newest handheld series is the Dakota model. It is a smaller,
scaled back version of the Oregon series and appears to hit a lower
price point for customers not willing to pay the higher price for
an Oregon. It is designed for the outdoor market, such as hiking,
exploring and hunting. It is lighter and smaller than the Oregon
and appears to be more rugged too. The Dakota seems to fit into
the same category of the popular eTrex handheld series,
but is the next generation unit with a touchscreen interface.
There are two versions of the Dakota series: the Dakota 10, which
is the basic version selling for about $290 and the Dakota 20, which
adds a 3-axis electronic compass, barometric altimeter, ability to add
additional memory with a microSD card slot, and to wirelessly share
data with other Garmin compatible units such as the Oregon/Colorado.
The Dakota 20 retails for $349. Check discount prices here.
The Dakota units do not come with any preloaded map data, but
have approximately 900 MB of internal memory available for Garmin
compatible map products. I am using a 2GB microSD as well with no
The Dakota operates in a similar way to the Oregon 200, 300 and 400 series,
however the unit has a smaller screen with less resolution than the
Oregon. It operates on 2 AA batteries and while NiMH are
suggested, it also
operation with lithium or alkaline AA's. Battery life
appears to be good, considering it is a touchscreen. In a test
with an Oregon 550, both with compass on auto, and both using brand new
Energizer NiMH 2450mh rechargeables, the Dakota went more than 17 hours
before showing low batteries and lasted more than 18 hours.
The Oregon 550 however, gave a batteries low message at 13 1/2
hours and was dead at 15. Garmin advertises the Dakota 20 at 20
hours, but with backlight, compass and barometer, we believe using NiMH
that you shouldn't expect more than 18 hours.
What's In the Box
The Dakota comes in a small package, with no accessories, other
than a basic string lanyard. There is a very
brief quick start guide included and a simple owner's manual comes
on a CD-ROM.
There is no software or map data included. It is not as
detailed about the features as it could be. You can download the
Dakota manual here. The unit is waterproof and has a newly
designed back cover. The USB connection is found on the top
of the backside of the unit and has a rubber cover to protect it from
water and dirt.
The Dakota shipped with version 2.10 firmware and the GPS
software is 3.40, and is believed to use the same chipset as the Oregon
series. We expect several firmware upgrades in the coming months
and suggest you regularly use Garmin's WebUpdater
program or check Allory's page for new updates. Garmin's new free program BaseCamp appears
to be geared to manage waypoints, routes and tracks in the Dakota
models and the new
Oregon 550 & 550t models. When you connect the Dakota to
BaseCamp, it will bring up
not only waypoints, routes, tracks, but also any geocaches you have
loaded in, and you can access hints, logs, descriptions, etc.
The edits you make, will be saved in the Dakota when you exit the
program. The BaseCamp program appears to still need some work,
but the latest
seems to be working much better than previous versions and shows some
real promise. It also includes a basic basemap now, if you don't
have a Garmin product with terrain shading loaded onto your computer.
There is also a BaseCamp version for Mac available here. The
Dakota will automatically switch into Mass Storage Device mode
when you connect it to a computer. The waypoints, tracks, routes
are all in a folder labeled GPX on the Dakota drive and are in the .gpx
file format, which makes it easier to transfer files from non-Garmin
The power button is the only physical control on the Dakota. Everything else uses the touchscreen.
Garmin lists it as a Transflective color TFT with 160X 240
pixels. It is 1.43 inches wide and 2.15 inches tall. While
is smaller than the Oregon screen, the content is not
smaller, there is just a smaller amount of map shown at a time.
So going with a Dakota does not mean the map points, etc is
going to be smaller. See comparison shots below. Note the
waypoint icons are different in the Oregon 550 and the Dakota 20 and
the screen resolution is not properly reflected in the images in an
attempt to demonstrate it is just a smaller map in the Dakota and not
more difficult to read.
