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How Trailspace Members Rate Their Navigation Gear

by Alicia MacLeay
February 28, 2016

A detailed topo map and compass have topped the 10 Essentials list for decades. But we wondered: What navigation gear is tops among our community members?

As part of our Year of Essential Outdoor Gear, we turned to Navigation (#1 on the 10 Essentials list) this month and dove into our gear database to see what reviewers think of their navigation tools.

Here's what we found, based on product ratings and reviews of Navigation Tools on Trailspace:

People like their compasses (a little) more than their GPS receivers.

  • Compasses overall receive a slightly higher average rating (3.6 stars) than GPS receivers (3.4 stars) in Trailspace reviews. 
  • Also, 36 percent of compass reviews were rated 5 stars, versus only 27 percent of GPS receivers.

Does that mean compasses outperform GPS receivers? Not exactly, just that reviewers rate them differently, perhaps due to different expectations. After all, a compass has one basic, but important, requirement—point north—while a GPS receiver promises far more features and options. 

Our take: The more complex the technology, the more opportunities there are to be disappointed. 

Most people do not love their altimeters.

  • Altimeters, most of which are multi-function watches with an altimeter function, get an average rating of just 2.9 stars.
  • Only 18 percent of those altimeter reviews have 5-star ratings.

Do people even use standalone altimeters anymore? Altimeters are most often found bundled into a watch, GPS receiver, or other gadget, making them more of a feature than a specific piece of gear.

Our take: It may be more accurate to say, most reviewers do not love their multi-function watches.

People are most satisfied with modestly priced or high-end compasses.

We wondered if product price had any correlation to gear satisfaction.

  • Reviewers reported the most satisfaction (4 stars) with compasses in the $15 to $30 price range. 
  • Compasses costing $60 and up had the second highest rating (3.83 stars).

Our take: A well-rated $15 to $30 compass may offer the most bang for the buck, while a high-end compass costing $60 or more will likely perform better than a mid-range ($30 to $60) counterpart.

People are most satisfied with mid-range GPS receivers.

For GPS receivers, things were far clearer on product satisfaction.

  • Reviewers are most satisfied (3.75 stars) with mid-range GPS receivers; $200 to $299 is the sweet spot.
  • The further you move away from this middle ground, in either direction, the lower ratings go: 3.26 stars for products costing $399 and up and 3.14 stars for products costing $130 or less.

Our take: People who pay the most for a GPS receiver likely have the highest expectations for all of its promised features and functions. On the other end, bargain hunters can find themselves frustrated by slow or faulty software or construction issues.


Ultimately, finding one's way is what matters when navigating in the backcountry, and the best navigation gear helps one do that safely and effectively without fuss or frustration. But, whether it's a map and compass or a GPS receiver, one more accessory is still required: a knowledgeable user.

Stay tuned, as we'll take a look at more of the 10 Essentials throughout 2016.