Choosing a handheld GPS device

Choosing a new GPS DeviceLove them or hate them, GPS devices are rapidly becoming more popular for all kinds of outdoor pursuits. They can be used for checking your position, following a pre-defined route and automatically recording your route. Some offer additional features, such as cameras or altimeters. Here’s the Ordnance Survey guide to choosing a handheld GPS device.

What do you need it for?

The first thing to decide is what you need to use the device for. You get GPS devices for cars, motorbikes, bicycles, and on foot. Each of these is an area in their own right, so I’ll be concentrating on handheld GPS units designed for waking, geocaching, orienteering and other outdoor activities.

If you just need to confirm your position in latitude/longitude in an emergency or as a backup for traditional map and compass navigation, you probably only need one of the simpler GPS devices. The smallest GPS devices are the watch size ones, but these are targeted mainly at the sports market, and are designed to record speed and distance, but generally do not give your location, and do not have any on screen mapping.

If you are looking to partly replace a paper map, you will need a device that shows maps on-screen, preferably with a reasonable screen size and maps covering the right area in the best scale.

Choosing a Handheld GPS

Dedicated GPS, Smartphone or Tablet?

Most makes of smartphone and tablet come a choices of mapping, from simple apps that just show the position to full on screen mapping. If you already own a phone or tablet, these can be a cheap way to get a GPS device, with the bonus of not having to carry an additional piece of equipment. They generally sport cameras, compasses and other add-ons that can make them an attractive option.

However, most of the apps do not work when there is no mobile signal, or have reduced functionality. As many of the places you are likely to be using GPS navigation have poor mobile coverage, you need to ensure the app downloads all the maps you need to the devices local memory. Some mapping apps offer caching, where the map can be opened where you have a data connection and is then stored temporarily on the device, but these can be unreliable if you move off the edge of the cached area, or even restart the app.

To avoid this, look for apps which allow you to download maps to the device memory, such as our own OS Maps.

One other drawback with smartphones or tablets is that few are designed to be weatherproof. The simplest solution is keeping them in a waterproof pouch, ensuring you can still see the screen and operate the controls. You may also want to consider adding a case or other protection from knocks or drops.

Lastly, check the battery life of your device. If you are relying on a GPS as your main navigation method, most tablets or smartphones (unlike dedicated GPS units) do not have easily replaceable batteries. Bring a spare battery, an external battery booster or some other means of recharging if you are going to be using any GPS device. If you use a smartphone, be aware that it is also your emergency call device, so you do not want to be stranded with no GPS and no phone when the power dies, or it gets damaged. Think about carrying a spare, fully charged phone for emergencies.

It’s all about the maps

Satmap Handheld GPSWhen choosing your GPS device, pay attention to the maps included and available as extras. Most GPS devices and apps come with a basemap, but these are often at road mapping scales, and not really suitable for walking or off-road uses. For the UK, Ordnance Survey maps are available as options from most of the main brands of dedicated GPS. These have the advantage of matching your paper map exactly simplifying your route planning.

When you are buying a new GPS unit, look at the bundled maps on offer. You will often find that you can save a lot of money by buying them at the same time instead or purchasing them later. Generally, maps bought for different GPS brands or different apps are not transferable to another brand of device, so ensure you are happy with the functions before buying add-on maps.

Some of the dedicated GPS units come with external software, such as Garmin’s Basecamp or Memory-Maps’ PC version. This makes it easier to transfer maps and routes from a PC to one or more GPS units.

Even with full mapping on an electronic device, we always recommend taking a paper map (and compass) as a backup. You never know when a device might fail, get lost or damaged. If you are forced to stay out longer that expected that is exactly when you most need a reliable map – and when the batteries are most likely to give out.

What Functions do you want of a GPS Device?

GPS Position: All GPS devices do this, but some only report latitude/longitude while others will report also OS grid reference, altitude and distances to the next waypoint. Generally, more expensive GPS units will give more accurate results in less ideal situations, such as under trees, in ravines or near buildings. This is not something you can usually test yourself, so you may have to rely on reviews or recommendations.

On screen mapping: If you have a device that shows a map on screen, check it is available in the correct scale. Check how well the screen performs under different light conditions, from direct sunlight to low light or torchlight. Brighter screens are more usable, but often at the cost of shorter battery life. Also check the display resolution, as high resolutions will show more detail on the map.

Batteries: Bigger screens and more features tend to use more power, either shortening batter life or adding to the weight. Check the expected batter life meets your needs, whether you are a day walker or a multi-day hiker. Replaceable batteries in standard sizes are a big advantage for longer trips, as it’s easier and cheaper than proprietary battery packs or recharge kits.

Waterproofing and durability: Dedicated GPS units are generally designed to cope with rain, while some can handle full submersion. If the device does not have one included, a rugged case can make it easier to hold and more drop resistant.

Buttons and touch screen: Some devices now use touch screens, and while these can make it more intuitive to use they are also harder to use with cold hands or when wearing gloves. Most touch screens on dedicated GPS devices are designed to work while wearing thin gloves, but thicker gloves will make accuracy difficult.

Magnetic compass: Some GPS units have an included magnetic compass, which allows you to check the direction you are facing easily. Without a magnetic compass you will have to move a short distance to the GPS device can calculate the direction you are moving.

Memory: Maps can take a lot of storage space, so ensure the memory is sufficient for the maps you are going to be using. Some devices use external memory cards, while some have only internal memory, while others have a combination of the two. External memory cards do have the advantage of being easily interchangeable, while internal memory usually requires a data connection.

Connectivity and software: Check what connections your device has – the most common in USB which makes it easy to connect to any modern computer. Many of the dedicated GPS devices come with software for adding maps, and may also include route planning abilities.

GPX files are one of the standard formats for importing and exporting GPS routes. They consist of a series of points, and being able to import and export GPX files will allows you to import and export routes to other programs, such as OS Maps. This is a really useful function for sharing routes, or downloading new routes to discover. If you want to be able to do this, check that either the GPS device itself or the accompanying software is capable of handling GPX files.

Barometric altimeter: GPS is not very accurate for calculating the altitude, so if you want a higher accuracy look for a device with a barometric altimeter. This uses the air pressure to give a more accurate reading for altitude.

Built in camera: Record your travels with a built in camera. Having one in the GPS saves carrying a separate camera, and photos will generally be tagged with their exact location, which can be really useful for building a trip scrapbook later. The higher the MP (megapixels) of the camera, the more detailed the image will be, but you will generally find a dedicated camera will have more options and create better photos, especially in more difficult conditions, such as poor light or reflective snow.

Route Recording: Being able to record your route allows you to review it and share it later. It’s great for settling arguments about how far you have travelled (and the vertical difference). If your device has GPX export you can then send this to others as a file, allowing them to follow your route more easily.

Waypoints and routes: Being able to store multiple routes on the device gives more flexibility, especially for longer trips. You will also be limited by the maximum number of ‘waypoints’, showing the next destination. Higher is better, but if you only plan to go on day trips a handful of routes and a few hundred waypoints are sufficient, while those on multi-day trips will need more storage. Some downloaded routes can have a lot of waypoints, and recording a route can create a lot of waypoint data as well, so having more space ensure you do not lose the end of the route. Some devices store imported routes and recorded routes separately, so you may have two different numbers.

Note that different manufacturers do not use the same terms for routes, especially the difference between recorded routes and created/imported routes, so when looking at storage make sure you understand the difference.

