All you wanted to know about using a Garmin Zumo 550 in a Jeep but were afraid to ask



Garmin markets the Zumo series of navigators to motorcyclists. I originally bought it to use on my R1100RS in place of the GPS V that rode along bungied precariously to the handlebar. The 550 version includes an automotive windshield mount in addition to the motorcycle one. Trying it out in my Cherokee I soon learned that it would make a great replacement for the cumbersome Garmin GPS V/laptop/National Geographic TOPO setup that I had used while exploring in the Jeep for the past couple of years and had grown to dislike.

After 8 months of experience and several free firmware updates that added some key features I am relying entirely on Zumo for off-road navigation.

In order of preference here is what makes Zumo work well for me:

  • Bright, high contrast display is easy to read at a glance under any light conditions, from high noon daylight to full moon, no headlights night 'wheeling.
  • Touchscreen interface allows for small physical size- I can mount is where it is easily visible, but doesn't obstruct my view out the windshield. The unit will also fit in my pocket.
  • Off-road tracks previously saved by my other Garmin GPS units can be uploaded and followed by Zumo.
  • Map can be zoomed in and out and dragged around easily to see what is coming up.
  • Zumo can run Garmin's topo maps as well as City Navigator.
  • Lots of memory- 1gb internal memory as well as a slot for common SD cards.
  • Auto route generation, including optimally ordering multiple destinations into a single trip.
  • Has a battery so I can use it away from my vehicle.
  • IPX7 waterproof rated, supposedly vibration and fuel resistant too.
  • 20 seperate archive files each storing a 10,000 point tracklog memory.
  • It uses the high sensitivity SiRF reciever that Garmin is phasing in to all of their new GPS units.
  • Can display position in 40 different formats including 3 different lat/lon and my favorite, UTM.
The Zumo series is a close cousin to the Streetpilot series, but unlike the purely automotive GPS's it will allow you to operate Garmin Mapsource Topo products. City Navigator NT comes pre-installed on the unit, a DVD is also supplied to plan trips at home and upload and save routes, tracks and waypoints. Despite the name, City Navigator has quite a few dirt and gravel forest roads as well as points of interest for the entire United States. This is handy as any GPS unit worth space on my dashboard must do point-to-point autorouting whether I am in town or in the boonies.

Mounting options
Zumo 550 comes with 2 quick release mounts- a cigarette lighter adapter powered windshield suction mount that contains a speaker to give you voice guidance and a waterproof version without the speaker that uses the RAM mounting system to clamp to a handlebar with a u-bolt. Both mounts have seperate headphone and microphone jacks. On the motorcycle I listen to the unit with earbud speakers inside my helmet, the stereo in my Cherokee has an Ipod adapter that plugs into the vehicle mount headphone jack if the built in speaker is not loud enough. The supplied speaker has been plenty loud by itself.



Navigation operation
I will take advantage of the snapshot function to use actual size screenshots from my Zumo to illustrate what it can and cannot do.

This is where you start.

Touching "Where To?" brings up the following two pages of options.

Note that on this unit, Garmin annoyingly calls waypoints "favorites". You are allowed 500. All search results, whether a "favorite", a route or a point of interest, will be ordered nearest to farthest as the crow flies. It will also let you search by name if you know what you are looking for, or browse to a different location on the map and search from there.

Once you choose a destination there are 3 options for navigating to it.

1) Off road: The compass display will show a direct bearing to your destination. The red heading bug stays at the top of the compass rose, while the rose rotates around to indicate heading. The red arrow shows the bearing to your waypoint.

Unfortunately Zumo will not give your bearing to waypoint in degrees. I found that ability handy back in my geocaching days when I would use my Silva Ranger to get me from my vehicle to the cache. Ironically when not navigating to a waypoint the red arrow is replaced by your heading in degrees.

2) and 3): Faster time, shorter distance. Zumo will route you on whatever roads are in its database depending on your preference. Choosing a single destination gets a route something like this:

Zumo will also order multiple destinations into a single route.

A list of directions given by the unit while in the boonies:


The map screen while navigating an on-road route will look something like this:

An arrow superimposed over the vehicle icon vehicle shows the correct direction to travel. The magenta line shows the route to follow. The cyan line is a breadcrumb trail of all of your travels. The breadcrumb trail can be turned off. The unit will give you voice prompts through the audio output telling you whatever is shown in the green bar across the top, including saying the street name.

Thank you Garmin for giving the ability to enter GPS coordinates as a destination! This function was added in one of the free firmware updates.

