Looking for a GPS unit

5:46 p.m. on September 3, 2018 (EDT)
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hey. Long time day hiker here.  Starting to get into some overnight trips and often get off the beaten path in the mtns and wilderness areas of North Carolina.  Want dependable gps unit that can get reception in the heavy canopy I find myself in. Something where I can see my curent path and how far I have gone, enter my destination, etc.  I don’t need download my path or anyting. Just something to see where I have gone, where I am going, how far I have gone, and help to guide me back in my spidey sense fails me. Don’t want a subscription service or something to off the trail. Any suggestions?  Just want to have something similar to an iphone app without the phone. Thanks!!

6:02 p.m. on September 3, 2018 (EDT)
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An added note is a built in compass and long battery life (bonus To be able to recharge with a portable charger I use on my phone) 

11:36 a.m. on September 4, 2018 (EDT)
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OK, I'll be the first to say this, as I'm sure there will be many who are thinking it:

I could be wrong, but it sounds like from your post you want a device you can rely on rather than a map and compass. If that's true, you shouldn't do that. Electronics can fail, screens can crack, batteries can die, circuits can fry. They are nice and, yes, very helpful toys, but they are best used to supplement and confirm map+compass readings. If you're not comfortable with keeping your bearings with a map and compass and especially if the area where you hike prevents you from tracking discernable landmarks, then respectfully you should stick close to established trails.

I've used Gaia GPS, which is an app for your smart phone. There is a small annual fee. Smart phones do have GPS capabilities, though I don't know how well they work through a dense canopy, nor am I familiar enough with the Garmins and such of the world to know if they are any better. On long trips I also use an InReach mainly for backcountry communications but it has GPS capabilities as well.

11:57 a.m. on September 4, 2018 (EDT)
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My experience has been that phone GPS doesn't work as well in the trees as my inReach, but modern phones do surprisingly well. You definitely don't want to rely on it in place of map and compass though. I've used the Guthook app on AT and LT hikes on a J7 and it did pretty well most of the time at putting me where I was. Pairing the phone with the inReach works very well of course too.

12:45 p.m. on September 4, 2018 (EDT)
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Agreed on both accounts. The Inreach works well but requires a subscription.  As a backup to map and compass familiarity, I find a phone works almost as well as the recreational grade GPS units available that I have used in the past (well over 5 years ago).  I wander off trail in the forests of NC as well, and rarely have issues with my Samsung as a backup (I use Backcountry Navigator and/or Viewranger apps as well as Earthmate for my Inreach).  The extra weight of a GPS would allow a larger phone charger...

Others may have more recent or better experience with rec grade GPS units that work better than current model phones.  Since getting my Inreach I can't really advise on that aspect. Sorry.

6:54 p.m. on September 4, 2018 (EDT)
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thanks all -Jr - I get why you said your - so I just want to clarify - I am NOT looking for a replacement for maps and a compass - I have them, and know how to use (not claiming to be an expert, but decent).  I generally stick to marked trails, only rarely go into the wilderness - but still generally stick to the trails (albeit unmarked).  I guess what I am looking for is something I can just take a quick look and see how far I have gone, how many more miles, track total distance, etc. more just for convenience and fun.  I like to log my hikes, and can make a mark saying "cool view at mile xx,  creek crossing at mile 2.3, etc).

My phone does OK in the woods, but only if I have downloaded the maps prior, etc.  I will check out the two apps Phil mentioned.  I was just curious if a dedicated small GPS was worth it or not

11:58 p.m. on September 25, 2018 (EDT)
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Aside from Gaia, Backcounty Navigator and Locus are good navigation apps also.

6:31 p.m. on September 26, 2018 (EDT)
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If you are using both maps and GPS be aware there are three different coordinate notation systems. USGS hard copy maps are in degree-minutes-seconds notation.  But one friend has his GPS unit in a second notation called decimal minutes notation, while she has her set to display in decimal degree notation.  The following illustrates  the same latitude, referenced using the three different notation systems:

40:30:07 N as 40 degrees 30 minutes 7 seconds north - degree-minutes-seconds notation

40:30.117 N as 40 degrees 30.117 minutes north - decimal minutes notation

40.502 N as 40.502 degrees north - decimal degree notation

To arrive at a consensus one needs to convert all coordinates to a common notation, much like referring back and forth between temperatures measured in Fahrenheit, Celsius and Kelvin units.  This is just tedious, not to mention confusing.  Just set your GPS units to degree-minutes-seconds notation when also using a paper map.  And make sure everyone uses the same notation on their GPS devices.    

THis may sound elementary, but I have this recurring problem with some people I hike with, and have not been able to convince them to convert their GPS units to match up with the notation used on hard copy maps.  As a result they claim I brought the wrong maps and ignore my results altogether.  This has resulted in instances of chasing after them all over the mountain, as they try to reconcile their GPS units with their surroundings, sometimes spending hours going back and forth over the same terrain, chasing their vector arrow, but unable to orient on a larger perspective, due to the limitations of their small screen displays.  Maddening!