GPS with Bike mountingAccessories: Depending on your needs you might want to add some accessories, so check what is available for your device. Some of the accessories include:

  • Chargers for car power sockets
  • Car, bike or motorbike mounting kits
  • Heart rate monitors
  • Storage and rugged carry cases
  • Belt clips


New GPS devices and apps for smartphones or tablets are coming out all the time and will undoubtedly add new features, but as long as a GPS device is suitable for your personal needs you may not always need all the latest options. For a range of GPS devices from the top manufacturers, check our GPS Devices section in the shop.

Update 11 Nov 2014
I’ve just added a page that allows you to quickly compare the key features of the handheld GPS devices that we have in the shop. Visit it at:

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123 Responses

  1. Kevin Reynolds

    What is te best hand held SatNav compatible with OS getamap? I need one that I can plan a route to upload to the hand held.

    1. Jonathan

      Hi Kevin

      OS getamap has a the ability to import and export routes directly to most Garmin devices, so for compatibility they are the best brand to consider. They have a big range of devices available. It uses a bit of software from Garmin called Garmin Communicator – you can see their device compatibility list here. However, most of the handheld GPS devices allow you to drag and drop exported route files between your PC and the device. The only extra step incolved is exporting the route from OS getamap.

      For walking, we like the Garmin Oregon 600 with included Discoverer Map. It’s a solid performer that gets consistently good reviews, and comes with mapping for all of Great Britain included in the price. However, it does depend what your budget is and what you want from your new GPS. Use the checklist above to create a shortlist with the functions that you need, and then look for options within your budget. Don’t forget that if no mapping in bundled with the device, you will have to buy the areas that you are interested in, normally directly from the manufacturer.

    2. John Kedar

      Hi Jonathon
      I am student and have to do a geological map survey as part of my coursework – our intent is the Glydders/Tryfan area. I am looking for a GPS that has some very basic data logger capability, ie can record points on the ground, along with a photograph. I also want to be able to use much larger map scales than 1:50,000, certainly 1:25,000 and even imagery. The only data you sell seems to be UK 1:50k coverage. or can I download data of all types from GETAMAP and then switch between datasets on t6he GPS.
      Tall order, any ideas?

      1. If you want to integrate the camera with the GPS, the top option we have at the moment is the Garmin GPSMAP 62sc. It has a 5mp camera integrated. Another other option is one of the more advanced SLR cameras that include a geotagging feature used in conjunction with a GPS, or recording positions manually with a more basic camera.

        Unfortunately, maps for GPS devices cannot be shared as each manufacturer licences the maps and creates the actual files in a different way, so a map image created in OS getamap will not work on a GPS. However, Garmin do offer 1:25 000 scale maps – the full range is on their web site at ww.garmin.com/uk/maps/onthetrail.

        Lastly, you could look at using a mobile phone or tablet with the OS Mapfinder app. This allows you to download just the 100km2 map tiles you need, and your phone probably already has a decent camera with location tagging. This is much cheaper if you already have a compatible phone or tablet, but battery life is an issue for most users so look at an external power supply to keep the internal battery topped up.

    3. Bob Ditchfield

      Hi Jonathan
      I am considering a hand held gps device ,my main outdoor hiking takes place in Scotland on the west coast what would you recommend?

      1. Any of the devices work well anywhere in the UK, so it really depends what other features you are looking for. Personally I’d go for an altimeter for the west coast to track my height gained. If you want to use a GPS as your main navigation device a big screen is really useful – the Garmin Montana and Satmap Active 12 are the top picks here, but they are the most expensive.

        If you just want a backup to traditional navigation, the eTrex series is robust and reliable, although the eTrex 10 has very limited functionality as you cannot add maps. For a quick compare of all the GPS units for walking, look here.

  2. I’ve started using Esri’s ‘Collector for ArcGIS’ app which means I can access OS Mastermap basemaps on my smartphone to plot my location. Sadly, GPS accuracy on these devices is poor, so I would like to use a handheld GPS device which works with iPhone and Android. Does such a device exist?

    1. Jonathan

      I’ve done a quick bit of research, and at least with Android you can use an external receiver that should be more accurate than the built in ones on most phones and tablets. I’ve not tried this, but the Garmin Portable Bluetooth GPS and GLONASS Receiver should be able to do the job. On the other hand, I’ve found the GPS on a Nexus 7 tablet to be pretty accurate in most conditions, although there is still a margin of error.

  3. Jenny

    My sister and her partner are walking through England, France, Spain and Morocco in aid of Macmillan Cancer Charity in March. They were talking about getting a handheld GPS to take with them and I’d like to get one for them but have no idea where to start! They will be relying heavily on it due to their terrible map reading skills!

    1. Jonathan

      Hi Jenny.
      For wide coverage Garmin is probably the brand to look at, and the GPSMAP 62s is a solid performer in their handheld GPS range. It has the advantage of using SD cards, which means you can increase the storage capabilities, or switch cards as you change country.

      While Ordnance Survey do not supply maps for other European countries, they are available from Garmin. They will tend to look slightly different for each country as they all have their own mapping conventions, but generally the basics are the same.

      However, do look at the notes above to decide what other features are important and likely to be of use before making a final decision, and ensure you have back-up paper maps in case the batteries ever run out mid-walk!

  4. Paul C

    Hi Jonathan
    I am looking for a GPS that I can use in the UK and all of Europe . It would be used mainly for walking/hiking adventures. Will be used by all members of the family. My younger son would like to learn geocaching, to which I can see the whole family to get involved with.

    Been looking on line and just seem to have been confused with so much choice and how they vary in price.
    Realised early don’t want touch screen.
    However that still leaves copious GPS handholds available.
    Can you help in recommendations.

    1. Jonathan

      Hi Paul.

      For the price, the the Garmin GPS 62 series is a good option. It’s flexible due to the ability to take additional maps on SD card, robust and capable of handling almost anything you may want to use it for. It’s a solid performer, but the screen is not huge, making it more practical as a handheld unit rather than a dashboard or handlebar mounted one. It comes in three versions, depending on whether you want a built in camera, compass and altimeter.
      For Great Britain, this version (https://www.ordnancesurvey.co.uk/shop/gps-device-gpsmap-62s-gps-bundle-with-gb-discoverer-1-50k-full-country.html) comes with Ordnance Survey 1: 50k mapping included, which is cheaper than buying it separately.

  5. Tia

    Hi, I was wondering if anyone could advise me as to what the best GPS hand held device would be for mapping routes along a coastline?

    Basically I need to map or track my route and the co-ordinates I am at along a coastline (Like a start and end point) so that by the end point I will have data about the distance I have traveled and the co-ordinates along the route I have followed? This is so I can map the route using a GIS software to map coastal erosion along the coast, so I need the distance and the actual positions on the earths surface along the line I follow?

    Thank you for any help and advice given 🙂

    1. Jonathan

      Most GPS devices are able to track your route, but for this sort of application you need to have plenty of storage space for data points, and good battery life, while other considerations like screen size are secondary. The Garmin GPSMAP 62s is a solid all-rounder with 200 tracks storage (10,000 points). The upgraded 64s has the same level of tracking, but has a few other features as well.
      If you don’t want to use any of the other GPS functions, like lat/long or on-screen maps, you can go for something like the Fenix wrist GPS. Often used by sports people to log distance and time, it has 100 saved tracks and 10,000 points. Both of these are available in our shop.
      Lastly, with no screen at all to maximise battery life, mini GPS loggers just log your position so you can download it later. They offer none of the navigation functions of other handheld GPS devices and are designed to start and forget. It’s not an item we stock, but a search for ‘mini GPS logger’ gives a few options – I can’t recommend one as I’ve not tried using one.

