Choosing a GPS

What activities you are going to use it for.

When thinking of buying the best outdoor GPS device you need to first need to think of what activity or activities you will be using it for?

Some activities you may want to consider are –

  • Walking
  • Mountain Climbing
  • Exploring – totally off the grid
  • Running
  • Road cycling
  • Off-Road cycling
  • Swimming
  • Sea Kayaking

With many of the new generation GPS units and watches, you can add activities to meet your requirements.

Handheld GPS unit or Outdoor GPS Watch?

This is the big choice; I know many people have both

Advantages of a handheld GPS unit.

  • You can have Ordnance Survey Maps on a large clear screen
  • Great for walking with and mounting onto a bicycle or motorbike
  • Two-way satellite communication (inReach technology) are built into a small number of Garmin handheld units meaning you can always communicate (and activate a SOS button).
  • Great route planning software works alongside them so you can plan your activities on a PC or Mac before you head off, great route planning tool.
  • A complete navigational experience, once a route is programmed it is just a case of following the arrow.
  • Trip computer measuring your distance travelled, stopped time, moving time and averages etc
  • Great battery life and as many units just run from AA batteries (either directly in unit or using a cradle) you can easily increase your battery life by days by just taking a couple of batteries.

Advantages of a Wrist-based GPS unit (Outdoor GPS Watch)

  • Always with you, on your wrist.
  • A smartwatch on your wrist for everyday use.
  • Many Outdoor GPS Watch run proper digital maps which are routable (like a car satnav but off road), so you get turn by turn routing when on and off road. As these maps are digital as you zoom in you get more detail.
  • Great training features built-in which measures your fitness, and workouts, both outdoors, in the gym and swimming.
  • Lightweight, ideal for runners, climbers and ultra-eventers where every ounce matter.
  • Work next to apps on your phone/ tablet so routes (courses) can be easily transferred onto your watch, once on the watches turn into a complete navigational experience.

So, what have you decided on?

Handheld GPS Unit – continue on to 3

Outdoor GPS Watch – jump directly to 9

Handheld GPS unit

Satellite and GPS accuracy – Galileo (European satellites) – Handheld GPS Unit

  • All new generation GPS units work on both the US and Russian Satellite types giving stunning accuracy.
  • The new Garmin GPSMAP66s/66i and SatMap Active 20 GPS units also use the Galileo satellites which can bring the accuracy down to about 2 meters.

Electronic compass – Handheld GPS Unit

  • All GPS units (except the Garmin eTrex 10 and 22x) have built-in 3 axis electronic compasses, this gives the GPS superb accuracy with small movements.
  • As these are three-axis compasses they don’t need to be kept flat like a traditional compass.
  • Therefore, as you turn the GPS through very small movements the navigational arrow and/ or the map with orientate with you.

Altimeter that works from the air pressure – Handheld GPS Unit

GPS unit are very good at giving you a fix of your location on the planet but less good at giving you accurate height data, there most GPS units (excluding the Garmin eTrex 10 and 22x) have barometric altimeters to give you more accurate height data.

Mapping options – Handheld GPS unit – Handheld GPS Unit

Here at the Outdoor GPS shop, we sell our Handheld GPS units with varies mapping options, you choose what suits you best.

TOPO ACTIVE

This is a digital map that originated from open-sourced data.

As you zoom in you get more info as you zoom out you get less.

It shows paths, but it does not categorise if they are footpaths, bridleways or private tracks. You only get this info from an OS map

Birdseye Plus Voucher – 25,000 sq km of 1:25k maps

With this option, you can download the area (s) you choose to.

It is 1:25k Ordnance Survey mapping (same as the orange Explorer maps)

You activate the map credit against your Garmin account then you have one year to download the mapping

This mapping in non-routable i.e. you navigate in a straight line from waypoint to waypoint (this is called direct routing

You may need a micro sd card to put in the back of your new unit for this mapping to sit on.

TOPO PRO 1:50k maps

This is a map card that will sit in your unit.

It is 1:50k Ordnance Survey mapping (the same as a pink Landranger maps)

It has routable off-road data within National Parks, An example of this is you are sat at the bottom of Helvellyn in the Lake District and you click or tap on the top the GPS will route you via the footpaths and bridleways to get there (like a car satnav but off road)

TOPO PRO 1:25k maps

Same as above but you get 1:25k, 1:50k and 1:250k map sets on the map card. As you zoom in and out you go through each of the map sets.