Ed

8:11 p.m. on October 2, 2018 (EDT)
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I’ve used gps since 1993. The only gps I use now is the Gaia app on an iPhone 7 Plus. Just saying smartphone does not give enough information as the chipsets are so different. My unit is seriously accurate, shows what part of my house I’m in under the roof while in airplane mode. It nails location in the wilderness with several tops views and satellite view too. You can select the various lat/Lon designations but I usually use utms. It has a big plus sized screen with beautiful map sets. We do mark important waypoint with he compass and a waterproof map is always close at hand, most of time two scales, very detailed and a wide view too.

The phone makes a great hiking camera, got a load of reference books on it, has a nice backup flashlight function, have a list of adagios, some jazz and blues guitar stuff for the rare times we would like some music late at night in a dark tent far from any other human ear. It even makes phone calls in he strangest places so an important signaling device perhaps. It also times the tea.

That said it usually just rides in its pouch until we do some photography or check location. When following a bearing we much prefer a compass so we use it in tandem with the gps.

12:54 a.m. on October 3, 2018 (EDT)
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Ghostdog--how long are your trips?  I've considered using my phone as you suggest, but I am quite sure that it would lose battery power and die within 48 hours.  And the idea of carrying a solar charger in the wilderness just grinds my guts the wrong way...

6:31 a.m. on October 3, 2018 (EDT)
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If you are carrying a GPS and a phone, you can replace the GPS with a power pack like Anker makes and others - I get almost 3 full phone charges out of mine depending on how far I let the phone drain down.  Granted it weighs 7 ounces so less weight will probably mean less of a charge.  I can go about 5 days using the phone primarily as a camera with some GPS use to back check my navigation skills (I don't keep that on all the time).  Longer or wetter trips I'll take a separate camera and used to leave the power pack at home most of the time.  Now I'll still carry it to charge the phone, InReach if needed, and camera as I make some movies for my wife to watch so use a lot of battery.

11:31 a.m. on October 3, 2018 (EDT)
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I can get about 5 days at most before a charge but with more use about 3 days it will need a charge. Flip’s way is the way to go. Anker makes a line of power packsthat you charge at home. The pack that charges the phone two times is four ounces. I know a guy who has a bigger Anker than charges his phone 5 or. 6 times.

For decades I carried an SLR and then a DSLR with two lenses and have carried a gps unit for hiking since 2004. My phone does not have quite the quality of the bigger camera but it still makes gorgeous images. I’m saving about 3 lbs by changing. While l am a dedicated photographer his move was to keep going and keep the capability to capture images and at times short video. Got a great image of a Gila monster two weeks ago but was afraid to get close enough to a pissed off rattler who did not appreciate our sudden appearance. The phone has two lenses but neither long enough for that!

The miles add up as many of us are finding and I’m still addicted to canyon country adventuring. This little system helps in my case and the gps hardware and app are so accurate and full of features that I’m not losing anything over the dedicated unit.

12:27 p.m. on October 3, 2018 (EDT)
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Hey Scotty, I hike the same area and have used the Delorme InReach SE for about 6 years now. I don't track with it but just use it to communicate a check-in message with my wife each night.  Under dense canopy it will struggle to send and receive but it has never failed to get a message out eventually. It might take hours to work at the worst, but it does send. I understand it to be a line of sight communication technology and it has to have a clear view of the sky. The more satellites a particular network has in orbit the better chance you have of being "seen" by one.  To my knowledge, all satellite GPS systems need a good view of the sky.

When I hike out west in higher elevations above tree line and with big horizons, I'm always delighted at how fast the GPS communicates.

Around here, if I know I'm going to camp in dense woods or down in a valley I might change my route to swing by an open spot for messaging or take a little walk from camp to find an opening so I don't have to wait a long time to send. 

I do occasionally use phone GPS apps like DeLorme Earthmate and Gaia and they work well enough for what you describe though they are not always perfectly accurate. 

I think most folks wind up liking the large color screens of a smart phone more than the small, often monochrome displays of dedicated GPS units. But I've personally never owned a dedicated unit; that's just what I've read and heard. 

2:37 p.m. on October 3, 2018 (EDT)
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Patman said:

I do occasionally use phone GPS apps like DeLorme Earthmate and Gaia and they work well enough for what you describe though they are not always perfectly accurate. 

 

Phone…

This is the point I made in my previous post. Since “phones” have very different hardware and processors in general and different gps chipsets specifically. Reporting an issue and just saying phone is kind of meaningless. How can anyone know if this is a “phone” issue affecting every single “phone”, an operating system issue, a user error as Ed alluded to, atmospheric conditions or simply a specific geographical condition? GPS has come a long way in regards to acquiring satellites and their overall accuracy. Chipsets in “phones” are no exception.

I have heard that Gaia operates better on iOS than Android but that is anecdotal. When it shows a satellite overlay on the iPhone 7 Plus, it is most obviously eerily accurate. I would not trust it to control serious map making but I would not do that with a dedicated gps hiking handset either.

