GPS Devices

GPS receivers are useful tools for those who love the outdoors. They can provide information on current locations, directions to your destinations, and can even give feedback to progress and performance.

There are different GPS units available, but let’s talk about handheld devices.

See videos at the end

Handheld GPS vs Smartphone

Smartphones are very handy when it comes to navigation, but there are still other advantages from handheld GPS units that you just don’t get with your trusty all-out device.



Handheld GPS units are built for back-country use, so they are usually waterproof. If you’re out camping, you don’t have to worry about them getting soaked in the rain or even in the stream.

Battery life

If you’ve ever turned GeoLocation on for your SnapChat or PokemeonGo, you know how fast phone batteries die. A handheld GPS, on the other hand, runs on about 15 hours or more per charge, making it a far better device to be used in the woods than your smartphone.


GPS units should accurately pinpoint your location as it detects your device from a certain point in the sky. Others are strong enough to work even under dense tree covers, so handheld devices are stronger as they don’t rely on your cellphone provider’s coverage area.


Handheld units are equipped with barometers to help you track changing weather conditions. They usually have electronic compass as well to help with directions and an altimeter or barometer to find where you are on a vertical plane—or above sea level. There are also units that allow you to exchange coordinates wirelessly, trial routes, and even track geocaches, sometimes even connect to computers, heart rate monitors, and other ANT-Enabled devices like the ones you see in fitness devices like smartwatches.


GPS units don’t require cellphone data connection to download mapping, so it is always available. Many GPS units, however, support a variety of options including topographic, road, and waterway mapping—even satellite imagery. More detailed mapping usually needs to be bought separately, but most of them have to pay for a one-time cost.

How GPS Receivers Work

GPS receivers use satellite-based system. The US Department of Defense can operate these systems, which relies on a worldwide network that broadcast signals from space to the ground. Your receiver can determine the position of your location by combining the transmission data from several satellites.

People Who Can Benefit from GPS Trackers

Hikers, climbers, mountaineers, and backpackers

When planning your trek, take note of the waypoints or specific locations on your GPS receiver. It is easy to download trails and routes from Web sites, many at no cost at all. A GPS device will help you get to your destination—whether to a vista, a peak, or to your campsite.


Backcountry skiers, snowboarders, and snowshoers

In winter months when snow obscures hiking trails, GPS receivers can help determine the right path down a mountain. Checking the receiver on the way down can also warn you of danger zones, especially when you already took note of them before you started  your trek.



GPS handhelds have great geocaching features, the most common is called paperless geocaching, which allows you to download and view coordinates, name, rating, and other data on the GPS. This means that there is no need to bring out paper printouts. Download necessary information directly to the GPS from sites like or


Runners, especially when training, know how far they’ve gone and how fast they got there. If you are one, the data recorded by your handheld GPS, speed, and distance fitness monitors can record your travel time in a run log, complete with an elevation profile.

There are even GPS receivers that can show you your run on a street or topographical map. You can also upload them online and share them with friends or the competition. For specific training features, you can select a dedicated speed and distance fitness monitor.

Marathon Run

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Emily Moore