Garmin eTrex 22x Long-Term Review (Bikepacking Navigation)

Summary

  • The rugged and durable Garmin eTrex 22x provides navigation, topographic maps, and GPS tracking in the backcountry.
  • The eTrex is great for backcountry adventures on foot and bike, but not ideal for urban riding or structured training.
  • I love my 22x for its high quality topo maps, long battery life, and bombproof construction.
  • I wish I had spent the extra $100 for the 32x which includes an elevation profile feature.

As much as we love “getting lost” out there, most of us don’t like actually getting lost. Actually getting lost can suck, like when you run out of water or accidentally end up on a busy highway with no shoulder. Not the good kind of getting lost!

Enter the Garmin eTrex 22x. I’ve used mine for over 3000 miles of bikepacking navigation, and in this review I’ll describe its key features, pros, and cons from a bikepacker’s perspective.

I’m also an avid backpacker, and though I don’t use my eTrex as often for backpacking, I’ll touch on its usefulness for other types of outdoor adventures too.

Related: GPS Devices for Bikepacking: Side by Side Comparison

When you buy through affiliate links in this post, I may earn a small commission. Thanks for your support! I always offer unbiased opinions based on real experience from the road and trail. Learn more.

Overview of the Garmin eTrex 22x

The eTrex 22x (along with its similar higher-end cousin, the 32x) is a rugged “handheld” GPS navigation device designed for hikers, bikers, and others who explore by road or trail.

Highlights:

  • 2.2” sunlight-readable color display with 240 x 320 display pixels for improved readability
  • Preloaded with TopoActive maps with routable roads and trails for cycling and hiking
  • Support for GPS and GLONASS satellite systems allows for tracking in more challenging environments than GPS alone
  • 8 GB of internal memory plus a microSD™ card slot
  • Battery life: up to 25 hours in GPS mode with 2 AA batteries

Price: $200 (ok, technically $199.99)

Buy or learn more:

My rating: 4 out of 5 stars for the 22x, 4.5 stars for the 32x

My review summary: The Garmin eTrex 22x is a durable and affordable navigation device for those who want navigation and topographic maps in the backcountry without using a smartphone app. It has great maps and battery life but lacks cycling-specific features and training tools. The 22x also lacks an elevation profile view, so I recommend the similar eTrex 32x instead.

Reasons to buy:

  • Durable and waterproof
  • Solid handlebar mount
  • Satellite reception is consistent and reliable
  • Preloaded maps are good
  • Battery life is pretty long with lithium AA’s

Reasons to avoid:

  • No elevation profile on 22x
  • Uncommon mini USB data transfer cable required for transferring GPX files
  • Cursor button can be hard to use while riding
  • Lacks focused cycling and training features compared to Wahoo and Garmin Edge lines
  • Screen scratches easily

Up next I’ll share my impressions of the design and key features, and who I would recommend the eTrex 22x to (and who I wouldn’t). But first, some background on how I use my 22x so you can understand where I’m coming from.

How I Use My eTrex 22x

I’ve had my eTrex 22x for several years and ridden over 3000 rugged miles under its guidance. The eTrex is my primary navigation device for bikepack racing and any long-distance bikepacking route with potential for rugged terrain, inclement weather, and scarce resupply.

During self-supported bikepacking races I typically ride between 16-20 hours a day, so I’m using the eTrex both day and night. It’s seen rain, snow, and scorching heat. It’s been on my handlebars when I’ve crashed my bike. In short, I’ve put it through some challenges.

My goal when using the eTrex is usually to keep the dot (my position) on the line (my intended route). I’ll load up a GPX route in advance, usually downloaded from RideWithGPS, and use the eTrex to follow it.

While riding I mount the eTrex 22x on my handlebars using this mount. I check it when needed to navigate complicated intersections, make sure I’m still on route, and occasionally find waypoints like water sources or campgrounds.

Pro tip: It’s a good idea to use a tether in case your Garmin slips off the mount. This has never happened to me, but others have told me it has happened to them. You could buy a purpose-build tether or just use a zip tie and strong rubber band.

I often run RideWithGPS on my phone in parallel, but keep the phone tucked away and use it rarely. This helps me see the “big picture” and check the elevation profile when needed, but I save phone battery by using the eTrex for a majority of navigation.

Related: GPS Device vs. Phone for Bikepacking Navigation: Which is Best?

