Sunday, March 18, 2012


Garmin eTrex Legend HCx review

eTrex Legend HCx review

UPDATE: This model has been superseded by the new Garmin eTrex 20.

UPDATE: This model has been discontinued. For more current recommendations, please refer to our handheld GPS buyers guide or our Garmin handheld GPS comparison chart.

Hands on with the Garmin eTrex Legend HCx

I’ve had a chance to try out the Garmin eTrex Legend HCx recently. This is my first extended experience with an eTrex model since I purchased my first GPS — an eTrex Venture — many years ago.

One of Garmin’s newer eTrex H-series receivers, the Legend HCx updates the very popular Legend Cx. The “H” stands for high-sensitivity chipset, to ensure great satellite reception under canopy and in other situations where you have a limited view of the sky.

Like its predecessor, the Legend HCx has a bright color screen and a micro-SD card slot for loading topo or highway maps. A great handheld GPS, the Legend HCx also autoroutes, so you can add City Navigator maps and a mount, and use it for turn-by-turn highway navigation in your car. The button layout may make it a little awkward for this purpose though; a better choice for dual use might be the Garmin 60CSx.

Related units

Garmin eTrex Legend HCx performance

The new eTrex H-series uses MediaTek’s MTK chipset, which compared favorably with the 60CSX’s SiRFstar III chipset during my testing.

The Legend HCx also performed well in accuracy tests. In a hike in a local park with relatively dense tree cover, the accuracy was never worse than 23 feet.

The other thing I noticed in comparing this unit to my 60CSx was the significantly brighter screen on the Legend HCx.

Garmin eTrex Legend HCx layout

I doubted that I would like the button layout but, as Garmin usually does, they’ve made it pretty intuitive. So let’s take a closer look at that before we go any further.


These warrant a little further explanation:

  • Power key – In addition to the on/off function, you can press and release to adjust backlighting, and view the time, date and remaining battery charge.
  • Legend_hcx_trip_computerQuit / Page – Press to cycle through pages. This button will also
    terminate the use of any on-screen keyboard or back you out of a menu.
  • Zoom in/out – In addition to zooming the map, on any other screen, use it to scroll through a list or use a slider bar.
  • Menu / Find – Press and hold to see the Find screen. Press and release to display a page’s menu. Press again to get to the main menu.
  • Enter / Rocker – Press down on this “thumbstick” to enter. Move the thumbstick / rocker right-left or up-down to navigate menus or pan the map. You can also mark a waypoint at your current location by pressing and holding.

It may sound complicated, but it becomes second nature very quickly. You can discover most functions in the field. The two press and hold functions (Find and Mark Waypoint) are the only ones you really need to remember. The rest is incredibly intuitive.

Customizing your Legend HCx

One of the great things about Garmin handhelds is that they can be customized to display the information that is most important to you. The hunter, geocacher, cyclist, and hiker will all have different needs.

Legend_hcx_compass A great place to start, and a fine example of the degree to which you can customize the Legend HCx, is choosing what pages to display and the order in which they are displayed. To do this, press Menu, then press Menu again. Then press Setup, then Page Sequence. The most useful in my mind are the Map, Compass and Trip Computer screens (shown above at right). Personally, I also add Main Menu, Satellite, Active Route, Find, Recent Finds, Routes and Tracks!

The trip computer screen has lots of options for customization, as you can see. Each field can be changed independently, choosing from a list of 34 options. A “Big numbers” option reduces the number of visible fields to three, providing an easier to read display, a feature that cyclists or the visually impaired may find useful.

Similarly, the compass screen and map screen both allow you to customize display fields.

I also recommend going into the setup menu and exploring each option.

More Garmin eTrex Legend HCx reviews

Garmin eTrex Legend HCx resources

Compare prices on the Garmin eTrex Legend HCx at these merchants:


About Rich Owings

Rich is the owner, editor and chief bottle-washer for GPS Tracklog. Connect with him on Twitter, Facebook or Google Plus.


  1. Beau Ellis says:

    I thought the Legend HCx didn’t have a compass or altimeter, yet the screenshots show both. Does it actually have them?

