Outdoor

Best Outdoor GPS Units: Must Read Before Buying

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Written by Mathew

We find the top GPS units on the market, analyze their features and benefits, and hunt down real customer feedback and comments to bring you a comprehensive review of the best outdoor GPS units.

Outdoor GPS units have come a long way in the last few years. The early handheld or portable GPS units were designed for military use and tended to be heavier and cumbersome to use. Now that GPS technology is available to all, the units themselves have improved in one essential area of design: portability. The new portable GPS units allow consumers to have as much GPS power as soldiers have and in some cases have more features.

Now hikers, bikers, cross-country skiers, and all kinds of other people who travel across the open countries have access to low-cost handheld GPS units that is easy to carry and prevent you from getting lost.

Others like to have a GPS Units on hand in case of an emergency and to make life much easier whenever traveling to any location. Whatever your motivation, we help you find the best outdoor GPS units to suit your needs.

3 Features to Look For When Buying an Outdoor GPS Unit

When you are looking to buy a new Outdoor GPS unit, there are certain factors to consider in your analysis.

Each product has it’s advantages and drawbacks so the first step is to understand exactly what features you need to have to meet the intended use of the GPS unit.

Someone involved in advanced hiking or boating in remote areas will have different needs from someone who needs a GPS to join in a geocache hunt. This article is intended to help you understand the top three features to consider when looking for the best outdoor GPS units for your purpose.

What built-in maps does the unit have?

When you are looking at the best outdoor GPS units to find the one that fits you, ask yourself this question. “Which outdoor activities will I be doing most with my new GPS?” There are many different possible answers. Road tripping. Hiking. Backpacking. Fishing. Geocaching. Random adventuring. The list goes on and on, and chances are that you do not incorporate all of these activities into your outdoor adventure routine.

This means you have specific needs, so there is a specific type of GPS that you will need. If you are going to use your GPS mostly for finding great fishing spots, then you will most likely be satisfied with a low-budget handheld GPS with no upgrades. These low-priced GPS navigators are still powerful and they are usually very speedy and convenient to use as well. They may not have the most detailed maps but they will suit your needs without putting a giant hole in your wallet. And that’s important.

But say that you are a hiker and as a hiker who likes to go on long adventure hikes you need very detailed topographical maps in your GPS. Well, know that not all GPS navigators come equipped in the box with detailed topographical maps. You may have to purchase them at an extra cost, and this extra cost may be more expensive than the GPS itself.

Loading time and speed.

GPS navigators that come out of the box with detailed topographical maps are sometimes not as speedy as other models with simpler features. So you need to take into account loading time. And this is why if you have simpler needs for your GPS then you won’t need a super functional GPS with tons of built-in maps. You just need a speedy little GPS that is comfy to hold in one hand with simple buttons that will get you to your fishing spots fast. Maybe you do geocaching. Low-budget GPS navigators are usually great for geocaching as well. If you will need detailed topographical maps then you will likely need to have more patience for your GPS to load your positions.

Price and cost of upgrades

It’s possible to grab a very powerful and functional handheld GPS for under 100 bucks. It will load your position quickly even in canyons and in covered places. But there are many upgrades that can make your GPS experience even better. Depending on the model that you choose, you may be forced to purchase upgrades.

For example, if you purchase a model that does not come packaged with detailed topographical maps, then you may find you have to purchase them at expensive costs. So try to figure out what your exact needs are and what you will use your GPS so that you don’t have to spend extra money later on upgrades.

Additional features to look for:

Screen size: Some GPS units have 2.1 inch screens and some have 2.6 inch screens. You may need a bigger screen for your particular usage or you may be able to save money by purchasing a GPS with a smaller screen. The best outdoor GPS units have screens that are readable in good and bad lighting.

Battery life: Many GPS units run on a pair of AA batteries for convenience. However, battery life vary from model to model. Also, some models may require you to run certain features for an extended amount of time which my use even more battery power. The average run time for batteries in a GPS is 14-17 hours.

Do not fail to take into account what activities you will do most with your GPS. Otherwise, you won’t end up happy with your purchase.

Garmin eTrex Venture HC GPS Receiver Review

The eTrex Venture HC is small and is simple to operate. It is equipped with a 256-color TFT display and you should have no problem reading it during any time of day.

This GPS receiver is very sensitive utilizing WAAS technology so when the unit quickly loads your position from the satellites, you can accurately know your location. Don’t worry about getting lost in canyons and in patches of trees, because this GPS receiver will maintain your position in the heaviest of cover.

