GPS Device Buying Guide

Weekend warriors everywhere are stomping into local gear shops to cash in on the newest craze – GPS devices. After all, what’s better than merging your love of electronics with your love of the great outdoors? But do you need a pricey GPS that answers all your questions before you can formulate them, or is a workhorse GPS device that delivers standard info in a practical format better for you?
Our assessment checklist will help you sort your needs from your wants and find the right GPS device to suit your lifestyle.

Ease of use – GPS devices rarely require more than a quick study of the user’s manual. But talk to your friends and search out reviews online for which devices suit uber-techies and which ones work for trekkers with limited electronic know-how.

“Talk or read? – Some GPS devices come with voice software and touch-screens, but each feature usually indicates a price increase”
Talk or read? – Some GPS devices come with voice software and touch-screens, but each feature usually indicates a price increase.
Assess your needs – Car navigator devices differ from hand held units designed for outdoor adventures. If you plan to take yours on limited access highways, you’ll have little need for a unit that lists all the Taco Bells from Fort Worth to Albuquerque.
Verify compatibility – If your PC operates on outdated software, verify your new GPS software is compatible
Keep it simple – Many devices come with a lot of functions the average user doesn’t need. Make sure the unit you choose lives up to your expectations.
Plan your backup – Buy extra batteries and a charger. If you plan to hit the trails with your unit, make sure you bring both sets of batteries fully charged.
Forget the integrated compass – Some GPS devices come with electronic compasses but you should never rely on batteries to help you find north.
Map it out – Consider where you’ll adventure with your unit and if you’ll need additional mapping software. Some GPS devices come with removable memory cards so you can load more than one map for each trip.
Color your world – Color screens are pricier than black and white, but if you’re venturing through forests, cliffs and streams color can make navigation easier – and safer.

James W. Coates, an avid traveler and resident national park expert at uses one GPS device for his commute and one for his forays into the wilderness. Check out his blog and share your own GPS device adventures.