  2. It doesn’t have an electronic compass or barometric altimeter. But it does have a compass (you have to walk for it to work; the unit doesn’t know which way you are facing, only which way you are moving). And it will report elevation via GPS. Not as accurate as a barometric altimeter but in the ballpark.

  3. Can standard digital maps produced by the National Geo Spatial Agency (NGA) be used in any of the Garmin GPS? Specifically, can I load Iraq maps for my son who is deploying?

  4. Len,
    No, I don’t believe you can use those. Here’s a post I did on some Garmin-compatible maps of Iraq…

  5. Can anyone recommend software to link the track from the etrex legend to photos by time point?

  6. I like TopoFusion for placing them on a map…
    But it doesn’t embed coordinates in the photos’ EXIF header, if that’s what you want. A lot of people like RoboGeo and I think it does.

  7. Ale Couto says:

    Hello, could somebody suggest me some site for maps download ? I’m going to Catamarca desert in Argentina and I can’t find maps from this place. Thanks.

  8. Hi,
    I have the Garmin eTrex Legend HCx
    and I am into hiking. I am wanting to get software for my gps that is best for Oregon and seeing detailed maps of where I am hiking. Please give me some links. Thank you so much!

  9. I cannot connect my eTrex HCx to my PC. The drivers are downloaded, the PC and the GPS are on and connected, but the PC does not see the GPS. What can I do??

  10. Rob,
    I did a search on Groundspeak for a similar issue and found this…
    It’s a 60 series question and not an eTrex, but perhaps some of the suggestions there are worth trying.

  11. Wessel Raath says:

    I have downloaded the street maps of South Africa via my PC onto my Legend HCx, but I cannot find it on the GPS’s screen. What must I do?

  12. From the map page, press Menu > Setup map. If I recall correctly, this will bring up a number of options across the top of the screen. Scroll across till you get to the Map setup information screen. This will bring up a list of loaded maps. Place a check mark by the South Africa map. That’s it!

  13. Mike Graham says:

    Hi, what is the best micro sd card for a garmin legend hcx? I plan on using highly detailed topo maps, but I’ve heard that the unit may not work well with 4 gb cards. Should I get a 4 or 2 gb? Is there a recommended brand or class?

  14. From Garmin FAQs:
    “Although any brand of the microSD card should work without any problems, Garmin recommends using SanDisk or Kingston brand cards. The only exception is that the SanDisk Ultra II 1 Gb cards are currently not compatible with the X-series Garmin GPS units.”
    “At this time, the 2 GB cards are the largest microSD (Secure Digital) cards that can be used for the X-series GPS units. However, the X-series GPS units are not compatible with the San Disk Ultra II cards and therefore we do not recommend using the Ultra II micro SD cards with any of the X-series units.”
    More info here:
    I *believe* you will only be able to load 2GB of maps, but can use the remaining memory for other data.

  15. Hi,
    I have the Garmin eTrex Legend HCx. I can log my tracks. Log has got numbers, alts, coords, etc. But track logs not include time datas. How I can set it?

  16. Only the active tracklog and tracks saved to a micro-SD card will have this data. Once you hit save, you lose the timestamps and it gets truncated to 500 points. More info here…

  17. Brian Smith says:

    I was wondering if it was possible to have Topo maps and City Navigator maps on the same micro SD card. Thinking then I would be able to switch between them without changing cards. I know that I wouldn’t be able to have all the maps for the USA on one card, but I was hopeing to have just a few maps from each on one card. Any help would be appreiciated. Thanks in advance

  18. Yes, if you have the disc versions of both programs. You’ll need to select the regions you want to load from both programs in one MapSource session and send them all to the card at the same time. You may be able to get half the U.S. onto one card.

  19. Don Kubik says:

    Great review & How to tips on HCX – any tips on lakes ? I just purchased the Inland Lakes DVD & I already have a few spots marked with default maps and should have the above DVD June 29th or so.

  20. Rich Owings says:

    I’m no a boater, but I’d say just start playing with waypoints, tracks and routes, in MapSource and on the device. After an outing, transfer your track and any new waypoints back to your PC. Use these to help plan return trips.

    • Don Kubik says:

      Thanks for the tips. So far I find it easier to use mapsource to edit & modify the routes. Is there a better/different progam that you would recommend to use ? I would like to add photos & maps from Google and add my routes to the other sources. This would mostly be used for hunting deer in the fall.