Battery life – Handheld GPS Unit

  • Most outdoor GPS units will give you a good day walking/ cycling out of a set of batteries, don’t believe the stats the manufacturer gives you!
  • As many outdoor GPS units work on AA batteries or you have an option to put a cradle in so you can run on AA batteries you can easily increase battery life for just taking an extra couple of batteries.
  • If you are using AA batteries and you now know your unit will use a set of batteries every day please use good quality rechargeable batteries, throwing a set of batteries away every day is not great for the environment.

Budget – best Outdoor GPS unit for each price bracket

The big question, what your budget? Depending on your budget I would encourage you to look at the following –

Best Budget GPS unit

Button GPS unit – Garmin eTrex 32x – more
Touch Screen GPS unit – Garmin eTrex Touch 25t – more

Best GPS unit

Button GPS unit – Garmin GPSMAP66s – more
Touch Screen GPS unit – Garmin Oregon 700 – more

Best Large Screen GPS unit

Both button and Touch Screen – SatMap active 20 – more

Outdoor GPS Watch

Build quality and weight – Outdoor GPS Watch
  • The key thing with GPS watch is the build quality of the case
  • Stainless Steel – Base model, can be damaged if climbing, scrambling etc
  • Titanium – Harder wearing and lighter.
  • Diamond Like Carbon, coated Titanium – Very hardy, should never get damaged and still very light.

Screen quality – Outdoor GPS Watch

  • The screen quality is one of the main considerations
  • Glass – Can get scratch and broken
  • Gorilla Glass – Very hardy and scratch-resistant
  • Sapphire – Chemically bonded and truly stunning, very hard to scratch or break

Satellite and GPS accuracy – Galileo (European satellites) – Outdoor GPS Watch

  • All new generation Outdoor GPS work on both the US and Russian Satellite types giving stunning accuracy.
  • Some of the newer models also use the European Galileo satellites which increase accuracy by 100%

Smartwatch capabilities – Outdoor GPS Watch

As you will be wearing the watch every day you now have a smartwatch on your wrist, when paired with your phone you will now get all your phone notifications (from apps etc) on the watch. Don’t worry you can choose to switch this off of you want to.

Other info the Outdoor GPS watch will give you are things like –

  • Steps you have done with auto goal to encourage you to get more active.
  • Move bar, showing you periods of inactivity, walk a couple of minutes to reset it.
  • Sleep monitoring, measuring your three types of sleep – deep, light and REM (rapid eye movements, dream) sleep.
  • Calories burned.
  • Floors climbed.
  • Distance traveled
  • AND lots, lots more

Heart Rate monitoring – Outdoor GPS Watch

Most Outdoor GPS Watches also measure your heart rate from your wrist, this gets stored in the saved track data so you can see where in your activity where your heart rate was highest and what it was.

Oxygen levels monitoring – Outdoor GPS Watch

The Garmin Fenix 6 GPS units also measure your blood Oxygen levels from your wrist, this is great when mountain climbing at high altitude

Mapping options – Outdoor GPS Watch

  • Most modern Garmin GPS units come with Topo Active mapping.
  • This is a proper digital map so as you zoom in you get more detail and as you zoom out you get less.
  • Topo Active mapping is updateable, and when you plug your GPS Watch into your PC/ Mac it will update and get better every time as more data is added to the map set.
  • It is a lovely clean map set which looks great on an Outdoor GPS Watch
  • The Casio GPS watches can be loaded with OS maps, you get these from ViewRanger and you therefore can overlay the routes available on ViewRanger on the 1:25k OS map

Battery Life – Outdoor GPS Watch

Casio GPS Watches – 2 days battery life

Garmin GPS Watch – 14 days as smartwatch, 36 hours when using GPS built can be put in Expedition mode to increase this to 72 hours. Garmin also do a x version of the Garmin Fenix 6, this is a slightly larger GPS watch with an increased battery life (1/3 extra time)

  • As the battery is built into the watch and the charging point is ion the underside of the watch there is not much you can do when ‘out in the field’.
  • The new Garmin Fenix 6 models have a great battery feature that now tells you how long your battery is going to last (in time) and then you can switch off certain aspects you feel you don’t need and see your battery life increase.
  • Also, with the Garmin Fenix 6 there is a solar option, the solar panel is built into the screen and helps top up the battery.

Budget – Best Outdoor GPS Watch for each price bracket

What is the best Outdoor GPS Watch currently on the market, in my opinion –

Best Budget GPS Watch

For a man – Garmin Fenix 6 Pro – more
For a lady – Garmin Fenix 6s Pro – more

Best Top End GPS Watch

For a man – Garmin Fenix 6 Sapphire – more
For a lady – Garmin Fenix 6s Sapphire – more