Buying a GPS Receiver for Outdoor Use

GPS Receiver. Garmin

Buying a GPS Receiver:

Handheld GPS features you need to make timber and forest property assessments, hike and geocache need more extensive features than those needed simply for automobile navigation. Although there are major differences (and some increased cost) between the two types of GPS units, you will find models that work nicely in the woods and on the road. I'll show you my picks a bit later.

I've developed some "essential" GPS features you'll need when buying a GPS receiver for the woods. Consider purchasing these features:

Find a 12 Channel Parallel GPS Receiver System:

If you will be using a GPS receiver in all types of terrain and potentially under dense tree canopy, you should always purchase a 12 channel parallel receiver. Remember, the more channels or satellites a receiver can monitor, the greater the accuracy you will get from your unit. Also, I highly recommend you include a Wide Area Augmentation System (WAAS) which is a data correction process that applies the proper correction to data going into your receiver.

Get a Sturdy, Small and Waterproof GPS Receiver:

New units made by major GPS manufacturers (Garmin and Magellan) can take a bit of abuse. Many will fit right in your pocket or attach to your belt and are surprisingly lightweight - most weighing under 10 ounces.

Hauling a heavy unit around in the woods is nearly a thing of the past. Make sure your receiver is rated for operating below freezing to well above 120 degrees and is waterproof to IEC-529 and IPX7 standards. Remember that receiver temperature will effect data acquisition time.

Opt for a Large Screen GPS Receiver with Map Capabilities:

Buying a large "map" screen, as opposed to a numerical lat/long fix, makes a GPS receiver easier to read when you reference waypoints, plan routes or use a track log. Be careful. Only a basemap comes standard with most receivers and some units cannot upload extra maps. Extra maps are expensive but value-added when included with the initial purchase price of the system. A topographic map is almost essential for primary forest GPS use and you should look for one that is included in the package or available for purchase.

Waypoints and Routes and Tracking, Oh My!:

Remember me talking about waypoints, routes and track logging? You will learn more about these when you purchase a new GPS receiver. You need to have some minimum capabilities when considering each. Waypoint capabilities: Make sure you get a unit that can store at least 500. Route capabilities: Make sure you get a unit with at least 20 routes. Track logging is not offered on all units but I love its ability to calculate acreage and finding you way back to the truck. My personal GPS system can save 20 track logs.

GPS Receover Long Battery Life is a Must!:

You are untethered when in the woods and a power source is the last thing you want to worry about.

Make long battery life a priority. GPS receivers having battery-saving qualities keep you from having to carry a fortune in batteries. I was surprised that my unit had a longer life on disposable batteries than on the rechargables. Also, some units with 2 batteries have a longer operating life than some with 4.

Remember Your GPS Receiver Memory:

I encourage you to get a unit that can load extra maps in addition to the GPS base map. These maps will expand your capability and make you a happy camper, forester or geocacher - but they do use extra memory. I recommend you purchase a system that has a mapping memory of at least 20 megs. You can "get by" with less if local topo maps for hiking maps are your only need. Let me repeat, a basemap may be the only standard map you get with a GPS. You want a unit that can upload extra maps.

Color Screens Vs. Black and White on GPS Receivers:

Reading screen data in bright sunlight has been a major GPS receiver problem - until now. Transreflective color screens on several popular models are easy to read in bright sunlight and are easy on battery life. Black and white screens are fine for hiking and some non-transreflective color screens are hard to read in direct sunlight. Still, you now have a choice between black and white and color screens. Good color screens will be an added expense.

I Love My Garmin GPSMAP 60C GPS Receiver:

My pick for best GPS outdoor / forestry product on the market today is the Garmin's GPSmap 60C (now named the GPSmap 76). It has everything I've mentioned above plus has great car/truck navigator features without giving up exceptional outside capability. The GPSmap 76 outside screen resolution, long battery life and acreage calculator makes it worth the extra investment for any forester or geocacher - you will be paying a street price of about $200 to $400.

Other Top Forestry Friendly GPS Receivers:

Here are other, more or less, adequate GPS systems that have been recommended to me for forestry and other outdoor uses. I personally like the Garmin eTrex series and the Magellan Triton series. I use the basic Magellan Explorist in training new GPS Receiver users at Alabama’s annual "Becoming an Outdoors Woman" retreat. The Magellan Explorist series has now been replaced by the Magellan Triton series.

Things To Remember: (1) Sometimes less is best particularly when it comes to GPS map screen displays. Unless you are absolutely certain your color screen is of the best quality for outdoor visibility, stick with black and white. (2) No GPS receiver will always perform well at all times under heavy tree cover or on steep terrain. A good performance today does not insure an identical performance tomorrow. GPS satellites are continuously moving with varying results on receiver accuracy. (3) GPS receivers are designed to operate properly with a clear view of the sky.

When you have less than a full sky view, you may be compromising the reliability of your GPS data.