Navigating the wilderness is a lot easier than it used to be. You don’t have to worry about finding landmarks or learning how to read a map and compass to ensure you don’t get lost in the woods. Handheld GPS navigators work off the grid, even if you don’t have a cell signal, but there are so many on the market it can be hard to know which one will work best for you. All of them will help you navigate, but some might be better than others at the job. How can you pick the perfect GPS to use on your next hike?
Bigger Isn’t Always Better
The first thing you need to think about is the size of your GPS. The bigger devices might have a ton of extra features, but they are often heavy and bulky and might not fit well into the already limited space in your backpack.
Smaller devices may have better battery life, or weigh less, and weight is everything when you’re carrying all your supplies on your back.
Here is probably the most essential feature to pay attention to — how long will the battery last in your GPS device? Most handheld GPS devices will have two battery options. They will either rely on replaceable alkaline batteries, or they will have a rechargeable battery like the one in your cell phone.
Be sure you choose a device that has a battery that will survive your entire hike. That isn’t as big of a concern for day trips, but could become a big problem if you’re planning a weekend trip or exploring the woods for days or weeks at a time.
You’ve got two different interface options for most GPS devices — buttons or touchscreens. Many people prefer touchscreens because they make it easier to navigate the maps, but they are difficult to use in cold environments where you should probably be wearing gloves. If you’re going to be using a GPS during all seasons, look for a device that has buttons or both buttons and a touchscreen available, so you can use your device no matter what time of year you’re exploring the wilderness.
GPS devices are chock-full of extra bells and whistles — some of them can be useful, while others are just a drain on the battery. Some useful additional features include:
- Preloaded maps — If you are so far off the grid that even your GPS can’t find a satellite signal, a device with preloaded maps can help prevent you from getting lost. These are also an excellent tool if you’re hiking outside of the United States where you may not be able to find a GPS signal.
- Waypoints/memory — If you’re going to retrace your steps on your way back to your car, a device that can store waypoints or keep track of the way you came is useful.
- Compass — You might not need a compass to find your way, but an electronic compass on your GPS can be useful to keep you pointed in the right direction — literally!
- Barometer — Most GPS devices can tell you how far above sea level you are, but ones that come with barometers can help make that information more accurate — and can even help you track the weather!
- Two-way radio — If you’re hiking with a group, this can be a good tool to help keep track of your group members or let someone know if you’re in trouble. It can also receive weather alerts and forecasts, so you don’t get caught in the rain.
Handheld GPS devices are a wonderful invention. When you’re shopping for one, the trick is to find the one that works best for your specific needs and fits within your budget. Don’t splurge for all the bells and whistles you don’t really need — they’re not worth the extra cost, and will probably be more trouble than they’re worth.