Even today, the Garmin 276C remains one of the best off-road GPS units ever created. No unit produced since can keep up with it. Thankfully, Garmin has finally stopped trying to replace it, and has instead returned it to production. Here is the Garmin 276Cx.
GPS navigation unit is an essential piece of equipment for any off-roader. Those who claim they travel without one are probably the same guys who brag about the fact that they did most of an off-road trail without engaging 4×4. It’s just plain stupid. The introduction of GPS units for leisure use about 20 years ago made a huge difference to the way we travelled. During our first Voetspore expedition, I used a Magellan. It was a very basic unit, but those were the early stages of the GPS for the leisure market. The Magellan simply marked your route with very basic information regarding your location. For our next trip, we switched to Garmin. This early version was also uncomplicated and offered a minimum of information.
In 2004, I received a wonderful gift: the Garmin 276C. The GPS market was clearly changing. Here was a unit for overlanding. I was told, funnily enough, that it had been developed with marine applications in mind, and it therefore offered functions related to water depth and temperature. But it was all the other functions that caught my attention, specifically the ways it operated. It didn’t have a touchscreen like many other devices entering the market at that time, it had buttons. It was also sturdy, waterproof and dustproof. Lastly, the amount of information displayed on the screen as you zoomed in or out was perfect for off-road conditions. I soon learnt that this was the GPS of choice among guides in the wilderness. When Garmin (sadly) stopped producing them, they became one of the most sought-after items on online classified sites.
The engineers and marketing people at Garmin thought they could improve on it. They released other devices such as the Montana and the Oregon. These had massive memories, touchscreens and beautiful displays. I got myself a Montana, but quickly realised it wasn’t an updated 276C. In their quest to make it user-friendly, Gamin did the opposite. Firstly, you could pick a theme that suited your application. But this just overcomplicated things. It had other flaws, too. It often took me on adventurous and scenic routes because of its inability to do proper route calculations. One day I was looking for Fort Jesus in Mombasa, one of the landmarks in the coastal Kenyan city. My Montana took us there… through the small back alleys of the city. Our 4×4s could barely squeeze through. It made for excellent TV footage, but we wasted four hours. The Montana also has the habit of losing satellite signal, even with a cloudless sky above.
In short, I hated the device. I returned to my 276C with its limited memory, meaning I could only upload small sections of a map at a time. I had to swap and delete maps often, but it worked. A few years ago, I was approached by TomTom to look at its Bridge. I was impressed with its ability while driving in civilisation. It had a big screen, like an iPad. It was also touchscreen and very quick. You could even download your emails, do bank transactions and access Lonely Planet on the device. In fact, just about any regular app could be loaded onto the Bridge. I loved it, but there was a problem. Although the Bridge recorded its route, it did not have the ability to display it. This is what we refer to as ‘breadcrumbs’. In off-road conditions, it is often necessary to retrace your steps, but the Bridge couldn’t help you do it. There was another drawback. We travel with Tracks4Africa. This is the essential African GPS map, but it is only compatible with Garmin. Until these two problems are sorted, the Bridge will not make it in the off-road market, despite its many outstanding qualities.
Now for the good news. Garmin has realised, at least in certain sections of the market, that there’s still a yearning for the 276C. So it has reintroduced this classic model. It is called the 276Cx, and it is brilliant. What differentiates this device from all the others is the fact that it doesn’t have a touchscreen. There are improvements to the old tried-and-trusted device, such as updated hardware and software, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and expandable SD storage, but no finicky touchscreen. If you’re familiar with the old device, it will take barely two seconds to get used to this new model. Is this device without its flaws?
Unfortunately not. The 276Cx is not equipped with an external mic. So, you have to connect it to the radio in your vehicle, and then listen to either your favourite music, or Sally telling you where to turn. Another flaw, which for me is a big one, is the fact that you can have only limited communication with your action camera. Most people now have a GoPro, Bandit or Verb mounted somewhere on their bike or 4×4. The 276Cx can communicate with these, but without providing a picture. You can stop and start the camera, but you still shoot blind. If you want to get a picture, too, you need to connect the action camera with your smartphone, which makes communication with the GPS unit rather pointless.
Finally, the bracket and suction cup provided by Garmin are totally inadequate for this device. Luckily, though, there are companies like RAM that manufacture proper brackets for a GPS as large as this. If you’re an off-roader, get yourself the new 276Cx. Have it permanently installed in your vehicle with an external speaker and RAM bracket, and have Tracks4Africa loaded before you drive anywhere. If you need help doing this, contact Francois at 012 940 8999, or email him on [email protected]. The 276Cx is not the cheapest device on the market, but when you reach your destination safely, you’ll realise that you made the right choice.