THE LEG­END LIVES

Even to­day, the Garmin 276C re­mains one of the best off-road GPS units ever cre­ated. No unit pro­duced since can keep up with it. Thank­fully, Garmin has fi­nally stopped try­ing to re­place it, and has in­stead re­turned it to pro­duc­tion. Here is the Garmin 276

Leisure Wheels (South Africa) - - VOETSPOREDIARY -

AGPS nav­i­ga­tion unit is an es­sen­tial piece of equip­ment for any off-roader. Those who claim they travel with­out one are prob­a­bly the same guys who brag about the fact that they did most of an off-road trail with­out en­gag­ing 4x4. It’s just plain stupid.

The in­tro­duc­tion of GPS units for leisure use about 20 years ago made a huge dif­fer­ence to the way we trav­elled. Dur­ing our first Voet­spore ex­pe­di­tion, I used a Mag­el­lan. It was a very ba­sic unit, but those were the early stages of the GPS for the leisure mar­ket. The Mag­el­lan sim­ply marked your route with very ba­sic in­for­ma­tion re­gard­ing your lo­ca­tion.

For our next trip, we switched to Garmin. This early ver­sion was also un­com­pli­cated and of­fered a min­i­mum of in­for­ma­tion.

In 2004, I re­ceived a won­der­ful gift: the Garmin 276C. The GPS mar­ket was clearly chang­ing. Here was a unit for over­land­ing. I was told, fun­nily enough, that it had been de­vel­oped with ma­rine ap­pli­ca­tions in mind, and it there­fore of­fered func­tions re­lated to water depth and tem­per­a­ture. But it was all the other func­tions that caught my at­ten­tion, specif­i­cally the ways it op­er­ated. It didn’t have a touch­screen like many other de­vices en­ter­ing the mar­ket at that time, it had but­tons. It was also sturdy, wa­ter­proof and dust­proof. Lastly, the amount of in­for­ma­tion dis­played on the screen as you zoomed in or out was per­fect for off-road con­di­tions.

I soon learnt that this was the GPS of choice among guides in the wilder­ness. When Garmin (sadly) stopped pro­duc­ing them, they be­came one of the most soughtafter items on on­line clas­si­fied sites.

The en­gi­neers and mar­ket­ing peo­ple at Garmin thought they could im­prove on it. They re­leased other de­vices such as the Mon­tana and the Ore­gon. These had mas­sive mem­o­ries, touch­screens and beau­ti­ful dis­plays. I got my­self a Mon­tana, but quickly re­alised it wasn’t an up­dated 276C.

In their quest to make it user-friendly, Gamin did the op­po­site. Firstly, you could pick a theme that suited your ap­pli­ca­tion. But this just over­com­pli­cated things. It had other flaws, too. It of­ten took me on ad­ven­tur­ous and scenic routes be­cause of its in­abil­ity to do proper route cal­cu­la­tions. One day I was look­ing for Fort Je­sus in Mom­basa, one of the land­marks in the coastal Kenyan city. My Mon­tana took us there... through the small back al­leys of the city. Our 4×4s could barely squeeze through. It made for ex­cel­lent TV footage, but we wasted four hours. The Mon­tana also has the habit of los­ing satel­lite sig­nal, even with a cloud­less sky above.

In short, I hated the de­vice. I re­turned to my 276C with its lim­ited mem­ory, mean­ing I could only up­load small sec­tions of a map at a time. I had to swap and delete maps of­ten, but it worked.

A few years ago, I was ap­proached by TomTom to look at its Bridge. I was im­pressed with its abil­ity while driv­ing in civil­i­sa­tion. It had a big screen, like an iPad. It was also touch­screen and very quick. You could even down­load your emails, do bank trans­ac­tions and ac­cess Lonely Planet on the de­vice. In fact, just about any reg­u­lar app could be loaded onto the Bridge.

I loved it, but there was a prob­lem. Al­though the Bridge recorded its route, it did not have the abil­ity to dis­play it. This is what we re­fer to as ‘bread­crumbs’. In off-road con­di­tions, it is of­ten nec­es­sary to re­trace your steps, but the Bridge couldn’t help you do it. There was an­other draw­back. We travel with

Track­s4Africa.

This is the es­sen­tial African GPS map, but it is only com­pat­i­ble with Garmin. Un­til these two prob­lems are sorted, the Bridge will not make it in the off-road mar­ket, de­spite its many out­stand­ing qual­i­ties.

Now for the good news. Garmin has re­alised, at least in cer­tain sec­tions of the mar­ket, that there’s still a yearn­ing for the 276C. So it has rein­tro­duced this clas­sic model. It is called the 276Cx, and it is bril­liant. What dif­fer­en­ti­ates this de­vice from all the oth­ers is the fact that it doesn’t have a touch­screen. There are im­prove­ments to the old tried-and-trusted de­vice, such as up­dated hard­ware and soft­ware, Wi-Fi, Blue­tooth and ex­pand­able SD stor­age, but no finicky touch­screen. If you’re fa­mil­iar with the old de­vice, it will take barely two sec­onds to get used to this new model.

Is this de­vice with­out its flaws? Un­for­tu­nately not. The 276Cx is not equipped with an ex­ter­nal mic. So, you have to con­nect it to the ra­dio in your ve­hi­cle, and then lis­ten to ei­ther your favourite mu­sic, or Sally telling you where to turn.

An­other flaw, which for me is a big one, is the fact that you can have only lim­ited com­mu­ni­ca­tion with your ac­tion cam­era. Most peo­ple now have a GoPro, Ban­dit or Verb mounted some­where on their bike or 4×4. The 276Cx can com­mu­ni­cate with these, but with­out pro­vid­ing a pic­ture. You can stop and start the cam­era, but you still shoot blind. If you want to get a pic­ture, too, you need to con­nect the ac­tion cam­era with your smart­phone, which makes com­mu­ni­ca­tion with the GPS unit rather point­less.

Fi­nally, the bracket and suc­tion cup pro­vided by Garmin are to­tally in­ad­e­quate for this de­vice. Luck­ily, though, there are com­pa­nies like RAM that man­u­fac­ture proper brack­ets for a GPS as large as this.

If you’re an off-roader, get your­self the new 276Cx. Have it per­ma­nently in­stalled in your ve­hi­cle with an ex­ter­nal speaker and RAM bracket, and have Track­s4Africa loaded be­fore you drive any­where. If you need help do­ing this, con­tact Fran­cois at 012 940 8999, or email him on fran­cois@

voet­spore.co.za. The 276Cx is not the cheap­est de­vice on the mar­ket, but when you reach your des­ti­na­tion safely, you’ll re­alise that you made the right choice.

Jo­han Baden­horst is prob­a­bly South Africa’s best-known over­lan­der, with his amaz­ing ad­ven­tures tele­vised on SABC2. He also knows a lot about pa­tience – prob­a­bly the best at­tribute if you plan on trav­el­ling the African con­ti­nent.

Main and above: When driv­ing off-road, you need a de­pend­able GPS unit. The 276C – a unit cre­ated for ma­rine ap­pli­ca­tions – turned out to be the per­fect over­land com­pan­ion. Be­low: Jo­han’s favourite GPS unit, the 276C is back. It has re­ceived a few updates and is now called the 276Cx.

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