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I'm still in the dark ages. I don't have GPS when I go into the woods. I still go with maps, compass and old fashion methods like the location of the sun. My wife was considering getting me a GPS for Christmas, but was wondering how good are they in the woods. Are they good, and are they worth it? What kind is good, and how much do you need to spend for a good one? Do they work everywhere, or do they have dead spots?
 

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Every handheld gps I have had works well, unless you are in a building or underground or something.
 

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about 15 years ago i was running my boat in really dense fog. i was up on the flybridge trying to eyeball the shore line and a good friend was at the lower helm with all the electronics. . so i yell down..."what does the GPS say"?............"it says you're running down the middle of the highway". well....it was a cheapo unit.
 

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When traveling, the best route they give you, sometimes isn't the "best" route, but they will still get you where you need to go. Compasses, & maps are cumbersome, but, if you know how to use them, you never have to worry about low batteries, or a sattelite with a glitch. GPS is a good thing.
 

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Speaking as a guy who can still use map and compass and solid orienteering skills, handheld GPS’s are nice, but as with anything, don’t expect to just buy one, throw batteries in it, and walk out into the woods and be all set. They have a lot of nice features such as being able to save points such as camp, hunting stand locations, among other things. But if you get one, spend time with it, get familiar with it, make sure you have all you need. Different models have different features, and unlike a car GPS, many (never say all, and at least it used to be this way, haven’t GPS shopped in a couple years) require you to purchase or upload maps for the areas you will be disappearing into. So it’s important to make sure you have the right maps loaded and understand where the borders are on the map(s) loaded. Also, prior to using it as a primary navigation tool, play with it enough to know the limits of battery life. But with a little practice, they bring a level of convenience and features to your hand.
 

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I am an avid hiker. Even with my 80th birthday just 14 days away, I will be hiking PA’s State Forests from May to November. I use a handheld GPS unit routinely. Generally it is excellent, but there are times it is not, GPS units depend upon satellites. Units be working of two, three, or more satellites at any one time, deprnding upon the satellite systems the GPS can access. Generally a GPS unit will be accurate within 100 feet. A to quality unit will be accurate within 5 feet. Sounds great, but then the reality comes in. Every point on tid earth I not covered by a satellite GPS system. So, if you get out of coverage your GPS becomes a paperweight.

I experienced that 10 s ago while hiking near Deer Island, Maine. I travelled through spaces where there wasno satelitte signal. The GPS was inoperable across about 5 miles of the trek. It was not a big issue for me because in the Corps I had learned the basics of orienteering. With a topo map and a compass I could find my way. I built on that skill as a civilian. So today I carry a GPS, a topo map, and a compass n every trek.

Finally a warning to those who might think a smartphone GPS and map app might suffice in a rural area I recommend get a compass and a map, learn to orienteer, and do not rely ona GPS smartphone app unless you are traveling well established routes.
 

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OK, are you ready for this? "I'd be lost without my GPS" 😄. I have an automotive Garmin GPS for my SUV, a handheld Garmin GPS plus my iPhone has a Google GPS app. My handheld GPS does not have "points of interest" like the Automotive GPS or iPhone, rather it just has longitude, latitude, and altitude. It will store your "path" so you can find your way back the same way you went. You can also store "way points". I bought the handheld GPS many years ago when I was on a hot air balloon crew so the newer units may have a lot more features. In the hot air balloon, I plugged my Garmin into a laptop with "MS Streets" software. The screen on the laptop would show your exact location which was very handy. If the ground crew lost sight of the balloon, a quick call on the 2-way radio with the coordinates and the chaise vehicle (also with a GPS) could figure out exactly where you landed. I also used the "altitude" feature a lot. The balloon had an aircraft altimeter, but it was dependent on barometric pressure, which changed with the weather. The altitude indicated by the handheld GPS was very accurate, no matter what the weather was like.

