Finding your way around in the great outdoors isn't always as easy as it is on the road. There aren't signs telling you your location or arrows showing you how to get somewhere. Trail maps can be helpful, but you have to pay attention to where you start and where you are at all times. Hiking GPS navigation systems can pinpoint where you are and help you figure out where you need to go! With most cell phones having access to GPS apps on them, you may be wondering why you would want to buy a GPS device when you have map apps on your phone. Let's take a look at the benefits of having a hiking GPS navigation system with you when you're camping.
GPS vs Smart Phone
Hiking GPS units work a little differently than a map on your phone. The map on your phone mostly depends on satellites and cell towers to get a signal and determine your location. This type of system is called Assisted GPS. This system relies on a 3G or 4G signal, which has its downfalls. This type of signal can be shielded when you’re in the woods or a dense forest, resulting in your location being incorrect or possibly not found at all. These inaccuracies can cause you to get lost or end up in a dangerous situation. Even in clear areas, satellites rely on cell towers to triangulate your signal. This can be off by as much as 100 meters (over 1/2 a mile!), which can make a huge difference in finding your way when hiking. Not only is the GPS portion of the phone pretty unreliable, but the actual construction of the phone can cause issues too. The screen will wash out in bright sunlight, making it very difficult to read. If you’re hiking in the cold, you'll have to remove your gloves to navigate through the screen, which has the potential of exposing you to frostbite. And the battery life of a smart phone is remarkably short. You would have to bring an extra battery or a charging device.
A dedicated GPS unit runs off the Wide Area Augmentation System, or WAAS. WAAS puts stations on the ground that work with the satellites in order to find a device. With these stations, your GPS can pinpoint your location within 2 meters (6 1/2 feet)! That's pretty darn good for being out in the middle of nowhere. Since there aren't lights or apps on a hiking GPS, and there aren't constant attempts to connect to cell towers, the batteries last a lot longer than cell phone batteries. A set of AA batteries can last 20+ hours! If you do happen to run out, you can easily replace them with some you have compactly tucked in your pocket or backpack. GPS units are much more durable than a smart phone. They’re built to be outside and can withstand wear and tear. Most of them are shatter proof and waterproof. They're built for adventure, so bring one along on your next getaway and leave your worry of getting lost behind.
The Best Hiking GPS
The two top manufacturers in the GPS industry are Garmin and Magellan. These two manufacturers make high-quality, durable, easy-to-use products with many different options. Unless you want a GPS that does double duty as a road and trail GPS, purchase one that is designed for hiking, not road travel. Use the apps on your smart phone for the roads.
Garmin GPSMAP® 64
This unit is small and fits easily into the palm of your hand. It has a colorful 2.6” display that is even readable in the sunlight! Not only does it use the satellite system that connects to the WAAS system, it connects to the GLONASS, which is the Global Navigation Satellite System. This is the Russian satellite system and ups the satellite count by 24 satellites to increase the speed and reliability of location. With 4GB of memory and a microSDTM slot, you’ll have plenty of space to save your favorite routes. This GPS even comes pre-loaded with 250,000 caches if you’re into geocaching!
Magellan eXplorist 110
This durable GPS comes with a 2.2” sunlight-readable color display with buttons that can be used even when wearing gloves! This is the perfect GPS for hiking, fishing, hunting, and pretty much any other outdoor expedition. Using the SiRFstarIII GPS Chipset, the location on this GPS is incredibly accurate. The two AA-batteries can last up to 18 hours with constant use and it’s rugged, waterproof, and submersible! It comes pre-loaded with the World Map Addition and offers 500 megabytes of memory so you can store your favorite locations! Use it to track your hike to see how far you went, what your average speed was, and what your elevation gain and decent was. This GPS definitely has a lot more to offer than a smart phone!
If you love hiking, biking, fishing, or hunting, you should consider purchasing a handheld GPS device. GPS units are available in low-end and high-end models to give you a range of options. Some are even equipped with cameras! You’ll find that navigating your favorite routes will be much simpler with a GPS in hand than a smart phone or trail map!