Garmin/eTrex Vista HCx

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Garmin Etrex Vista HCX

Garmin/eTrex Vista HCx is part of the Garmin/eTrex series of GPS devices, suitable for #Recording traces and #Using OSM maps

OSM specifics

Recording traces

General suggestions

This device has two options for trace recording - internal memory and microSD card. If recording to the microSD card, traces are written in gpx format, which is suitable for OpenStreetMap usage.

Do not use the device "Save" feature for tracklogs. Saved tracklogs cannot be uploaded to OpenStreetMap (time information is removed from them).

IMPORTANT: deactivate the "Lock on road" feature before recording tracks. To do so, press menu button from the map view, Setup map, and in the leftmost page set "Lock On Road" to "Off".

By default, sampling rate is set to "Auto" and "Normal". This is quite unsatisfactory for OpenStreetMap traces. Here is a comparison of logging at "Auto/Most often", 1 second and 0.01 km options:

Garmin etrex vista hcx trace comparison.png

  • Red - Auto/Most often
  • Blue - 0.01 km
  • Green - 1 second

As can be seen, even at "Most often" automatic mode is not satisfactory. "0.01 km" mode, while mostly producing adequate results, falls a bit short on turns sometimes. "1 second" sampling provides the best results, but, unfortunately, also lots of excess data, especially when not moving. It is thus suggested to choose between "0.01 km" and "1 second" modes. If logging is set to one second, clean up the excess and trash points before uploading the traces.

To automatically remove all points that are closer than 2 metres to the previous point:

 gpsbabel -i gpx -f infile.gpx -x position,distance=2m -o gpx -F outfile.gpx

After such an operation it is still suggested to manually clean out "blobs" of points if having stayed in one location (especially indoors) for some period of time.

Saving to microSD card

To activate saving to the microSD card, press menu button twice, then navigate to Tracks -> Setup -> Data Card Setup and mark checkbox "Log Track To Data Card". Files will be saved with full date being the filename - YYYYMMDD.gpx.

To retrieve the files, either insert the microSD card in a card reader, or connect the device to a computer via USB cable and set it to the USB mass storage mode. To do so, press menu button twice, Setup -> Interface and 'click' the 'rocker' button to activate "USB Mass Storage" option. To return to the normal operation mode, press on/off button once.

Transferring trace from the built-in memory

Length is limited to 10 000 data points. In reality this is not so short - 10 000 data points is about 350km of cycling with "most often" sampling, but see above for trace recording options. With 1 second sampling built-in memory fills up fairly quickly.

To transfer trace from the built-in memory, gpsbabel can be used. Connect the device with a USB cable and issue:

 gpsbabel -t -i garmin -f /dev/ttyUSB0 -o gpx -F garmin_downloaded.gpx

Make sure you have required permissions and use correct USB device.

-t stands for "tracks". -w can be used for waypoints. Note that this only downloads current log, not the saved ones.

Using OSM maps

See OSM Map On Garmin get the OpenStreetMap maps on the device

Maps can be created with mkgmap and uploaded to the SD card. Note that map name (--mapname option) should not exceed 8 characters, otherwise the map will be silently ignored.

Vista HCx supports lowercase letters in horizontal text (city names etc), but not for rotated symbols (rendered street names).

There is a OpenSeaMap-vector chart, covering whole Europe.

Generic information

Garmin eTrex Vista HCx is a handheld GPS device. It has colour display, supports loadable maps and runs on 2 AA elements.

It accepts a microSD card for map storage and direct GPS trace logging to gpx format.

Connecting to a computer with a mini-b USB cable allows to use it as a generic GPS receiver (for example, with gpsd).

If connected with a mini-b USB cable to a power source, can run on that power and does not draw power from batteries. It is not capable of charging batteries (source).

Firmware updates

To check the current firmware version goto Menu->Setup->System, then press the MENU/FIND button (the one below ZOOM IN), then select "Software Version".


Newer units (Sep 2011) are shipping with v3.40.


Latest units (Aug 2010) are shipping with v3.30 although the Garmin website states that 3.20 is the latest (Dec 2009). No changelog appears to be available.


According to Garmin :

  • Correct time scale of altimeter chart.
  • Add support for maps greater than 2 GB.
  • Modify track log function for steady barometer output at power on.

Undocumented changes :

  • The auto calibration of the altimeter now works even with huge differences between barometric altitude and GPS altitude (was not the case with 2.80, manual calibration was necessary)

microSD cards

  • All microSD cards <= 2GB should work
  • Some older 4GB cards use a non-standard addressing format (not true SD or SDHC) and might not work.
  • All new cards > 2GB use SDHC and should work. The following cards have been reported to work without problems: Sandisk 8GB, Transcend 4GB microSDHC.