You can maintain up to 10 tracklogs plotting a maximum of 500 waypoints. The unit comes equipped with basic maps for lakes, cities, coastlines, rivers, etc.

The unit is designed to be water resistant and offers computer connectivity via a built-in USB interface. The official battery life is around 14 hours of constant use but this may be reduced if the backlight feature is frequently used.

Pros and cons of the eTrex Venture HC

This unit is lightweight and sturdy. It’s comfortable to hold and the buttons and functions of the unit are simple. For the price, you are getting a very powerful GPS unit that is fast and convenient to use, without some of the hassles of larger GPS models. This model, though powerful, is considered an entry level GPS unit.

You will find that it is very accurate and fast-loading, but don’t be deceived. This will not feel like a $1,000 GPS model. That being said, if all you need is a low priced, entry level GPS unit, then we don’t think you’ll go wrong with the eTrex Venture HC. If this will be your first GPS, then you will be happy with its ease of use.

Promised battery life (14 hours) is near the bottom of the range when compared to the existing eTrex models but considering this is constant use, it is still perfectly adequate for most uses. As the unit uses 2 standard AA batteries, it is advisable to carry a spare set of batteries with you for longer trips.

Another reported drawback for some people is built in maps. Although adequate for some ventures, the maps that come with the unit may not be enough for your hiking needs. Depending on your desired application for this unit, you may need to purchase additional maps from Garmin. If you will be looking for more detail on your maps and you do a lot of hiking, backpacking, and other venturings, then you may want to factor in the cost of purchasing additional maps.

The value for the price is outstanding. If you are into geocaching this should work well. If you don’t mind carrying around a few pair of AAs on your longer trips, then, by all means, look further into this GPS. It’s fast, it’s compact, it gets great reception, and it is accurate. It may not suit each and every one of your needs, but then again we have yet to come across the perfect handheld GPS system. We put it among the best outdoor GPS units out there.

The Garmin eTrex Venture HC scored well with Amazon.com’s customer. Out of the 200+ reviews posted on Amazon.com, over 77% were 4 stars or above.

Features:

  • Good choice for First GPS
  • high-sensitivity, WAAS-enabled
  • Stores 10 routes with max 500 waypoints
  • Lightweight and waterproof
  • Easy One Hand Operation

Pros:

  • Good Starter unit
  • Great for Geocaching
  • accurate, affordable and easy to use

Cons:

  • May need to buy additional maps
  • Maps out of the box are limited.

Verdict:

The Garmin eTrex Venture HC is a modern, powerful and speedy GPS device with accuracy and a solid build. It is among the best outdoor GPS Units available today and should be on your shortlist.

DeLorme Earthmate GPS PN-40 Review

  • Untra fast GPS receiver
  • 500mb onboard flash memory
  • Stores 50 routes with max 1000 waypoints
  • Electronic Compass & Barometric Altimeter
  • High-Resolution Color Aerial Imagery

Features

DeLorme is known for making GPS receivers with great built-in maps. The PN-40 comes out of the box with detailed topographical maps for the ultra-adventurous hikers and advanced geocachers. If you need a quality GPS system with detailed maps, it’s hard to pass this one up.

Some previous models had great maps but had slower speeds. The PN-40 from DeLorme has a 32-channel STMicroelectronics Cartesio chipset with dual core processing. What does that mean? Fast. With the PN-40, you get detailed maps without sacrificing speed.

Pros and cons of the DeLorme Earthmate PN-40

The PN-40 is an amazing GPS with incredible capabilities. It is for those with a medium sized budget who have previous experience with handheld GPS units. DeLorme is great at including built-in detailed topographic features in their GPS units. The PN-40 is no different.

Advanced hikers and geocachers will likely be impressed by the mapping capabilities of this device. The PN-40 is equipped with a dual-core processor for faster performance. However, the DeLorme may still lag behind more simplistic GPS units from other makers. If you are into geocaching, you will find that the PN-40 will equip you for truly paperless geocaching adventures.

Although the Earthmate PN-40 from DeLorme is designed for optimal usability, it’s not a touchscreen, and it’s still not as simple to use as other units. If you are considering the PN-40 as your first GPS navigator, you will want to spend some time learning how to use it at home before heading outdoors.

It’s comfortable to hold and intuitive, but will still take some getting used to. The graphics are great. You won’t be disappointed by the aerial imaging in high resolution. The PN-40 is great for basic needs such as tracking your favorite fishing spots. But it’s also fantastic for advanced geocaching and rugged hiking adventures as well.

