Garmin Montana

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Thread: Garmin Montana

  1. #1
    Superfly lars's Avatar
    Join Date
    Aug 2000
    White Rock

    Garmin Montana

    Montana and 62 (which is similar in size to the 60csx):

    I picked up a Garmin Montana for $399 when (Alberta) was having a Boxing Week sale on.

    Why'd I buy a new GPS? Because there were some things that were bugging me about my tried and true 60CSx:
    • Small screen.
    • Slow when panning large areas of maps (this seemed to be more of a problem with high density street navigation maps).
    • 2-axis compass; required holding it perfectly level to get a compass bearing.
    • When searching for Points of Interest (eg: restaurants, etc) it was a real PITA using the cursor-on-keyboard to type in names of places I was looking for.
    • The lettering on the IN and OUT buttons was getting worn off.

    The Montana addresses those four complaints. It has a large, 4" screen that works in portrait or landscape mode (ie: just like most smartphones). It has a faster processor that lets it pan across maps more quickly. It has a 3-axis compass. And the on-screen QWERTY layout keyboard makes entering long names a breeze. No rubber-covered buttons to wear out. Just a touch-sensitive screen (senses pressure, not capacitance, so you can use it with gloves on) which I keep protected with a replaceable screen protector.

    There are some downsides to it, though:
    • It's bigger and heavier than my 60CSx (although it's also shorter).
    • The initial release of this product was essentially a beta version and even now, several months later, on firmware version 3.70, it still crashes fairly regularly. That's something my 60CSx NEVER did. I expect this to improve in future firmware updates (sounds like Garmin is releasing updates about once a month, if not faster).
    • It's a completely different user interface compared to the other Garmin outdoor GPS units I've used, so there'll be a definitely learning curve and frustration for anyone making the switch.
    • Although the unit is highly customizable, it's also quite confusing to do so. The documentation is terrible.
    • You have to plug-in/unplug the USB cord to activate/de-active the Mass Storage mode.

    Despite the drawbacks, I'm keeping it for these reasons:
    • It rectifies the issues I have with my 60CSx.
    • It's the first outdoor Garmin GPS that can also convert into a Nuvi-type car navigator (it even does audible turn-by-turn directions if you plug your headset into its earphone jack, or use it with its optional car mount with built-in speaker.
    • You can create multiple profiles to configure the control layout to suit your needs depending on the situation.
    • Comes with 3GB built-in storage, plus support for micro-SD cards. Combined with the fact that you can store multiple map files on it and this becomes an absolutely AWESOME device for those of us who use multiple maps. More on this later.
    • Multiple power supply support. Comes with a li-on battery pack, good for about 16 hrs. It charges via the provided AC adapter. But it can also charge by plugging the GPS into any USB port. This means you can charge it while it's connected to your computer, or to a USB power adapter in your car. And if you're in the bush ad the 16-hr run time of the li-on battery pack isn't enough for you, you can pull out the pack and put in 3 AA batteries, giving you 22 hours of run time.
    • Paperless geocaching support. Huge GPX files can be downloaded directly to the device (I tested this by dumping a 1000-cache GPX file onto it). Full cache description information is stored in it, plus it will also allow you to create note logs that can be semi-automatically imported when you're logged into, via the USB cable.
    • Supports .kmz map files (they call this their Garmin Custom Maps feature). This is HUGE. Basically, you can take a .jpg map file, add it to an overlay on Google Earth, and then Google Earth can export it as a .kmz file, which can then be read by the Garmin. In short, it lets you use .jpg files as maps in the GPS. This is the easiest way I've found to create a custom map. It requires no coding ability at all.

    About the multiple maps: if you're familiar with the older Garmins (eg: 60CSx), you know that you can upload multiple maps to it by using Mapsource or Basecamp. But what gets generated by that software is a single .img file that contains those multiple maps. What's the big deal? Well, the problem is that if you're searching for Points of Interest, the more maps you have, the more data it has to search, which means longer searches. So, the ideal thing would be to only keep the maps you need at the time installed on the device.

    This resulted in various map combinations I made:
    - General use: BC Backroads Mapbook (BBM) + southern BC street maps + southern BC topo maps.
    - Eastern US trip last summer: eastern US street maps + eastern US topos.
    - Frequent summer camping in Oregon: Washington and Oregon street maps + Washington and Oregon US topos.
    - Trips to Disneyland, flying out of Seattle: Washington street maps + California street maps.
    - Trips to Hawaii, flying out of Seattle: Washington street maps + Hawaii street maps + Hawaii topos.
    - Trip to Alberta: southern BC street maps + southern BC topos + Alberta street maps + Alberta topos.

