Global Position System technology has been available to the public since the U.S. Air Force launched the final Navstar satellite into orbit in the summer of 1993. With the growing popularity of portable GPS receivers, maps and compass have become relics. While many GPS units are hand-held with small viewing screens, a growing number are becoming dedicated navigation devices with larger viewing screens.
One such model is the Lowrance Baja 540
GPS receiver. Featuring a 5 inch 16-color display, this GPS is ruggedized and shock-resistant; made for off-highway use. The unit is pre-loaded with basic maps of the U.S. An optional feature allows for more detailed topographical maps to be loaded.
Over the years, I have owned a number of different GPS units. Each succeeding model had new features but all sharing the same small viewing screen. Color display, turn-by-turn navigation and points of interest databases now are common GPS features. I have always been a fan of Garmin GPS receivers and do use a NUVI 660 on a daily basis. However, as good as it is for turn-by-turn street navigation, I find it lacking for creating track logs off the paved roads.
Enter the Lowrance Baja 540. This unit provides a large viewing screen that displays well in varying lighting conditions. The display brightness is push-button adjustable to provide easy viewing from bright daylight to night driving. And, in addition to the base maps, topographic maps can be loaded that provide greater detail of off pavement routes.
The Baja 540 can collect tracklogs and waypoints of your favorite trail which can be saved to a SD data cards and exchanged with others. A note, Lowrance does use a special encoding of the data file which limits your ability to directly exchange tracklogs to other Lowrance users. Computer software is available that can convert the Lowrance tracklog into a file that can be used by a a Garmin or Magellan GPS.
Installation was straight-forward except for needing to mount the unit in a Jeep with limited room. I do have Rockhard 4x4 Parts
bolt-in roll cage which features an overhead space available for mounting accessories. Suspended from the overhead, the GPS unit is easy to view and out of the direct line of sight posing no obstruction while driving.
The Baja 540 does have an external antenna that is connected through a powered bus. The powered bus does provide optional connection of sensors to monitor fuel consumption when installed in a boat. The bus is continuously powered even with the GPS unit powered off. Not a good feature as it provides a constant draw on the battery. My solution was to run the power line direct from the battery through and external disconnect switch that can remove all power from the unit. The switch I selected was a heavy duty single-pole-single-throw on-off switch with a red LED. The LED is illuminated went in the on position and power is applied to the unit.
Mounting the external antenna was easy. I have a CARR
window frame mounted light bar which provides a flat surface to bolt the antenna securely in place. Lowrance does provide optional antenna mounting accessories. The only requirement is the antenna must be un-obstructed for optimum satellite signal reception.
With the unit bolted in place, antenna mounted and power applied, a quick check showed that it everything was correctly functioning. Now, it was time to work on the setup and optional topographic maps.
The optional maps are stored on an SD data card and automatically loaded when the unit is powered on. The same SD data card is also used to transfer tracklogs. Lowrance uses Mapcreate software to enable creation of routes that can be loaded into the unit. Mapcreate also provides the ability of creating the topo maps with varying levels of detail and geographic coverage to suit your individual needs.
A downside of the map creation is a special card reader is required and each card is coded to the reader. You can create up to five cards linked to the Mapcreate reader.
Through experimentation, I was able to transfer an existing Garmin tracklog into the Lowrance format and load and display it on the Lowrance unit. There are numerous features available either with the Baja 540 or through the optional Mapcreate software to maintain a library of trails, the Lowrance version of tracklogs.
The rugged Lowrance units are the GPS of choice for the for Baja off road racers. With that durability, use in an open Jeep should be no problem.
Overall, my initial impression is favorable. System setup and operation is easy. The large screen makes for easy viewing. Large control buttons make for quick and easy selection of features. Zoom in and zoom out is quick and easy.
While the Mapcreate software is functional, I find it a weak point. While adding an externally created “trail” is a matter of a few button selections, extracting a saved trail and displaying in in Mapcreate is not that easy. I did encounter an error message about and “illegal latitude/longitude” setting in my Lowrance encoded tracklog file. Garmin and Magellan tracklog files are plain text format and easy to correct. The Lowrance encoded file is not a simple text edit to correct errors.
While I consider this a weakness, it by no means detracts from the overall performance of the GPS unit. If you need a rugged GPS with easy to view screen, the Lowrance Baja 540 fits the need.