I used my Garmin handheld GPS many times while deer/elk hunting and when lake fishing. When I got to a good fishing spot, instead of marking an "X" on the floor of the boat,:) I'd just push a button to mark a way point so I could find the same spot again. One time when I was deer hunting in Colorado, I located my downed deer but because it was getting dark, I set a way point then walked back to camp. I got on my ATV and returned to the exact spot of the downed deer. After I loaded the deer on the ATV, it was as dark as the inside of a cow so I was totally dependent on the GPS "map draw" feature to get back to camp.
 

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IF you want to experiment, use the GPS on your phone to play around. It's not much different. The phone uses cell service and eats up a lot of data, but you'll get the idea. A handheld GPS uses satellites and works everywhere outdoors I've ever been. I've never lost a signal in my GPS. Even in the middle of fly-in only northern Ontario, I've always had a signal.

I have a very basic Garmin Etrex ($99) and really like it and use it all the time in the woods and on the water. I mostly use it to mark waypoints and tracks so I can get back to my truck. I use Google Earth to get specific coordinates to preload waypoints I want prior to a hunt. Mine won't tell me how to get there, but it will keep me oriented in the right direction. It records my track and makes it easy to get back. For just a simple track and waypoints, the entry level model is all you need. I record the track all day long and it shows where I've been and I mark waypoints for landmarks.

Mine is an older model and doesn't connect to my computer, but I think the newer ones all do and you can upload data to the GPS.

The map on my GPS is pretty simple. Mostly just main roads, major rivers and lakes. I don't really use it for the map, I use it as a supplement to a paper map or aerial view I carry with me of the area I'm hunting. You can get handhelds with aerial imagery or USGS maps if you want a lot of detail.

For my Canadian fishing trips I mark spots I on the lake I want to fish based off Google Earth. Most of the lakes we fish don't have very good lake maps and the GPS often shows we're boating on land, but that's not my need. I know where the water is...I'm on it. After a day on the water and my recorded track, I know where it's safe to boat.

A few years ago, there were forest fires in the area we were fishing. One day the winds picked up and the fires burned to the lake. The smoke was like pea soup fog and we couldn't see a thing. This lake had 1000's of islands and without the GPS we would have had a rough time make the 1 hour ride back to the cabin. We just followed the track back the way we came. Hard to do that with a map if you can't see landmarks.

Mine will last about 24 hours of run time with it running for 12-hours at a time, but I usually swap out batteries every day, need it or not.
 

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Garmin just about owns the hand held GPS market..........worth a visit.......Garmin.com

one of the ones that is very useful is the Garmin Rino....

Rugged GPS/GLONASS Handheld with Two-way Radio
  • 5 W GMRS two-way radio offers extended range, up to 20 miles; communicate by voice or unit-to-unit text messaging
  • High-sensitivity GPS and GLONASS satellite reception; tracks in more challenging environments than GPS alone
  • Rechargeable internal lithium-ion battery can provide up to 13 hours of battery life
  • Position reporting feature shows locations of other Rino users on the same channel
  • Worldwide basemap shows position and supports basic navigation


Rino series handhelds feature a unique position reporting capability that lets you send your exact location to another Rino user so they can see it on their map display. You can also use position polling to request a position from another Rino device. It’s a handy way to keep tabs on your friends, hunting party or fellow adventurers in the field. For added flexibility, you can also maintain nonverbal contact by exchanging unit-to-unit text messages with other Rino users in your area.

I have used them since they first came on the market...and now .. like Iowegan...lost without one
 

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Some background: I grew up as an avid hiker and orienteer. I spent a career as a USAF navigator going from radar, chart compass and sextant to state of the art GPS. GPS can be very accurate when it has a proper view of satellites and an updated datum … especially since the government no longer spoofs the signals for civilian use.

That said, one still needs to be able to read a topographical map and recognize that even the best GPS units have dependencies: power (batteries) and access to a clear view of the sky. I would never ditch my map and compass but a GPS can be a valuable tool in one’s arsenal.
 

