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The most common GSP related question is, “Which one is the best to use?” This question is usually followed by the statement, “Should I get one of the neat handheld units or just buy software for my laptop?” Our scientific response is, “Well it depends.” The question must be followed with a question, “What are you going to use it for?” It’s difficult to read a small hand-held screen while racing down a bumpy dirt road, as it is to take a laptop computer on a hiking trip.

The Brunton Co
This 104-year-old company from Riverton, Wyoming merged with one of the original modern compass manufactures, S.P.A.B. of Sweden. They are well known for their Nexus compass product line. They manufacture a number of innovative products ranging from a pen scope that doubles as a telescope and microscope, to a handheld atmospheric weather data centre. They created an innovative, mixed feature handheld receiver.

Garmin International
One of the largest worldwide manufactures with headquarters in the United States, England, and Taiwan. The company was founded in 1989, and the company name comes from the combination of the founder’s first names of Gary and Min. They offer over 50 models of consumer and commercial receivers.

Lowrance Electronics, Inc
A long-time boat sonar manufacture since 1957, Lowrance began selling GPS receivers in 1991. They also own and market products under the Eagle brand name. Lowrance merged with Magellan Corporation in 1999. They have recently been purchased by Cobra Electronics.

Magellan Corporation
The Magellan group of companies is one of the largest satellite navigation and communication product manufacture. They offered the first handheld receiver in 1989. Their product line includes satellite phones and emails messaging units.

Novak Co-Pilot
A unique German military spec GPS receiver made by Bosch.


The following is the majority of the latest offerings from the primary manufactures. There are many older models available, although this guide focuses on the latest receivers currently available on the market. GPS Receivers are grouped into the following three categories.

1. Hand-Held without Mapping

The basic receivers are about the size of a TV remote control. They include many of the features of more expensive units, but do not include a base map.

PRICE: Retail $99 to $399

PRO: Low cost, small and lightweight, lots of features

CON: Small screen, no map, must be used in conjunction with a paper map. Runs on batteries.

APPLICATION: Ideal for hiking and biking where size and weight are important. Can be mounted on an ATV, or in a vehicle as long as the antenna has a clear view of the sky.


Pathfinder NAVI wristwatch Average retail $399

This is a unique 12 parallel channel receiver wristwatch, complete with computer software to manage data. Capable of storing 200 landmarks and 400 track points. Also waterproof to 50 meters.

The Brunton Co.

MNS, Multi-Navigator Average retail $399

Combines GPS with a barometer that displays weather information. Magnetic compass provides direction while stationary. The altimeter is stated to be accurate to 3 feet.

Garmin International

eTrex Average retail $119

Simple, easy to use with only five buttons. Small-sized, weighing only 5.3 ounces.

500 waypoints, 1 route with 50 waypoints, 2000 track points. Some users complain about the bright yellow finish, not to worry, it’s now available in camo.

eTrex Venture Average retail $174

Same as the eTrex with expanded features. Capable of 20 routes and includes a built-in city database with an additional 1MB of memory. Points of interest can be downloaded from Garmin’s MapSource CD ROM’s.

eTrex Summit Average retail $249

Similar to the basic Trax, but has a barometric altimeter to provide accurate elevation data. Also includes an electronic compass which displays direction while stationary

Magellan Corporation

GPS 310 Average retail $99

Durable, low-cost unit with PC interface capabilities. Data saved in the unit can be transferred to a mapping program. Capable of story 100 waypoints and one reversible route with 10 waypoints. Stated to run 20 hours on two AA batteries. Only seven ounces, and it floats.

GPS 315 Average retail $150

Next model up includes a 15,000 point worldwide city database. It does not include mapping, but location markers. It can also accept additional points of interest and nautical aids from Magellan’s DataSend CD ROM. Capable of storing 500 waypoints and 20 reversible routes.

2. Hand-Held with Mapping

Same as the above with the addition of a base electronic map.

PRICE: Retail $190 to $400

PRO: Electronic base map provides a useful reference. Small size, lightweight, many features. Some models have a detachable antenna allowing the unit to be vehicle mounted with an external power source.

CON: Small screen, should still be used in conjunction with a paper map, but not as critical based on application. Runs on batteries.

APPLICATION: Ideal for hiking and biking where size and weight are important. Can be mounted on an ATV, or in a vehicle as long as the antenna has a clear view of the sky.

Garmin International

e-Map Average retail $190 (without memory card)

Includes all of the standard features including storage for 50 routes and 500 waypoints. Accepts 8 or 16 MB memory cards to accept additional mapping detail from Garmin’s line of MapSource CD ROM’s. Two AA batteries provide a stated 14 hours of use.

eTrex Legend Average retail $250

All of the standard Garmin features. A little smaller in size, but big on storage. It will accept 8 MB’s of mapping from Garmin’s MapSource CD ROM’s. Two AA batteries provide a stated 18 hours of use.

eTrex Vista Average retail $350

The more advanced unit that includes an electronic compass and barometric altimeter. The most unique feature is its huge 24 MB’s of storage.

GPS 3 Plus Average retail $345

Great all-around unit with good base map included. The detachable antenna allows the unit to go from vehicle mount to handheld in seconds. The screen can be switch to vertical or horizontal. Data can be uploaded and downloaded, but only 1.44 MB of memory. Will accept mapping from all of Garmin’s MapSource CD’s except the MetroGuide. Four AA batteries provide a stated 36 hours of usage. Chunkier than the new generation, but very versatile and durable.

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