      Don Kubik

  21. Rich Owings says:

    The problem is that there is no one mapping program that does it all. Like you, I prefer MapSource for working with routes. I use TopoFusion for checking out tracks and for aerial photos, and National Geographic TOPO to generate printed maps. TopoFusion has a photo feature, and I believe you can add them to NG TOPO maps as well.

  22. Paul in Phnom Penh says:

    Hi all;
    Just thought I’d stick my 2 cents worth in.
    I just got the Etrex Legend HCx and can’t believe how small this baby is!
    I guess I’m comparing it to the StreetPilot III I used to have!
    The Garmin XT program is currently sitting on my Nokia N82, complete with the very highly detailed map of Cambodia (where I’m stationed), and although this map doesn’t appear to be available on ANY website (Garmin or otherwise), it is widely available at many phone shops and shopping malls here in Phnom Penh.
    I wanted the official version for the Etrex, but searching the Garmin site comes up with a big fat zero (the nearest is a S E Asia map without Cambodia).
    So, a little digging around led me to an official Garmin dealer in Phnom Penh, who said “yeah, we got the detailed map for your GPS”.
    A price enquiry resulted in a hasty “OK thanks, and I’ll get back to ya”, from me.
    OK, I appreciate the time and effort put in by the cartographers in building this (great) map, but I cannot see any justification for charging 170 bucks for 120 Mb of data.
    Now, don’t get me wrong,I try to help any business to survive, by providing them with my patronage, but this is taking the p**s.
    I didn’t even bother to explain that I was already using the map on my Nokia.
    Now anyone considering visiting Cambodia (Angkor Wat or wherever), and using Garmin Mobile XT, should seriously consider visiting a shopping mall in Phnom Penh, and getting the fully detailed (VERY detailed) map of Cambodia installed on their compatible phone (N82 N95 etc), because I’ve lived here for several years now, and this map has been a literal life saver.
    Every place in Cambodia looks the same, and even seasoned bikers like me, who tend to steer off the main path can easily get lost.
    This map has even 3 house villages marked on it, and more importantly, is able to show you where the nearest main road is (although it’s not very navigable).
    In a country full of jungle and snakes and other nasty stuff, this can really save the day, and has for me, on more than a few occasions!
    The price of this program and map being zapped to your phone?
    The king’s ransom of $1 US!!!!
    Hmmmmm…. do the math – $170 or $1?
    Someone somewhere is making a few bucks.
    Anyway, I have found that the same program cannot run on the Etrex, but there is someone in Phnom Penh who will install the detailed Cambodia map onto your (compatible) Garmin for just $40 US.
    He’s still making a nice profit, but I’m sure he’ll get a lot more business than the ‘official’ dealer here.
    The shop that will do the $40 deal, also has a very good stock of many Garmin GPS systems (although a bit overpriced), and if you’re nice to him (seaks good English) his discounts are amazing!
    He will also install the map for free, if you buy one of the higher tier systems from him.
    Ok, enough from me.
    Great site and informative.
    Take care all,
    Air Traffic Control Phnom Penh International Airport.

    • I will be travelling to Cambodia agin shortly and going out Svey Rieng to vist a remote village that visited lst year but as I went with a local tuk tuk from Pnom Pehn it may be difficult to find again with out the driver… been thinking about the Garmin you mentioned
      or possibly the one of the Nokia phones.
      Your opinion would be geartly acepted …. eg is the Nokia with Cambodia map better than using the Garmin.
      How accruate is the Nokia with Cambodian maps from Phnom Penh!
      Do you know wher in Phnom Penh … (Quote) ” here is someone in Phnom Penh who will install the detailed Cambodia map onto your (compatible) Garmin for just $40 US.

      Thanks John

  23. Rich Owings says:

    Thanks for sharing. There are also these free maps you may want to check out…

  24. Does anyone have any idea how this unit is with geocaching. Can I download the geocaching (.gpx?) maps from for use with this unit. (I’m just looking for a handy unit to go geocaching with and don’t want to drop five hundred bucks for a unit with maps.) Thanks for any help.