3:16 p.m. on October 3, 2018 (EDT)
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Yes good point, the hardware varies from device to device. I have no knowledge of the GPS chips used by each manufacturer for each model and version or how they compare.

Nor can I can confirm a causal relationship between the lack of accuracy I've experienced in a given scenario and the hardware, the particular satellite at play, the weather conditions at that particular moment, and the effect of the geography at the particular location. I am however, quite certain that I know how to use both applications and therefore will confidently rule out user error.

Indeed, it would have been more helpful to Scott and ultimately more meaningful in the context of my comment to point out that I use a Samsung Galaxy S7.

I agree with your anecdote: I found Gaia to be buggy but usable on my android device.

4:02 p.m. on October 3, 2018 (EDT)
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I have a Garmin handheld GPS. it is by no means new but was near the top of the line a number of years ago. not a touch screen - rubberized waterproof buttons. functional equivalent today is the gpsmap 66st.  

pros:

-better antenna and reception than a phone

-newer handheld units can search US satellites (NAVSTAR) and Russian (GLONASS), I doubt phones do that.

-full US topo maps pre-loaded (100k maps); 

-built to take a beating and operate in bad weather. touch screens don't work well in rain or cold.  

-will give you at least as much life on two AA batteries as a cell phone charge, and easy to carry extra batteries

-tech and handhelds haven't changed much, so a great 64st is fine and a fair bit less expensive

-built in compass

-built in barometric altimeter (remember to calibrate it)

cons:

-paying for a separate device

-the best/most detailed maps, 24k vs. 100k, have to be purchased separately. $100 per region.  more money.

-cell phones are more user-friendly. dedicated GPS is more like mastering a compass. a minor 'con.'

the GPS on my phone (android) is pretty good, but keeping a cell phone turned on in remote areas w/limited coverage eats up cell phone batteries, and reception isn't (in my experience) as good as a dedicated handheld gps. they're fine for a day hike, not great for longer. 

dense cover and topographical features (you're hiking in a ravine) can affect satellite reception, no matter what device you have.  

4:48 p.m. on October 3, 2018 (EDT)
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Pat, I don’t think it’s user error in your case either.

One example with Gaia and my iPhone 7 Plus; there is a canyon we hike into where we have only seen one other person just one time. We have a place there that is perfect for breakfast. There is an 8’x8’ patch of fine sand under a big lone sycamore, rocks, boulders and heavy brush all around, no other trees like it nearby. A creek runs to the south side of the sycamore with a deep pool right there. About 20’ on south a cliff like face rises 600’ above creek level. The terrain to the north rises another 6000’ above creek level and peaks out about 6 miles away. I created a waypoint on that patch of sand under the tree. The satellite view shows the leafless tree from last winter and the patch of sand underneath when zoomed fully in. The pointer is on the exact side of that sand patch we put our Helinox ground chairs. That blew me away.

There are other waypoints on our off trail routes that do not have such good landmarks but seem to be just as accurate being in the middle of small clearings where they should be though I can’t attest to their ultimate accuracy.

We don’t have a lot of heavy tree cover in the canyons but do have some steep walls at times.

6:56 a.m. on October 4, 2018 (EDT)
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I use an In reach as well like Patman for checking in. The bottom line on any GPS based device...never rely on them as your primary route finder...always carry a map and compass AND know how to use them. I have used most of them at one time or another, and that includes devices ranging from recreational grade GPS to $10000 units for work. They all lose signal sometimes in the mountains. I have had difficulty acquiring satellites with professional units that have the receiver on a survey rod and can extend up to 25 feet through the subcanopy. . I know I'm preaching to the choir here. They work great when they work but when they don't they are dead weight. I wouldn't carry anything more than my phone if I didn't want to keep in touch with the better half on my monthly trips. Could be biased since I have to hassle with them at work and backpacking is to leave work behind!

3:28 p.m. on October 4, 2018 (EDT)
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balzaccom said:

Ghostdog--how long are your trips?  I've considered using my phone as you suggest, but I am quite sure that it would lose battery power and die within 48 hours.  And the idea of carrying a solar charger in the wilderness just grinds my guts the wrong way...

 Meditating on he trail today and some off trail too, not using the camera, gps or phone at allat all as I do some days  I remembered this question and thought of Shel Silverstein’s How Many How Much. An excerp;

How many slams in an old screen door? Depends how loud you shut it. How many slices in a bread? Depends how thin you cut it. How much good inside a day? Depends how good you live 'em. How much love inside a friend? Depends how much you give 'em.

4:31 p.m. on October 4, 2018 (EDT)
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ha ! growing up,  I loved "Where the sidewalk ends" 

Phil,

Your last post reminds me of a story Trouthunter told about a big off-trail adventure in deep bush when he fell asleep with his GPS unit turned on and clutched to his chest. He was relying on it. His adventure suddenly got bigger the next day and it was the last time he relied on a piece of electronics for nav. 

10:18 p.m. on October 4, 2018 (EDT)
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I miss trouthunter...i bet he was in a coastal swamp that Tripp!

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