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What is the best walking outdoor handheld GPS unit

What is the best walking outdoor handheld GPS unit

Thu 25th April 2013

This article has been updated - You can read the updated article here.

Choosing the best Outdoor GPS (Global positioning system) unit

How many times do I get asked the question at Shepherds Walks – What is the best outdoor handheld GPS unit or what is the best GPS unit for walking?

We also get people who come on our Shepherds Walks GPS training courses who frankly have been sold the wrong GPS unit. They were wrongly advised in the shop (not Shepherds Walks I may add) and then they realise so and wish they had sought some advice first. GPS units are not cheap, so it does worry me when people have been sold an incorrect product.

So here are my thoughts about the GPS units that are currently on the market which hopefully will answer the question – Which is the best walking GPS for me and my budget?

Make of GPS Unit - Garmin, Memory Map or SatMap?

Over the years at Shepherds Walks we have sold every make of unit, but now we only sell Garmin, why?

Over the past year with the advent of free software (called Garmin BaseCamp) that enables you to transfer your mapping from your GPS to your PC why look any further than Garmin. Garmin GPS units are good products, great product support, affordable mapping and very easy to use. They have developed over years and products have got better and better.

I know I will be criticised by some people, but last year we converted our GPS training day into a ĎGarmin Outdoor GPS Training Dayí. For Shepherds Walks to make that decision we have put our business behind the best runner and rider; Garmin.

GPS Screen - Black and white or colour?

The only black and white Garmin GPS unit on the market is the e-Trex 10.

Unless the only reason you are buying a GPS unit is to mark fixed points or geo-caching (and then I would still think about spending a little more for a colour screen one) I would steer away from a black and white screen GPS unit.

Black and white screen GPS are the most commonly miss sold GPS units because people solely buy on price. Yes they are a cheap GPS unit but if you are a keen walker you deserve better.

People look at the price, think they are getting a bargain and then realise later down the path they should have spent a little bit more and bought a colour screen unit.

The joy of a colour screen GPS that you can add affordable Ordnance Survey mapping to them, either at the time of purchase, or at a later stage. So please do spend that extra few pounds.

Units with colour screens – e-Trex 20, e-Trex 30, GPS Map64s, Oregon 600 and Oregon 650

Data Input - Touch screen or buttons?

The basic e-Trex Garmin range has buttons, also the GPSMAP64s (one of the top models) also has buttons, the rest of the Garmin GPS units are touch screen.

When we do our Shepherds Walks GPS training courses we give participants waypoints that they manually put into their units. The people who have touch screen units are twice as quick. They easily input the data and off they go.

The button driven units take a lot longer to input the data BUT the reason the Garmin GPSMAP64s has buttons (i.e. a high end unit) is if you are into high level and winter walking and you wear gloves buttons are certainly worth looking at as touch screen units can be hard if you wear gloves (i.e. you will need to take them off).

Mapping on the screen -

You can put mapping on all the colour screen GPS units (please note I am talking about the current generation units - e-Trex 20, e-Trex 30, 64s, Oregon 600 and Oregon 650) and when you see an Ordnance Survey Map on the screen you will not be disappointed.

If you get a chance to buy maps at the same time as buying the unit (i.e. bundled in with unit) buy them. You will get them at a massively reduced price, but donít be conned by small areas of mapping, if you are offered a bundle of maps I would expect full UK mapping at 1:50,000, donít go for anything less. These mapping cards that you get bundled with higher end GPS units normally retails for £200.00 but you get it bundled with new units for just £50.00 above the unit price.

A big saving, but please note not all retailers sell bundled mapping, when I mean bundled I would get nothing less than full UK mapping at 1:50,000. I must add that Shepherds Walks have these bundled offers online or in our shop, but many online retailers donít (as Garmin likes to put them into Ďbricks and mortar retailersí).

Units with full UK bundled mapping options – GPS Map64s, Oregon 600 and Oregon 650

Electronic Compass – Worth the money?