  6. Tom Munnery

    Hi Jonathan,

    Do you have any recommendations for a GPS device that I can get 1:25,000 OS mapping on? I’m a little befuddled by all the options, but the requirements would be a large screen and 1:25,000 OS mapping. I would use it for walking, cycling, geocaching and maybe kayaking. I have very limited funds, so any tips would be preferred!


    1. Jonathan

      One option is the Garmin eTrex 20. It has a decent size screen (3.5 x 4.4 cm) and comes with ‘Birdseye’ that allows you to choose an area of Britain to get 1:25 000 scale mapping for. Although this will not give you the entire country, hopefully this will be enough to cover the main area you visit. You can add more mapping, but this will add to the cost. It’s compatible with bike and other mounts and it’s water rated to IPX7, which makes it splashproof and water resistant to 1m.
      If you are looking for a big, bright screen the GPS units by SatMap meet this criteria, with a bigger screen than the Garmin device. At the moment, the Active 10 is being replaced by the new Active 12, which does mean you can get the Active 10 at some good discounts from RRP. However, it only has 1:50 000 scale mapping, so it does not quite meet your other criteria – but on the plus side it does cover the entire country in the purchase price, making this a good option if you plan to travel more widely.
      Links: eTrex 20 Active 10

  7. Sachin

    Hi Jonathan,

    I am looking for a GPS device that I can use in India? Also, will the coordinates provided by this GPS device be in-sync with Google Earth coordinates (can I use the coordinates provided by this GPS device directly with Google Earth with reasonable accuracy)?

    1. Jonathan

      All GPS units will give you your Lat/Long anywhere they can get line of sight to enough GPS satellites. However, on it’s own this is not that helpful as you need to be able to relate that to a position on a map or feature on the ground. The accuracy of the Lat/Long on Google Earth will depend on exactly how they are calculating it and reflecting in on their maps, as there are variations between different methods, but Google may be able to give you some more information for India. The differences are usually in the tens (rather than hundreds) of meters, which is usually accurate enough for most purposes.

  8. Pamela

    Dear Jonathan

    I need a hand-held GPS for recording the locations of plants, something simple but fairly accurate. I do not need maps, compass, camera, etc. Altitiude would be useful. Can you suggest something, please?

    Thank you,


    1. Jonathan

      As you said, if all you want to do is record the current position, either in a notebook or some other way then you just need reasonable accuracy and a clear display. Long battery life would be a bonus as well. I think you should take a look at the Garmin eTrex 10. It’s a solid GPS, and while it does have some on screen mapping, it also works very well as just a lat/long display, and from the reviews it is accurate in even tough conditions.

      The black and white screen keeps power consumption down, and you can use it to record your routes as well, which may be useful, especially if trying to plot larger areas of vegetation, such as forest boundaries. However, the only negative is that it does NOT record altitude. However, you can use some online resources to find the altitude for a given point – there is not an Ordnance Survey one at the moment although out development team are working on one. You can also use out OS Locate app (on iPhone for now, on Android soon), which gives an altitude based on GPS signals, although it is not particularly accurate due to the nature of how GPS can be used to calculate height.

      If you do need a barometric altimeter included, the more expensive Garmin GPSMAP 64s includes one, along with all the benefits of the eTrex.

  9. Nick Edwards

    I’m doing some Geological mapping in the Spanish pyrenees this summer. What would be the cheapest handheld GPS available? I only require a simple grid reference to reinforce where I think I am but it would have to be in the spanish grid system.
    Thanks, Nick.

    1. Part of the problem is working out which System is used on your Spanish map. I’m not an expert, but from some research there seems to be a potentially a couple in use. If the maps you have use WGS84 Lattitude and Longitude, all Garmin and MemoryMap devices are able to be switched to this format, and should give pretty good results.

      There are some useful suggestions on this forum post at OutdoorsMagic: http://www.outdoorsmagic.com/forum/walking-and-climbing/spanish-maps/9725.html, but does anyone else have experience with a GPS in Spain that they could recommend?

  10. Marion Trew

    I am about to take a pensioners gap year during which I will be travelling throughout the whole UK. I am a keen, low level walker and normally use 1:25000 maps but I am daunted by the thought of having to buy and take with me paper maps of the whole of the UK. Perhaps a GPS system would be suitable but they don’t seem to use 1:25000 maps. I would also like to fix the unit to my motorbike, and I presume that if I had 1:25000 maps it would function as a guide when I am on my bike. Can you advise what would be the best unit for me, given that low cost is not a priority, excellence of use is my main objective.

    1. If you are using it instead of any paper mapping, you will need a big screen and the ability to add the 1:25 000 scale maps. Both Garmin and Memory-map have 1:25 000 scale mapping as an optional add-on for the devices that accept additional memory cards.

      Garmin Discoverer is available for all National Parks, or you can use their Birds-Eye scheme to buy the areas you need, and the Montana and Oregon ranges offer large screens. Memory-map has a 2014 OS Explorer Upgrade as an option purchased directly from them that adds the OS Explorer scale mapping to Memory-map GPS devices.

      Both brands GPS are waterproof, but not really designed for use on a motorbike. You can get handlebar mounts designed for cycle use that may be adaptable, and if they are situated behind a fairing or screen they would be reasonably protected from the weather, but it is probably something you want to ask the manufacturers to see if they have been tested in that way. Garmin offers turn by turn navigation on road maps on most units, as does the Memory-Map Adventurer 3500. Both have car chargers available as options.

      For the most detailed specifications and advice, the best place to look is the manufacturers web sites:

      And you can buy them from our GPS Devices section in the shop: http://www.ordnancesurvey.co.uk/shop/gps-devices.html

      As an alternative to paper maps, we do have the OS Getamap service that will allow you to print smaller maps on A4. One or two are generally enough for each days walking. If you are planning on numerous short trips and staying at home or in a hotel, this might be a useful option, paired with a simpler GPS to check your position. We do recommend taking a paper map and compass where at all practical, but at a minimum take spare batteries and ensure you have a working mobile with you at all times.

      Whichever way you choose, we hope you enjoy your adventures!

  11. Tree man

    Hi. Just wondering what you’d recommend for plotting the position of trees on an OS base map. The trees are in an open field / parkland and we’d want to plot the edge of a woodland canopy as well (without going too far into the woodland).

    Is there something cheap (£2-300) that would give me the accuracy (2-3m) or will it require something a bit more sophisticated?

    1. Most of the GPS devices for Walkers would be suitable for doing this – accuracy on will be similar. To plot on an OS map most accurately, look for one that comes bundled with the relevant mapping. If you only cover a relatively small area, the Etrex 20 Birdseye bundle includes the ability to download up to 600km2 of OS maps from Garmin and is a decent budget option. You can add the points as waypoints or as new Points of Interest.

      Also have a look at the Satmap Active 10 (out of stock,right now, but back in later this week). It’s a bit more expensive, but does come with OS maps for all of the UK in 1:50k scale.

      In either case, being under the tree canopy can reduce accuracy, so stay still and give the device a few moments to get the best lock-on for maximum accuracy.

  12. Barry

    Hi, all I want is a small (watch type, if possible) gps device that will give me an occasional OS grid ref.

    I’m perfectly happy using old technology, but occasionally I want to liberate myself and meander, especially if I’m out running. This generally entails getting lost and having to re-orientate myself with a map. It might be handy to have a light weight, small GPS that I could use to get a one-off grid ref and then be back on the map.

    Many thanks.

