How to Choose a GPS Receiver

How to Choose a GPS Receiver
Though you may have been using a GPS in your car for years, shopping for a GPS for hiking and outdoor use can offer some new challenges. You're now looking for some slightly different features and should compare accordingly.


Difficulty: Moderate

Step 1
Look for a high-sensitivity, powerful receiver chipset such as a SiRFstar III. Outdoor use entails a variety of conditions such as dense forest, canyons and mountainsides and a powerful chip will give you the best signal strength. You may not always be able to get a signal, but the more powerful the chip, the better your chances. Get a GPS unit with at least a 12-channel chipset.
Step 2
Decide what your intended uses are. Outdoor GPS units are available in two types: basic models that allow you to enter routes and track where you've traveled, and mapping GPS units that are compatible with mapping software so you can display your position on a map. The latter will be a better navigation tool, but it is more expensive and may be more than you need. If you're comfortable with a regular topographic map and compass, which you should be anyway, then a basic GPS might be enough.
Step 3
Consider battery life. While you should carry extra batteries, you'll want to make sure that the GPS has a long enough run time to make it useful for your average hike or trip, the longer, the better.
Step 4
Look for built-in maps and consider costs. Many mapping GPS units do not include detailed maps. These will need to be purchased separately and often cost upwards of $100 in 2009, making the added cost something to consider.
Step 5
Ensure your unit has enough memory. The GPS should be able to store several hundred waypoints and mapping units should have at least 8 MB of memory for mapping software. The more waypoints that you can add per route, the more accurate your route will be. Expandable microSD memory is also a good feature to have.
Step 6
Look for computer compatibility. GPS units that connect to a computer are able to easily download maps and upload information about your trips.
Step 7
Look for a barometric altimeter. Though GPS units are able to display elevation as a product of a GPS fix, altitude as provided by a barometric altimeter is more accurate. If you will be ascending and descending and are looking for an altimeter to track your vertical and navigate with, choose a GPS that includes a barometric altimeter. An electronic compass is another feature that is included on some GPS units. However, you should always carry a regular compass as a back-up, so this feature doesn't need to be a sticking point.
Step 8
Test out the GPS. Whenever possible, go to the store and try the GPS out. Some things to look for are large, clear, visible display, user-friendly interface and high resolution. The screen should be visible in a variety of light conditions (such as sunlight, nighttime and low light). Check its waterproof rating if you'll be using it in variable conditions or on the water.
Step 9
Weigh size and weight considerations. The largest screen will provide the best visibility and navigational capabilities, but will usually mean a bigger, heavier unit. You want to find a comfortable equilibrium of good readability and low weight and size.

Tips & Warnings

GPS is not a replacement for compass, map and navigation skills. You should always carry these items as well and not rely solely on a GPS. Carry extra batteries for your GPS to ensure that you have access to it.
GPS is not a replacement for compass, map and navigation skills. You should always carry these items as well and not rely solely on a GPS.
Carry extra batteries for your GPS to ensure that you have access to it.

Article Written By Joe Fletcher

Joe Fletcher has been a writer since 2002, starting his career in politics and legislation. He has written travel and outdoor recreation articles for a variety of print and online publications, including "Rocky Mountain Magazine" and "Bomb Snow." He received a Bachelor of Arts in political science from Rutgers College.

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