Some GPS units come with built in electronic compasses. Why, and is it worth the extra money?

As GPS units work from satellites with are thousands of miles above you when you rotate the unit through 90 degrees it does nothing. Why should it, it has only moved 2 or three inches?

Well as a walker if it is pointing in the wrong direction it makes a massive difference.

Therefore they started putting in electronic compasses and it gets even better. With any new generation unit you donít even need to keep them flat as they are what you call 3 axis compasses.

Therefore with a unit with a built in electronic compass your Ordnance Survey map, on the screen, will automatically orient itself and your compass will be correct when you move your GPS unit around.

The units without electronic compasses do still have a compass BUT you have to be moving for these to work, as it needs to be processing location data from the satellites.

So the extra few pounds for an electronic compass is certainly worth the money.

Units with an electronic compass – e-Trex 30, GPS Map64s, Oregon 600 and Oregon 650

Summary - 

I hope the above has helped you out in helping you choose your GPS unit.

So which GPS unit should you go for?

If you are on a budget I would personally buy the – e-Trex 30. Look at this online here

If you can afford it (worth the extra money) I would buy the Garmin Oregon 600. Look at this online here.

BUT STOP! - Garmin have really made people think with the introduction of the Oregon 650. They have priced it at just £60.00 more than the Oregon 600 and with it coming with rechargeable batteries (which normally retail at £19.99). This makes it just an extra £40.00 for a camera. It certainly needs a second look and in my opinion worth the extra £60.00. More here about the Garmin Oregon 650.

You will not be disappointed.

Please call Shepherds Walks to talk over the options -

Shepherds Walks is open 7 days a week, so please do call to talk over the options we have. You can even trade in your old unit and upgrade to a newer model. Our telephone number is 01669 621044. We can talk you through the options and answer any questions you have.

Or please do call into our shop in Northumberland to see the GPS units in action.

We donít just sell you the unit.

- We set it up for you before it is despatched to you and therefore it will work as soon as you take it out of the box. We install the mapping card and test it is working properly, calibrate the compass and set it up to work in the UK (which it does not straight out of the box).

- We include free fact sheets with step by step instructions on how to download the mapping you get included if you purchase an eTrex 20 or 30. It should get you going in 5 minutes, rather than hours. Lots of screen shots and very easy to follow.

We include step by step instructions on how to use Garmin BaseCamp. This crucial piece of software really gets you using your GPS 100% as you can connect it to your computer. As BaseCamp comes with no instructions and lots of people struggle with it I have a written step by step guide with lots of screenshots.

We also give you free unlimited access to our Garmin Online training courses - online resource (normally £11.99). This we update daily as things change in the world of GPS.

And you only pay £3.95 delivery. We post everything special delivery so it will be with you the next working day.

Also if you are local we can also spend a little time with you teaching you how to use your new unit and we do this at no extra cost. You will end up with the right GPS unit and will be able to use it straight away.

You can see our shop details and contact details here.

Posted By: John Lill | Mon 25th August 2014

I would like to purchase a hand held GPS systems that accepts Grid Reference Points, which is user friendly could you pleas advise

Posted By: Jon Swales | Wed 19th November 2014

Your review of handheld GPS units is dated 25thApril 2013. For anyone wanting to buy one now do the same comments apply - or are there newer models on the market worth considering?

Posted By: terry | Sat 25th July 2015

I am considering this unit for european walking Sicily, france and germany Does it come equiped to switch on and use I am not a technical person

Posted By: Dave McVittie | Wed 29th July 2015

Hi, had more or less decided on a Gramin unit, your site has convinced me. However we are going to tour France and Spain next year, stopping at various places and planning to walk wherever we can. We are day walkers, usuallyt looking for circular routes, 15 miles max (we are both pensioners). Can we get map bundles for a Garmin for France and Spain and are they costly?

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