It’s here, it’s there, it’s everywhere, but do I need GPS (global positioning system). And if I do, who makes the best GPS for outdoors?
GPS was once a technology used only by dedicated explorers, emergency services and the military. But now it seems like every other device has it integrated. It’s even available on mobile phones.
So briefly: What is it, how does it work, is it any use, and who is making the best GPS for outdoors?
A GPS (global positioning system) is a navigation tool that uses orbiting satellites. Sparing the physics and trigonometry, GPS takes bearings from these satellites, and by taking several it can find your location on the ground.
Traditionally, with a map and basic compass skills you can locate yourself. Orientate the map, and look for prominent features and take bearings to them. By reversing these bearings you should be able to find where they intersect, thus finding yourself.
This is what GPS does, without all the map and compass work, and by using 24 orbiting satellites.
The first time you use GPS, the experience is enlightening. You can plot grids, make routes, constantly find yourself on the ground. You can also measure speed, distance and elevation. It really is a wonder for time in the wilderness and great for watersports fans too – particularly when out of site of land.
However, it also has a few drawbacks. The most expensive feature is the mapping data which is updatable but not cheap. Also batteries run out, and GPS use can lead to an over-reliance on computer data at the expense of map skills.
In navigation, there is still nothing to beat what the military refer to as ‘The Mark1 Eyeball’. Even with Google Maps thrown in, it is never good to go from just GPS data when on trekking holidays or any other adventure. Following GPS in the winter could lead you into a lake, which in summer months was a dust bowl.
Many people use GPS as a complementary navigation tool. A good 1:25000 map to help you read the ground, utilising said eyeball, and GPS to enable you to check immediately where you are – a useful combination
GPS, when built into phones, helps enable apps that give users’ search results based on their location. We expect this technology will be used more and more.
The most basic GPS models have no maps, and just give you locations and bearings. While the most advanced let you upload data. To be fair they are useful for pretty much all outdoor activities, but particularly those that involve travel and finding your way. From hiking to biking, skiing to sailing and SUP to paragliding GPS can be useful.
Ultimately, for the sports community they are invaluable safety devices. The rugged, waterproof variants have found their way into the backpacks of those on off-piste skiing and snowboarding holidays. Mountaineers use them as do sea kayakers and trekkers.
As for who makes the best GPS for outdoors currently it is Navman and Garmin that are the leaders of the pack… But we are sure this technology is going to go crazy in the next few years. so watch this space!