So you love the great outdoors and have a passion for adventure but you also need to stay safe when you head to the country. Hand held global positioning system units are popular with many hikers these days.
There are hundreds of GPS units on the market. They tell you where you have been and where you are. Some are packed with features and it’s worth considering whether you need a host of extras or whether a more basic GPS will suit your needs.
Many people however swear by an old fashioned compass and map and ask the question do I really need a GPS? So before you head out and spend your hard earned money on a GPS unit here is a quick lowdown .
Do I Really Need A GPS?
If you are a person that loves to hike but you head to areas that you know then the answer is probably No. However getting lost in bad weather is every hikers’ worst nightmare. If you find yourself in the frightening scenario where you are lost and it is getting dark, a GPS can literally be the life saver that gets you home safely.
What’s Wrong With A Map And A Compass?
There is absolutely nothing wrong with a map and a compass. It is after all what hiking is all about. It’s not going to break down or suffer from battery failure. It is the fail-safe of every hiker. However things can still go wrong with a map. In bad weather it’s not always easy to read a map. When in unfamiliar country using a map in conjunction with a GPS unit is a great way to find your location.
Another safety tip is to keep your maps in waterproof bags that allow you to read them whilst also protecting them from the elements.
My Smartphone Has A GPS App So Why Pay More?
If you have a good smartphone with a dedicated navigation app that is likely to be all you need for local hikes. It’s going to be a much cheaper option.
For daily hiking when there is no issue about recharging batteries then this could be the perfect option for you. A smartphone is perfect for taking photos along the way and a good navigation app will allow you to hike safely.
However if you are hiking for longer than a day it could be worth considering a GPS merely for the importance of being able to recharge batteries. An issue to consider is some smartphones are difficult to see in certain conditions such as strong sunlight so make sure your smartphone is up to the job you need it to do.
A final consideration with a smartphone is that if you are wearing gloves whilst hiking you are going to have the infuriating problem of gloved fingers and an unresponsive smartphone.
Buying A GPS
So if you have decided that you want to stay as safe as possible when hiking and you think a GPS is for you, there are still a lot of things to consider. There are so many types of GPS on the market that you need to make sure that you are buying a GPS that is suited to your needs. You want the right type of GPS and you don’t want to pay for features that you are not going to use. Here is a brief outline of the types of GPS available.
GPS Watches & Altimeters
These systems are worn around the wrist just like a fitness device but with the added feature of a built-in GPS. These systems don’t have as many features as other GPS devices but they are a good choice for trail runners and those that want to travel light. These systems are going to show you where you have been, where you are and how far you have climbed in terms of altitude.
Two-Way Communication System
If you are heading somewhere remote and an emergency feature is needed then this could be a smart choice. These GPS handheld devices come with the added feature of two-way communication.
Hand Held GPS Units
These computers are going to track your route and keep you safe whilst withstanding challenging weather conditions. They don’t have to be hand held literally. You can carry it in your rucksack or sling it around your neck for ease. They wont run out of battery quickly like a smartphone and range from basic features to a whole range of more complex features.
What Features Should I Consider Before Buying My GPS?
GPS systems come with a whole host of features from the basics such as a stopwatch and calendar to cameras and information of the satellites triangulating your position. It makes sense to buy a GPS with the features you intend to use. Listed below are a few features that you might want to consider before making your purchase.
Some GPS systems have cool features such as cameras, video recorders and microphones. A lot of hiking companies choose GPS units like these to carry information to other guides following on. It’s a useful add-on to have but it will obviously increase the price of the unit. If you are happy that your smartphone will do that job for you then consider saving your pennies.
More expensive models will often have the added feature of a barometric altimeter allowing the user to track weather conditions. If your hiking is taking you off the beaten path where you may be unable to get access to potentially dangerous weather cycles then this is a feature worth considering in a high performing device.
Electronic Or Differential Compasses?
The difference here is that a differential compass will only show your direction when moving. If you need to stand still then it wont help. This is the reason why many experienced hikers and climbers that navigate dangerous terrain choose an electronic compass. But if you don’t need this facility it is best to be avoided as GPS units with electronic compasses are more expensive.
Buttons Or A Touchscreen
GPS units differ mainly in whether or not they are touchscreen or look more like smartphones with touchscreens. There are pros and cons for choosing a particular type. Touchscreen versions are faster but lose battery quicker. Units with buttons are considered more reliable. Technology has yet to advance to an effective solution for using either a GPS touchscreen or a smartphone with a heavily gloved finger.
So there you have a brief rundown of GPS units. Whilst no one wants to waste money we all want to stay safe. Before you start your next adventure consider what will enhance your outdoor experience but above all what will get you home safely.