If you do decide to go on long hiking adventures, you will need to adjust yourself to how the mapping works. You want to get comfortable with it before going out. Battery life? The battery life is average to low-range. You probably won’t be impressed by how long the batteries last. Bring a few pairs of AA batteries with you on your GPS adventures.

Verdict:

Summary of the DeLorme PN-40: Is the DeLorme Earthmate PN-40 a great value? We believe so. If you know how to use a GPS and don’t have extremely specialized needs, the PN-40 should amaze you. The maps are great. It’s speedy, and it’s handy.

Garmin GPSMAP 60Cx Handheld GPS Navigator review

  • high-sensitivity, SiRF GPS receiver
  • 256-color TFT color display
  • Stores 20 routes with max 500 waypoints per route
  • Rugged and Water Resistant Design
  • Out-of-the-Box Maps may be insufficient

Features

You shouldn’t have a problem with tracking with the new Garmin 60Cx. The high-sensitivity GPS receiver will track your location no matter where you are with ease. The 2.6 inch color display is bright and easy to read.

The Garmin 60Cx will work with most Garmin MapSource products so you can navigate to fantastic fishing spots and other recreational areas. The unit also ships with automatic routing capabilities for highways and freeways.

This model will go easy on your wallet for battery usage because just two AA batteries will last up to 30 hours. The 60Cx is simple to use and easily connects to your computer. Also included in the box is a 64 MB microSD card.

Difference between Garmin 60Cx and 60Csx

The Garmin 60csx is the same unit as the 60cx but includes the additional features of a barometric altimeter and electronic compass. If you need these features, go for the 60csx, otherwise, save yourself $35 and stick with the Garmin 60cx

Pros and cons of the Garmin GPSMAP 60 Cx

The Garmin 60Cx is a great GPS but if you were expecting it to ship with advanced maps, you may be slightly disappointed. If you find the default maps system lacking you will need to purchase additional mapping products from Garmin.

For example, if you are looking to use the 60Cx for a lot of hiking, you may find the default maps included with the 60Cx to be lacking. In this case, you may need to purchase additional maps from Garmin, so be aware that the default maps from the Garmin 60Cx may not suit you well for all purposes.

The best outdoor GPS units all have a good battery life. And battery life is another one of the benefits of the 60Cx. Just throw in 2 AA batteries and you are set for up to 30 hours. Note that the 60Cx does pull power from the batteries even when it is off, and you may want to consider purchasing rechargeable batteries for this unit. The battery usage is better than many comparable GPS units. Just the fact that you can use AA batteries can be a very appealing factor. You don’t have to rely on a default internal battery.

Regarding functionality, you will love the 60Cx because when you first pull it out of the box, you notice the unit is fast! You shouldn’t have to wait around for it to load. It’s simple and you won’t have to spend too much time in the manual.

Did we mention the durability of the Garmin 60Cx? How many times do you have to drop this thing before it breaks? It will hold its own underwater (3 feet) for up to 30 minutes. The unit’s case is lightweight and is made to withstand whatever you encounter in the outdoors. Another reason why the 60 Cx is one of the best outdoor GPS units.

So while the 60Cx does have its limitations, it has many strong points as well. You will be pleased with its durability, its ease of use, and its speed. Yes, depending on what types of outdoor activities you do, you may need additional maps from Garmin, but out of the box, this handheld GPS should surprise you in many ways.

For the money, you are getting a very advanced, very powerful GPS device. Not all purchasers of this device are pleased, but if you need a handheld GPS unit that is fast, lightweight, simple to use, and powerful, then you should strongly consider purchasing the Garmin 60Cx.

Verdict:

The Garmin GPSMAP 60Cx is a great handheld navigator and is simple to use. However, you may need to purchase additional maps from Garmin. If you are looking for the best outdoor GPS units, you have to consider the 60Cx.

Garmin eTrex H Handheld GPS Navigator Review

  • Great technology in a starter unit
  • high-sensitivity, WAAS-enabled GPS receiver
  • Stores 20 routes with max 125 waypoints per route
  • Lightweight and waterproof
  • Easy One Hand Operation

Pros: very affordable, fast, simple and convenient to use, good battery life.
Cons: not the best for hard-core hikers who need detailed topographical maps.

Features

Amazon.com is listing Garmin eTrex H Handheld GPS Navigator for under 90 bucks, which makes it one of the least expensive yet powerful GPS models to be found anywhere. The unit is comfy to hold, the buttons are convenient, and the tracking is accurate. We think you will see that the value truly is hard to beat.