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To be honest on this, your smart phone in a ZipLoc bag and an app that can track location (which is something it can do without cell service although it won't be able to use map or cell tower data to make up for variances in position) can pretty much do the same thing, but won't look as cool :) In the days before your cellphone had GPS built in, the stand alone units had their use, I still have my old Garmin eTrex and eMap. These days their only real advantage is they are ruggedized more than your phone, where I still use the old Garmins on handle bar mounts on the jetski and mountain bike, and for hiking a set of AA batteries is easier to carry than a phone charging pack, but I think anyone planning on being out for a long time should plan on having their phone and a charging pack with them.

Of course, you should have a map and compass with you and know how to use them if you are getting far off the beaten trail since they are pretty hard to break :)
 

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My Garmin handheld GPS has proven to be very reliable. Building on what other members said above, before a GPS can capture at least 3 satellites to pinpoint your location, you need a wide-angle access to the sky. In a forest, you may need to find a clearing because overhead foliage will weaken the signal from the satellites. In open areas, usually I will get 4 or 5 satellites to register so accuracy is better than 50 feet. A few times I got 6 satellites to register .... more satellites means better accuracy. I always carry an extra set of AA batteries. I normally don't have my GPS switched on all the time so batteries last a long time but in continuous operation, I think a set of 4 AAs will last at least 24 hours. Somethings I forgot in my previous post. My handheld will also register speed very accurately .... great for checking the speedometer in your car. It also indicates the direction you are traveling .... way better than a magnetic compass.

Short story: On a trout fishing trip to the Black Canyon of the Gunnison River in Colorado, the walls of the canyon were so steep that I could only get one satellite to register. Fortunately, it's hard to get lost when you follow a river, so it wasn't a problem.

Another short story .... My family went to a fishing resort at a lake in Minnesota. We got so busy with fishing that we lost track of landmarks while operating the boat. The lake wasn't huge but it was pretty round so the shore line looked the same. We followed the shore line for a couple hours and when we were finally got within eye sight of the boat dock (the only one on the lake), the outboard started to sputter .... out of gas. We were close enough where we could paddle back. From that day forward, I never went fishing without my Garman and I logged a way point at the boat dock.
 

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Before 1 knee replacement in 2014 and both hips replaced in 2016, I hunted for elk, deer and antelope in Wyoming and Colorado every fall. My first GPS was a Lowrance Eagle I got in the late 90's and I still use it when I'm out west just bombing around in the national forests in my truck or ATV, it still works. I even used it to mark bear baits in northern Wisconsin with no problems. That being said, I don't leave camp without a good compass and a topo map of the area. I really can't recommend what kind to get because I'm still using my Lowrance from 20 some odd years ago. Like others have previously said, a heavy canopy or deep canyon may affect contact with satellites. I never had much of a problem with mine, maybe because we camped at 10,800 feet and hunted up from there. I figured if we got way up there, I could just look up and ask the Big Guy to point me in the right direction. Good luck with your search for a GPS.
 

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An old Garmin Etrex. Loaded with state wide topographic maps.

A newer Garmin 396.

There are some good posts above so I am adding to and not repeating points. As a point of reference, my buddies think of me as “technologically impaired”.
  • GPS units are intuitive to learn. At least with Garmin, different units work similar.
  • Waterproof GPS will work in the rain without covers.
  • a person can learn how to turn the unit on and track him very quickly. It won’t take you any where yet, but will always find home. You will learn how to program or route it, but that is more complex.
  • I still prefer to have paper maps with me. GPS is the best for finding things on the fly.
 

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OK, are you ready for this? "I'd be lost without my GPS" 😄. I have an automotive Garmin GPS for my SUV, a handheld Garmin GPS plus my iPhone has a Google GPS app. My handheld GPS does not have "points of interest" like the Automotive GPS or iPhone, rather it just has longitude, latitude, and altitude. It will store your "path" so you can find your way back the same way you went. You can also store "way points". I bought the handheld GPS many years ago when I was on a hot air balloon crew so the newer units may have a lot more features. In the hot air balloon, I plugged my Garmin into a laptop with "MS Streets" software. The screen on the laptop would show your exact location which was very handy. If the ground crew lost sight of the balloon, a quick call on the 2-way radio with the coordinates and the chaise vehicle (also with a GPS) could figure out exactly where you landed. I also used the "altitude" feature a lot. The balloon had an aircraft altimeter, but it was dependent on barometric pressure, which changed with the weather. The altitude indicated by the handheld GPS was very accurate, no matter what the weather was like.

