GPS Advice

Choosing The Right GPS

Because GPS (Global Position System) units are used in a wide range of industries many brands, models and features are available. Here's some help to get you pointed in the right direction.

How GPS Works:

Global Position Systems units are a powerful technical tool in an easy-to-use interface.

  • GPS units are known as receivers. Most units receive information, but do not send back specific coordinate.
  • They receive information from a network of satellites providing world-wide coverage.
  • The satellites broadcast signals that your receiver uses to triangulate your position to within 100 feet.

Types of GPS Receiver Units:

Before you decide to buy a unit, consider what you want to do with it.

  • Hand-held
    • The compact and versatile design of these units allow them to be used for hiking, camping, hunting, and virtually any other activity that requires navigation assistance.
  • Vehicle Navigation Units
    • Designed for use inside a vehicle.
    • The larger size allows some of them to store more information (built-in maps) than hand-held units.
    • Screens are much larger for viewing while driving
    • Vocal directions announce turns and maneuvers to ease navigation while driving
  • Chartplotter
    • Designed for marine use to help you navigate bodies of water.
    • Often include additional marine features such as water depth, water temperature and tide prediction tables.
    • Often used with fish finders.
  • GPS Software Systems
    • Designed for use with portable computers or PDA's to turn the unit into a fully functional GPS.
    • Requires a compatible operating system.
  • GPS Fitness Systems
    • Provides distance and rate of speed data to track your workouts
    • Allows you easily navigate to desired locations
    • Allows you to map your favorite routes

Functions and Features:

  • Waypoints
    • Are coordinates based on longitude and latitude describe a particular position on the globe
    • A waypoint can be a trailhead, campsite, rock formation, or a series of points on a featureless landscape, once a waypoint is entered into the GPS the unit can guide you back to the exact location
  • Route mapping
    • Creates a set of waypoints for an area you plan to visit
    • Especially useful for trips to unfamiliar places
  • Routes
    • An ordered series of waypoints. When following a route, the GPS selects each waypoint.
    • Some units generate waypoints and automatically create a route as you travel, a handy feature if you end up having to backtrack in bad weather or darkness
  • Altimeters
    • Indicate altitude, or feet above sea level
    • Very handy when hiking through mountainous terrain or when referring to a topological map
  • Antennae configuration / number of satellites
    • External antennas can often be manipulated to improve reception
    • Built-in antennas are protected from breakage
    • Optional plug-in antennas are handy for use in cars or boats, since they allow the unit to pick up signals in places (such as under a metal car roof) that satellite signals usually can't penetrate
    • More satellites translate to more accurate positioning, faster updates and better reception
  • Connectivity
    • A GPS unit can be made more useful via connections to a computer or another GPS unit. Most computer and computer accessory retailers carry the cable and software you will need to take advantage of these features.
    • In addition to easy back-up, sorting, and additional mapping capabilities, connectivity allows you to share exact information on where you're going or have been with someone else
  • Size
    • For backcountry use or when extra load weight is a concern, you may opt for a smaller, lighter model
    • If you will be using the unit in complicated outdoor terrain and/or urban locales, a larger unit with a bigger screen may be preferable
    • Battery life and extra weight are related. The more batteries a unit carries the longer its life and the heavier its weight. For long trips, the extra weight may be worth extended battery life. Many units map also operate on rechargeable batteries with varying usage times
    • Most GPS units are equipped with a lithium battery backup memory function so information won't be lost when batteries die
  • Weather Sustainability
    • While most receivers are built to withstand some exposure to rain and snow, they probably won't fare well if submerged in a lake or river
    • A beefier, and consequently heavier, casing means better weather resistance, additionally gaskets may be used to keep the water out
    • A carrying case is a useful accessory, and can extend your unit's life span these cases can be either protective, waterproof , or both
  • Screen size
    • The display screen should be easy to read in a variety of light conditions
    • Higher quality screens will be visible even in bright daylight
    • Illuminated screens are especially useful for nighttime and low-light situations
  • Color vs. black & white
    • Usually based on personal preference.
    • Color screens are often easier to read in nighttime and low-light conditions
  • Memory
    • In general, the more storage space, the larger the memory, the more room a unit has for waypoints and route information
    • Some units come with software to store waypoint data on your home computer, so you can collect more information than the unit can hold on its own
    • Some units offer an expandable memory slots which can store information on a SD (Secure Digital) cards.
    • SD cards may come with preloaded maps and points of interest or may be purchased without preloaded information. A blank SD card allows you to load specific information to your GPS.
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