Below are some map screen comparisons between the Dakota and an
The Dakota does surprisingly well outside in direct sun, much better
than the Oregon and Colorado screens, likely because of the lower resolution screen. See some screen shot
comparisons below in sunlight. I've done my best to give a
representative shot of how the different units compare.
Dakota held in the direct sun with no
Dakota in sunlight against Vista
Oregon 550 both in sunlight
The backlight on the Dakota is not nearly as bright as the Oregon, but
for typical outdoor use, this should not be an issue. The Dakota
does not seem to handle the terrain shading on the maps as well,
especially in steep terrain when used outside. An easy workaround
for this is to turn off the terrain shading on the map page. See
comparison shots of the Dakota below.
Example with map shading
with no shading
Another image with map shading
Same image with no shading
Touchscreen input of data for
waypoints, addresses, points of interest, etc. There is a
separate page for numbers and also for symbols.
Dakota vs. Oregon
The Dakota is missing a few non-GPS related features found in the
Oregon. Specifically, there is no picture viewer,
the WhereIgo feature is not available, the screen resolution is
inferior and there is no 3-D map view. The Dakota does
support the automotive high angle view however. The Dakota models
also do not have a built in camera or geotagging capabilities like the Oregon 550 series. The Dakota series has no NMEA support for interfacing the unit and is not compatible with Garmin's Spanner program. The
Dakota DOES include several recent feature updates made in
series, including: waypoint averaging, waypoint edit, Sight-n-Go
(Dakota 20 only) Man Overboard and
the ability to custom name a map file, with the .img extension.
The main menu scrolls your through four pages of options. You can
re-order which pages these options appear on in the "Setup" under "Main
Menu" Below you can see which options are available in the
Dakota. The main menu page also shows your battery strength as
well as GPS reception. Pressing the signal strength bars, will
bring up the satellite page.
The Dakota has a high sensitive receiver which helps in both satellite
acquisition and keeping a satellite lock. It features what Garmin
calls HotFix, which stores GPS almanac data, allowing for a quicker
fix if the unit has been on in the past three days or so. The
Dakota gets a satellite lock very quickly if outside and usually has a
satellite fix by the time the unit has finished starting up. In a
side by side test with the Oregon 550, the Dakota seems to read almost
the exact same in the lat/long. You can also operate the Dakota in Demo Mode by switching to it
in the Setup under System. You can then attempt to navigate to a
location and simulate being at that location.
The Dakota model can be customized by individual users to fit your own
needs and preferences. You can also select the background color
of the menus in the Display setup. Below are screen grabs of the
The Profile system is a plus in my mind. It allows you to switch
between different mapsets, various settings or different uses, with
just the touch of a button. The profiles do keep the critical
settings the same across all of the profiles. I have my profiles
setup to switch between mapsets and also to have terrain shading
enabled or disabled. There are five default profiles, and you can edit those and create up to five more.
Unfortunately, the unit does not come
with anything but the basic basemap, but it does have coverage for the
entire world. The Dakota like other GPS units, are most
effective with maps, which you must purchase separately. I have
loaded in Garmin's 100K TOPO product,
2008) as well as Garmin's 24K Southwest TOPO as well as some third
party Garmin compatible TOPO maps with no issues at
all. Garmin is now selling TOPO maps online, some of which are
for download from Garmin.com. The list of 24K TOPO areas keeps getting longer. With the new Garmin City xPlorer
you can get CityNav street maps for select cities, for about $10 per
city. While the Dakota is not compatible with the pedestrian
capabilities of the CityXplorer maps, it is an
inexpensive way to get street mapping for the city you live in or plan
to visit. I have
also found you can download CityNav maps for $59 from garmin.com
for the lower 49 U.S states. Using your 10% discount for registering
Dakota, you can get it for $54. This will only work with the
however, as you will need at least a 2GB microSD card loaded to have
space for the 1.2GB City Navigator file. You can also check out
other third party map options which are Garmin compatible by searching
This menu is where you select your destination. You can navigate recent finds, waypoints, tracks, Custom POI's
in the Extra's section, or even input a lat/long coordinate. If
you add additional maps, you will have more map POI's to search from.