User reviews

--Rgmerk 00:14, 1 November 2007 (UTC) This unit is similar to the Vista Cx, but uses a higher-sensitivity chipset to make getting fixes easier.

  • Color screen is quite good.
  • Has multiple modes for different types of AA batteries, including one for NiMH rechargeables.
  • Mine came included with a USB cable for transferring data to your computer.
  • Track logs and waypoints can be saved to the internal memory (and can be extracted with gpsbabel).
  • Waypoint name length maximum of 14 charactors.
  • Tracks can also be saved as GPX format on a micro-SD card, and then extracted by putting the unit into USB Mass Storage mode.
  • Mkgmap untested at this stage.

The Vista HCx has the best readable screen (alongside with other color etrex h series) of all Garmin units, when viewed under direct sunlight. The backlight is the brightest of any garmin outdoor unit. This makes the etrex hcx series the best series to be able to read the screen while cycling or mtbiking. The screen is transreflective and if you hold it correctly (the sun or a lamp shining onto it from above) you need no backlight. If you wear sunglases on a mtb, have a screen protector applied (this reduces the transreflective effect a bit), with the sun low from the front or blocking the sunlight with your body, or cycle through shady places, you need the backlight however. Therefore I have backlight on around 50% all the time on for mtbiking. When hiking I don't need it.--Extremecarver 01:09, 4 November 2008 (UTC)

Battery capacity is great. For best performance either use lithium primary cells, or rechargable batteries like Eneloops. With 2000mAh Eneloops and backlight off, you can get around 30hours running time. With backlight set to 50% still around 12-13 hours. This is while showing maps and riding a mtb. If hiking or not showing maps (less CPU power for screen redraws), or having the map orientation to the north, running time will increase. Using lithium cells you should get over 40 hours, however at a hefty pricepoint for the lithium cells. For the environment and your cash pocket best use rechargeables.--Extremecarver 01:09, 4 November 2008 (UTC)

  • Power consumtion - I've made some measurements with my device: When running on batteries (3.0V) the eTrex consumes 70-80 mA without backlight and 100-140 mA with backlight. So a pair of batteries with true 2500 mAh should theoretically ensure about 30 hours of runtime. When running on USB (5.0V) the consumption drops to a little more than 40mA (no backlight). In both cases the consumtion rises 5-10% whith active compass. The energy required by the compass is dependent on the movement of the device: When there's no change in direction to be detected there's no consumption to recgnise. I wasn't able to recognise any influence on the consumption by the tracking-rate or during a routing-calculation. --Fröstel 14:11, 31 December 2008 (UTC)

Richard B 13:05, 10 January 2008 (UTC)

  • I've recently received a Vista HCx, and have thus-far found it to be excellent. Signal lock seems to occur pretty quickly. I've even got acceptable signal lock indoors. Seems to perform well in the car. Mine came with a USB cable, and a piece of software which is capable of taking tracks from the GPS unit and saving them as GPX (no gpsbabel seems to be required), as well as a bracket for attaching the unit to a bike. The unit will take up to a 2GB microSD card for extra storage - and these seem to be getting fairly cheap these days. Will do up to 10,000 trackpoints without the microSD card. Not tested capacity with the microSD card yet.

I can confirm that one can log an excess of 10000 trackpoints to the microSD cardStok 20:21, 21 April 2008 (UTC) One should be able to log up to 2048MB in a single run to the microSD card, more than enough even if on 1sec intervall, for best accuracy of tracklogs however set to Auto and Most or More, this way some trackpoints of bad quality (or while not moving) will be skipped --Extremecarver 00:54, 4 November 2008 (UTC)

I have a 4GB Micro-SDHC Card in my device and it works fine, will accept only 2048MB in gmapsupp.img however (this is due to file structure system used - you may use the rest of the space for tracklogs or other data). --Kickback 09:00, 5 August 2008 (UTC) - Did not work in mine. --Gypakk 12:30, 6 August 2008 (UTC)

To get most accurate trace results (precision about 2 meters), ensure to have this settings:

  • Tracks->Setup: Interval: Most Often   (German: Tracks->Einstellung Intervall: Maximal)
  • Setup->System WAAS/EGNOS: Enabled   (German: Einstellung->System WAAS/EGNOS: Aktiviert)
    • Don't enable WAAS/EGNOS in Europe, if reception is good accuracy is well enough anyhow. If reception is bad (tree cover, etc..) enabling this leads to worse results. --Extremecarver 00:54, 4 November 2008 (UTC)
  • Due to the Antenna design device will operate best when held horizontal (like on a bike handlebar). When held vertical the reception is worse. This makes the Vista HCx the best mtb Garmin handheld, but less ideal when put into your jeans pocket or upright on your backpack.

