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Which GPS Receiver Should I Buy?

Hiking GPS Receivers
Hiking GPS Receivers
GPS receiver needs vary from person to person and from use to use. The feature sets needed for hiking can be a little more extensive than the feature sets needed for street, automobile, or marine use. While there are many features that are common across all uses, there are a number of features that are almost a must have for a hiking GPS receiver. The most important feature for hiking or almost any kind of outdoor receiver is a 12 channel parallel receiver. If don't have this feature, you will most likely have difficulty picking up a signal in rocky terrain, forested areas, or inclement weather. Speaking of inclement weather, the GPS system should be waterproof (rated submersible) to prevent it from not working in downpours. Clearly having a long batter life is a concern also. This reduces the need to haul around spare batteries, particularly on long hikes. Moreover, the unit that you choose also needs to be comfortable, lightweight, and easy to carry around on the trails.

In addition to the must have features listed in the paragraph above, there are a number of features that you will need to have if you are relying on your GPS system as your primary mode of navigation during your hike. First, you may want to carry built in maps. These will help you estimate your distance to important landmarks, roads, or towns. Second, you will want the GPS receiver to be able to store a number of routes in the system (20 route capability is pretty standard). This allows you to pull up nearby routes and to choose additional trails. Third, many GPS systems have a waypoints feature. This allows you to enter your waypoints along your path to further assist you in navigation. Most systems permit users to enter over 500 waypoints. Along with this feature, you will want to make sure the receiver can tell you the bearing to the next waypoint. Finally, you will want to make sure that the unit supports the datum that you wish to use (there are different datum that work best for different parts of the world).

There are also some features that are not essential to a hiking expedition, but will definitely make your life easier and your hike potentially more enjoyable. One of these types of figures is a topographical map. If you like using topographical maps while hiking, your unit should be able to support the items that you add into the system. You may also want to add an antennae if your go into rough terrain or a deep forest. Many GPS receivers offer a Map screen that let you see where you are in relation various reference points.

As a general rule, hikers will want to stay away from GPS systems that are designed for "street" or car use.
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