How to Choose Your GPS Unit

Find a GPS that works for you. 

If you’ve decided to add GPS to your toolbelt, finding the right GPS unit comes down to identifying your needs and balancing them with your budget. Stand-alone, handheld GPS units can range in price from under $100 to more than $20,000, and they come with a range of options. Here are some key points to consider:

Type.  Using your car GPS unit or cell phone, if you have either, instead of a handheld, dedicated GPS receiver is an option that can reduce or eliminate your initial cost. But it will limit what you can do. A car GPS unit will constrain you to moving around your property on four tires; a cell phone will offer you less durability and battery life while out in the elements. Phones are also limited by your service provider’s coverage area and won’t work beyond it, while handheld GPS units work everywhere.

Size and durability. For frequent forest use, you may want to choose a GPS unit that’s rugged enough to handle rain or an occasional dunk in a stream, but not so large, heavy or bulky that you won’t want to bring it along.

Battery life. Handheld GPS units can run as many as 15 hours or more without recharging. Many use regular, widely available AA batteries, with the option of using longer-lasting rechargeable or lithium batteries as well. GPS units that support rechargeable nickel metal hydride (NiMH) batteries can be more economical, but those that use lithium disposable batteries often last longer, especially in cold weather.

Color display. Although many handheld GPS units come with color screens, some still have black-and-white screens only. A color display can make reading maps much easier, but a black-and-white display can help keep down the cost.

Features. Which bells and whistles interest you, if any? Some handheld models have built-in digital cameras, electronic compasses, fitness monitors and other options that can cost more, but also increase the unit’s utility. The main feature you’ll want to consider as a woodland owner is mapping software and support. Not every GPS unit has mapping capabilities, so be sure to check whether the unit you’re considering does.

Accuracy. Is the unit you’re considering WAAS-enabled? That can make your readings more accurate. So can SiRF chipsets and software, which can pick up weaker signals under forest cover or in mountainous terrain.

Memory. GPS units use their internal memory to store tracks, waypoints, routes and all other map information, as well as pictures, audio and video in some models. The more memory the receiver has, the more data it can hold, so make sure your unit has ample and expandable memory for anything you throw its way.

Cost. Each of these factors, from its memory and features to whether it has a color display, affects a GPS unit’s price, so start by narrowing down what you want and need your unit to do. And take heart: GPS prices have come down considerably and continue to drop, so chances are better than ever that you’ll find a well-equipped option for a reasonable price.

Once you find the right unit, it’s time to get to know it. We can help get you started.

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