    1. Most of the watch type GPS devices are designed more for tracking distance and time – and while they will give a location as a Lat/Long most don’t have UK Grid references. One that does is the Garmin Forerunner 910XT – there is a menu option to switch to the UK Grid Reference system. You can also use the Lat/Long co-ordinates on an OS map as they are marked around the edge on the black border.

      The other option, if you have a recent Android or Apple smartphone is the OS Locate app. This gives just the current grid ref. It is as accurate as your devices GPS allows it to be, which is generally good enough for rough location depending on the device and conditions.

      1. Barry

        Thanks Jonathan. The Forerunner’s a little more pricey and offers more than I need.

        I’ve just managed to pick up an old Garmin eTrex for next to nothing. This is obviously bigger than I wanted, but surprisingly it’s only 95g (plus batteries), so is reasonably light.

        Thanks for the reminder of Lat/Long markings. I’d somehow forgotten the OS maps included these. Stupid really !

        So far I’ve managed to avoid the “need” to buy a smartphone, so I don’t have that option…

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    1. Most of the GPS devices we have do have a car navigation option, but to be useful you need to have a decent size screen as well. The Garmin eTrex 30 is a solid performing GPS device that has turn by turn navigation road as an option, with a decently bright 2.2 inch screen.

      For a bigger budget, the Montana 600 has larger screen, and has optional mounts to attach to your car for more regular use.

      Hope this helps!

  14. Stephen Hesketh

    Hi Jonathan.
    Wonder if you can help me also.
    I wish to purchase a GPS to identify the location of old mine shafts (position plus altitude) circa 1 metre accuracy, sometimes in valleys and/or under trees!
    I wish also to be able to download and view large scale maps for the above and general walking activities so will need a screen. Also distance walked. An inbuilt compass would be good as would a camera function but I don’t need anything very special in the latter as I usually have a Nikon dSLR with me on outings.
    Mainly UK use but if I could use it in normal European Spanish/Greek holiday destinations (including the Canaries) that would be useful.
    I’m not bothered if not the very latest kit/touch screen etc and, just to keep it interesting, could this be done for £200-350?
    Thanks and regards

    1. Hi Stephen

      If you need to get to a consistent sub-1 metre accuracy, you are not likely to be able to do this with a consumer GPS device. They can be that accurate in ideal conditions, but it is very dependent on satellites in view, tree and cloud cover and local conditions. That’s why we use the the OS Net ground stations to increase the accuracy of our surveys. Most of the consumer handheld GPS devices you can buy will offer similar levels of accuracy, if they are from a recognised brand.

      To deal with the other issues, you will probably want a barometric altimeter (more accurate than a GPS altimeter) and a magnetic compass. Some GPS devices do come with a camera as well.

      The Garmin GPSMAP 62sc is £299.99 (current price) for the version with the UK basemap. The same model bundled with OS 1:50,000 scale mapping is £399, so a little out of the budget. If you decide to stick with your dSLR (the quality will be better), you can get the 62s with no camera and including maps for £299.99.

      There are some other options, but most that include an altimeter are outside your budget. I’ve focussed on the 1:50 000 scale OS mapping – you can get 1: 25 000 scale as well, but this tends to be more expensive, especially if you need a larger area. If you do need the 1: 25 000 scale maps, look for the ‘Birdseye’ bundle that gives discounts when you buy maps with a new device, but lets you choose the exact areas later.

      All the above have the option for adding additional maps for other countries. These can be purchased from the manufacturer as you need them.

  15. Stephen Hesketh

    Thanks for this Jonathan. Is OS Netground available to GPS users or would I have to be looking at something that could pick up the ?European / Russian satellites? Sorry if these are daft questions!
    The camera was more of a lower-ranking wish as I normally have my dSLR with me on mining trips anyway. It’s the horizontal and vertical accuracy I crave!
    On which note the 1: 25 000 maps would be the ones I’d go for. Sounds like a combined birthday and Christmas present might be coming up!
    Thanks and best regards

    1. Hi Stephen. I’m not aware of any consumer device that uses Netground – it is really intended for civil engineering and other uses where highly accurate positioning is critical, and the receivers and associated computers are neither light nor cheap! Some of the newest GPS devices can use the Russian GLOSNASS satellites. The main advantage is when you are in a location where too few of the US GPS satellites are visible, as it gives you a better chance of getting a quick location fix.

      1. Stephen Hesketh

        Hi Jonathan … back from a GPS-free mining holiday in Cornwall! You mention some of the newest GPS devices and the dual US/Russian satellite systems. Do you have any recommendations … bearing in mind my likely also needing 1: 25 000 scale mapping as well.
        Thank you once again.

        1. The Garmin eTrex 10, 20 and 30 use GLOSNASS, but only the 20 and 30 allow maps to be added. The Garmin Oregon 600 has touchscreen also supports GLOSNASS as well. I’ve not really tried to measure a difference, but from the documentation the main benefit is that it tends to give a faster lock-on (the time from tuning on the device to getting a location fix), and I suspect it will be slightly less likely to lose the position when there are trees, cliffs or buildings blocking line of sight to the sky.
          You are not likely to see a considerable increase in accuracy over the GPS system as both networks have similar accuracy.

          If you are interested in GPS and OS maps, have a look at this blog – we are looking for your views on changing the paper maps to work better with GPS: Proposed changes to latitude and longitude representation on paper maps – tell us your thoughts

  16. Dusty

    Jonathan, On a mobile phoneOS app, can I plan my walk by inputting a list of waypoint co-ordinates, or do I need a GPX file? The app finds waypoints OK but can’t seem to “join the dots” so to speak. I use OS maps downloaded onto my phone and am very pleased with this function.

    1. On our OS Mapfinder app, you can plan a route on screen by creating a series of points, just using the map in ‘plan’ mode. Clicking on the map creates your waypoints and it will draw straight lines between those points, so you will need to manually create a route to navigate along paths or around other features. Other apps will work differently.

      GPX files are a quick and standardised way of transferring a planned route between different software or even map types – basically a shortcut to entering all the waypoints manually. They are a useful way of planning on a bigger screen on your PC before transferring to the smaller screen on a handheld device to take with you.

  17. Dusty

    Jonathan, many thanks, I did this recently as you described but was hoping to just input the actual waypoint references from the Pathfinder Guide, but I had to manually put the nearest points on the map where I could make them, out one at a time. I think it would be a good addition to allow a chain of waypoints to be made on the app though! Saves me buying a GPS for this.
    BTW, are the maps I downloaded to my devices there for ever or just a period of time?

    1. The maps are yours for the lifetime of the app, and will get occasional updates as we update our mapping so you can re-download newer versions for free. The maps are saved on the local memory, as long as you do not delete the app or maps they will still be there.

  18. Dave

    Hi Jonathon

    Firstly I must tell you that I am a complete novice to GPS’s and am sorry if this seems a bit simplistic to the techies out there.

    I am in the very early stages of planning a Lands End to John O’groats walk which I would like to attempt when I retire in a few years time. Is it possible to pre programme a route into a hand held GPS that will give an audible warning when you reach a point where you have to turn left or right. I know this sounds lazy but although i am quite capable of reading a map, I thought a pre programmed GPS would possibly make the whole experience even more enjoyable.
    Best Regards

    1. Almost all GPS devices can accept a pre-planned route, generally as a GPX file. These can be created either on the device (although not all allow this and small screens make it painful) or on a separate mapping application, like our own OS getamap.

      You want to really set it up so you have one file per days walk to keep them manageable.

      In the simplest form, your GPS will just have a big arrow pointing to the next set waypoint, so by placing them close together at every turn or junction you will always have the next point to aim for.