View over bike handlebars with eTrex mounted on the bars and dirt road ahead
Using my Garmin eTrex 22x to navigate during Tour de los Padres 2022, a 430 mile bikepacking event.

Why Use A GPS Nav Device At All?

Some hikers and bikepackers may be wondering: With all the good smartphone apps out there these days, why even bother with a dedicated GPS navigation device?

The short answer: A dedicated GPS device has longer battery life, better durability and weather resistance, and makes a good backup device to a phone if you’re solo. There are some cases where it’s essential, and other cases where it’s definitely not necessary.

I have detailed answers to this question for both hikers and bikers at these posts:

Features and Functionality

Now I’ll dive into the most important features and functions of the Garmin eTrex 22x.

Navigation

The eTrex can navigate in three ways:

Route (most common): The eTrex can navigate a pre-loaded route from a GPX file, and this is how I generally use it. I often plan or import routes using RideWithGPS, then export the GPX file to load onto my Garmin. More on the loading process below.

Waypoint: The eTrex can do on-the-fly routing to a waypoint or named destination. The preloaded TopoActive maps include routable roads and trails and the eTrex provides routing options (calculate route for bicycle, avoid highways, etc). This means, in theory, you can just ask the eTrex to find the best route to wherever you want to go.

Track: If you’ve previously recorded a track, you can use the eTrex to navigate it again.

Screen

The color screen is glare-free and fairly readable in both bright sun and darkness. There’s an adjustable backlight which makes it easier to see in dim lighting (but runs through battery noticeably faster). This light needs to be adjusted manually, but for me this isn’t a big deal. I usually change it when the sun comes up, if I started riding in the dark, and again as the sun goes down.

It’s my own darn fault, but I managed to scratch the screen on my eTrex within the first few days of use. I packed it unprotected in my top tube bag, where it rattled around against some other gear. It’s still readable, but I have to look a little more closely in certain lighting conditions.

Tip: If you buy an eTrex 22x or 32x, learn from my mistake and get a screen protector!

Batteries

The eTrex is not rechargeable, but it can run on USB power (via mini-USB cable) or two AA batteries. I like knowing I can always find AA batteries at a gas station or use my spares, so my primary nav device doesn’t have to compete with my phone for that last slurp of battery juice from my USB power bank.

It’s also nice to have the option of using USB power if I run out of AA batteries. Dynamo hub users, note that it won’t run smoothly directly from the dynamo. You’ll want to charge a power bank first.

The battery life of the eTrex is quite good, better than most of its fancier competitors. Garmin says it’ll last up to 25 hours in GPS mode with normal AA batteries. Presumably this means keeping the light level as low as possible.

I usually run mine with lithium AA batteries, which last longer than alkaline AA. I’d say they last roughly (I’m estimating here) three days of bikepack racing, which comes out to around 50-60 hours of riding. The battery compartment is super easy to open and batteries are easy to replace, something I really appreciate when my hands are numb or tired.

Tip: To extend battery life, turn the screen backlight down as much as possible for current lighting conditions.

Back of the eTrex 22x with battery compartment cover off, showing two lithium AA batteries
The eTrex takes two AA batteries, lithium in this case (lasts longer than alkaline).

Satellite Connection

The eTrex 22x and 32x use a combination of both GPS and GLONASS satellite systems. It seems to work very well, at least where I’ve been wandering around (mainly rural areas of the western United States). I don’t think I’ve ever noticed a lag in my position or had trouble reaching satellites.

Preloaded Base Maps

The base maps on the eTrex are a big plus in my opinion. It comes preloaded with premium North America TopoActive maps and the option to download additional maps if needed.

I find these topo maps easy to read and helpful for understanding the terrain around me, which is an important part of bikepacking in rugged areas. Hikers and backpackers, and really any off-road explorers, will likely appreciate them too.

Garmin makes it possible to load additional maps from 3rd party sources, so you’ll never be stuck without the maps you need for an unusual location or use case. This is in contrast to Wahoo navigation devices, which only work with their proprietary base maps.

Close up of eTrex 22x screen with a mountainous track and water waypoints
Route and custom waypoints shown on the eTrex’s preloaded TopoActive maps.

File Format

The eTrex uses the common and simple GPX file format. When you plan a route in RideWithGPS, Gaia, or any other mapping app you can export it as a GPX file and import that file onto the eTrex.

