Which GPS device do you need?

Find out more about the best selling devices

If you’re considering buying a GPS, you’ll be probably be comparing dozens of models with hundreds of features. Here’s our guide to finding the perfect one.

A handheld GPS device is a great piece of technology for any outdoor adventurer. While you can get GPS apps on a smartphone, the durability, long battery life and range of functions available on a dedicated GPS unit still make them appealing – as well as preserving phone batteries for emergencies.

Here’s a quick guide to choosing a GPS device for your adventures:

The occasional walker

If you are looking for something to just give assurance you are in the right place, or to increase confidence when following a planned route, have a look at the basic models from Garmin – the eTrex 10 and the eTrex Touch 25.

The eTrex 10 is ideal for those who only want to verify their position, but still prefer to use a paper map for navigation. With minimal on-screen mapping, it’s simple but will verify your location using grid references. It’s also one of the cheapest dedicated handheld GPS devices designed for walkers.

If you can spend a little more, the eTrex Touch 25 has a colour screen which can display OS mapping. This makes it easier to relate where you are to the paper map (although the screen’s a little small for planning routes), but the more detailed maps do cost extra.

Look for one that has the maps you need bundled with it as they are that’s often much cheaper than buying them separately. It also has the advantage of being easily set up for multiple activities, such as running, cycling or kayaking, with a useful data screen at quick glance.


The hard-core walker

If you are searching for a device for a more regular walker, or someone who spends time up mountains, you will probably want more features on the GPS device.

A barometric altimeter is useful on steep terrain, as it gives a far more accurate measurement of height. A larger screen can show more detail, which can be critical in poor visibility or difficult conditions, while a magnetic compass speeds route selection.

Naturally, the GPS device will also need to be tough, waterproof and able to last all day.

The Satmap Active 20 is a great high-end device with loads of features for those who need them. Its large, high resolution screen can show maps in enough detail to replace a paper map (although you should always have one as backup).

A choice of rechargeable or standard replaceable AA batteries means it can last even on multi-day trips. It can even connect wirelessly to a mobile phone to display messages or get weather updates without removing the phone from the safety of their bag.


The route logger

Some people only want to use a GPS to log routes, either to keep a record or to compare performance for the competitive types.

Almost all GPS devices can log a route, and if that’s all you need you can look at the cheapest options, such as the Garmin eTrex 10.

GPS route loggers are especially popular with runners and cyclists, and so naturally there are several designed specifically for them. Many of these also have the advantage of recording other details, such as heart rate and pace using extra sensors – look for one that supports ANT+ technology, as this is the most common way to connect these devices.

If they already have some equipment it’s a good idea to use the same brand. While the sensors should be compatible between brands, it can sometimes be difficult to get this working:

Top products:

Cycling: Lezyne Super Cycle GPS.

A powerful cycle computer and GPS with loads of connectivity, ideal for cyclists looking to monitor and improve their performance


Running: Garmin Fenix 5 GPS watch.

This is a multi-function sports watch with GPS tracking and is able to cope with almost any sport, including swimming. It can connect to various sensors and even display messages from a mobile phone.


The sport enthusiast

Running, cycling, skiing or swimming, the sports GPS user wants to know how far, how fast and how hard were they working.

Basic sports GPS devices act as loggers, allowing you to analyse distance and time, while the more advanced ones add in extras like heart rate recording, pace recording and more.

As weight is critical in most sports, most of these are small and designed to be worn on the wrist rather than carried in a pocket. While some also offer navigation functions, smaller screens limit their usefulness for this, but if you are after something just to track performance, these are ideal.

Best budget sports GPS: Garmin Vivosmart HR+. Not the cheapest, but very capable with built in step counter and heart rate monitor, so no additional costs for sensors.

Latest tech: Garmin Fenix 5. A full colour screen and functions for both indoor and outdoor sports, this is ideal for competitive types or those training for a big event. They can create a virtual training partner to challenge them to improve their pace or create and track custom workouts.

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