      Of course, if you have on-screen mapping, you can see the planned route and your current location as a big arrow on top, which makes following the route pretty easy.

      Once caveat is that you can’t trust it 100%. If you miss a waypoint it may keep directing you back, and if the batteries run out you are stuck, so keep the maps in the bag as back-up, and think about some other way of checking your position in an emergency, such as our free OS Locate app.

  19. Dave

    So, Jonathon is it as simple as downloading an OS getamap onto my laptop planning a route an then uploading it to a GPS via a USB lead? Are all GPS’s compatable with OS getamap?

    1. Almost all Garmin devices will communicate directly using their ‘Communicator’ software that talks to OS getamap. For others, there is an extra step involved – save your planned route as a GPX file and then copy the GPX file to the device, normally by plugging it in with a USB cable. See Top tips for using OS getamap for info on Garmin Communicator.
      The planned route will then be in the device memory and you can select it, generally from a list of saved routes.

      1. Dave

        Hi Jonathon
        Thank you for your advice, I suppose I’d better start hinting at what I would like for Christmas this year.

  20. Jude


    I’ve never used GS before, but I’ve moved to the Calder Valley, West Yorkshire and want a hand-held GPS for walking here and all over lancs and north Yorkshire.

    But. Mobile phone coverage around here is awful, as is the car’s satnav, with lots of dead spots. Will I have the same problem with GPS?

    If coverage is OK I’d like something rugged with a decent size screen and1:25000 mapping but realise I may have to make do with 1:50000, as I want an all of Britain map.

    Advice please… Jude

    1. GPS and mobiles use totally different signals, so a poor signal on one will not necessarily affect the other. The GPS signal comes from satellites, so for the best signal you need a clear view of as much of the sky as possible. Mountains, buildings or large trees will reduce signal quality, which means it takes longer to get a position, or you may not get one at all.

      This is most noticeable at the bottom of steep valleys and in street with tall buildings. Obviously being inside tends to block it as well.

      All the GPS devices we carry are designed to to be tough, and most are waterproof and will survive heavy rain and brief dunkings.

      Few of them offer 25K over all the UK as it’s expensive and takes up a lot of storage space, so you will find most are 50k maps. Satmap Active 12 gives a really big screen, but is correspondingly one of the most expensive. In the Garmin range have a look at the Oregon and Montana – the Montana is the bigger of the two. All of these are top-end GPS devices and have loads of features.

  21. TRISH


    1. I’ve not had any experience on using GPS devices outside Europe, so any of our other readers are welcome to jump in! Garmin and Satmap, our main suppliers don’t have many walking maps available outside Europe and the USA, mainly as few of these countries have particularity detailed maps available. The best option would be one with worldwide road mapping, so at least you can find you location relative to towns and roads. Garmin offer road maps of the areas you are interested in on the 62 and 64 series – you can but maps from the online Garmin store, and the hardware from our shop.

      For power, these devices have decent battery life using replaceable batteries, which is a good option. Have a look at solar power chargers or power generating stoves for recharging electronics during extended trips.

  22. Melissa

    Hi Jonathon, I am hoping you can help.

    I am looking to purchase a gps device for plotting the locations of about 600 gas, electricity and water meters on a map. They are almost all located within one city.
    I imagine using a device where I am stood by a meter, press a button and it basically plots my exact location on a map. I would then like to be able to rename the ‘waypoint’ to match the meter serial number of each meter. Finally I need to export those locations and re-import them to maps that can be viewed on an android device both on and offline. I saw further up on this page that you recommended the Garmin GPSMap 62 range. Would you recommend the same for this sort of job??

    Many thanks

    1. I’ve had to have a dig in the user manuals for this one. The Garmin GPSMAP 62 series, 64 series and the Satmap Active 12 all have the ability to add waypoints or POI and then re-name them. Once created you should be able to export this and import to most other mapping applications that support waypoints, including Garmin’s BaseCamp. I would test a simple waypoint file in whatever app you are planning to use to see how the renamed waypoints come appear.

  23. Mark Humphries

    Hi Jonathan

    I am looking at walking in Austria mainly Salzburg area and would like a GPS unit with 1:25k mapping do you have any units you would recommend

    1. Luckily, Austria is one of the countries with a long tradition of creating maps, and so you will find maps available for any of the brands of GPS that we carry, so you will primarily be looking at other features, such as screen size and battery life. For Garmin, ‘Birdseye’ might be the best choice as you could buy the area that you needed, while the other brands have European maps available to purchase from their websites.

  24. Janet

    I’m looking to buy my elderly father a hand held gps. He is a big walker very proficient at map reading with a compass etc. I want to get him an easy to use gps for the times he needs to be clear where he is on a walk etc I have been looking at the Garmin eTrex 20 Outdoor Handheld GPS Unit but not sure how easy it is to use. What would you recommend?

    1. The eTrex 20 you have identified is a good choice for a beginner, as it’s got limited features, so is easier to use, but still supports the familiar OS mapping. The only real drawback is limited screen size, which makes this better as a backup to a paper map rather than the primary navigation method. The GPSMAP62 series has a slightly larger screen making it more useful if you don’t want to keep referring to the map as well.

  25. Today world is changing along the time. New technology is advancing day by day and GPS is one of those technologies which have many applications in current world. Basically GPS is Global Positioning System (GPS) and it is a device that locates the location. It is totally done with usage of satellite technology.

  26. andy

    HI Jonathan can you help me please I’m looking to get a GPS for walking /hiking round the uk and to do geocashing has well would like a colour screen for maps look to spend £ 200 tops

    1. For your budget I wouild have a look at the eTrex 20. It has the colour screen and can accept geocaching files to add them as points. It comes with a basemap which is OK, but not really detailed enough for walking. If you want to get maps of selected areas you may want to look at the eTrex 20 Birdseye which includes some mapping, or pick from out full list of compatible maps.

      Please note that both the basic eTrex 20 and the maps are on sale until Friday 9th Jan.

  27. Dave

    Hi Johnathan,

    I spend a fair bit of time walking with my family in the UK and also in the Limousin area of France – 99% of my walking is off-road. I have a cheap Garmin at the moment that is about 3 years old that purely allows me to track where I have been and re-trace (think its an Etrex 10 or similar) but nowehre near powerful enough for what I want. Having got lost on a cold, wet evening in the New Forest about 5 years ago, my kids refuse to go out unless we have a decent satnav so walking in France is even more of a challenge !! Any suggestions on the best model for us please? Many thanks

    1. From your comments almost all of the devices in the ‘Walking‘ section of GPS would do the job. If you are familiar with the eTrex 10 you could have a look at the eTrex20 and eTex30. The 20 adds the ability to show a proper map on screen, along with following a pre-planned route, while the 30 has this and adds a magnetic compass and altimeter as well. They will be familiar to use, and if you have accessories like carrying pouches already they are the same size as your current model.

      However, bigger screens are easier to read, and now there is the choice of using a touch screen, which can be more intuitive than control buttons. Have a look at the big GPS comparison chart and compare the features you think would be useful.

  28. Mark

    Hi Jonathan

    I am thinking of getting my first GPS device and am struggling to decide between the garmin 62s and the 62.

    I would mainly use it for mountain walking but have never used such a device before and am unsure if its worth paying the extra for the 62s.

    I’m also a little unclear on how the maps work. There seems to be suggestion that the garmin GB Discoverer maps are included but these are 1:50 000 rather than 1:25 000 (OS Explorer) which I would usually use. Am I right in thinking I would need to buy theses as extras?