Some of the 40 choices for position format:

You do not have the option of changing map datums, WGS84 is all you get. One major shortcoming of this unit is the difficulty of reading the GPS coordinates of saved waypoints. It doesn't display the location in the favorites menu, although it is stored in memory. When the point is saved it gives the location, afterwards you need to download it to your computer to read it.

Map options: Road
The Zumo comes preloaded with Garmin Mapsource City Navigator NT. This includes a database of points of interest and roads for the entire U.S. Many (but not all) dirt roads and forest roads are in there so City Navigator does have some usefulness for 'wheeling. Garmin Mapsource City Navigator NT on a DVD is packed in the box with the unit so you can install the program on your computer. Now you have a way to save, store & edit waypoints and tracks when you get home from a trip. This version of Mapsource also allows you to look at your travels in Google Earth by clicking the proper bar in the program's view menu. Kind of handy when an internet connection is available because Zumo does not communicate with National Geographic TOPO. Zumo converts navigation files to .gpx format when hooked to a computer, unfortunately NG TOPO does not support Zumo's .gpx format. If I really want to view a track generated by Zumo in TOPO I transfer it from Zumo > Mapsource > my GPSMAP 60Cx > TOPO. It is a few extra minutes of work that isn't really worth the trouble because TOPO will not save the track in a format that I can transfer back to a GPS at a later date like Mapsource can.

Topographic maps
Garmin Mapsource United States Topo 100k series has the entire country in detail similar to USGS 1:100,000 metric maps. I have the whole western US saved to the memory card of my Zumo. Not all of the program features work on Zumo. Zumo won't display geographic points of interest such as peaks, mines and trailheads. Zumo does display topographic contours, roads, trails and streams. Unfortunately the roads in Topo 100k are not routable.

Garmin Mapsource United States Topo 24k National Parks West... this is the ultimate in GPS mapping programs. Terrain detail equivalent to the USGS 7.5 topographic maps that I love. Many of the dirt and 4wd roads and hiking trails are included and best of all, they are all routable! The same issue applies where some types of geographic POI's won't display on Zumo. As the name suggests, National Parks West Topo 24k is limited to national parks and other places deemed worthy of the increased detail. Fortunately for me, most of southeastern Utah made the cut.

Zumo lets you quickly and easily switch between mapping programs. Ideally it would overlay topo on City Navigator... but it can't. Any time City Navigator is enabled that is all you get. It is pretty easy to uncheck it in the map settings menu to use one of the topographic map programs.


A road route generated by City Navigator or Topo 24k will remain displayed on the map if you switch to one of the other map programs as long as you have auto route recaculation disabled. Otherwise if you stray a few feet from the highlighted route Zumo tries to recalculate and can't so you get one very confused GPS unit.

Here are some side-by-side examples of what each map program offers. This is located in the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, the route is generated by Topo 24k and displayed at the 1.2 mile scale. From left to right you have:

City Navigator NT........................................................................Topo 100k.....................................................Topo24k.

GSENM is a big blank spot on most maps, City Navigator NT is no exception. There isn't much difference between Topo 100k and Topo 24k at this scale other than the ability to autoroute in Topo 24k. Note that countour lines in Topo 100k are not round numbers, this is because they are metric elevations converted to feet.

Zoom in and Topo 24k really show the extra detail. At the .3 mile scale:

Topo 100k................................................................Topo 24k

I am hoping that Magellan's partnership with National Geographic will spur Garmin to expand the 24k Topo series to cover the entire U.S. I coughed up $100 a state for National Geographic's software, if Garmin had similar detail that I could view and route on my Zumo I would buy it and toss the N.G. TOPO program in the trash! Do you hear me Garmin?

Using off road tracks
Zumo does not have the TracBack function found on many of Garmin's outdoor oriented GPS units. As long as I have a track saved in Mapsource I can send the tracklog to Zumo, which converts it to a route that I can follow similar to the TracBack operation of my old GPS V. As far as I can tell, Zumo has a track limit of around 250 track points. The biggest tracklog I have used was 6000 track points, when Zumo converted it to a route it was around 250, which gave a similar track to what I got when I used the "track filter" function in Mapsource. This was an adequate amount of detail for an 11 mile trail (Arch Canyon). The tracklog was so big because I had saved it directly from my GPS V to Mapsource without first using the "save track" function of the GPS, which would have filtered it down to under 250 track points anyways. Garmin's Mapsource is a very valuable tool for archiving trip information, especially since they updated it to add the "track draw", "track erase", track join", and "track divide" tools. Now I can edit out all of the wrong turns and other wanderings from a track and collate disjointed tracks to make them easier to use on a future excursion. The ability to do this is the most important thing that a computer program to support a GPS should do.

Using an off road track converted to a route is very intuitive when it is displayed in "track up" view. The track is highlighted in magenta, the lower righthand corner shows a simple arrow to the next track point.