  25. Rich Owings says:

    I think you can only send one geocache at a time without a premium membership to

  26. I was wondering if you could use this snowmobiling. We mainly go in Vermont and some of the websites Ive seen only have downloadable maps for certain states and VT is not one of them. Can this device track where we are going and be saved? Is there anything special I have to get extra in order to do that? Thanks!

  27. Rich Owings says:

    Yes, it will track your location and you can then view the tracks in Google Earth or other mapping programs. You don’t need anything special.

  28. I am training to be a British Columbia Forrest FireFighter and was wondering if this is the best for my needs.I imagine Smoke and Dense canopy would be a major problem for the gps.I am realitively new at using a gps, but I would prefer to have Just a Detailed map of BC.Could you please help me understand which one would be better suited for me?
    Thanks ALL help is appreciated.

  29. Rich Owings says:

    Theoretically, dense canopy isn’t an issue, although canopy wet with dew, rain, etc. will impact reception (not a big issue in fire season though, huh?). I don’t believe smoke would cause any problems. Water and metal are the main things that block GPS signals. Tight terrain is likely to be the biggest issue, so make sure you get a modern receiver with a high-sensitivity chipset. Here’s a good free Canadian topo map that can be used with compatible Garmin receivers…

    The Legend HCx can use these maps and has the high-sensitivity chipset. It also has good battery life, so yes, this could be a good unit for you.

  30. I have an eTrex Vista HCx. I live on Sumatra island, Indonesia, in the middle of nowhere and I have a satellite photo of my area that I want to download TO my GPS. I have OziExplorer software and I geo-tagged my satellite photo and superimposed my bike trails (.MAP format) but there is no option to send to gps. I also have my satellite photo in jpg & ppt format. Is there any way to convert and put on my GPS as background map (I have 2GB microSD)? Or any other sources of accurate maps for Sumatra?

  31. First of all, realize that the ease and quality would be much better with the Colorado, Dakota or Oregon series. Nevertheless, you should be able to accomplish this with your current unit using Moagu…

    As far as other sources of maps, check out these:

  32. Martha Shea says:

    Purchased the Vista HcX for bike touring and I really like it. However, I have
    a hard time hearing the warning beeps when we are coming up turns in the road.
    Is there a way to adjust the volume on this unit? I am aware that I can customize the sound of the beep, just can’t figure out how to make it louder.
    Thanks for the fantastic website. Very informative.

  33. I don’t think so, but if you’re using City Navigator maps you should be getting a popup screen for the turn.

  34. gary wimberly says:

    any experiences with Legend HCx having difficulty switching position formats ? We seem to be stuck with lat/long even after changing through the menus to UTM UPS…..

    • There should be a setting on screens with wide data fields to change one of the fields to Location (selected). That should do it.

      • gary wimberly says:

        Fantastic ! I had pushed buttons until my fingers were sore !! Thank you sooooooooo much. There is so much to learn that the owners manual doesn’t cover and I guess it would be impossible to write out all scenerios anyway…….now on to the problem w/those pesky WPs. Thanks again !!!!!!

  35. gary wimberly says:

    Being new to the gps, I practiced making multiple waypoints as I walked over my yard, and later decided to delete them ……and then I read the instructions….that the way points cannot be recovered…..uh-oh! Have I totally messed up ?

    • You could re-create them. Next time you can download them to mapping software before deleting them from the unit.

      • gary wimberly says:

        I really don’t care about the WPs other than I now have 30 less than “out of the box”. My first new WP number is 31 and I wondered if there is a way to recreate #s 1-30 or are they gone forever ?

        • It numbers them sequentially as the default behavior. You can edit the names. I think that they’ll start over at 001 if you delete all the waypoints on the unit. You could download them to your computer first. Did a Trip & Waypoint Manager or MapSource CD come with it?

  36. Okay, that should work. I just checked my several years old 60CSx and it marked the next waypoint as 003, and I’m sure I’ve used more than that over the years!

    I’m glad the UTM thing worked for you. I’d suggest spending some time going through all the menus. You’ll find that the menu key will work on many pages.

  37. gary wimberly says:

    Rich, for the record, it is a Summit HC that I deleted the WPs from and that I have a MapSource cd for, not the Legend. At this point, it serves my purposes w/o loading the Mapsource….am I restricting it’s capability ? Since it has a limited memory, I assumed this would take from that and maybe slow it down, like a computer?? Thanks so much for being there and helping us who lack the know-how…U and your site are greatly appreciated !