    1. As I’m sure you noticed, the difference between the GPSMAP 62 and 62s is the latter has a magnetic compass and altimeter. Without the magnetic compass, the 62 can only show your facing once you start moving – fine on an open plain, but possibly a little trickier on a narrow ridge where you do not want to be looking at the screen as you are walking. Saying that, as an experienced walker, I suspect you mainly want a GPS as backup to a traditional compass anyway.

      The altimeter is more useful to those where altitude and ascents are critical, like cyclists and mountaineers. It also gives great bragging rights by giving you instant information on total height gained and lost! Some also use it to help predict weather and temperature to ensure they adjust their layers early.

      Of the two, the most popular unit from our sales is the 62s.

      Maps are data files that sit in the memory of the device, and do need to be purchased separately – we have the most popular in the shop, but there is a larger range available directly from Garmin UK. There is a basic map already installed, but this is not really sufficient for walking, as it does not show much detail off-road.

      If you intend to use the GPS as a backup to a traditional basic map for route planning, the 1:50k scale mapping is generally fine. You can use it to calculate your position and then check that on the paper map if clarity is needed. However, if you want to use the GPS screen as the primary way of planning a route, you may well want to get the more detailed 1:25k maps. These are more expensive, but can be purchased in smaller areas if there is a particular place you tend to walk.

      Hope this helps!

  29. Joe

    Hi Jonathan

    I am looking for a GPS that will cover marine charts for kayaking and OS maps for hill walking, obviously it needs to be waterproof and be able to have both mapping systems loaded. What would you suggest as an option.

    1. Garmin does some really good marine maps that are compatible with many of their handhelds that are more designed for walking. We don’t stock them but have a look for ‘BlueChart g2’ in the online shop. Having maps on SD card makes swapping easier (no problems with running out of memory) so look for a device with SD card support. Lastly, you need at least IPX7 waterproofing as this will survive a dunk.

      Have a look at the GPSMAP 64 and 62 devices – there are a few to choose from with and without compasses, altimeters, Bluetooth, etc. so use the comparison table to check the main features. These are solid performers, have OS maps and marine maps available and are tough enough to take knocks, water and the occasional capsize.

      One big thing to watch is that these do not float, so secure it with a lanyard or consider using an extra waterproof case, as many of these will hold enough air to keep it afloat – but test it in the sink first!

  30. Len

    Walking sat nav newbie looking for help.

    I’ve a Garmin Oregon 600 with OS 1:25K South Downs National Park and New Forest maps on microSD card loaded. Is there a way to input traditional OS references such 823147 into the Garmin. I’ve only been able to find the degrees. min/sec type of input into the Where to box.


    1. I don’t have a 600 here to test, but you can go into options and switch to display the National Grid. Go to Setup>Position Format and search for an option for BNG (British National Grid). This will display it instead of Lat/Long. This may make the search work immediately. You can also try prefixing the search with the letters BNG, so ‘BNG 823 147’ for example.

      1. Len Hughes

        Hi Jonathan,

        Apologies for not replying sooner but I’ve not been around for a couple of weeks.

        Your suggestion worked really well, many thanks for your help with this.

  31. Andy C

    Hi Jonathan,
    I’ve got a chance of buying a Garmin 62, the lowest spec garmin of the range. I’m planning to do the coast to coast walk 8 days approx 114 miles. Do you think this Garmin will be up to it. Should I buy a s, st or c version at additional cost. Will I require more mapping with a basic version or c version? What is the best option in terms of maps, buy individual maps or buy the whole of the north of England – but not to cost a fortune… need some money for youth hostels also? Please help your experience will be invaluable…

    1. The Garmin 62 range is a solid performer, and will cope well with this length of route. For the model, it really all depends on whether you want the additional features. The ‘s’ adds a magnetic compass and altimeter, which can be handy, while the ‘c’ adds a camera – it’s not as good as a separate decent SLR, but for quick snaps it saves carrying two devices.

      The basic unit and the mapping used are the same across the 62 series. It’s usually far cheaper to buy the maps with the device, but many of the bundles are now being withdrawn by Garmin. There may be some old stock available in some retailers with appropriate mapping included. Any ‘Birdseye’ bundle may be a good choice as it allows you to select the area covered yourself.

      As the Coast to Coast is a major route, 1:50k mapping would be sufficient, although the more detailed 1:25k mapping is better if you want to divert off the main path, or use the GPS to plan your own routes in the area later.

      Note that the 62 range is slowly disappearing, as they are being replaced by the updated 64 models, but these are more expensive.

  32. Bob

    My son has recently got interested in geocaching. I still rely on my trusty map and compass but he has asked for a GPS device for his birthday, do you have any recommendations please.

    1. If you prefer a paper map and a compass, you just need something basic to tell you where the geocache is and where you are in relation to it. I’d have look at the ETrex20 – its got all the features you need, enough memory to hold the geocache database, and can be upgraded with better on screen mapping if you ever want to use it (although for an extra £10 the Birdseye bundle includes mapping, and is much cheaper than buying it separately.

  33. Zethu

    Hi Jonathan

    I’m looking for a GPS with high accuracy as I’m doing a study in a forest. I want to be able to get signal and precise locations in between canopes so I can be able to return to the plot easily. Which one would you recommend?

    1. Both the Garmin and Satmap brands have good accuracy – dedicated devices are generally superior to a mobile phone – but this is always going to be reduced by tough conditions. Going for one with both GPS and GLONASS (the Russian version) increases the number of potentially visible satellites and so gives faster lock-on and a better chance of an accurate reading. The Garmin eTrex 10, 20, 30 and GPSMAP64 all support it – although you may need to specifically activate it. I’d also suggest waiting at the location for a minute or two as this gives a bit more time for any device to calculate an accurate location.

  34. V Singh


    I was wondering if you came across any applications that has good data for South Africa and also allows you to work offline as well.

    We want to upload our own points into the application and have people navigate to those points.

    Kind regards

    1. I’ve not had the need (unfortunately) – so don’t have anything I can recommend. Have any of our other readers found and good resources for planning walking trips in South Africa?

    1. Hi Ian. The individual GPS manufacturers make decisions about how to package their mapping, rather than OS. You will find the mapping is often cheaper when bought with a device, but other than that have a look for a manufacturer that offers more flexible map sets.

      Satmap offers maps by county in 25k scale (see https://satmap.com/maps.html?cat=83&maps_scale=35) or Garmin offer their Birdseye Select allows you to select areas you want, within limitations – see http://www.garmin.com/uk/maps/onthetrail/. Hope this helps.

  35. Vikki


    We are using a handheld GPS device to plot locations of trees, but have found the locations don’t match up when overlaid onto OS MasterMap. Do you think this is likely to be an accuracy issue with our GPS/plots, or an issue with the base map we’re trying to view it on? In a previous post you recommend Garmin eTrex products for accurate positional plotting and we are looking at these, but it would be useful to have an idea of whether we will have the same issues with this product.

    Many thanks

    1. Garmin quote an accuracy of ~15m for most of their GPS devices, although it can be more accurate. Trees are tricky as the tree itself will block the weak GPS signals to some extent. The mastermap is built using the OS Net base stations and more accurate GPS receivers to give an accuracy of around 5cm.

      Do check that your device is set to use the same co-ordinate system as your map software, as this can also cause errors. Other than that, the other option is to go for professional level GPS equipment as used by surveyors, but this is substantially more expensive than a consumer level GPS.

