Navigating in the backcountry has become increasingly precise thanks to electronic tools such as digital compasses, altimeters and GPS receivers. But the core of all route-finding...

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Navigating in the backcountry has become increasingly precise thanks to electronic tools such as digital compasses, altimeters and GPS receivers. But the core of all route-finding is a map. Navigating without a map is like trying to drive a car without tires.

Carrying a hard copy of the map of your area remains a vital component of safety during any wilderness excursion, but the new Magellan SporTrak Topo GPS receiver supplements that hard copy with a detailed digital topographic map. The SporTrak Topo comes with a preloaded topographic map of the United States, showing any trail or wilderness area you want to explore.

That topo map uses 108MB of the built-in memory. Another 8MB is used to store “front-country” data such as major roads and highways, cities, parks and waterways, making the SporTrak Topo versatile as well as powerful. What’s more, the unit boasts an additional 16MB of free memory so you may upload your own data.

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For instance, you may plot your hiking route on mapping software on a home computer, then upload that route into the SporTrak so you have your route at your fingertips while hiking.

Or you could use the Magellan MapSend CD (included with the SporTrak Topo) to select and upload additional map details (whether it’s street-level maps of your neighborhood or more detailed backcountry data for your hiking region). On the trail, you can store up to 500 detailed waypoints.

The SporTrak Topo utilizes the proven 12-channel parallel satellite receiver and processor for fast and accurate satellite acquisition and connection. The display (1.4 inches by 2.2 inches) is grayscale, but sharp for easy reading. The basic controls are fairly intuitive — I was able to use the unit right out of the box without cracking open the user manual, though I did end up peeking to figure out the more advanced functions. The layout of the controls allows for comfortable and easy one-handed operation.

The SporTrak Topo retails for $399. For more information: www.magellangps.com

Dan A. Nelson is a regular contributor to Backpacker magazine, and an author of outdoor guides with The Mountaineers Books. He lives in Puyallup.