Though GPX files are universal and easy to work with, they do have a couple drawbacks.

Tracks are limited to 10,000 data points, so a long or detailed route often needs to be compressed or split into sections. You won’t get any warning if the limit is hit; the route will simply be truncated. I split my routes using RideWithGPS when needed.

Important: When loading a new route, pull it up on your eTrex and check that it’s all there before starting on your trip. The eTrex will truncate routes without warning if they exceed the max point limit.

GPX files also lack turn-by-turn directions / cues, a feature supported by newer formats like FIT (used by Garmin Edge) and TCX (used by Wahoo). A GPX track is basically just a breadcrumb trail, with the option to include waypoints and cues as a text overlay on the map.

The export screen in RideWithGPS offers helpful options to compress the route and include cues as waypoints.

If you do a lot of urban or road riding, you may prefer a device like the Garmin Edge or Wahoo ELEMNT that supports files with turn-by-turn navigation. I’ve ridden with friends who use these devices and the experience is different. They’re focused mostly on street names, while my eTrex and I are focused on directional changes and keeping the dot on the line.

For backcountry and trail riding, however, the eTrex is perfect. More remote routes don’t have street names and turn-by-turn cues anyway, so learning to navigate by direction is more important. That’s not to say the eTrex can’t work on roads in populated areas – it certainly can – but that it’s optimized around a different style of navigation.

Data Transfer

Data transfer to and from the eTrex 22x / 32x is frankly a bit outdated, but it’s also refreshingly simple.

File transfer to / from the eTrex must be done by physically connecting the eTrex to a computer via USB cable. This means that if your route changes mid-trip or you need to load a new file, you’ll need to borrow a computer (public libraries are helpful) in order to update your eTrex. It’s also not ideal for regularly transferring your ride data to an app like Strava.

This is less convenient than wireless syncing options enabled by Garmin Edge and Wahoo devices, which can be controlled with a smartphone. On the other hand, it’s also easier to troubleshoot if something goes wrong. I’ve watched friends struggle with mystery sync problems on those devices and it can be very frustrating.

The other notable downside: not only does the eTrex need a cable, it needs a mini-USB data transfer cable, otherwise known as “that old weird USB size no one uses anymore.” This means an extra cable that I need to keep track of (and remember to pack for trips in case I need to update my files from a borrowed computer) and is not as easy to replace if I lose it.

Close up of the eTrex's data transfer port, an older mini USB style.
The eTrex uses an uncommon mini USB port for data transfer, which means another cable to keep track of.

Buttons and Interface

I give the eTrex 22x / 23x medium marks for its physical ease of use. Admittedly, nothing is super easy to use one-handed while pedaling a bike. And we’re all spoiled by the smooth responsive interfaces of our smartphones these days, making any non-touchscreen device feel clunky by comparison.

Exploring on the eTrex’s map — like panning side to side and looking at nearby areas — is awkward and laggy. Once a route is loaded and you’re in navigation mode, however, things work pretty well. Your current position automatically stays centered on the screen as the base map moves, and it’s fairly easy to zoom in and out, even one-handed while riding.

My biggest complaint about the eTrex’s interface: that little round button on the screen can be hard to operate while riding a bike on rough ground. Ergonomically it’s optimized for holding in your hand while hiking (it is a “handheld GPS device” after all). That said, I usually only need this button when changing tracks or looking ahead to an upcoming section of the route, so it’s not a huge issue.

Recording Tracks

The eTrex can record a trail of where you’ve been, like a much simpler version of Strava. I often run RideWithGPS on my smartphone in parallel and record my track there, but for going completely phone-free this is a useful feature.

Tracks are stored as GPX files, which can be transferred to a computer via mini-USB cable and then imported into other mapping and tracking apps (Strava, RideWithGPS, etc.). Garmin’s BaseCamp software is often mentioned as the way to do this, but you can also just connect it to your computer via cable (necessary for BaseCamp anyway) and use your computer’s file browsing interface, just as you would with any type of remote storage.

Trip Computer

The eTrex trip computer screen is customizable. By default it shows common values like distance traveled, current speed, elevation, moving time, and stopped time.

I use a little CatEye Velo 7 for basic functions like odometer and average speed, and thus don’t often find myself using the eTrex trip computer screen. But if you don’t have any other way to track distance traveled, or are in the habit of watching your stats more closely, this screen is really helpful.