The eTrex H is very easy to use. You may be hard-pressed to find a more simple-to-use GPS than this one. The LCD display is easy to read at virtually any time of day. It is waterproof and very durable. The eTrex H runs for about 17 hours on a pair of AA batteries. This is longer than most comparative models, another reason why this GPS is easier on your wallet.

In the box, you get the eTrex H GPS navigator along with a wrist strap and a user manual. There are many different carrying cases available that can be purchased for the unit, but this model is very durable so you may not need one. The eTrex H measures in at 2w x 4.4h x 1.2d inches and comes with a 1 year warranty.

Pros and cons of the eTrex H Handheld GPS Navigator

The battery life goes a little longer than many comparable GPS models. You should still carry around a few pairs of AA batteries on your long hiking trips, but you will feel the value of the battery life this unit offers.

This is a great model for first time GPS owners, and if you enjoy geocaching this model should be a great tool for you. If you are looking to do a lot of hiking then you may have to consider purchasing additional maps from Garmin as the built-in maps on this unit are not as detailed and suited to all terrain as the built-in maps on other GPS units. This model does not come with extensive and detailed topographical maps. You will have to purchase them which could cost you more than the GPS itself.

You should be able to figure out the eTrex H with ease. The buttons are simple and it feels good in your hand. For many first time GPS buyers, this model is a complete win because it is so affordable and yet very fast and very powerful. It’s comfortable and accurate. It’s hard to beat for those on a tight budget. Why spend the extra money on a bigger more feature laden GPS when you don’t need all those extra buttons and maps? They may only slow you down.

Is this the right handheld GPS for you? It depends on the types of activities that you will be focusing on. If you are just trying to keep track of your location while on fishing trips, this unit should work surprisingly well because of its price and ease of use. Its simplicity puts it among the best outdoor GPS units. You probably wouldn’t need any extra maps. However, if you are looking for highly detailed topographical maps for your long hiking expeditions, then you may want to consider a different GPS model or factor in the extra price to purchase a good topographical map.

Verdict:

The eTrex H is a great first GPS navigator because it offers powerful features for those on a low budget. We also put the eTrex H among the best outdoor GPS units.

How does an outdoor GPS unit work?

GPS stands for Global Positioning System. An outdoor handheld GPS unit receives signals transmitted from satellites to help locate and track your current position on various terrain.

It used to be that the first handheld GPS units did not function well at all in covered places such as forests, canyons, etc. Now many of the newer handheld GPS navigators are more advanced and can usually receive signals from satellites even if you are positioned in a forest or another covered place. This does not take away from the fact that your GPS unit needs to contact a satellite way up in the sky and so you will receive the best signal if the space between your receiver and the satellites is unobstructed. As time goes by and technology continues to advance, GPS receivers will become more reliable and will work in more covered areas.

How exactly does a handheld GPS work?

All GPS satellites transit their signals at exactly the same time because they are all synched with clocks at the U.S. Naval Observatory in Washington, D.C. These signals are extremely fast and if the space between your GPS receiver and the satellite is not blocked, you should be able to track your position with great speed. This also depends on how much detail you are requiring on your map.

Your handheld GPS receiver will usually coordinate with multiple satellites in order to determine your current location. Even though GPS was first intended to provide locational data for ships, it is also extremely useful in the air and on land. This is why many fishermen will use GPS units to record coordinates for their favorite fishing spots, and hikers will use them to evaluate different types of terrain and estimate the time it will take to navigate around hills and cliffs.

When you turn on your GPS receiver it will coordinate with multiple satellites, sometimes several, and will then begin to receive transmissions from the satellites to gather your position. Remember that your receiver unit does not transmit signals to the satellites. Your GPS navigator is passive and only receives signals.

How accurately do the satellites determine my location?

The best outdoor GPS units are quite accurate. However, some GPS receivers are more accurate than others. It is common for handheld GPS receivers to determine your location within 30 feet. Other more expensive receivers may be more accurate. Handheld GPS units are usually not as accurate as larger GPS units and those units mounted in vehicles.

How hunters, fisherman, and explorers use GPS receivers

Say you’re fishing, and you find your special fishing spot where the sport is especially good, and you need to remember exactly where you are so that you can get there again. So when you are in that special location, use your GPS receiver to get a reading of your position and then record that position into your unit’s memory. The coordinates or locations that you record are called “waypoints,” and the next time that you return to the location just tell your receiver to locate that waypoint again. The receiver will point you in the direction of the location you want to navigate to, and it will then likely be able to show you if you are of course and your estimated time of arrival. There are many uses for GPS receivers, whether you are geocaching or whether you just like adventures and exploring.

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Mathew

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