GPS Buyer’s Guide - Choosing from the Best

Whether you are boating, mountain biking, hiking, orienteering or even just camping out under the stars and your old compass is just a bit outdated. Buying a GPS System Device or auto GPS system will tell you exactly where you are, and in case of a cross country road trip, many can also tell you exactly where you need to turn next or how close until the next fuel station. There are as many types of GPS tracking devices as there are applications for them. While this is very good for special uses, it can be overwhelming when you first start evaluating which GPS tracking device is suitable for you.

Many Satellites Circle Around the Earth

All GPS receivers use the same standard methods to locate your position on the road precisely. But because they’re used in so many different circumstances, some models are better suited for those who use them during hiking, or while driving, boating, or for certain sports. While there’s some overlap, GPS devices can be put into categories like Road, Marine, Outdoor/Portable, or Sport.

The electronics may be similar in each case, but the software, controls, and case can vary quite a bit.

Road GPS Receivers

Road-oriented GPS receivers are typically intended for use in a car, though a few are specialized to motorcycle (or even bicycle) applications. They tend to offer wider screens than, say, an Outdoor unit intended for hiking.

They also have a very rich variety of supplementary features and applications. Points of Interest (POIs) pre-loaded onto an auto GPS feature restaurants, hotels, hospitals, and the like. In other words, things you would tend to want or need on the road.

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Marine GPS Receivers

Some GPS receivers can (and may even be designed to) work in both auto and marine environments. But those that are specifically intended for boating, sailing, fishing, and other water-bound activities provide distinct hardware and software features.

A marine GPS may come pre-loaded with street maps, but the focus is decidedly on inland lakes, coastal features, and the like. It will typically provide additional data on water depth, channel contours, weather, and other vital info for seafarers.

From a hardware perspective, the screens tend to be larger than other types, but more importantly the entire unit is built for rougher conditions. They’re invariably waterproof, corrosion resistant, and more impact resistant.

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  • The built-in GPS STRIKER Plus 4 fishfinder allows you to mark and navigate to waypoints and shows your boat’s speed.

Outdoor Handheld GPS

Some of the features for marine GPS are frequently carried over to an outdoor Personal Navigation Device (PND). PNDs are water-resistant usually protected from immersion in up to 1 meter of water for 30 minutes. The cases are sturdy and can withstand a large variation in temperature, atmospheric pressure, and more. In short, the weather well all the conditions you might expect to find on the trail, especially in the mountains.

Outdoor or Portable PNDs were among the first to use GPS technology, at least in broad-based consumer electronics devices. As a result, they tend to have a very wide array of features, many not found in auto-oriented units.

The ability to store dozens of topographical maps is critical if you’re visiting multiple wilderness locations. Equally important is the ability to record hundreds or more waypoints – points of reference along your intended and actual treks. It’s also highly helpful to have a 3-D view of important land features, like hills and valleys.

A compass is helpful (though with the GPS unit, often unnecessary) and an altimeter, thermometer, and other extras can be big conveniences for GPS receivers intended for hiking, mountain biking, geocaching, and other off-road experiences.

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An interesting variation on the Outdoor-Portable category is found in sports. Golf is the most common example, where distance and angle to another point is clearly critical information. But many Golf-oriented GPS units go beyond simply displaying the distance to a flag. They can describe features of the fairway and green, like surface curves, water traps, and more. Good ones can do that even when trees and other obstacles block a clear view of the pin.

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There is considerable overlap in the features of one category of GPS receiver or PND and another. Auto units can often be used on motorcycles, portables can be mounted on a mountain bike and function as well as on a hike. Some marine GPS units can also be used in your car or even on foot.

But to get the best functionality – the widest array of features with the most specific value to your situation – it can be worthwhile to consider buying more than one Personal Navigation Device, one tailored to its application. With prices coming down all the time, that’s easier today than ever.