Ryan's GPS Links & Information

Ryan's GPS Links & Information


Note, this page is catered towards those individuals who either own or are thinking of buying a handheld, fairly low cost GPS (Global Positioning System) receiver. It is not meant for professionals, airplane pilots, mariners, or those persons with lots of money to spend!

Selective Availability has been turned off! This means that all GPS units are now considerably more accurate than they used to be.

Garmin 12
Garmin 12
Page Index



Which GPS Should I Buy? (reviews)   top

Make sure you buy a GPS which has 12 parallel receivers! This will greatly increase the speed of your unit. (Note, all new GPS units on the market today should have 12 parallel receivers - but if you buy used, beware).
For hiking and outdoor use, I would choose one of the Garmin eTrex models. All of these feature small, lightweight, waterproof cases with 2.1" x 1.1" screens. They run off of 2 AA batteries with a lifetime around 20 hours. These units all have dimensions of 4.4"H x 2.0"W x 1.2"D (very small!). For a complete list of Garmin outdoor GPS products, 360 degree views, specifications, etc., visit this portion of their web site.

For the cheapest, rugged, simple outdoor model for hiking, I would recommend the Garmin eTrex ($120) as a good starter unit. This has all of the features necessary in a hiking model, but doesn't include any built in base maps or waypoints.
Garmin eTrex
Garmin eTrex
eTrex Venture
Garmin eTrex Venture
If you'd like to spend a little more money, try the Garmin eTrex Venture ($170). This is a small step up from the basic eTrex with an included database of US cities. Note, this unit doesn't contain any "maps", only little dots for the cities.

Slightly better, is the Garmin eTrex Legend ($250), which comes with a built in base map of the entire United States (all major highways, freeways, cities, lakes, and rivers).
The Garmin eTrex Summit ($250) features a built in altimeter and electronic compass. However, since this unit was introduced earlier than the others, it doesn't include any base map or city database. Still a nice unit for general outdoor hiking however.

If you have money to burn, the best outdoor unit you can buy is the Garmin eTrex Vista ($350). This unit has a built in basemap of the entire United States (same as the eMap and eTrex Legend), but it also includes an electronic barometer, altimeter, compass, and 24 MB of memory for downloading topo maps and city maps from CDROM. This makes it the perfect all in one outdoor unit.
eTrex Vista
Garmin eTrex Vista


You could also try some of the older models which are often significantly cheaper. Garmin GPS 12 ($140) or 12XL (the XL has an antenna port, audible proximity warning, wider voltage power source acceptance, and a 20,000 city waypoint database). Note, the Garmin eTrex models are much lighter weight and smaller than the GPS 12 units, and only take 2 AA batteries instead of 4 (but last about the same length of time). They also have large, grayscale screens. However, the GPS 12 seems to be more strongly built and would take harsh outdoor conditions better. Magellan also has some good models available, but I'm not as familiar with their offerings.


Garmin eMap
Garmin eMap
If you're interested in buying a mapping receiver with a built in base map of cities and roads, I would recommend the Garmin eMap ($190). I have been using one of these for over a year now and still love it dearly. Don't make the mistake which I almost made of buying a Lowrance Globalmap 100 unless you plan to use it for fishing/hunting/boating. The Globalmap 100 is very bulky (you can't see how thick it is from the photos). It's heavy, has a small screen, and is very slow to respond to user actions when scrolling and such (it does have a fast GPS receiver however). The emap is significantly smaller and lighter, only uses 2 batteries instead of 4 (with about the same lifetime), and has a larger screen. Scrolling on the eMap is very fast and useable.

Note, the screen of the eMap is also larger than those of the eTrex units listed above, so for pure mapping, the eMap is still the best choice. The only drawback of the eMap unit is that it's not waterproof AT ALL. This makes it a poor choice for the serious hiker who is likely to get his/her unit wet at some point or another. The eMap is a strictly dry weather machine. It's also less durable than the eTrex units in terms of dropping it - the battery cover is similar to those often found on TV remote controls, so it pops off easily if you drop it.


Note, online Garmin manuals may be downloaded in PDF format from their website.

GPS Manufacturers   top

These are the four major manufacturers for consumer grade GPS systems with Magellan and Garmin being the largest. Many other companies also produce GPS systems however.
Casio GPS Watch
Casio GPS Watch


Where to Buy a GPS   top

Beware of good prices! GPS models are updated with different hardware and software versions from time to time. Therefore, when searching for a particular model of GPS (ex, Garmin 12xl), you may need to be sure it has the most up to date software & hardware versions. Some retailers may try to sell you an outdated model either out of ignorance or high sleeze-factor. Also, make sure to question sellers if you plan to purchase a unit on EBay to make sure you're getting the latest version. PS: Don't buy a Magellan Pioneer! I used to have one, and it's barely useable.


Frequently Asked Questions   top

A very brief list of some useful FAQ files. Check the links section below for more information.


Macintosh Information   top

For those of you using Macintosh computers (myself included), there are a variety of software options available. I have listed a few of the more popular ones. For information on making or buying USB or Serial cables to connect to your mac, visit the GPSy web page (for older macs) or the James Associates web page (for newer macs). If you have an iMac, G4, PowerBook G3, iBook, etc. made in the last few years, you'll want a USB cable (a bit pricey unfortunately). If you have an older mac, you'll want a serial cable (cheaper) which will plug into your printer or modem port. Unfortunately, it's not currently possible to import city level road detail from the Garmin MapSource CDROM since their software is Windows only. Therefore, to use this feature (until they update their software), you'll either have to buy Virtual PC (to run Windows on your mac), or find a friend with Windows.


Other GPS Page Links   top

Visit these pages for more in-depth information and links. Joe Mehaffey's page is probably the most extensive collection on the web.


You may submit dead links or short comments below:

Modified: 19 February, 2001
the webmaster

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