  38. Glad to help. Its one of the things I really enjoy about running the site.

    You can use MapSource to manage waypoints on the device without bumping up against any performance problems, though there is a limit to the number of waypoints (1000), tracks (20) and routes (50) the Legend HCx will hold. I haven’t seen any performance problems, despite having devices loaded up with those + maps. Do you have maps on it? Are you aware of the free ones at

  39. Great site – very helpful in my search to replace the very old (but still working) Palm Vx + Magellan GPS Companion combo I’ve been using. I’m thinking either the eTrex Venture HC or Legend HCx will make a good choice, but I have one concern I haven’t seen addressed specifically anywhere.

    Does the tracklog save elevation data even though this unit doesn’t have the altimeter? All info I’ve seen is ambiguous on this point. The owner’s manual states that GPS elevation is available on the Satellite page, but the Track Elevation Profile is only available if you have an altimeter or DEM maps loaded. This implies that it doesn’t save the GPS elevation to the tracklog – otherwise why wouldn’t they let you view the track profile using that data for

    My main use for this would be to create my own elevation profiles once I get the GPX data into the computer, although being able to see it on the GPS out in the field would be a nice bonus, too. If the implication is true, it just seems silly that they wouldn’t use the GPS elevation data when it’s available. Yes, it’s less accurate than the altimeter, but that hasn’t stopped me from getting “good enough” elevation profiles from my 10-year-old unit.

    Any insight is much appreciated! I’d rather not have to move up to the Vista HCx just to get this capability.

  40. The elevation page is only included on models with a barometric altimeter. I don’t have any old eTrex tracks around to verify, but I’d be shocked if they didn’t show elevation data. You might want to buy from someplace with a good returns policy just in case.

    • Thanks for the quick response. I’ll probably end up doing what you say – buying from somewhere with a good return policy in case it doesn’t meet my needs. Whenever that happens I’ll try to report back here in case that info is helpful to anyone else.

  41. Hey Rich, just learning about GPS and I purchased a etrex legend HCx. Planning 7 day canoe trip on the suwannee river FL. Any suggestions on which maps to download or which microSD chips to buy. I have look an many and its confusing. greatful for any help.

  42. There are a couple of good free ones here… (see FL topo and SE US). The FL topo actually looks more detailed. You might want to open them in MapSource ( to see which has the best coverage for the river.

  43. Just to follow up on my post from a couple of weeks ago:

    I received an eTrex Legend HCx yesterday, and I’ve already confirmed that yes, it does save elevation data to the tracklog. And while that data may be slightly less accurate than from an altimeter, it looks pretty darn good to me when plotting the elevation profile on the computer. So this unit will work well for my purposes.

    As the owner’s manual says, I assume it still doesn’t show you the elevation profile on the GPS unit itself since there’s no altimeter, but I can’t confirm this because the screen arrived dead. Everything else works which is why I was able to turn it on, take it on a quick trip to exercise the track log feature, and later connect it to the computer. Amazon already has a replacement unit in the mail to me.

  44. Hallo. I have Garmin etrex Vista Hcx with microSD card. I check – save track log on SD card, but track log write to memory (I need save long track e.g 15 000 points, but i can only 10k save).
    Sorry of my english.

  45. Tracklogs in internal memory are limited to 10,000 points. To get more, you need to set it up to log directly to your SD card. Menu > Menu > Tracks > Setup > Data card setup. There is then no need to manually save the tracks. You can then access the tracklogs from your computer.

  46. Sorry, track log writing and to internal memory and to card

  47. I think they will be reduced to 10K if you save them. Have you tried accessing them directly from the card? That should give you the full track.

  48. One last update on the couple of posts I made here last month… I ended up returning the eTrex Legend HCx in exchange for an eTrex Vista HCx. My initial test of elevation looked ok, but subsequent tests showed that the Legend’s elevation data was actually worse than my 10-year-old unit – mostly due to extra noise. I found that the Vista gave a much more stable elevation profile, thanks to its altimeter.

    I posted full details, including several plots comparing elevation profiles, at my blog:

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