I used my Garmin handheld GPS many times while deer/elk hunting and when lake fishing. When I got to a good fishing spot, instead of marking an "X" on the floor of the boat,:) I'd just push a button to mark a way point so I could find the same spot again. One time when I was deer hunting in Colorado, I located my downed deer but because it was getting dark, I set a way point then walked back to camp. I got on my ATV and returned to the exact spot of the downed deer. After I loaded the deer on the ATV, it was as dark as the inside of a cow so I was totally dependent on the GPS "map draw" feature to get back to camp.
It was smart to mark the spot with the GPS instead of on the boat, you might not get get the same boat next time :LOL:
 

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Here's my short take. We use GNSS units for land surveying every day we're out. They are extremely accurate. They are $20,000 to $30,000 dollar units. We have to be able to see at least 5 satellites to get a survey grade solution. GNSS stands for Global Navitagtion Satillite System while GPS is the U.S. militaries Global Positioning System. The GNSS unit you're wife is likely looking at probably cost about $100-500. Those units only need to see 3-4 satellites to get you a resolution marking you up to 100 feet of where you really are. Most times you'll see locations close to sub-meter. Since it's a radio like signal fog, clouds, rain, snow, smoke, etc... won't affect your accuracy. Heavy foliage and being in deep ravines can/will affect whether you see enough satellites to get a solution. If your anywhere on the earth you'll most likely be able to see enough satellites because there are 4 systems (Russian GLONASS & U.S. GPS are the only fully function systems right now but Europe and China have a few birds up there) out there as the U.S. based GPS at 32 usable units. You can't see everyone all day as they are a fix location.

When I head out for a long trip I still use USGS quad maps so I can see rivers, valleys, hills, roads....I'm sure there are some units that show the contours and such but I prefer to look at my map once in a while instead of having a screen in front of my face most of the time.
 

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I use my GPS all the time as I Geocache. I use a hand held Garmin. Are GPS perfect---no----the thing that is perfect is my wife (hope she reads this....haha). Do GPS work everywhere---no, but it is a great backup. Short story, I was out cruising back roads (in the winter) in Missouri----got a flat tire and could not get the spare from under the vehicle---no road signs---call my wife and gave her the coordinate to get help to me. Maps and compasses are great if you can see features---are they perfect--no. Anyway, my point is there is no perfect system---but it is important to know how to use what you have and that 2 systems are better than one.
 

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A GPS is nice to have. Not only for directional use but also for marking way points such as favorite hunting/fishing spots and location of truck. If you decide to get one, get a good one. You usually get what you pay for in features and durability. Carry extra batteries for it. Don’t discard your compass and maps though, you may need them for a backup in case the GPS doesn’t work, gets damaged, or lost. Always keep a compass with you and know how to use it.
 

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Not quite what you're asking, but since I found Waze on my phone....I never leave home without it.
And, I was gonna say google maps ain't bad. BUT- yes, you must think of battery life..... and satellite reception!
 

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A GPS is nice to have. Not only for directional use but also for marking way points such as favorite hunting/fishing spots and location of truck. If you decide to get one, get a good one. You usually get what you pay for in features and durability. Carry extra batteries for it. Don’t discard your compass and maps though, you may need them for a backup in case the GPS doesn’t work, gets damaged, or lost. Always keep a compass with you and know how to use it.
This ^^^^^. A GPS is NOT infallible, it is a tool and should be use as such. Forest canopy can affect it, as can other impediments to it receiving a signal. Recent NEWS item about the Russian 'jamming' GPS signals in Ukraine should be noted.
 
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