There was a time, not that long ago, when I felt that the map and compass would be the primary navigational tools for hill-walkers for many years to come. But the latest GPS receivers are beginning to make me think I could be wrong.
Lowrance is the latest brand of GPS (global positioning system) receivers to release a range featuring Ordnance Survey (OS) mapping. The top-of-the-range unit is the £500 Sierra , with the Safari (£350) and Out&Back (£250) providing lower-priced options with stripped-down features.
Most interestingly of all, these GPS receivers feature both touch-screen and conventional button operation. Alongside the usual features of an outdoor GPS, the Sierra can also provide turn-by-turn road directions with voice prompts, a video player, MP3 player, picture viewer and a microphone so that you can record notes en route. Most importantly for hill-goers, it also has a barometric altimeter and a compass. You could say the Sierra has more than enough features to get you from home to summit without the need for a map and compass (or your MP3 player).
I first used the Lowrance Endura Sierra on a press trip, where its functionality was put to the test canoeing, walking and cycling around an orienteering course in the Lake District. Its waterproof housing was an obvious bonus while paddling across Windermere, but I was more impressed with how easy it was to find my way around the operating system while paddling. The mix of touch-screen and push-button controls made operation easy and intuitive. For example, scrolling the map with the thumb is wonderfully natural, but being able to move the cursor with a joystick is more accurate than touch-screen option.
Leaving the canoe behind, I proceeded through the Grizedale Forest on foot. Forest canopy has always been a good testing ground for GPS receivers, as many struggle to track satellites when the leaves and branches of trees obscure a direct view of the sky. But the Lowrance performed well, tracking my position accurately along the footpaths of the on-screen OS map.
Most importantly, I could zoom in with either on-screen or press buttons and obtain an incredibly clear level of detail from the OS mapping. Clearly this is a top-quality screen.
Like the Satmap Active 10 and the Garmin Oregon, the Lowrance Endura Sierra has taken me one step closer to thinking that the paper map and compass may not remain the primary navigational tools for hill-walkers for much longer. However, I still like the advantages of being able to scour a large area on a paper map, and a compass does not need batteries. So perhaps there is still life in the traditional kit for some time to come… but for how long?
Price £500 for GPS unit: three UK OS regions at 1:50,000 @ £100 each; OS National Parks at 1:50,000 all on one SD card @ £100; OS National Parks at 1:25,000 on separate cards (later 2009/early 2010) @ £100 each
Display 4.2x5.5cm colour screen
Power 2xAA batteries
Computer interface USB port
Stored map routes 60
Stored waypoints 2,000
Weight 242g (including batteries)
Made in China
Stockist details tel. (01794) 510010; www.navico.co.uk
Verdict: The Lowrance Endura Sierra boasts touch-screen and push-button operation; extremely clear mapping detail on screen; very easy to use; OS mapping; electronic magnetic compass; extremely sensitive GPS reception; turn-by-turn road directions.
But it’s a very high price; a large paper map is easier to read; a larger screen would make it even better. In summary, the Lowrance Endura Sierra raises the bar for GPS receivers, and is a well-thought-through unit, packed with features and intuitive to use.
Review by Graham Thompson
First published in Trail magazine September 2009