Navigating in 3D mode can be a little confusing because there is no scale to judge distance by.

Using north up mode is even more confusing because the guidance arrow shows which way you need to go but doesn't relate to the direction that the vehicle icon is traveling.

One time the north up view is handy is when browsing the map, which Zumo will let you do even while navigating an active route. When the map it touched to drag around it first shifts to north up, then allows you to drag and zoom at will. The map is interactive, displaying any information available about a feature that the pointer is left on.

I really wish Zumo could display multiple routes at the same time. Garmin's GPSMAP 60Cx can store and display up to 20, with the option of using different colors for each one. Zumo allows up to 50 routes to be stored but will only show one at a time. This is not an insurmountable issue but I can always hope the ability is added in a future software update.

The other thing that I would like to see added at a future update is a sun/moon function, something I use quite often in my other GPS. Zumo knows when sunrise/sunset is because it switches from day to night mode at the appropriate moment, but it will not share the imformation with me. An example of night mode...

One feature that bears mention is Garmin's great product support. Zumo still has room for improvement but it is a much more useful device now than when I bought it due to several firmware updates, both to Zumo and to Mapsource. It started out as an easy to use navigator for road use on my motorcycle and evolved into a simple but comprehensive GPS that spends more time in my Cherokee than on the motorcycle it was intended for.

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Supporting Sponsor: Cruiser Outfitters
Excellent review :cool: I am in the market for a new GPS unit, and this one is ranking right up at the top now. I was previously considering a new eTrex setup, but I could do the Zumo for vehicle use and then keep my older eTrez for hiking, etc.

How are you doing all the screenshots of the unit?? I assume it saves them to the memory card as a jpeg? That is a very useful function.

So have you done Left Hand Collett Canyon and HITR recently :D

I'm still hopelessly waiting for the day you can upload the TOPO! or similar maps to the GPS unit. I'm still not sold on the detail of the Garmin 24k maps quite yet.


cruiseroutfit said:
How are you doing all the screenshots of the unit?? I assume it saves them to the memory card as a jpeg? That is a very useful function.
Yes, Zumo does screenshots and saves them as .bmp to the memory card. I converted them to .gif so they would load faster.

I'm still hopelessly waiting for the day you can upload the TOPO! or similar maps to the GPS unit. I'm still not sold on the detail of the Garmin 24k maps quite yet.
Check out the Mapsource Map Viewer on Garmin's website:

You can see what it has without buying it. It is not TOPO! but close enough to loose the laptop!

With Garmin's excellent product support I am fully expecting to see a nationwide version of Topo 24k within a couple of years.


Likes to Drive and Ride
I was on the verge of buying a Map60 or Map76csx but then was strongly leaning toward the Zumo 550. I'm buying a new GPS today (Friday) before starting to train/practice with it on Sunday.

How negative is it that the datum can't be changed? Is wgs84 'the' standard?

I don't like that I can view the coordinates of a saved favorite without a computer. I use a Mac and didn't plan on interfacing the Zumo with my computer.


WGS84 is all you really need in the USA, do you plan on navigating to foreign lands? I have never used a GPS with a map out of the country... maybe someone else can comment on this. All of the maps Garmin sells should be compatable with WGS84.

Viewing coordinates may be a deal killer for you. One of the things I like most about using a GPS is being able to archive my travels on my computer and viewing my tracks on a mapping program.


AndrewP said:
Thanks Alex-I had previously read your (very well done) Zumo report. If you don't mind a question or two...

Will it leave a breadcrumb trail to back navigate on?
Yes, it is the cyan line in this snapshot, this differentiates it from the magenta route to be navigated to your destination.

Can you set up a route on your PC and down load into the Zumo?
Yes, a DVD with Garmin Mapsource City Navigator NT comes in the box with the Zumo. This also allows you to save your track logs, clean them up and upload them back to the Zumo (or any other Garmin GPS) for future use.

I know it cannot actually route the topo roads.
Mapsource Topo USA 100k will not let you route the roads, buuuut if you are going somewhere that Mapsource National Parks Topo 24k covers then that map will let you route the roads displayed on the topo map.

What is the disadvantage of the 450 vs the 550? I don't need any fancy features, just good solid navigation.
The Zumo 450 comes with the motorcycle mount only, you will have to buy the automotive mount for another $98 if you wanted a windshield mount with a built in speaker and microphone. The Motorcycle mount is made by RAM, any of their accessories can be used to mount the Zumo in a car.

The Zumo 450 also lacks Bluetooth, XM and text to speach voice navigation. Without an auto mount with a speaker you really could not use these features anyways.