This image shows that with Garmin compatible maps, with autorouting
capabilities, that the Dakota will build a turn by turn route for you
and signal upcoming turns with a short audible tone. This shows a
screen grab using Garmin's Southwest 24K map product.
Compass (Dakota 20 only)
The compass is a 3-axis and allows you to get an accurate reading,
regardless of how you hold the unit. Previous Garmin models have
required a user to hold the GPS level, to get an accurate reading.
The 3-axis allows you to get a reading by holding it in any
position. The compass does require three steps to properly
calibrate it and in my experience with the Dakota, it is accurate
within five degrees. You should recalibrate it when you change
batteries, several days without use and anytime you are concerned about
getting an accurate reading. The Dakota 20 also supports the
Sight n Go feature, but this is not available in the Dakota 10.
If you navigate to a location using the off road mode in the routing
settings, you will get an arrow showing you the direction to your
destination. You can also customize the fields on the compass
Compass with new larger pointer
Sight n Go feature
As with other Garmin
units, the electronic compass only activates when you slow down under 3
mph. If you are going faster that 3 mph, it relies on the GPS
heading for the compass arrow.
Altimeter (Dakota 20 only)
The Dakota 20 has a barometric altimeter to help with elevation.
It will self correct using the GPS generated altitude reading,
but you can also calibrate it by either inputting the known elevation
of your location or by putting in the current barometric
pressure. The altimeter will also give you an x/y graph of your
elevation change. Height of altitude and distance traveled,
can be adjusted, by pressing the scale area of the screen. The
Elevation page still needs some work, including the ability to plot an
elevation location and then bring that location up on the map page.
This is possible in both the 60CSx and HCx series. You have
the option of plotting elevation and time, elevation and distance
(shown below), barometric pressure or ambient pressure on the graph.
The trip computer keeps track of trip data and you can customize each
individual data field. You can see the sunrise or sunset update
at the top of the screen. It will count you down in the day to
sunset and at night to sunrise. To reset the Trip Odometer, go to
Setup and then Reset. You cannot reset the overall Odometer
reading, without doing a master reset. There are a total now of
four separate pages in the trip computer and you can customize each
one. There is also one dedicated to geocaching which is shown in
the Geocaching explanation below.
This is where you can build
routes for the Dakota. You can select using waypoints,
points of interest and by browsing the map and selecting map points.
The specs show you can load a total of 50 saved routes in your
Dakota. On the Active Route page, the Dakota will give you a
turn by turn listings of your route, calculated with City Navigator or
other Garmin autorouting capable maps
Share Wirelessly (Dakota 20 only)
The Dakota 20 is capable of exchanging waypoints,
geocaches, routes or tracks between other Garmin compatible unit such
as the Colorado or Oregon series or another Dakota 20. This is a
nice feature for exchanging data with friends or new friends you meet
on the trail. You can only connect to one unit at a time however
and geocaches only transfer basic waypoint information. No
description, hints or logs from geocaches can be exchanged. You must be within ten feet to share the data wirelessly.
To mark a location, you simply hit Mark Waypoint in the main menu.
You can then immediately save it with a default number, or save
and edit, changing the waypoint name. The Dakota allows up to
1000 waypoints to be added. The Dakota also supports waypoint
averaging, which allows you to average a location already saved or when
creating a new one. Read Garmin's take on Waypoint Averaging here.
The Dakota allows up to 10,000 tracklog points and 200 saved
tracks. The Garmin Track manager also allows you to set the
settings for each individual saved track, such as color, if you want it
shown on the map at all times, etc. Garmin has a track archive
system which will automatically extend the 10,000 point limit.
Read more on archiving tracks from Garmin here.
Options for current tracklog
showing road to cabin
that is not on the map
The new Garmin models, Colorado, Oregon and Dakota are really geared to
geocaching and geocachers seems to appreciate the features. The
Dakota has those same "paperless" geocaching features found in the
Colorado/Oregon. The geocaches are stored separately from your
waypoints. To see the hint or logs, you
must first navigate to that cache and then go back and hit the Geocache option
in the Main Menu. It will then bring up the geocaching features. The
Geocaching mode is very helpful if you are a premium member of Geocaching.com,
because you can get the cache information, including the last few logs and the
hint automatically loaded into to your GPS.
