Navigational and GPS Devices

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Getting lost happens to the best of us. Even with a map, there are bound to be times when you get confused because everything looks different than it's depicted.  Whether driving in unknown territory, hiking, or on your way to an important meeting , a Global Positioning System (GPS ) can help you chart the most accurate and direct course to your destination.  When first introduced for hand-held and automotive use, GPS devices were quite pricey and only available as a luxury device.  Now they are more affordable than ever and it seems that almost every car is outfitted with a GPS in one way or another.  Join the crowd and never get lost again! 

Types of Navigational Devices

There are several different types of GPS devices catered to specific sectors of the consumer market. GPS products designed for hikers, bikers, drivers, boaters and dedicated computer users have been increasingly popular in the past five years.

Handheld 

  • Ideal for hikers, hunters and others who spend a lot of time outdoors.
  • Lightweight, but with a smaller LCD screen than other models.
  • Some can be mounted inside a car, but the small screen makes them less than ideal for driving.

Car 

  • These usually have larger screens for easy viewing while driving.
  • A noteworthy feature of a car GPS system is voice-activation or text-to-voice directions.
  • The majority come with mounting equipment for easy installation.

PDA/Phone 

  • Some PDAs and smartphones have integrated GPS devices, which is ideal if you are in the market for both products.
  • Requires downloading maps and/or software.
  • Reduces the number of gadgets you need to carry around.

Laptop 

  • GPS devices that attach to your laptop are available.
  • Can be used in a car, but not practical for hiking.
  • Requires downloading maps and/or installing software.

Nautical 

  • Chartplotters  and fish finders  are specifically designed for use on boats. However most models can easily adapt to use elsewhere simply by loading new software.
  • Most have very large backlit screens that can easily be read in bright sunlight.
  • Things they can track include depth contours, inter-tidal zones, wrecks, aids to navigation, boat ramps, fishing areas, marinas and more.

Recommended Features

Hand-held GPS Systems

  • Weight: If you hike or backpack, every ounce counts.
  • Durability is also important so the device can stand up to harsh  environments.
  • 12 Channel Parallel Receiver: For hiking and off-road travel, these receivers give the best service.
  • Map Screen: Certain devices only display relative longitude and latitude lines. Be sure your model is map-ready.
  • Waterproof : You don't want your GPS to short out when it rains or if you fall in a stream.
  • Long Battery Life: Carrying multiple batteries around can certainly be a pain.
  • Way points: Most sites recommend a GPS unit with storage for at least 500 way points.
  • Compass: Help you get to the next way point.
  • Screen Characteristics
    • Colour vs. B&W : Some colour screens are hard to read in sunlight. The exception is transreflective colour screens.
    • Size may also be a factor. Consider how small a screen you can read comfortably.
  • Route Capacity: Most devices can hold at least 20 routes, while some may hold as many as 50. The more, the better.
  • Topographic Maps: If you plan to do a lot of back country hiking, elevation and small stream data will definitely come in handy.

Car GPS


  • Address to Address Routing: Essential for car navigation.
  • Verbal Directions: The best (and safest) way to use your GPS device is to have it take instructions from you and then talk back to you. Some units will also tell you when to make a turn.
  • Mounting: Make sure to get a unit that can be easily mounted to your dashboard.
  • Automatic Routing: Most models have this feature.
  • Waypoints: Some units have just the basics (points of interest, petrol stations, etc.). Others will allow you to mark your own points of interest as well.
  • 12 Channel Parallel Receiver: This type of receiver will give you the best reception so that you don't lose the signal in a strange city.
  • Europe/Ireland Maps: Find out the extent to which the system already covers areas outside the UK so you won't have to purchase extra software when going on holiday.
  • Screen: You want a decently large screen since you might need to glance at it while driving.
    • If you get a colour screen, consider a Transreflective Colour screen.
  • MP3 Player: Some GPS devices can double as MP3 players if you're bored with the radio and tired of lugging your CD collection.
  • Audio Book Playback: Many of Garmin's  models and some of TomTom's  have the ability to play audio books, which can make that longer trip that much less taxing.

Major Manufacturers