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GPS – Making the Difference between fun Off-Road Navigation and Disaster

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By Robert Stevens

A reliable Global Positioning System (GPS) can make the difference between an unforgettable off-road experience and one that leads to compromised personal safety. Despite the fact some people think a GPS device is optional, an increasing number are steadfast about not leaving home without one. GPS devices are no longer simply for mapping. Now, they can be used to prepare for your next adventure, return to difficult-to-find off roading locations, and ensure safety.

The satellite-based navigation system utilizes 24 satellites that were put into orbit by the U.S. Department of Defense. The technology was made accessible to everyone in 1984 and has gained popularity ever since. With an unblocked view of the sky, GOPS monitoring constantly updates your position, speed, and time by locking onto three or four satellites simultaneously.

GPS - An Off-Road Requirement

Off-roaders often encounter rough weather conditions like snow, wind, and dense fog. Natural obstacles like thick forests, flooded rivers, and wandering canyons, combined with poor weather conditions, can quickly confuse you, causing you to lose track of where you are, where you came from, and where you ultimately want to go. A GPS provides step-by-step directions that lead to your present location and elevation, enabling you to backtrack.

One of the most crucial elements of executing an exciting off-road adventure is trip planning. If you'd like to locate a popular spot you've heard about, simply connect the map software programs to the GPS and it will find the general area. Then, generate the map coordinates so it will highlight freeway exits and even figure out exactly where to turn on the off-road trails. The planning can be carried out from your computer in the convenience of your house. All you have to do is save it to your GPS before the journey.

The Correct Choice

How you intend to use your GPS will ultimately determine which model will be the best fit for you.

  • Do you generally stay in your vehicle when off-roading or do you stop for hiking and other activities?
  • Do you try to stay on dirt roads or do you prefer to venture completely off the beaten trail?
  • Do you prefer to tackle the challenges of mountains, deserts, or water?
  • Do you like to stay close to home or do you like to escape for weeks at a time?

It's important to answer all of these questions before you make your purchasing decision so you can determine how sophisticated you need your GPS to be.

“Nice-to-Have” versus “Must-Have” GPS Features

Right now, there are two main GPS options available: one permanently fixed between the driver's and passenger's seat and one that is portable for easy use outside the vehicle. Whether you choose the fixed or the portable GPS, make sure you also consider the following features before making your purchase:

Mapping

Mapping software is an integral part of any GPS. It allows you to acquire a detailed map of the region that consists of the roads you'll take and the area’s topographical characteristics, such as lakes, streams, and contours. A great map page must constantly display your position in reference to waypoints and overlay street maps with topographical feature maps. The most efficient GPS units will provide altitude, latitude, and longitude readings. And at the end of your trip, the mapping software will provide backtrack capabilities to guide you home.

While off-roading, you will likely venture into some uncharted areas. Here are a few questions to ask while researching GPS systems:

  • How do you obtain map updates?
  • Does the manufacturer provide a way to report wrong or missing details?
  • Does the device provide sufficient storage for all your trips?

Durability

It is essential that you find a GPS designed to endure exposure to extreme elements, particularly if you take part in a number of outdoor activities. Will the GPS survive being submerged in water? What consequences can you expect if you accidentally drop it?

Size

Depending on your vehicle, you may not have much extra space to mount your GPS. Is there space in the middle to position the GPS? Is the device lightweight enough to carry on hunting or hiking trips? Can you fit it in your pocket?

  • Ease of Use
  • How quickly can you enter your destination?
  • How complex are the menus?
  • How efficiently can you narrow down your options?
  • How much time will it take to find your position on the map?
  • Is voice activation included?
  • Is there a touch display, dial, or buttons?
  • Is it easy to install additional software?
  • Can you hear the audio over loud background noise?
  • Is it possible to test drive the device to determine if it is the right one for you?

Display

It's incredibly important to have a screen that's easy to read. Factors that could affect visibility are display size, color, direct sunlight, lack of light at night, and resolution.

Battery Life

Battery life may average as much as twenty hours. However, you should always take additional batteries, just in case. Determine how long the battery will last, if you can recharge it, and if you can charge it in your vehicle.

Reception

A dropped signal can be caused by anything from a densely wooded location to a confined canyon to harsh weather conditions. Rather than concentrating on the manufacturer first, focus on the features. Will the device provide the proper reception to meet your needs? What's the channel range? Does it come with a back-up antenna? Keep in mind that no single system will guarantee perfect reception 100% of the time. Search for the best quality at a reasonable price. Check out online reviews to see what others have to say about their experiences with the GPS.

Trip Tracking

Sophisticated tools can track the motion of the individual holding the GPS. A record of the traveler’s positions at specific times is saved and shown as a “breadcrumb trail” of position markers. By keying in your beginning waypoint, the route to points of interest, and the final destination, the breadcrumb trail can be superimposed on a map to provide an individual chart of the trail you just completed.

Price versus Communication Capabilities

Remember that the majority of systems will provide the same basic features, including current location and destination display, pre-programmed points of interest, and pre-loaded maps. If you're going to pay a little more for your GPS, it should come with additional features, such as Bluetooth capability, a larger database, a bigger screen, or more maps.

Google recently approximated that there are over 200 brands of GPS devices on the market today. Wading through all of those units can be overwhelming, but if you follow our guide and do the research, you should be on your way to your next off-roading trip with a brand new GPS.
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