Close up of trip computer screen on the eTrex 22x
The eTrex 22x trip computer screen is customizable and shows a variety of handy stats.

Durability

I’ve been very pleased with the durability and toughness of my eTrex 22x. It’s seen it all!

My eTrex has been dropped on the ground, banged in crashes, rained on and snowed on. It’s seen temperatures in the low teens (low enough to temporarily kill my smartphone battery, but the eTrex was fine) and temperatures above 100F. I’ve never had any issues. The thing is certainly tougher than I am.

Handlebar Mounting

I’m very happy with how the eTrex mounts to my handlebars. I’ve used it on both drop bars and flat bars, and with a bar extender, and it’s always been solid. Here’s the handlebar mount I use; there are several others available that look like the same design.

Fortunately, my Garmin eTrex is the last thing I have to worry about while navigating a trail like this. Here you can see it securely mounted to my handlebars.

No Elevation Profile on 22x (32x has it)

Here it is, my biggest disappointment with the eTrex 22x: there’s no elevation profile! How else am I supposed to pass the time on a 3000 foot climb if I can’t check the profile while thinking “Am I there yet?” every five minutes?

Perhaps I should have expected this, because Garmin makes it clear that the 22x does not have an altimeter while the 32x does. But I assumed it would still show me an elevation profile using data from the map and/or route combined with my known GPS location. Alas, it does not.

This is the screen I want, and it’s only available on the 32x.

If you live somewhere really flat, this may not matter to you. But where I often bikepack and backpack, big climbs and descents define the rhythm of the day. I’m so used to elevation profiles in smartphone navigation apps that I’m rarely willing to navigate without them unless I already know the route and just need a little help not missing a turn. This is the main reason I usually run RideWithGPS in parallel with my eTrex 22x.

The eTrex 22x (and 32x) does show local low and high points along the track. This is quite helpful if you’re wondering how much further until the top (or bottom), and it’s a feature I wish the RideWithGPS app would adopt too. But it’s no substitute for a full-featured elevation profile, and for this reason I wish I had bought the 32x instead of the 22x.

eTrex 22x versus 32x

So how does the eTrex 22x compare to the eTrex 32x? I chose the 22x because it was $100 cheaper than the 32x, but the lack of an elevation profile is almost a deal breaker.

Could the 32x be a worthwhile upgrade that keeps all the features I like about the 22x (durability, battery life, great topo maps, etc) and adds support for elevation plots?

Per Garmin, here are the differences between the eTrex 22x and eTrex 32x: “eTrex 32x adds a 3-axis compass and barometric altimeter.” So it has some extra hardware, but what does that mean for the features and user interface? Here are the differences, in order from most to least important for bikepacking in my opinion:

  • The eTrex 32x lets you see an elevation profile of your track or route and your current position on it, while the 22x does neither.
  • The eTrex 32x has an electronic compass that will show you which direction it’s pointing as you rotate it, even while you’re standing still. The 22x can show your current direction, but only by taking measurements as you move and calculating the vector between them.
  • The eTrex 32x uses the electronic compass to support “Sight ‘N Go” navigation, in which you to point the device at a landmark in the distance and then navigate to it by compass.
  • The eTrex 32x lets you see a more accurate current elevation on the trip computer screen. The eTrex 22x shows an elevation based on map data, which is usually good enough.

For my bikepacking purposes, the lack of an elevation profile is by far the biggest issue. For backpackers, especially those who like to explore off-trail, I can see the compass being important too. Is it worth an extra $100 for those features? If you need them, it definitely is.

Should you buy an eTrex 22x (or 32x)?

With all of those pros and cons, is the eTrex a good device for bikepacking navigation specifically, and for outdoor adventurers more generally? Here’s what I recommend:

Buy the eTrex 32x if:

  • You bikepack or backpack in the mountains, or anywhere elevation profiles matter
  • You bikepack or backpack on routes where detailed cross-country (off-trail or road) navigation is necessary
  • You can afford the $300 price tag (still on the affordable end of the spectrum for GPS navigation devices)

Buy the eTrex 22x if:

  • You bike or hike mostly on the flats; elevation doesn’t define your rides.
  • You prefer climbs and descents to be a surprise. 🙂
  • You plan to use the eTrex mainly as backup to a smartphone app.
  • Your budget is limited to the 22x’s $200 price tag.

