GPS for Leisure

Technology's Take on the Traditional Compass

The popularity of global positioning systems (GPS) has grown exponentially in the last few years.  They come in many shapes and sizes to serve a variety of purposes.  Hikers, campers and outdoorsmen will require a portable system, while those who do a lot of driving will opt for a mounted unit. GPS fitness systems designed for the wrist, capture distance and speed data, while mapping favourite routes for cyclists and runners, and mariners can rely on marine GPS devices for onshore/offshore maps, and chart-plotting functions.

This buying guide will lead you through the basics as follows:

How Does it Work?

Whereas the compass relies on the earth's magnetic field for navigation, a GPS communicates with a host of satellites and land-based stations to calculate your position within 100ft of where you are.  In order for a GPS to process the algorithms it calculates to determine your position, it must have a clear view of the sky (ie. the satellites orbiting the earth). 

A GPS will not only give you the co-ordinates for where you are, but can guide you to where you want to go, as well as show you how to get back again. Read on for key features to consider when buying a leisure unit, or click here for the Essential Auto GPS Buing Guide.

10 Key Buying Features

  1. Positions & Receivers:  look for a unit that displays positions in at least longitude and latitude, and Universal Transverse Mercator (UTM grids).  Also, the more channels the receiver has, the more satellites it will pick up, resulting in stronger signals and more accurate readings.  A 12—channel parallel receiver is most commonly chosen for this reason.
  2. Power: do your homework on the longevity of battery power, specifically with handheld GPS's.  Make sure mounted units can plug into the cigarette lighter while you are driving.  If there is one downfall to GPS units, it's their need for a power source.  Blogs and user reviews are great resources for this research.  A lithium battery back up will prevent you from losing your data if your unit does run out of power.
  3. Capacity:  at least 8 megs of memory is recommended but more memory is always better, and therefore 16 - 32 megs is ideal.
  4. Mapping Capabilities:  if you do a lot of driving, look for a GPS with a built-in road map package and the ability to upgrade, or download more maps.  If you want to see surrounding terrain (outside of roads), advanced mapping functionality may be required.
  5. Computer Interface:  your unit should be able to upload and download information from mapping systems and computers.
  6. Light:  make sure the unit is equipped with a light, or built-in backlight for use at night or in low-light situations.
  7. Durability:  your GPS should be housed in a durable and weatherproof case, even though many models are shockproof and waterproof. GPS units will maintain accuracy in cold conditions, although their LCD screens may display the information more slowly.
  8. Size:  number of batteries (therefore battery life) is directly related to the size of a GPS.  Smaller units will accommodate fewer batteries, and therefore have a shorter power source.  Smaller units are however a lot lighter, and therefore more convenient for those using them in the backcountry. 
  9. Route Mapping:  this function stores a set of waypoints for a particular area and is useful for trips to unfamiliar places.  Make sure your unit can store several routes at a time.
  10. Screen size:  again, screen size is directly related to the over all size and weight of the unit. If you intend to use the device in your vehicle, be sure to choose a model with a larger LCD so you can read the screen and see directions clearly.
Handheld GPS
Garmin Approach® S1 Golf GPS Watch
Garmin Forerunner 405CX - GPS receiver
$255.90 (1% off)  On Sale
Garmin Forerunner 410 GPS Enabled Sports Watch With Heart Rate Monitor Discontinued By Manufacturer H3C0CSMA1-2810
$276.24 (1% off)  On Sale
Fitness GPS
Garmin Approach® S1 Golf GPS Watch
Garmin Forerunner 405CX - GPS receiver
$255.90 (1% off)  On Sale
Garmin heart rate monitor
$43.76 (1% off)  On Sale
GPS Accessories
JBL GTO608C 6 5 Inch 2 Way Component System H3C0E27EE-2811
$122.64 (1% off)  On Sale
Bludiamond Blubug Bluetooth Hf Speakerphone
Shakespeare 5206-BL-C VHF 8' Black Antenna with Chrome Errule

Top Five Additional Features & Accessories

  1. External Antennae:  all GPS's come with a built-in antenna, but an external antenna will provide additional satellite coverage and is particularly useful when using a handheld unit in the car.
  2. Text to Speech:  simply means a GPS that will say the actual street name rather than telling you to “take the next turn left” ie. “turn left onto Yonge Street”.
  3. Mounting:  most units attach by suction cup onto the dashboard.  Look for a model that is effective at holding the GPS steady over bumps.
  4. Traffic:  some systems offer traffic-reporting capability through a subscription service.  The map and detour functions will then guide you around congested areas.
  5. Map packages:  although your GPS should be loaded with a set of local maps when you buy it, additional map packages are usually available online or on CD/DVD.

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