Last updated: August 11, 2021
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A GPS device is a practical companion for various outdoor activities. Whether it's a long-distance hike, your next training session on a racing bike or geocaching - a GPS device allows you to determine your exact position and helps with orientation and navigation. With our large GPS device test 2022 we want to help you find the best GPS device for you. We have compared GPS devices for different areas of use and listed their special features. This should make your purchase decision as easy as possible.




Summary

  • A GPS device is suitable for positioning, orientation and navigation for various outdoor activities.
  • Whether cycling, on a long trekking tour or geocaching - a GPS device convinces with its versatile functions.
  • With a GPS device, routes can be recorded and followed or hiked. Features such as waterproof and long operating times make it particularly suitable for outdoor use.

GPS device: Our Selection

Guide: Questions you should ask yourself before buying a GPS device

What is a GPS device?

A GPS device is a device that uses a global navigation satellite system to determine your position. GPS stands for Global Positioning System, which means Global Positioning System. This GPS is the most important positioning method worldwide and is therefore used in navigation systems. Through satellite-based improvement systems, accuracy of up to one metre can be achieved continent-wide with a GPS device.

GPS Gerät-1

A GPS device helps with positioning, orientation and navigation in nature far away from infrastructure.
(Image source: unsplash.com / Drew Collins)

Who is a GPS device suitable for?

The GPS device was originally used for positioning and navigation in the military sector. Nowadays, the GPS device is mainly used for leisure and outdoor activities. Whether you are a racing cyclist, mountain biker or touring and leisure cyclist - a bicycle GPS device impresses with its versatile functions. With these GPS devices, you can, for example, retrace a previously created route, record training progress or go on cycling trips. The GPS device is particularly suitable for orientation and positioning on hikes lasting several days, especially in remote areas. You can also mark places, record routes or retrace them. Whether it's raining or the sun is shining, a GPS device suitable for outdoor use can still be operated. Geocaching has become increasingly popular in recent years. Go on a modern scavenger hunt with a GPS device. The so-called geocaches are hidden in particularly unusual places in nature and in the middle of the city.

How does a GPS device work?

Four satellites are needed to determine the position with a GPS device. To ensure the smooth running of the system all over the world and at all times, a total of 24 satellites orbit the earth in six orbits. Three of the satellites transmit their current position and the time to the GPS device by means of electrical impulses. The time that passes until the signal reaches the device is then measured. These signal propagation times can then be used to calculate the position of the GPS device. The fourth satellite is used to compensate for inaccuracies in the time measurement. In order for the GPS device to be able to show the way, position information is compared with stored map material by means of built-in software. This map material comes from land surveying offices. In addition, alpine and hiking clubs take care of the course of field and hiking trails. There are also professional cartographers who cover routes and mark important points.

What can GPS devices do and what are their advantages and disadvantages?

A GPS device can determine the current position of its owner. The positioning accuracy of civilian GPS systems is often better than 10 metres. In addition, a GPS device can only receive signals but not transmit them. This means that third parties cannot obtain information about the location.

With a GPS device, you don't need a compass

or bulky maps when you're out and about. The many useful features and tools such as altimeter, route recording and waypoint marking make your tour easier. In addition to the integrated memory, some models also offer an additional micro SD card slot. This allows you to save additional maps and your own routes.

Advantages
  • Precise positioning
  • Handy
  • Many useful features
Disadvantages
  • Limited battery life (up to 25 hours)
  • Handling should not be underestimated
  • Additional cards are expensive

Unlike analogue maps, you have to rely on batteries or the battery life of the GPS device. Depending on the model, these batteries last up to 25 hours. Especially in extreme situations, this runtime plays an essential role. The ability to use the GPS device should not be underestimated. Another disadvantage is that additional maps for the GPS device are quite expensive.

What does a GPS device cost?

The price range for GPS devices is between 50 and 500 euros. The price varies depending on the area of use, quality and features. GPS devices for geocaching or cycling start at 50 and 60 euros respectively. Special hiking and trekking GPS devices often start at a little under 100 euros.

Area of use price range
Bicycle from approx. 60 euros
Hiking/trekking from approx. 80 euros
Geocaching from approx. 50 euros

In general, the better the equipment, such as a barometric altimeter, the higher the price. Depending on how often you use it, it is worth spending a little more money.

What are the alternatives to a GPS device?

There are two alternatives to using a GPS device. One option is to use the GPS function on your smartphone. This is useful for short trips for navigation and orientation. For longer use, the use of the smartphone GPS can be disadvantageous.

Advantages
  • No extra purchase costs when using the GPS function on the smartphone
  • useful for short missions
Disadvantages
  • Not suitable for outdoor use
  • shorter battery life
  • problems with GPS signal if power is lost

Using your smartphone's built-in GPS saves you the cost of buying a GPS device. In general, smartphones are not suitable for outdoor use and have a shorter battery life. There is also the problem that if you lose the network in remote areas, the GPS function can be lost.

