Off the road again: handheld GPS pointers

What your handheld GPS must have

They’re rugged, small and usually quite ugly. Off-road GPS devices remain unfamiliar to most, but they can be useful for novice and experienced bushwalkers alike. Although there aren’t as many players in the off-road market, the product range still remains quite astounding. Picking out the right one can be a mammoth task. Here are the main points to look out for when shopping for your next travelling buddy.

Tracking Basics Even the cheapest handheld GPS devices have basic tracking functionality, providing the user with longitudinal and latitudinal data, speed, bearing, routes and waypoints. Most also provide location-specific recreational data such as sunrise/sunset times and optimal hunting and fishing periods.

One basic feature that doesn’t make it into all devices is geocaching. Geocaching allows you to download data that leads to specific sites nominated by fellow trekkers. We can’t say we’ve ever gone out of our way to actually find one of these things, but it seems the community is large enough to provide endless hours of entertainment for the Indiana Jones in you. Garmin’s GPS 60 provides basic geocaching functionality, but we’d recommend going for the GPSMAP 60CSx.

Maps Quick — give me the longitude and latitude of the Three Sisters… too slow. It will surprise many to know that a lot of handheld GPS devices aren’t actually accompanied by maps. Particularly at the cheaper end of the market, many GPS devices are little more than expensive compasses with a GPS receiver for better accuracy. At best, you’ll find that some of the cheaper GPS devices will carry a base map that offers sparse detail covering an entire country.

It’s likely that the less travelling experience you have, the more you will have to pay for a GPS device. Since it’s not worth shelling out money for features you’ll never use, the best option is to pick a handheld GPS device with expandable memory. This will allow you to purchase optional topographical, street or marine maps later on. Magellan’s Triton 400 provides a fairly decent compromise, with a preloaded base map, low cost and a SD card slot for expandability.

Control Scheme The automotive GPS market has made the complete switch to touch screen; handheld GPS devices are stuck in the Stone Age by comparison. Still, don’t let simple marketing gimmicks fool you: a touch screen isn’t necessarily the best thing when it comes to handheld GPS. Both Garmin and Magellan reserve touch-screen functionality for their high-end models but we’ve found that it’s not always the best control method. Both the Triton 2000 and Oregon 300 do provide decent touch-screen control, but we’ve found that they’re only as functional — if not less so — than units that use alternative control methods.

We don’t condone the million-button method employed by both Garmin and Magellan in their lower-end units, but there is a middle ground in the likes of Garmin’s Colorado 300. It possesses the same screen as the company’s Oregon range but has a rotary dial and quick access buttons; we actually preferred this control method over a touch screen. Given that the two units are essentially identical in functionality, we’d pick the cheaper Colorado any day.

Automotive Navigation Although the idea of combining an off-road GPS with an automotive GPS device is appealing, realistically it’s little more than a pipedream. High-end models like Garmin’s Oregon 300 and Magellan’s Triton 2000 do offer 3-D view modes as well as turn-by-turn navigation, but the effect isn’t really the same. With no voice navigation and screens half the size of the typical automotive GPS device, it won’t be the best travelling partner for when you're on the road. You're better off purchasing separate devices for the two different functions.

Software Any experienced traveller will tell you that preparation is key to a good trip. Of course, while that used to mean that you’d spend hours in front of a huge map with a pencil, these days it means sitting down at a computer and clicking with a mouse. Both Garmin’s and Magellan’s mid- and high-end handheld GPS devices use proprietary software packages to facilitate device syncing as well as route planning.

We prefer Magellan’s VantagePoint to Garmin’s MapSource, primarily because of the level of detail provided. Garmin’s software provides only the bare minimum of detail on its base map, while VantagePoint displays major arteries and basic topographical information allowing for easier route planning.

Join the newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.
Rocket to Success - Your 10 Tips for Smarter ERP System Selection
Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

James Hutchinson

Good Gear Guide
Show Comments

Brand Post

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles


PCW Evaluation Team

Andrew Teoh

Brother MFC-L9570CDW Multifunction Printer

Touch screen visibility and operation was great and easy to navigate. Each menu and sub-menu was in an understandable order and category

Louise Coady

Brother MFC-L9570CDW Multifunction Printer

The printer was convenient, produced clear and vibrant images and was very easy to use

Edwina Hargreaves

WD My Cloud Home

I would recommend this device for families and small businesses who want one safe place to store all their important digital content and a way to easily share it with friends, family, business partners, or customers.

Walid Mikhael

Brother QL-820NWB Professional Label Printer

It’s easy to set up, it’s compact and quiet when printing and to top if off, the print quality is excellent. This is hands down the best printer I’ve used for printing labels.

Ben Ramsden

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

Brainstorming, innovation, problem solving, and negotiation have all become much more productive and valuable if people can easily collaborate in real time with minimal friction.

Sarah Ieroianni

Brother QL-820NWB Professional Label Printer

The print quality also does not disappoint, it’s clear, bold, doesn’t smudge and the text is perfectly sized.

Featured Content

Product Launch Showcase

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?