GPS technology is ubiquitous in modern life, whether built into smartphones, as a standalone device, or even in cars. Choosing a device that suits your needs is easy, but many features must be considered.
Look for devices with good screen sizes and maps suitable for the activities you’re interested in. Also, consider the battery life and power efficiency.
A handheld GPS is the most portable option for navigation. These units connect to GPS or GLONASS satellites for position data, and many include built-in sensors for measuring things like altitude, barometric pressure, and temperature. GPS units are generally small and lightweight, though the specific size and weight depend on your needs. Some users want the smallest, lightest unit possible; others, particularly thru-hikers, may wish for a more significant device to withstand a beating and keep functioning for days without recharging.
Regardless of your specific requirements, it’s good to choose a handheld with a large screen, at least 2.2 in. diagonally so that you can see the map and other information clearly at a glance. Whether the screen is touchscreen or button operated is another personal preference; some people find touchscreens easier to use, while others prefer the tactile feel of buttons.
Some GPS units come with preloaded maps of various scales, while others require loading your map data. It would be best to consider which satellite systems you want the GPS to connect; most models support multiple satellite systems. Some models also have compass and barometer/altimeter functions.
Dedicated GPS devices with built-in sensors offer better accuracy than smartphones and can connect to a more extensive network of satellites. These devices are also designed to be rugged and waterproof. If you’re managing a fleet of vehicles, Skypatrol offers premium GPS devices for business use to help optimize resource allocation and delivery times.
A good GPS device like Garmin should be easy to read, particularly in sunlight, and offer a variety of display types. Transflective screens are ideal for outdoor use, and a backlight helps in dark environments. A higher resolution screen is also a plus but might affect battery life.
Look for a GPS with a built-in barometer and altimeter to track terrain elevation changes. This feature is handy for mountain biking or hiking, and it allows you to set a waypoint or follow a route that will avoid steep climbs and descents. Look for a device that tracks and displays these critical data points in real time on the screen.
Some GPS devices have a spine that attaches to handlebar mounts, a popular choice for bikers and other active individuals. These are often easier to manage while in motion, and they can also provide turn-by-turn navigation. Look for a GPS that can send a ‘last known location’ or an SOS message via satellite to alert emergency services of your situation.
Dedicated GPS units give you the functionality of your smartphone in a ruggedized design geared to the outdoors. These devices can provide much more accurate location data as they connect to satellites worldwide, and many also have built-in sensors that can measure things like barometric pressure or humidity.
Some people prefer a large touchscreen for easy navigation, while others find that buttons are better for wearing gloves or operating in frigid conditions. Consider your preferences when making a purchase decision, but note that larger screens and more features require more power which could increase the weight of your device or shorten its battery life.
GPS works by receiving signals from satellites in orbit, so it’s essential to ensure your device can get a clear signal with at least five nearby satellites. Look for a model that supports multi-GNSS (Global Navigation Satellite Systems) to connect to multiple satellite constellations.
Most models can display an Ordnance Survey map on their screen, and some also come with preloaded maps that provide information about the terrain. You can also purchase and download additional maps from a variety of sources.
Most GPS devices are designed for use on the move, but some can be bulky and cumbersome if carried in hand or stuffed into a pack pocket. To save space, opt for a slim model with a spine compatible with handlebar mounts. A good quality model should also come preloaded with maps suitable for your activities, allowing you to set turn-by-turn navigation. For cyclists, look for a device with a large screen that is easy to view at high speed and track relevant data such as distance, speed, and vertical feet.
Some GPS devices allow you to connect to external sensors like heart rate monitors or pedal cadence sensors. Check the device’s specifications to see if it uses ANT+ or Bluetooth technology – these enable data from the sensor to be incorporated into the GPS map display and can also work with other apps on your mobile phone.
Many GPS devices will let you record your route and share it with others via GPX files. This is great for settling arguments over how far you walked (or cycled) and can be very useful for mapping and route planning. Look for a device with this functionality and also consider the quality of the camera if it has one (it might be better to carry a dedicated digital camera). Look out, too, for weather reporting that will help inform you of incoming storms.