Stick with a smartphone app if:

  • You mostly take leisurely trips in good conditions, so using a smartphone app for navigation has few drawbacks.
  • You aren’t often constrained by battery capacity; you’re not riding or hiking super long hours and have time to stop and recharge your phone every day or two.
  • You’re on a really tight budget and want to make do without a dedicated navigation device. This is totally doable! I bikepacked thousands of miles using only my smartphone for navigation, and I still use my smartphone for backpacking.

Consider a Garmin Edge or Wahoo device if:

  • You mostly ride on roads or in populated areas.
  • You prefer turn-by-turn navigation, not just “keep the dot on the line.”
  • You frequently need to transfer route files to / from your device without access to a computer.
  • You train as a cyclist and want a cycling computer to support your performance goals.

For a detailed comparison of these devices alongside the eTrex, see GPS Devices for Bikepacking: Side by Side Comparison.

Video Review

If you’re more of a visual learner, bikepacking.com has a detailed video review of the eTrex 32x from a bikepacking perspective. I use my eTrex very similarly to his descriptions, and agree with most of what he has to say about it. Here’s the embedded video:

Still thinking about it? Use these links to learn more or take the leap and make a purchase. (Affiliate links – if you buy through them I receive a small commission at no cost to you, which helps support this website.)

Garmin eTrex 22x:

Garmin eTrex 32x:

More Bikepacking Resources

If you’re interested in bikepacking, these posts might also be helpful:

Or, visit the bikepacking resources center for lots more!

About the Author

Hi there, I’m Alissa, founder of Exploring Wild. I’ve traveled over 20,000 miles by bike and still can’t stop planning my next ride (and helping you plan yours). Pavement and panniers or singletrack and seat bag, I love it all. On my bike I feel free. Learn more about me here.

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    7 thoughts on “Garmin eTrex 22x Long-Term Review (Bikepacking Navigation)”

    1. You nailed the eTrex22. It’s rugged and accurate; and once you understand the menu options; it’s easy to use. I agree. It would have been great to have had an altimeter numerous times.

      Reply
    2. I’ve often thought about using a dedicated GPS device like a Garmin for navigation. In the end I’ve stayed with phone and apps for the following reasons:
      1) To me it’s far more user friendly.
      2) I like the available map overlays better.
      3) All the functions I need are on one device. (ie: Earthmate for my inreach for communication)
      4) I can charge on-the-fly using either an external battery or solar cell, dynamo etc.

      The main downside for me is cold weather use as it really hurts smartphone battery life. But there are ways to deal with that.

      For a handle bar mount I’ve found Rokform to be extremely secure but had to build up the OD of my handlebar with Gorilla tape. I think the Rokform is intended for motorcycles. But you can also get a stem mount if I remember correctly.
      In my case I purchased a used unlocked smartphone from Swappa.com for ~$100 as my nav device (no sim) and keep my primary phone safely tucked away. In the event my primary phone should somehow be wrecked I can take the sim out and put it in my backup phone (nav device).

      This is in no way intended to refute using a dedicated nav device, merely an option for those that really love using their smartphone but are worried about having a backup.
      Great review! Cheers.

      Reply
    3. I found this review while researching a replacement for my eTrex 20, which I’ve been using since 2012. (It still works fine, but one of the buttons has finally worn out). I sometimes feel like an outlier, using a dedicated GPS. It was very interesting to read about the author’s usage – I can’t even imagine a 20-hour bicycle ride… wow! For me, I use it for creating track logs (aka breadcrumb trails) while on motorcycle trips. I don’t even navigate with it very often. But when the rides are over, I get enjoyment out of reviewing the logs of the past adventure. I can see the exact route where I rode. The battery life of my iPhone doesn’t cut it when I need the GPS to keep running for days on end, so this little “hiking GPS” is perfect for my needs. I save the iPhone usage for taking photos along the way.

      Anyway, thanks for the article. I think I’ll be shopping for the eTrex 22x. As a bonus, it looks like Gamin has kept the same case shape as my old eTrex 20, so that means I should be able to keep using the same RAM mount handlebar hardware that I already have, and won’t need to buy a new one. Nice.

      Cheers!

      Reply
    4. I almost bought a Garmin eTrex 22x, I don’t really need a compass and altitude, I have those options on the Garmin Instinct 2x Solar Tactical watch. What I needed the most was to type in many routes and points, which is already not possible on this watch. A great gadget for mountaineers.

      Reply

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