Best GPS tracking units UK 2021 - handheld and wearable GPS tracker from Garmin, Satmap and more
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Smartphones have revolutionised the way we navigate and use GPS systems. Their map functions are perfect for everyday use and navigation, however when you’re out in the wild, you may want to consider something that uses a slightly higher-level of satellite navigation, ensuring you are able to keep track of your movements and crucially notify others if you happen to need assistance.
We’ve come a long way from maps and compasses, and even handheld GPS devices themselves now make use of new, updated technology to ensure maximum practicality when in remote areas.
In this article, we’ll look at a few of the top GPS devices on the market, and touch on what you need to look for if you’re taking the plunge and purchasing a handheld or wearable GPS device for your next adventure.
What GPS device do I need?
It’s best to think about the way in which you’ll use your device – if you’re committed to backcountry exploration, touchscreens and pretty displays might look the part but they’ll be next to useless if it starts raining.
Battery life is another key factor and this is an area in which we’ve seen huge progress in recent years. Size and portability are of course an issue, and think about the kind of maps that’ll be most useful – we like to have the option of OS maps, for instance, on our handheld GPS devices which not all providers accommodate.
We like also to look at weatherproof ability – and ensure the device we’re investing is IP rated and waterproof.
Spot Gen4 Satellite GPS Messenger
We start this list with a device that actually is more of a lifesaving and messenger device using GPS technology, rather than a specific navigation aid, but one worth including to remind you to think about emergency communication when out in the wild.
It uses one-way communication to let people know of your location and whereabouts when you get into danger – vital if you’re in the many areas of the world wild enough to have limited to next to no mobile phone coverage.
At the push of a button, your emergency contacts and nearby first-responders will be notified of your flight. Limited functionality, but using one of these or a similar device may save your life.
Garmin GPSMap 66SR
By far and away one of the best handheld consumer GPS devices we tested. GPS reliability we found to be excellent, and the precision of the location displayed on the screen very impressive too.
More than 100 satellites orbiting the earth tells this Garmin device where you are, and the maps themselves are crystal clear and easy to read, even in bright sunlight.
We also found the chunky buttons and simple navigation a really bonus too – much easier than fiddling around with your smartphone when out in the wild. Battery life is an impressive 36 hours in standard mode, and 3 weeks in basic ‘expedition mode.’
Garmin Etrex 30X
This is another option from Garmin that has been around for a while in various incarnations, and still provides great mapping and navigation services for a reasonable price.
For us it doesn’t quite have the rugged appeal of the GPSMap 66SR featured above, and we found the side buttons to be a little fiddly, but it doesn’t lessen the device’s appeal for hikers.
Satellite connection is quick and easy – a device that is very unlikely to let you down.
Garmin eTrex 10 GPS
If you’re beginning to notice a trend here in terms of Garmin devices, that’s pretty much because they’ve got all corners of the market covered, and in no system is this more apparent than with the eTrex 10, a budget option that’s one of the best cheaper devices on the market.
It’s old-fashioned and basic, and you won’t get a flashy coloured screen or loads of customisable options, but we really like its rugged appeal and back-to-basics appeal.
If you’re looking to spend a bit less and just want basic navigation information and maps, this would be our recommendation.
Satmap Active 20GB Platinum Edition
We really like Satmap’s products, and on the other end of the spectrum, if you’re really looking to get a comprehensive piece of kit and don’t mind spending the money, this Platinum edition of their Active 20 device is a real winner.
Dual Control means it’s fully touchscreen or button operated, and we think the screen is of excellent quality.
Rugged and with good weatherproofing for bad-weather hikes, we also really liked the fact that it’s pre-loaded with the most useful of maps, the GB Ordnance Survey 1:250,000 and 1:1 million OS Road Map.
Garmin Fenix 6 Solar
Wearables are the name of the game these days, and although they don’t quite do the same as handheld GPS devices, this Fenix option from Garmin offers incredibly impressive functionality and performance.
It has a full GPS system, with multi-GNSS support which means it can access a number of different satellite systems to ensure location reliability.
We found the maps a little hard to distinguish on such a small screen, but the watch offers all the usual sports watch features such as tracking, health sensors, acclimation for altitude and smart notifications.
It’s also charged via its own little solar panel – clever stuff.