    And if I upgraded any of those maps, then that .img file would have to be regenerated from that particular combination of maps again.

    But the newer Garmins, such as the Montana, now support multiple .img files. It's slightly kludgy in execution but it works well. Basically, whenever you upload maps to the unit or SD card, it still combines the maps into a single called gmapsupp.img. But now you can rename the generated gmapsupp.img file to whatever you want, and the Garmin will still recognize that it's a map file.

    So now I have these .img files:
    - Local.img: southern BC street maps + southern BC topos.
    - Backroads Mapbooks.img: southern BC BBM.
    - Washington.img: Washington street maps + Washington topos.
    - Oregon.img: Oregon street maps + Oregon topos.
    - Hawaii.img: Hawaii street maps + Hawaii topos.

    I can mix and match them any way I want. Oh, the other thing is that the BBM maps were the micro-SD card version, where they would run on any GPS but they could ONLY be loaded on the SD card that came with them. That meant that any time I wanted to use multiple maps that included BBM, I had to generate an .img file and put it on that particular SD card. But since the Montana has 3GB of built-in storage AND supports micro-SD, I can now store whatever map files I want in the Montana, and only have to make sure that the BBM files reside on the micro-SD card. Ultimately, it doesn't change the number or combination of maps I can use. But it does make it easier to load the maps I want.

    BTW, it's been a while since I looked for open source maps, but there's been a lot of progress over the past few years. As good a value as some of the Magellan units are, I find it hard to recommend them when there are so many map options for the Garmins. Have a look at for some of the freeware maps available.

    Questions? Post 'em and I'll try my best to answer.

    Too Much Driver For Car

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  3. #2
    Superfly lars's Avatar
    Join Date
    Aug 2000
    White Rock

    Re: Garmin Montana

    Here's an example of a "Garmin Custom Map"...

    Hope area in Google Earth:
    Click image for larger version. 

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    Hope area with a .jpg from the mining website overlayed on top:
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    Close up of that mining overlay, showed some "past producer" mines:
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    Screenshot from the Garmin Montana, showing an area north of Hope, as depicted by the street maps:
    Click image for larger version. 

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    Screenshot from the Garmin, with the Custom Maps enabled (which includes the .kmz file I created from the Hope overlay in Google Earth):
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    This makes navigating to old mines dead easy!

    Too Much Driver For Car

  4. #3
    Registered User
    Join Date
    Jul 2008
    Cawston BC. Canada

    Re: Garmin Montana


    Thanks for this great profile/review, this is a unit I gave consideration to along with a newer 62csx or what ever the suffix is. I ended up with my Delorme and as such though the screen is small, the unit is very usefull.

    It appears that you can do similar things with your unit that I can layering maps and or geo referenced files etc.

    Again thanks! Maybe the wife will get one of these...hmmm.....then we have the best of both worlds...
    .... Sudden revelations and reevaluations aren't often spurred by internet debate.

    Use what you like, and shut up about it Originally from The11thNickel
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  5. #4
    Registered User
    Join Date
    Jan 2004
    Surrey, BC

    Re: Garmin Montana

    Hey Larry ... do you suppose the Colorado also supports "multiple .img files"? I had no idea that the feature that you described even existed, so thanks for the 2012 heads up!
    '03 4Runner | VE7VEX

  6. #5
    Superfly lars's Avatar
    Join Date
    Aug 2000
    White Rock

    Re: Garmin Montana

    Quote Originally Posted by yabedude View Post
    Hey Larry ... do you suppose the Colorado also supports "multiple .img files"? I had no idea that the feature that you described even existed, so thanks for the 2012 heads up!
    Since its release, Garmin added additional mapping capabilities to the Colorado, so make sure you're running the latest firmware on it. And YES it can handle multiple .img files. Bookmark and read this Colorado wiki:

    Pay particular attention to points M15 and M16.

    Note: I do not know if this means you can rename the .img files to whatever you want. The wiki doesn't say anything about that. But it's simple enough to try it and find out. Please post back here, telling us what you discover.

    By making the software smart enough to read a variety of map files and config files right from the built-in and SD card storage areas, and writing data in standard XML formats, they're making it easier for people to move data to/from the units without having to use Mapsource or Basecamp.

    And AFAIK it's the later firmware releases that also made it capable of reading "Garmin Custom Maps" which are also known as .kmz files. You can even get converters can convert OziExplorer maps into .kmz format. Don't ask me how they perform because I haven't tried any, yet.

    Too Much Driver For Car


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