  36. Chris

    Hi Jonathan I want a gps for hill walking ( Lake District. Gloucestershire. and also for mountain biking with the 3 options of routes and length please which one is most suitable no restrictions on budget just really want the most suitable. Thank you.

    1. You probably want something which specifically supports both activities – both the Satmap Active 12 and the new Garmin GPSMAP 64 series do this well, with customisable screens per activity type. Both also come with the option of a handlebar mount (you may need to contact manufacturers for these), are waterproof, and support road and off-road mapping. The big difference is whether you prefer a mainly touchscreen device (Active 12) or more traditional button controls (Garmin 64). Both of these are fairly recent to the market, so will be current for some time.

  37. Nisar

    Hi Jonathan,

    I have to record asset data and one of the fundamental necessities is to have the geographical location of each and every asset. Is there a GARMIN device that gives location details in 6 digit grid references? Easting and Northing in a format like this for example 574,602 – 168,267. Is there a device available that can give location details in this format?

    Many thanks,


    1. Most GPS devices can display the current location in a number of different formats, including various types of Lat/Long and OS Grid reference. They are accessible from the preferences / units menu. I don’t have any to hand to check how many digits they display in this format, but consumer grade GPS devices are only really accurate to 10-20m or so, so a six digit reference is not likely to be 100% accurate anyway.
      To get the most accurate reading, try to ensure the sky is as clear as possible (cliffs, trees and buildings will block the signal), and give the GPS unit as long as possible to lock on to the satellites.

  38. Great and helpful article, Jonathan.

    I personally use the Garmin e-trex and I can’t be happier with it. I actually like that it’s small and doesn’t have a touch screen. I normally use it for hiking and when it’s cold I appreciate that I can use it with my gloves on.

    I didn’t know it’s being discontinued in 2015. Do you know if Garmin is planning to release an upgrade? (e-trex40 or something similar)


    1. Hi Antonio. The new eTrex25 and eTrex35 are now out (see them in the shop here and here), but you may be disappointed that they are now sold as touch devices. I’ve just bought one for my own use, but have not had the chance to use it yet, but it looks like almost all functions are now on the touch screen.
      The touch screen is capacitative (like a smartphone) which will make it sensitive, but means it needs a bare finger to work. However, you can get undergloves with conductive fingertips that will work, or use a stylus. It soes mean that some functions will be faster and easier to get to, and hopefully give a more intuitive experience.

  39. Pat Turner

    I’m a 63 year old lady and I lead a walking group twice a month by reading the instructions of a walk or by map alone. We usual walk on footpaths and only walk for two – three hours. I find I don’t enjoy the walk as much as the other ladies who rely on me not to get them lost, as I am always referring to the map. I’ve been looking at the Oregon 600 or 650. I’ve been to a couple of retailers which wasn’t helpful as they just referred to your online spec. 1st question: if I didn’t want a camera on my GPS should I still go for the bigger memory so I can keep my personalized walks on the GPS? 2nd Q: Which map will I need TOPO, 1:25k or 1:50k? 3rd: Can I plug in the GPS to the computer so I can plan a walk?

    1. Hi Pat – I’ll try to answer your questions in order!

      1. Pretty much any walking GPS will have enough memory for your needs, especially if you buy maps on a plug-in SD card. The internal memory can store a lot of walks, and you can always remove old ones as needed. Larger memory comes in useful for long trips where you need to store a lot of routes, or for recording a lot of data such as heart rate, cadence and speed which is often used by cyclists and long distance runners.

      2. Your choice of maps is partly down to preference and activity. TOPO / basemap is mainly useful for road and river navigation, but normally does not have enough detail for much off-road use. The 1:25K and 1:50k is the same as the Explorer and Landranger maps respectively. 50k is usually enough for larger marked trails, but the additional detail on 25K is useful if you move off the main paths. If possible, use the same scale as the maps you are used to, but be aware the 1:25k mapping is generally substantially more expensive for the same area. You will need to buy the maps from the same manufacturer as the GPS, as they are not compatible with different makes.

      3. You can plan a route on a computer and then transfer it to a GPS. Most GPS providers will give you some software, or you can use our own OS Maps as well. You can also find pre-planned routes on a variety of websites. What you need is a GPX file, which almost all route planners can export. You upload this to a GPS, and it will then show the planned route on screen for you to follow.

      I hope this helps. I’d also suggest you encourage at least one other person in your group to help with planning and navigation. It will take the pressure off you a bit, and they may well get more enjoyment out of their walks when they have had a hand in planning them.
      For choice of devices, consider if you want a magnetic compass, barometric altimeter or other features. Your big choice now is interface. I prefer a more intuitive touch screen (now on the new Garmin ETrex series, Garmin Oregon as well as SatMap Active12) while others prefer to use buttons (Garmin 64 series), which means you don’t need to take off gloves.

  40. Eliza Grice

    Hi,I’m doing a sponsored walk for epilepsy research uk,from Wolverhampton to Blackpool,ive been looking at google maps for the walking routes and I’ve found 3 but some of the journey have no paths,and I’ve been trying to change routes so I can stay on course,I know its a distance but I’m doing it for a charity close to my heart,because having epilepsy can be hard and its sometimes depressing,I have a good family and there supporting me,but I’m stuck ,I need a really good walking sat nav but I’m on a budget,can u suggest a really good one that will help me please,hope to hear from you soon,thankyou,Eliza

    1. Hi Eliza. I’ve recently bought myself an Etrex25, which is the new budget one from Garmin. It’s fine for letting you know where you are, but you need to use a printed map as well as the screen is too small and low resolution to easily plan a route. If you are happy planning a route on OS Maps, you can upload the GPX file into the device and follow the path on screen, or just use the Grid Ref location to confirm where you are on a traditional paper map. They are currently £219.99: https://www.ordnancesurvey.co.uk/shop/gps/walking-gps/garmin-etrex-touch-25.html
      If you have a recent Android or iOS phone, you could also look at the OS Maps app, with a subscription so you can download the offline maps. Battery life is likely to be an issue here, so have a look at external re-chargers. Goal Zero does some cool ones that will recharge a phone 2-3 times and recharge from a solar panel as you walk, if you clip them to your pack: https://www.ordnancesurvey.co.uk/shop/outdoorgear/portable-power/venture-30-recharger.html

  41. Pingback : Route Planning – ajollylongwalkblog

  42. Tony Anderson

    Hi, I’m off to Fort William area of Scotland in a few weeks and on previous visits have always stuck to the popular mountains and routes for fear of getting into trouble or just not getting where I want to go. I have a basic knowledge of reading maps but would like to get a GPS to make things as foolproof as possible and. I’m happy to spend the money as I’m hoping that if I get it right I will start to get more adventurous. Which GPS would you recommend?

    1. Hi Tony. If you want to move to using a GPS as your primary navigation, you need a large, high resolution screen – the Satmap Active 12 is probably the best contender for this, but it is pricey. It has loads of functions, and the screen is big enough and clear enough to use for both planning and navigation.
      If you prefer to keep using a paper map as your primary navigation tool, I’d look for something that can at least display the local area of the map on screen. The Garmin Etrex Touch 25 will show the map on screen – however the small screen and row resolution make this more useful for confirming your location, rather then planning it.
      On both, you will also be able to pre-plan a route (such as by using OS Maps or by downloading a GPX file), and load it so it shows your location relative to the planned route.

  43. Tony

    Hi Jonathon, thanks for the advice Satmap Active 12 it is, pricey it may be but what price do you put on peace of mind.

