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How To Choose Which Handheld GPS Trail / Hiking Is Best For You

Basic, Mapping or Radio Types - Which To Choose?


So you've decided to buy a handheld GPS for hiking, biking or geocaching, but a quick look at your local store or online retailer shows lots of different options available, so which ones to choose?

First off consider what you need now, and might need over the next few years from your device. Although the entry-level devices can be at tempting prices, make sure you don't spend your cash on a hiking GPS that is missing the features you'll be needing, such as maps, built in compass, or expandable memory.

On the other hand don't buy a top of the range device if you will not be taking full advantage of all the bells and whistles - these units aren't cheap, and technology moves on fast, so we could be looking at very different hiking sat navs in the next couple of years.

Our first choices have to be the basic specification of our device.

Do we want a unit that will just give us our position, usually latitude / longitude and map grid references? This type of Sat Nav has to be used with paper maps and compasses - but they are a lot cheaper, their batteries last a long time. These Trail Satellite Navigation devices also tend to have a limited number of way-points or stored routes, but you do get what you pay for. A good example of these simple GPS units would be the entry-level Garmin eTrex.

Next up are the mapping GPS units. Again, handheld, but with the ability to store and display maps of where you are, on a colour or gray-scale screen. Built in compasses and altitude measurements are usually included, as is WAAS (improved positional accuracy), and depending on how much you pay, very usefull expandable memory slots for additional maps, waypoints or routes. A top of the range unit of this type is the Garmin etrex vista hcx, which has a very impressive specification indeed.

Recently convergence devices have appeared, such as the Garmin Rino series. These offer Trail / Hiking GPS combined with two-way radios. This offers great functionality, admittedly at an expensive price, but it's one less thing to have in your back-pack. Look at the Rino 530hcx for an idea of what they're like.

So once you've decided on a baisc, mapping, or radio type GPS, then start thinking about the features you need. Battery life. Number of way-points, or routes. Colour or grey-scale screen. Expandable memory. Size. If any of your friends have already got devices, borrow theres to get an idea of what they're like and what you might need. Get personal advice, one of the best places for reviews can be the product reviews at amazon.co.uk or amazon .com - they tend to be short, but if there's lots of them you are getting an honest appraisal.

Comments / Questions:

I would like to start Geocaching.  I would like something with a good basemap rather than just giving me my position and direction to north.  I'm really on a budget and have noticed the Magellan Triton 200.  It's really at the far end of my budget (I told you it was tight).  Would it be a good investment?  Andy

Unfortunately if you want a handheld hiking GPS with a detailed basemap (that is actually useful) you'll need to spend quite a lot - usually on the device itself, and then on the topographical maps (which are expensive) to fill it with.

I've never used a Triton, but I'd check out the reviews on Amazon before buying.

Hi there:  Looking to use a GPS for driving in Italy, and hiking through the Cinque Terre, and even the streets in Venice. Richard.

Few! Grab a etrex Vista HCX, European Maps, and Topo maps for Europe - won't be cheap though!

I need a Hiking GPS suitable also for cycling. Area: Europe. Usabilaty level: High i.e. easy to use. Price reasonable. Quality: High. Please suggest what to get ;-) Stein.

Ok, it all depends on what features your looking for, but I guess as a basis you want a hiking gps that can accept routing maps, so you can fix it onto your bike with a handlebar mount. This won't be cheap, because Hiking GPS units mainly only come preloaded with base maps that don't contain much detail, so you'd have to source some topographical maps, and some routing maps. If you went for genuine Garmin maps, you'd end up probably spending more on those maps than on the GPS itself.
However, as long as we stick with a Garmin Unit, there are loads of free maps available, but obviously you'd have to play around and ask on the forums for good ones.
So which unit would I recommend to do this?
I'd go for an etrex vista hcx. Its got a high sensitivity reciever, built-in electronic compass and altimeter , and can accept extra maps with a mini sd card expansion slot. Check out the reviews on Amazon.
Handlebar mount.

I want to get a handheld GPS for my husband when hiking & climbing. But do any have the facility to pick up weather conditions? Thanks, Sandi.

Garmin make some great Hiking GPS with built in weather radios - the higher end Rino series - but they rely on the American NOAA weather stations, which we don't have in the UK, but if he's going to be hiking in the States, then a Rino may be a good choice, but I'd guide you towards seperate units instead, for greater battery life. Then you just need to decide (or ask him) how much level of detail and colour, he wants on his maps. Check out my etrex guide for further info.

I would like to buy my father a GPS for hiking. I want to get him a mapping one and have been looking at the Garmin 60CsX. My concern is that the maps compatible wtih this GPS are not that great for hiking paths etc. Is there a brand you would recomend with better UK maps? Also i am thinking of buynig it in the US as significantly cheaper (and i live here). Will this presne t em wtih any problems? Thanks for your help. Lara.

The 60csx is a great unit, but obviously you also need to buy the UK Topo maps to go with it, there's a discussion about it here.
I don't know much about other makes of Hiking Sat Nav, sorry.
As far as buying one in the USA, there are two problems: It will have the American basemap, not the European, and warranty issues may be tricky to resolve.

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