On the subject of GPS for hiking, there’s been some development recently around devices that support topographical info, either as vector maps (just the information stored as lines) or raster (bitmaps - which look like real maps). For a great overview, start with this video from GPS Training
My favourite system for walking is still the Garmin range, and up until recently, none supported raster maps; however it seems Garmin are now beginning to introduce this for the Oregon and Colorado 300 with 1:25,000 maps from the O.S. in the UK - Garmin GB Discoverer such as the one for the Peak District. There’s no sign of the French IGN maps yet.
The only other UK & France solution for raster maps I’ve come across is the combination of the Road Angel Adventurer 7000, and map data from Memory-Map (which is available for both the UK and I think for France). The UK maps are only 1:50,000, but it’s possible to walk in most areas of the UK with these. I’ve not been able to confirm if this device does work with the French maps, but it seems likely.
The older Garmin topo maps currently available (France, UK) are a great advance on the previous MetroGuide maps and provide info on footpaths, lakes, rivers & contour lines. They’re great for helping to get you oriented, however I’d always recommend a good OS or IGN map and compass as a backup for when the batteries fail.
From the current Garmin range, I’d reccomend one of two devices for most hikers
- I’d recomend the Garmin Vista HCx for visibility in bright sunlight, accuracy, battery life and compact size.
- The Garmin Oregon 300 is easier to use with the touchscreen, and it also connects to a heat monitor strip if you want to use it to record exercise. In some conditions it’s not as clear as the vista; and it’s supposed to be a little less accurate (than the HCx); but the screen is big – and the touch screen makes it a lot easier to use than the nipple/joystick on the vista. There are many articles out there that talk about poor brightness due to the touch screen, but I’ve not found it to be an issue – as you can usually angle the screen out of the sun, or turn up the backlight (which will burn batteries faster, but if you’re using rechargeable and have spares – no problem)
On balance… I’d suggest the Vista range if you’re good with technology/computers & can program a VCR ;-) (as it’s a little harder to use), and want the best battery life or GPS accuracy; and the Oregon if you want ease-of use, paperless geocaching (as it allows you to load a gpx file with all of the info about a cache), or the potential for integrating raster topo maps.
There is also lots of info on the Oregon wiki.