GPS Gerät-2

GPS devices are particularly popular in the outdoor sector.
(Image source: unsplash.com / Ted Bryan)

The other alternative is to use analogue maps. However, unlike using a GPS device, you have to find your location yourself. This can be difficult in certain areas.

Advantages
  • Cheaper purchase of individual analogue maps
  • Independent of batteries
Disadvantages
  • More complicated to determine position
  • analogue maps not suitable for outdoor use

Individual analogue maps are cheaper than buying a GPS device. However, they are often limited to certain routes or areas. This means that you have to take different map material with you on longer tours. Besides being more complicated to handle, these maps are often unwieldy. They are also not particularly suitable for outdoor use, as they are made of paper. Here is a video that compares the use of a map and compass with a GPS device.

Decision section: Which GPS device is suitable for which area of use?

If you want to buy a GPS device, it is first important to decide which activity you want to use it for. The different areas of use for GPS devices are:

  • Bicycle
  • Trekking
  • Geocaching

All three areas of use have their own special features. With the help of the following section, we would like to make the decision easier and show you what you should look out for.

What distinguishes a bicycle GPS device and what special features should you look out for?

Whether you are on a cycling trip, riding cross-country on a mountain bike or for your next training session on a road bike - the use of a GPS device is very popular. In addition to their important function as an orientation aid, special bicycle GPS devices have special gimmicks.

One of the most important features of a GPS device for bicycles is a stable mount on the handlebar.

It should also be able to record and display tours and tracks. A large display makes it easier to view digital maps. Just as important is the speed display. This allows you to estimate more accurately when you will reach your destination, especially on longer tours, and whether you need to speed up if necessary.

Important features of a bicycle GPS device are waterproof and dustproof.

A large and well-lit display makes it easier to read in poor lighting conditions and direct sunlight. Enough memory and preferably expandable with a micro SD slot. The battery life should be at least 8 hours. The more, the better. Additional gimmicks in a bicycle GPS device are built-in calorie meters per distance covered, traffic message displays and route recalculation.

GPS Gerät-3

Also works in areas without satellite connection: the compass.
(Image source: unsplash.com / Jamie Street)

What distinguishes a trekking GPS device and what special features should you look out for?

Especially on long-distance hikes, but also on trekking tours, a GPS device is almost indispensable for navigation and orientation. In contrast to using a map and compass, the GPS device shows your own position.

In addition to determining your position, a trekking GPS device can record routes, show distances and mark important points.

With the help of a GPS device, certain routes can be retraced. Marked places such as campsites can be found again more easily. No less important is the display of the altitude profile and the total distance. This information helps you to estimate which ascents and how much distance you still have to cover.

GPS Gerät-4

The display of the altitude profile and the proportion of the total distance on your GPS device helps you to keep an overview.
(Image source: unsplash.com / Maximilian Manavi Huber)
Modern GPS devices have battery life of up to 25 hours.

A GPS device with a transreflective display uses sunlight as a light source. Otherwise, a display with particularly bright illumination is recommended. It is also important that the display is waterproof. A long battery life or sufficient spare batteries are essential for long hikes. Especially on long hikes, every gram in your backpack counts. Therefore, a trekking GPS device should not be too heavy. GPS devices for trekking are usually equipped with a magnetic compass with 3-axis bearing. A carabiner device can prove extremely practical when out and about.

What distinguishes a geocaching GPS device and what special features should you look out for?

To be successful in modern scavenger hunts, a geocaching GPS device should have certain features. It is particularly important that the GPS device allows manual input of GPS coordinates.

For beginners in the world of geocaching, even a basic model is sufficient.

In addition, the GPS device for geocaching needs a display for the distance and direction to the destination. Because this is the basis for successfully finding the often unusual and hard-to-reach places.

A running time of 8 hours is sufficient.

For the geocaching cracks, there are GPS devices that work completely paperless. Descriptions, information about the terrain and other data can be stored on them. A particularly long battery life is not mandatory.

Buying criteria: You can compare and evaluate a GPS device based on these factors

The criteria you can use to compare different GPS devices include:

In the following paragraphs, we explain what the individual criteria are.

Display

When choosing your GPS device, the display is the most important factor. In addition to size and readability in bright sunlight, there is the question of touchscreen or buttons? Although touchscreens are the norm, GPS devices with buttons have certain advantages. They can be operated even in cold weather or with gloves.

In the outdoor sector, the displays are usually around 3 inches in size.

The display sizes are between 2.2 and 4 inches. Large displays often have a better resolution and map display. Don't forget: the bigger the display, the heavier the GPS device.

Pre-installed maps

Some GPS devices have pre-installed maps. However, the quality of these maps varies from manufacturer to manufacturer. Moreover, additional maps are often relatively expensive. GPS units for beginners are often equipped with less informative map material.

Many GPS devices have pre-installed maps of Germany or Europe.

