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I am out to purchase a (dedicated) GPS device for the outlined below use cases. Trouble is, I have never owned a GPS-enabled device. Furthermore, general articles on "how to purchase sports GPS" seem to vague. What features am I supposed to value most? What "type" of device do I need?

Use cases:

  • Ski trekking at about 2000m elevation, up to a week without electricity. I use a map, but if a (heavy) fog falls, I could be depending on the device for up to 2-3 days straight.

  • Bicycle trekking on rough mountain paths, up to two weeks without electricity. Again, I would carry a map, but when in doubt would need the GPS so as not go off path and waste half a day wandering around.

  • I read this as wanting a map-replacement GPS to locate yourself, rather than an emergency locator beacon (an EPIRB) to call help to you and mark your position should an accident happen. – Criggie Mar 17 '16 at 23:37
  • You'll also need to consider power requirements, take a USB battery pack and a solar panel for topups. And take the map anyway, beacuse they don't need batteries. – Criggie Mar 17 '16 at 23:38
  • Those are extreme power requirements. To keep it light, you don't want to carry around a lot of batteries. For bicycling you might be able to charge while riding with a dynamo, but if you are travelling very slowly that might be problematic. If you had a device that just display coords and only turned it on occasionally, that would minimize consumption. Then you could study your waterproof maps at leisure. – Craig Hicks Mar 18 '16 at 18:54
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What features am I supposed to value most?

Really you should decide this yourself.

I would value

  • longest battery life
  • simplicity of display
  • least size/weight
  • usability with gloves on

The second point is quite important to me. This isn't a device you will use when sitting at leisure at a desk or table sipping a Martini. You probably want to keep your eyes ahead and occasionally glance at the device to pick up key info. A display that crams lots of detail into it will usually be much harder to read at a glance.

For more leisurely perusal you might as well just buy a $50 smartphone and an offline mapping app (ViewRanger is pretty good IMO).

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If your doing this sort of activity I would NOT look at cycling related, or "sports" GPS devices. Your shopping for something that could potentially save your life. You won't need many of the functions of a cycling computer on a ski trek. You may also check out "The Great Outdoors" stack and search through there.

In my humble opinion two key factors for your application would be battery life [the biggest factor], or the ability to change or charge the battery, and Durability, considering you will be using it for Ski treks in addition to bike treks, your going to want something the elements won't bother, cold, wet, sand, mud etc. I would look at one that is waterproof for sure.

Easy to use with gloves on would be a definite plus, as is the size and weight, but the latter shouldn't be a big issue. I would also read a lot of reviews online once you narrow it down to a brand or style you like.

You may also think about looking at one that is usb rechargeable and a good quality power bank or two depending on battery type and life.

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  • So a rugged hand-held device? Do those things turn on/off quickly (in order to turn it on just for a fork in the road)? How would I be carrying it, so that I have easy access to it in both situations? – Vorac Mar 17 '16 at 15:14
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    That would be my choice over a cycling specific one. Many have a sleep mode or a quick on/off I believe although I'm no expert. If it were me I would tether it to the shoulder strap of my backpack (if you use one). That way it's easily accessible without having to dig through pockets or packs. Some also have clips that could clip onto a belt, pocket, or strap. – Nate W Mar 17 '16 at 15:22
  • @Vorac: most of the handheld GPS devices are not very quick to turn on and off. They're more intended to be left on all the time. That said, one or two minutes to turn on and off is not horrible if you don't do it dozens of times a day. – John Zwinck Mar 19 '16 at 0:10
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I would like to recommend a "hiking" GPS. A good example is the Garmin Oregon/Montana/Dakota units. Pick one that fits your price range. They are water resistant and shock resistant. They are built very ruggedly and can be operated with gloves. You can use regular AA batteries which means as long as you pack enough batteries, you never have to worry about running out. If you're going with the Oregon/Montana model, you might want to get the "t" version (such as Oregon 600t) as it include topographical maps, which could come in very useful for your purposes.

I personally use the Garmin Oregon 450 (no longer sold) on my bike. It seems to acquire a signal rather quickly so you can turn it off if you don't need it all the time, but you can also leave it on as the batteries last quite a long time (16 hours on a set of AA+). You can pair it with an ANT+ heart rate and/or cadence sensor (no speed sensor supported) with your bike. It has a good sturdy bike mount so you can easily mount it on your handle bars. There's a clip on the back and they included a carabiner so you can easily latch it to yourself so it doesn't get lost. You can use rechargable NiMH batteries, so if you bring some kind of solar charger with you, then you could theoretically have unlimited battery life.

I think these units would probably suit your needs. They seem to match all the requirements given by yourself the other people who answered.

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  • Montana® 680t: "Preloaded TOPO U.S. 100K maps; includes 1-year BirdsEye Satellite Imagery subscription". Seems like those are maps just for the USA. – Vorac Mar 18 '16 at 15:20
  • @Vorac I don't have the topographic maps so I really can't say for certain. You can load your own maps on if you want. There's a site where you can download the OpenStreetMap files for Garmin. That probably won't have topographic or wilderness data, but it was very useful to me. This page says it has European map included, but it's the Irish version of the site. Perhaps it depends where you buy it. Hopefully you can purchase maps for whichever place you wish to visit. – Kibbee Mar 18 '16 at 19:06
  • @Vorac, your bio says you are in Bulgaria, and I found a link to where you can buy the Bulgarian Topographic Map. Looks like they have maps for most countries, some paid, some free, if you go to the maps section in the link from my previous post. – Kibbee Mar 18 '16 at 19:13
  • I am so disappointed. I read several reviews on amazon.co.uk about Garmin Montana 980 and similar devices. There seems to be a general consensus that the device is bug-ridden, installing maps is a pain, SD cards are limited to 32GB, topographic maps are expensive and protected from copying from the original card. Too bad there is no other worldwide producer of trekking GPS devices. – Vorac Mar 22 '16 at 13:31
  • @Vorac Sounds like a business opportunity :P – Nate W Mar 22 '16 at 15:00

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