those 4 for roughly a week if I have gas resupply and a water source.

Cheers,
Adam
HI Adam,
Clearly we have different styles. Maps are good if we have them. Good compass skills are great. But, I think you would agree, GPS is a revolution in navigation. The difference is I use it fully and you don't trust it.

And I totally hate being lost.

Sparky
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Unread 06-20-2010, 09:43 AM   #12
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When I go jeeping, I set the breadcrumb feature. I wheel for hours without using gps. But if I am lost, easily I find a way out. I still have my Boy Scout compass in the glove box and know how to use it. I've been using that compass for over fifty years. One note on GPS units that will make you laugh. Sometimes I have my Garmin on with another system...I find out that they disagree with each other! After being married for decades, it sounds like two women disagreeing on how a man should take their directions! The difference between the gps audio is that they have young, sweet voices and my wife's cackle gets on my nerves! LOL
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Unread 06-21-2010, 09:04 AM   #13
Faramir66103
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Originally Posted by Karma View Post
HI Adam,
Clearly we have different styles. Maps are good if we have them. Good compass skills are great. But, I think you would agree, GPS is a revolution in navigation. The difference is I use it fully and you don't trust it.

And I totally hate being lost.

Sparky
Yeah, we probably do have different styles, and that's cool. I'm sorry if I came off as snotty. It was unintentional, I just meant to illustrate a different approach. Your set up clearly works for you and you've put a lot of time, effort and resources into it, and most importantly, YOU like it.

I come from a background of Boy Scouting where "Be Prepared" is the motto and I fully believe in it. Also my Dad worked for the military and NASA and taught me to look for potential problems and have redundant and independent solutions on hand.

The only criticism I'd level at an approach that's completely reliant on the electronics (and it's pretty common these days) is that it makes learning and practicing good fundamentals seem unimportant. As an aside, the gearhead in me would LOVE to nose around in your system for a while!



Cheers,
Adam
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Unread 06-21-2010, 10:26 AM   #14
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Following this thread for a nice handheld GPS for mapping trails and stuff.
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Unread 06-21-2010, 11:55 AM   #15
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Originally Posted by Faramir66103 View Post
Yeah, we probably do have different styles, and that's cool. I'm sorry if I came off as snotty. It was unintentional, I just meant to illustrate a different approach. Your set up clearly works for you and you've put a lot of time, effort and resources into it, and most importantly, YOU like it.

I come from a background of Boy Scouting where "Be Prepared" is the motto and I fully believe in it. Also my Dad worked for the military and NASA and taught me to look for potential problems and have redundant and independent solutions on hand.

The only criticism I'd level at an approach that's completely reliant on the electronics (and it's pretty common these days) is that it makes learning and practicing good fundamentals seem unimportant. As an aside, the gearhead in me would LOVE to nose around in your system for a while!



Cheers,
Adam
So, are you saying that I am not prepared? Boy, that is not something I expected. While every system can be improved, I'll state that I am far more prepared than any wheeler I know. Some facts:

1. I have a personal location beacon. It works.
2. I am not dependant on portable batteries. The computer operates off vehicle power as does the GPS. My Jeep has a dual battery system.
3. I carry a compass and know how to use it.
4. I carry paper maps where practical.
5. I use the most rugged laptop computer available-the Panasonic Toughbook which is designed specifically for this type of use.
6. To eliminate the possibility of vibration affecting my hard disk, I minimize disk accesses. This is done by storing my maps on a thumbdrive. Once the Terrain Navigator software is loaded into memory and is running, the hard drive is never accessed.
7. Trips are well planned.

It's not practical to carry backups for everything. The game is to minimize risk within the limits of what can be carried. I can't do better than that.

Sparky
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