Some GPS devices have pre-installed geocaches. This is particularly interesting for all-round users who also want to go on a digital scavenger hunt.

Memory

To have enough space for additional maps and for recording routes, you should make sure you have enough memory. For occasional users or for geocaching, a normal-sized memory is sufficient.

The size of the memory depends on how you use it.

However, more memory is recommended for long hikes or cycling trips. Most people are on the safe side with 1 GB. Many GPS devices have a micro SD slot in addition to the internal memory. This provides additional capacity for additional maps or recording activity logs.

Running time

There are battery and rechargeable battery-powered GPS devices. AA or AAA batteries have a runtime of 12 to 17 hours. GPS units with modern rechargeable batteries can be used for up to 25 hours. Special chargers can be connected to the bike to charge the battery while on the move. Depending on the area of use, the length of the runtime plays an essential role. For long-distance hikes and cycling trips, you should have enough spare batteries with you or a charging facility for the battery. This is especially true for stays where there may be insufficient infrastructure or hardly any shopping facilities.

Weight

A GPS device weighs between 100 and 300g, depending on the manufacturer. For short hiking and cycling tours as well as geocaching, weight is not a major consideration. This is different for long-distance hikes or on a light racing bike.

For long-distance hikes or training sessions on a racing bike, the lighter the better.

Although maps are easier to read on a larger display, this usually has the negative effect of a higher overall weight.

Additional gimmicks

Certain gimmicks such as a bike mount or a barometric altimeter are a great advantage depending on the location. The barometric altimeter is especially interesting for hikers and cyclists. In general, GPS devices for outdoor use should be (splash)waterproof and dustproof. Most outdoor devices also have a compass. This is essential for trekking tours and geocaching. Some smartphones can be connected to the GPS device via various interfaces (Bluetooth, WiFi, USB). This makes it possible, for example, to record training progress or import routes.

Facts worth knowing about the topic of GPS devices

What are GPS coordinates?

GPS coordinates are made up of latitude and longitude. The latitude determines the north-south position of a point. The longitude, on the other hand, determines the east-west position. Latitude is the angle formed between the equatorial plane and the line connecting the position to the centre of the earth. This angle ranges from -90° to 90°. The negative values mean that it is a point in the southern hemisphere. The latitude at 0° is the equator.

The Greenwich Meridian is the counterpart to the equatorial plane.

The principle is similar for the longitude. Since there is no natural reference line like the equator, the so-called Greenwich Meridian is used. This longitude of a place is calculated by the half-plane. To determine a point, a third component is missing: the altitude. Most points to be determined by GPS coordinates are located above the earth's surface. The altitude is important to determine the complete and exact GPS position.

How does geocaching work with a GPS device?

As in a normal scavenger hunt, an object is hidden that other players have to find. This object is located in a container called a geocache. In addition, there is a logbook in which the finder can enter his or her name.

Geocaching is a kind of modern scavenger hunt.

The geocacher (the person who hid the geocache) enters information about the hiding place in a database. With the help of this data, the other players try to find the geocach. These given GPS coordinates are entered into the GPS device. When you have found the hiding place, you can enter your name in the logbook.

The hiding places can be located in the city, in forests or in bodies of water.

Small objects are often attached to the geocache. These are taken with pleasure when they are found. However, you should then replace them with something of equal value. Geocache hiding places can be in the middle of the city, in forests or near bodies of water. If you want to know exactly how geocaching works, watch videos.

What should you look for when hiking with a GPS device?

Many hikers particularly appreciate the close connection with nature during their outdoor stays. Unfortunately, however, accidents happen time and again. To ensure that you are as safe as possible on your next tour, pay attention to the following tips:

  1. Under certain circumstances the satellite reception can be disturbed. In fog, in canyons or deep forests, positioning may become less accurate, take longer or fail.
  2. Remember to have enough spare batteries and battery charging options, such as solar power. This can be vital in some circumstances.
  3. Make sure you use a good quality topographic map. It is particularly important that the terrain is as detailed and accurate as possible.
  4. Familiarise yourself with the use of your GPS device. Otherwise you run the risk of quickly reaching your limits in an emergency situation.
  5. Don't just rely on technology, but also learn to use analogue maps and compasses.

Many alpine clubs regularly offer courses in which the basics of orientation, maps and the use of GPS devices are taught.

Why is the smartphone not suitable as a GPS replacement?

In nature, a smartphone with GPS function quickly reaches its limits. This is mainly due to the lack of infrastructure. Apps such as Google Maps recognise some hiking trails, but there is often the problem that the connection to the GPS satellites breaks down.

The GPS function on the smartphone consumes a lot of battery.

Pure GPS devices have the advantage that they also work in areas with little to hardly any infrastructure. In addition, smartphones are usually not suitable for outdoor use. A smartphone with GPS function is sufficient for city missions.

Image source: Xuejun/ 123rf.com

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