You can easily display OSM maps on this device by getting a hold of a gmapsupp.img file (see OSM Map On Garmin) and copying it to a folder called garmin on the micro SD card Bruce mcadam 10:51, 9 September 2008 (UTC)

  • Beware of GPS-firmware (not device firmware) 2.60. There is a bug which probably derives from interference between static navigation and bad signal conditions leading to a status where the device shifts the track with a constant offset from 30 to 150meters, even if signal-conditions improve. cure is either powercycling or drive/run faster than 20(?)km/h for at lest a few seconds. Tracks with gps-firmware 2.50 may look more noisy and static navigation is a lot slower, but for mapping the tracks are a lot better. (better use 2.50 than 2.30) ---jha- 17:11, 22 September 2008 (UTC) --Extremecarver 00:54, 4 November 2008 (UTC)
  • Note that there is now a GPS-firmware 2.70 now available. Does this fix the bug? Richard B 09:06, 23 September 2008 (UTC)
  • Firmware 2.80 is now available. Apparently neither 2.70 nor 2.80 fix the bug. mike.fabian 16:15, 21 October 2008 (UTC)
  • The drift bug happens usually only when being in a valley with tree cover - on some units more often, on some less. Which firmware and GPS-Firmware to choose for best results is not clear. I personally have sattled to 2.70/2.50 (2.70 GPS Firmware, 2.50 region M2 GPS-Firmware (for MTK chip). 2.80/2.80 does too much dead reckoning. Track quality looks really good, but sometimes goes of by 20-30m when 2.70/2.50 gets accuracy of 6-7m. 2.80/2.80 tracklogs are smoothed very heavily and have one BUG (if reception stops, it will continue going straight for around 2minutes, with 2.70 Firmware this does not happen, the GPS will continue displaying your position going forward, but not write it to the tracklog). 2.70/2.50 tracklogs have far less smoothing applied.--Extremecarver 00:54, 4 November 2008 (UTC)
  • How can you revert the software to 2.70/2.50? On the Garmin website, only the newest (2.80) is available. Also there doesn't seem to be a distinction between the two types of firmware you mention. User:jori 20:06 24 December UTC.
The first link appears to be dead. Does anyone know where to get GPS firmware 2.50? I've tried 2.60 and 2.90 - both have drift issue. --One half 3544 15:16, 11 May 2010 (UTC)
GPS SW .rgns are available at --One half 3544 15:09, 12 May 2010 (UTC)

Accuracy reported to be 11ft when mounted on my bike handlebars. WARNING, do not use the save facility for tracklogs. Saved tracklogs cannot be uploaded to openstreetmap. --AntonyW 20:27, 30 September 2008 (UTC). Activate "Save to SD Card" and get the tracks from the SD card instead. --Extremecarver 00:54, 4 November 2008 (UTC) Tracklogs were always usable with Linux. download with gpsbabel and convert to gpx format. --Drlizau 20:03, 24 February 2011 (UTC)


  • Sometimes, after a while of operation a "D" appear in the satellite intensity bar. What does this mean ?
It means that your gps received correction information for that satellite from the egnos/waas system. --Mistvieh 22:58, 24 January 2010 (UTC)
  • Is it possible to use the Garmin eTrex Vista HCx as a GPS mouse? So that I can connect the device via USB to my netbook and run a navigation software like Navit? --kdkeller 04:08, 2 June 2010 (UTC)
No. --Zverik 10:56, 29 October 2010 (BST)
Yes with Linux, gpsd and navit --Drlizau 19:59, 24 February 2011 (UTC)
See USB Garmin on GNU/Linux for instructions --Kagee 20:45, 2 March 2011 (UTC)
Yes, with Google Earth at least on Mac OS X --Bot47 09:41, 21 July 2011 (BST)
  • Is there a way to make the unit recognize more than one map file in an SD card? Putting a gmapsupp.img in a Garmin directory is known to work. Can a gmapsup2.img or any other name be recognized, or do all maps need to be merged into a single gmapsupp.img file first? Since a single FAT32 file is limited to 4GB the latter would mean that any SD card bigger than 4GB is useless even if recognized.
Only in newer Garmins, like Oregon/Colorado. In eTrexes you must join maps with Mapsource to produce a single gmapsupp.img. Unfortunately, Mapsource does not read .img --Zverik 10:56, 29 October 2010 (BST)