The Dakota 20 also supports "Field Notes." What this means, is
that when you are out in the field, you can input directly into your
Dakota (under "Log Attempt") the outcome of the search for a
cache, (found, did not find, needs repair) as well as any note you want
uploaded on your
geocaching account. For example, TNLNSL (Took nothing, left
nothing, signed log) and "enjoyed the cache" can be inputted into the
Dakota at the cache. When you get home, you then log onto
geocaching.com and can import this data into your account if you are a
premium member. Be advised, you
cannot delete a geocache on the Dakota itself. You have to
connect it to your computer in mass storage mode and then search for
the geocache waypoint number and delete that .gpx file. There is
a limit of 200 .gpx files. If you want to load more geocaches,
then you have to use a Pocket Query.
Hunt and Fish
The Dakotas have the Hunting and Fishing Almanacs and allow you to use
your current or another location for the data by pressing the bullseye
You can also access the sunrise/sunset data as well as lunar
information. This can also be down for a different location and
you can use the find menu.
Alarm Clock (Dakota 20 only)
The alarm clock is a handy feature and will wake up if the unit is turned off to sound an alarm.
The Dakota has a built in stopwatch.
The Dakota has a calculator, but it does not offer scientific abilities.
There is a basic calendar in the unit, so you can see which date falls
on which day of the week for not only future years, but past years.
You cannot save any information or data however, to a particular
The Dakotas support Area Calculation. You start the feature and
then walk around the perimeter of the area you want to measure.
When you are finished, you will be prompted to enter the units
you want it calculated in, such as feet, yards, miles, etc.
In taking the Dakota 20 out hiking, along with my Oregon 550 and the
60CSx, it did well in the canyon and also under trees. However,
the Dakota seemed to not get as good of reception as the other two
units. My theory is a different antenna is inside the Dakota than
what is in the Oregon, even though they both apparently use the same
GPS chipset. I don't think it is anything to worry about myself,
but it is an observation I noticed. The back of the Dakota is
different from the Oregon and snaps on well.
It will however be compatible with the carabineer lanyard,
mount or auto mounts which are also compatible with the Oregon and
Colorado series, despite the different shape. I like the size and
feel of the Dakota. It is smaller and lighter and can easily wear
it while hiking. It is no different than carrying around a
VistaHCx, but is a little smaller with a bigger screen and a
touchscreen at that.
Bugs and Glitches
have encountered some trouble when putting in rechargeable batteries and
not changing the battery type setting in the setup from Alkaline. When I did that,
the issues stopped. It also seems that you cannot send routes
wirelessly between other Garmin units. Waypoints, tracks and geocaches worked
without any problem. A fix in a firmware upgrade appears needed.
Area for Improvement
The Dakota appears to be a good solid unit and its development has
benefited from the past year of improvements made to the Oregon
models. While there are some minor glitches, Garmin will
hopefully fix these sooner than later in a firmware update. It is
too bad that Garmin does not include the same carabineer clip that
comes with the Oregon, but you can purchase
one separately, for another $13. Other than that, there is not
much to complain about, except for the price of the Dakota-- because
the outdoor models remain at a higher price than the mid grade
The Dakota series seems to be the next generation small handheld
device, following in the footsteps of the eTrex series, including
the Legend and Vista HCx. Potential buyers of a Dakota will have
to weigh the price and the reality of having to buy maps for the
device and losing the screen quality they could get by spending more
$$$ for an Oregon 400t. The
Dakota however appears to fit into the mid-level handheld category and
really does offer the latest important features in GPS navigation, as
well as paperless geocaching, while being rugged enough for the
official Garmin Dakota page where you can see all of the specs on
the unit is here and again here is the link to the online official Dakota manual.
Questions/Comments: Visit the gpsinformation.net Forum