    Thanks again Tony

  44. John Hale

    I have a Garmin trek 30 and really struggle to download maps from their website. It would seem they are not compatible with Windows 10 and the latest version of Internet Explorer or Firefox or Edge. I have also tried on my Mac and used Safari and Firefox. Garmin have given me instructions – none have worked.
    Do you have any ideas? Have others experienced similar issues?
    I am getting so fed up with it I am thinking of replacing the Garmin. Is there another manufacture, with responsive, good support facilities (which sadly Garmin don’t seem to have) that you would recommend?

    1. I’ve not experienced this myself, so can’t really offer help there I’m afraid – has anyone else found a fix? Do have a look at the SD card options for purchasing maps from Garmin, as these don’t need downloaded – you just install the card and reboot.

      Other than that, do have a look at SatMap, or if you are willing to wait we are currently working on OS branded GPS devices – see https://www.ordnancesurvey.co.uk/about/news/2016/compegps-os-produce-gps-units.html

  45. Lauren

    Hi there

    My dad has a Garmin Dakota 10 which was bought for him years ago and he’s never turned it on. He now needs a device where he can plan routes for long walks, and that it will show cross country footpaths etc so i’ve tried to use the device but it just makes no sense to me at all. When we turn it on it says ‘acquiring satellites’ and doesn’t move on from this. I’ve done google research but not finding anything which i understand so am considering just starting from scratch and buying a brand new product.

    What is the best one currently on the market that’s user friendly? Neither myself or my dad are very good with technology and i’ve read alot about having to buy seperate maps to download etc and it’s all going over my head?

    Do most products require seperate software to be installed on a PC and then loaded? And do you create the walk you want to do on a PC and then connect the device to download it?

    And are there any high street stores that sell these things so that someone could demostrate how to use it rather than us trying to figure it out for ourselves?

    Sorry for the silly questions.

    1. To answer vaguely in order:

      • ‘acquiring satellites’ means its looking for the GPS satellites. This can take a few minutes, especially on older devices, and won’t work indoors. Take it outside, turn it on and leave it for 10 minutes and see if it has worked. If it still fails it may be broken.
      • Almost all GPS devices, including yours, come with the ability to add more maps. For simplicity, buy one that has the maps you want already pre-installed. To show footpaths, you need UK 50k or 25K data (Landranger and Explorer mapping respectively). 25k is considerably more expensive, but shows more details. Maps are generally available either as a download, or as a physical memory card you can plug in to a slot. You need to get the maps from Garmin – you can’t use map cards from a different supplier.
      • It’s not mandatory to use a PC. You can plan a route on most GPS devices, but it’s hard work due to small screens and slow response. An easier way is to plan the route on a PC, and send it to the device by plugging it in with a USB cable. Garmin has their own software, or you can use our OS Maps web based mapping. These create ‘GPX’ files. This file, when saved to the device using the USB cable, shows up in the routes list.
      • Quite a few high street stores sell a limited range of GPS devices. I’d suggest one of the specialists as they are more likely to have knowledgeable staff on-hand. Also have a look at various help guides, and there are even books available (unfortunately we’re out of stock of that title at the moment).
      • At the moment the SatMap 12 is a great device, but has a lot of more advanced functions you may not need. However, it does come with UK mapping included. We are working on developing a range of OS GPS devices, although these will not be available for a while. While older, if your Dakota 10 is working, you could just purchase the mapping you need separately.

      Hope this helps!

  46. Ian Crowe

    Hi there
    I am an HF Leader I have an old Yellow Etrex that will give grid ref and point to a waypoint. I wish to update to a map version onto which I can transfer the route from an HF map. I would like a large screen, and cannot decide between a garmin 600 and a satmap 12. The garmin sounds complicated and I understand the screen is disturbed by rain falling on it and has to be locked and hence does not orientate to your forward direction also I am not familiar with touch screens ( in my seventies ). The satmap is said not to be waterproof, requires a waterproof case, the screen difficult to see in sunny conditions, the compass needs to be level and you need to be walking for it to operate. The biggest negative in my mind is the waterproof situation. What would be your advice.

    1. Hi Ian,

      Unfortunately our shop is online only, with products sent out directly by Garmin/Satmap, so we don’t actually have our hands on any devices ourselves! As you imagine, this makes the advice we can offer somewhat limited – and of course you yourself will know your needs and preferences best. If you’ve not seen it already, our webpage https://www.ordnancesurvey.co.uk/shop/gps-comparison.html lists devices and their features to try to help you choose what’s best for you. The other alternative would be to visit an outdoors store or two and get your hands on a few devices to see what feels best for you and then make a decision after that.

      Many thanks

  47. Jo


    I’m looking for a handheld GPS with a guaranteed 95% confidence 2m accuracy. I’ve seen that some garmins use the 65% percentile! This is for university research and likely will be published into journals. What would you recommend?


    1. If you do need this level of accuracy you are going to have to move beyond consumer GPS devices, as the best they normally quote is +-15m. If this is for the UK, there is an additional ground-based GNSS system, OS Net, which allows for greater accuracy. You will need to get hold of professional surveying hardware and software equipment – follow the links on the above page for companies that offer it.

  48. Jonathan, awesome article.

    Im trying to decide between the Garmin Montana 680t and the Garmin GPSMAP 64st any adive or thoughts on with one if any? I want a good touch screen, with high res display.

    1. With the Montana you are paying more, but getting more features. Most obvious is the screen – it’s considerably bigger. If you want to use a GPS as your primary navigation device, having a bigger screen makes it much easier to plan ahead, as you can see more of the surrounding terrain.

      There are other small improvements such as the number of route points stored, but for most people this won’t make a difference. Your decision is going to be down to how you want to use the device – I still prefer paper or prints, and using the GPS as backup to confirm position, so for me the larger screen is not necessary, but many others leave the paper map in their bag and use the GPS alone.

      I’ve not a chance to try the camera in the ‘t’ version, but from outside reviews they are adequate for quick snaps, but not up to the level of a dedicated SLR. The lack of zoom is going to be the most limiting feature.

  49. Sam

    Hello Sir

    I would like to know which handheld GPS unit is best for high accurate coordinate with RTK option using antenna.
    Thank you


    1. RTK (Real Time Kinematic) is an advanced GPS system that can give a much more accurate position, but it’s not something you will find in consumer GPS units. There are a number of manufacturers including Leica Geo-Systems, Trimble, Topcon, Hemisphere GNSS and more – most have UK distributors. Unfortunately I’ve only ever used consumer GPS units, so can’t tell you which would be best for accuracy for your specific requirements and budget, so it is probably best to speak to a local distributer.

    1. Unfortunately, most consumer units only quote a +-15m accuracy rating. While they are often more accurate than that, it’s not guaranteed. The only way to get the level of accuracy you are looking for is upgrade to commercial survey equipment, which also connects to ground stations, either the fixed OS Net or one placed by the site developers. It can be pricey to buy, but you can also find contractors who can complete surveys for you.

      If you are willing to compromise a little on accuracy, take a look at the latest releases, especially the Satmap 20, which in testing is often accurate to 1-2m, although it will get less accurate under tree cover or near cliffs and buildings. Take several readings from the same spot over 2-3 minutes to maximise your accuracy.

  50. This article is a godsend, with so many handheld GPS devices out there. Your recommendations are spot on, and I love that they offer such a clear guideline on how to shop for these handy devices. A worthy read indeed!

    1. Jocelyn

      Edward, the OS Maps background mapping can only be viewed in OS Maps either online or in the OS Maps app. You can export .gpx route files from this service and import them into your memory map device, though the actual background mapping will be whatever comes with the memory map device. Hope this helps, Jocelyn

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