Review: Garmin Colorado 400t GPS & Bike Mount

trail_nav

If you’re tired of getting lost on the mountain bike trail or are just looking for a new toy to play with on your ride, 2010 is the year for you to jack into GPS. I’ve been taking a GPS with me on every ride for 8 or 9 years now and I recently got a chance to demo the Colorado 400t from Garmin. The Colorado 400t is a good choice for anyone who likes to mountain bike but also likes to lace up the hiking boots every once in a while.

Hardware

Like the other Garmin outdoor handhelds before it, the Colorado 400t ($599 MSRP but $300 at Amazon right now) is ultra-rugged and designed to take abuse on the trail. It’s waterproof-rated for submersion up to 30 minutes which means creek crossings and unexpected downpours are no problem. The color display is optimized for direct sunlight viewing, though in the shade I found I needed to flip on the backlight from time to time.

bike_mount

Many of the Garmin GPS units I’ve tested have featured somewhat flimsy and awkward bike mounts but the Colorado 400t seems to offer a huge improvement. And while the bike mount is not included, it does make use of the sturdy metal slot integrated right into the battery cover for a rock-solid fit. No more busted clips or heavy, bulky attachments!

3d-view

The Colorado 400t is the first Garmin handheld GPS to feature the Rock ‘n Roller input wheel which allows you to navigate screens using just one hand, even with gloves. And while I found the wheel to be super easy for inputting text on the ground it was difficult to master while riding the bike – bumps forced me to accidentally turn the knob too far.

Some may be surprised to learn the Colorado 400t doesn’t include a rechargeable battery, instead making use of regular old AA batteries. The reason? If you’re in the field for days at a time (backpacking, say) you don’t have anywhere to plug in for a recharge. Of course for trips closer to home you can pop in your own rechargeable AAs but sadly those rarely work as well as the disposables. A USB connection, SD memory card slot, and barometric altimeter round out the hardware specs.

Software

One of the big changes Garmin is pushing with the latest devices is built in basemaps. Previously if you wanted to view topo maps on your GPS device you needed to pony up another $100 or so to get the software, and even then you could rarely fit the entire US on your device at one time. The Colorado 400t comes pre-loaded with topographic data covering the entire country and also features roads and other points of interest. The topo software does not include tools for turn-by-turn navigation, though this is possible with additional software.

Loading GPS tracks and waypoints onto the Colorado 400t is a cinch – just connect the USB cable and drag/drop GPX-formatted files onto the device (no desktop software required). Navigate Where To -> Tracks on the device and you can see a map and elevation plot of your GPX file. Sadly Garmin seems to have done away with the TracBack feature on the Colorado series so “navigating” really just consists of seeing a track and waypoints on your map (no audible turn alerts but distance/time to finish is calculated). I also couldn’t find a way to change track line colors which makes it hard to distinguish between your current track and the saved track you’re trying to navigate.

Creating tracks on the Colorado 400t is improved over previous devices, though it may take a little practice at first. It’s a good idea to reset your track data before mapping a new adventure but if you forget, the track saving tool makes it easy to select the beginning and end points of the track you’d like to save. The data is stored neatly in a GPX file for easy retrieval at your computer.

custom_map

Custom map of Captain Jack’s overlaid in Google Earth.

Perhaps the coolest feature included on the Garmin Colorado 400t is the ability to use custom base maps. Custom maps are saved in KMZ format (Google Earth uses this) and are also added to the device via drag-and-drop. Garmin has a good tutorial on their website describing how to make your own maps and we created this map of Captain Jack’s MTB trail in Colorado Springs as an example. Who knows, if more folks start using custom-map-capable GPS devices we may just start to offer these with our trail map subscriptions

There are literally dozens of screens and features included on the Colorado 400t beyond what was mentioned above. A few notable standouts: 3D map view for visualizing terrain, brilliant elevation plots, temperature gauge, sunset / sunrise calculator, and a geocaching app.

Summary

If you’re looking for a multi-purpose, rugged GPS for all your outdoor activities, the Garmin Colorado 400t may be the device for you. Just add a $10 bike mount and you’ll be ready to navigate and map like a pro!

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