Best GPS with Map
So I'm FINALLY thinking about buying a GPS unit (probably a Garmin) but I'm curious what's the best unit (bang for the buck) that offers real time mapping. I'd really like to start traveling more to places I've never ridden and just have a map I can DL online so that I can see where the trailhead starts and lets me know when I'm off trail or need to make a turn. Does anyone have any suggestions? I'm open to different brands, and ideally I'd like to not break the bank but am willing to pay for the quality. Thanks in advance for the .02.
No bike GPS is really going to be able to tell you to make a turn on a mtb trail as a warning. It's not that it's not possible, but the basemap data is insufficient. Basically what you do is load some previous ride (your own or someone else's) and your GPS will beep at you if you deviate from that track, and tell you which way you have to go to get back on it.
Garmin is trying to make turn-by-turn mapping a possibility for mtb trails, but I wouldn't hold my breath that they'll get even halfway reliable trail data for the whole US. IMO, turn-by-turn is best left for the road, anyway.
Also, depending on where you intend to go, available downloads may or may not be very good. Some trails just don't get ridden with a GPS much, and even fewer folks upload their data online. I can't explain it, but I know of at least one near an urban area nearby that I know gets ridden often and raced on from time to time and there are almost no reliable GPS tracks posted on the most common upload sites (I can easily find tracks from the CX races held there, but it doesn't really use the singletrack trails). I wouldn't be surprised if it was a remote, infrequently traveled trail, but this one is far from it.
Because of that, sometimes the best you get is an overview map of the area. Sometimes a topo, sometimes even just a street map (especially if you're in a different country). You basically fill in the track from your ride to see where you've been, exploring along the way.
Best bang for the buck depends on what you want to do with it. If you want advanced training features plus mapping, you pretty much have to go with an Edge 705, 800, or 810. If you don't care about the training features at all, you can consider a handheld model, which will drop the cost pretty significantly. Handhelds handle track recording differently from fitness models, though. Track memory on fitness models tends to be limited by the number of "laps" but a lap can be just about any distance. On handhelds, track memory is limited by a certain number of points. For example, if you want to accurately record where you've been with 1 sec recording intervals, most handhelds will record a maximum of 10,000 points, which fills up quick at 1sec intervals. When that fills up, my Oregon 450 starts dumping the oldest 2,000 points into archive files, which are no longer visible on the screen. If you are relying on that data being visible, that's not so good. Kinda freaked me out the first time I was on a longer ride, and was returning on a trail I know I had ridden before, but my GPS didn't show my track there. Older fitness devices were like this, too. I had an Edge 705 that did this. The newer fitness models will record a track all day without interruption (I got a 7hr ride on my Forerunner 310XT earlier this year).
Another option which I think is pretty cool would be if you have a smartphone you will be carrying, anyway. A lot of people use them as their GPS, which works okay, but the GPS is less accurate in the phone. The Edge 510, though it does not have its own basemap, will send location information to a smartphone, superseding the phone's onboard GPS (esp if you turn it off). It will essentially work as a bluetooth GPS receiver (there is some discussion in this forum about using a bluetooth receiver to improve a phone's GPS reception, with pretty positive results), except the 510 has a built in cyclocomputer display for your bars. Your phone can stay protected in your pack until you need it for the map display. You can even keep the phone off if you like to save battery, powering up to check the map. If cost is a concern to the point that you really want the training functions and size of the Edge series, but can't quite spring for an 800 or 810, you can use a 510 WITH a smartphone and get most of what you're after map-wise.
Well, there obviously is the garmin 810. It pretty much does everything you want it to do and then some. Personally, to find out what people think about a gizmo, I read the amazon reviews. You'll find that most people are happy with it but there are also some issues (as there are with any device). If you are used to high-res screens from your phone, tablet or PC then you may find the screen resolution of the 810 disappointing. I know several people who like but don't love their garmin 800 (pretty similar to 810).
If you are really venturing into the wilderness where you might get seriously lost, I'd suggest a backup solution such as a paper park/topo map. I use offline topo maps loaded on my smartphone. If you do that make sure the app works when you don't have a signal. If you use a paper map bring another GPS or make sure your phone will give you gps coordinates when it has no signal.
Smartphone bicycle computer apps work very well under some circumstances for some people but are useless for guidance without a data signal. After you are home they will tell you precisely where you have been lost, though...
I'm not a fan of using another electronic device to back up an electronic device. Just doubles battery needs. Carrying a good quality paper map (I don't consider the freebies that are not drawn to scale that are handed out for free at park entrances to be a good quality paper map) is worthwhile in certain places. What I do is actually print out topos (with the trails hand drawn on them if necessary) when going somewhere I can't buy something better. Make sure you have a means of keeping your map dry, though. I've lost count of how many fairly expensive non-waterproof paper maps I've ruined after being caught in a sudden downpour. Lately I haven't needed to do the map printing thing, but we're opening up some new trails in a rather large state forest soon with a pretty extensive existing network of fire roads, and I think I'll be printing maps for that area, as the state forest staff most likely won't be printing good trail maps for visitors.
Originally Posted by borabora
I DIG the 510 suggestion as you can leverage it as needed. I guess I'll do some more digging for the GPS reception booster a la blue tooth. Ideally I'd like to be able to keep track of my ride, while still being able to use the map when I don't know which way to go. That said, keeping a legit topo map is probably the safest thing incase all shi7 hits the fan. Thanks for the detailed write up, it definitely points me in the right direction. Much thanks!
If you use the right app, you can have maps available for viewing and turn off the cell radio to save some battery. The class of devices are not so much reception boosters as they are an entirely separate GPS receiver. Chipset, antenna, usually a BT radio, etc. A good one will be a huge upgrade for the phone, though it doesn't do much about the limited battery life of many phones under heavy use. Something like the Edge 510 can function entirely on its own and give you all of the functions of a fitness GPS without any help from the phone because it's got its own display and interface. Yet, when combined with the phone, you get the live tracking you want (obv requires cell data signal), you get the maps on the phone, and a few other features. This setup works best if you're not checking the maps on your phone super often. If you'll be using the map on the GPS heavily, you'll want a mapping GPS so you don't have to pull the phone out of a pocket all the time.
Originally Posted by iWiLRiDe
What Mr. Hawk says.
However, if you decide to go the smartphone route and you own a recent high-end model (Apple, Samsung, HTC, LG, Sony etc.) then at least try it once without an external GPS receiver. The phones are getting better very quickly. My LG Optima G Pro (which is a big phone and therefore has space for bigger antennas) gets GPS fixes where my Garmin 500 doesn't.
Just adding my experience with my Etrex30.. I love it and it does what I need. I keep it in my pack logging my rides and can pull it out if I have to. To be honest I use a paper topo like Hawk mentioned as my primary direction source since I can just put it in my pocket. When I am hiking I have my GPS handy to use as my primary map though. So mine isn't bike riding specific whatsoever but I feel like it is a good multitool GPS.
Originally Posted by CannondaleF9
That one time when you when you are miles from anywhere and you absolutely have to use a map because you are lost !
That's when you can guarantee your electronic device will quit !
Always , always , ALWAYS carry a hard copy of your map (preferably waterproofed) in unfamiliar territory !
Hopefully you'll never need it but it's good practice to have it stashed in your pack (just in case) .
That's awesome, I didn't know this. Sounds like a very versatile combination. I got a Qstarz external GPS receiver to pair with my smartphone, which works great, but it obviously doesn't have the cyclocomputer function.
Originally Posted by NateHawk
"Two wrongs don't make a right, but three rights make a left."
— Ty Webb