This site uses cookies to offer you a better browsing experience. Find out more about how to manage cookies, or dismiss this message and continue to use cookies.

Looking for help selecting the right GPS for me.

Hi All,

I am trying to puzzle out the best GPS for my needs. I use Backcountry Navigator Pro on my phone and while I have some small nits with it, it is fine for hiking. However, not too long ago I bought a van and for vehicle navigation the phone is simply too small. I have been looking at options and it seems the two basic solutions are either a purpose built GPS or a tablet with GPS software loaded on it. I have been doing quite a bit of research and am overwhelmed with all of the options. My requirements, in order, are:

Good GPS receiver. I am often in challenging terrain.
Excellent, detailed maps built in, I am often out of cell range. I am on dirt roads a lot
Rugged, able to withstand shock and vibration, good mounting.
Being able to load different maps.
Some city navigation. I am rarely in a city but it would be handy when I am.
Good search function for locations.
An external antenna port would be nice.

I don't need traffic or construction updates. I do not want all kinds of warnings or advice. I don't need trip advisor or campground locations or anything like that. The ability to connect with a computer might be nice. Being able to put on overlays like BLM land or things like that might be nice. Satellite view when connected to the internet would be cool but isn't necessary.

The tablet route is tempting as then I could use it for other things, such as Torque or Forscan to connect to the vehicle OBDII port. But then it seems like the GPS receiver in a tablet has to be a compromise and I have other devices I can use for those needs.

Thanks for any help!


  • Boyd 2043 Points
    If you're happy with Backcountry Navigator you can just stick with it and choose any Android tablet with specs that you like. For high gps accuracy, you could get a bluetooth GPS receiver such as the Garmin GLO.

    I've had one for awhile and like it a lot. Did this review a long time ago:

    A few years later, I followed up in thread here

    Of course, there are many GPS/Navigation apps for Android that you could also use. A few that I like are

    Orux Maps
    Locus Map
    Guru Maps

    Look at the TomTom app for street routing, you can download maps of the whole world and use them offline with no cell signal. It runs in evaluation mode for free with a limited number of miles each month. There's a yearly fee to fully unlock the app, but it is pretty reasonable IIRC. Have played with it myself, but don't use it regularly.

    HERE is another possibility for street navigation
  • Boondox 1 Point
    Boyd, thanks for the reply. How do you think the GPS receiver in a tablet compares to a purpose built unit? That is at the top of my list as I am often in challenging terrain.

    As to backcountry navigator, it is OK but not awesome. There is no way to select large areas of land to download for offline use for example. The interface is not intuitive for me at least. On the other hand it is good enough that since I already shelled out for it I'll keep using it for hiking.
  • Chris_Sav 134 Points
    Ah the search for the holy grail!

    One caveat is Tom Tom Go is in a bit of a state of flux at present with the current release frozen for some time due to multiple complaints. It's just been restarted.

    Good advice from Boyd, keep us updated please. I keep looking at the interesting Carpe Iter but it's a small company and development seems slow to me.
  • Boyd 2043 Points
    edited May 2020
    Boondox said:

    Boyd, thanks for the reply. How do you think the GPS receiver in a tablet compares to a purpose built unit?

    I don't see how anyone could possibly answer a question as broad as that. I have a Samsung Galaxy Tab 4 8.0 and the GPS is terrible, takes a long time to acquire a signal. But it's old, and one might expect newer tablets to be better. My 2018 iPad is certainly a lot better, and has GLONASS.

    The Garmin GLO is likely to be a big improvement over any built-in GPS however. The high refresh rate is certainly something you won't get with a built-in chip, it updates you position 10 times per second. I don't think you will find more than 1 update per second on a built-in GPS (same as a Garmin handheld GPS). There should also be an advantage to mounting the bluetooth receiver where it gets a better view of the sky.

    Have a look at the free open source Mobile Atlas Creator, it can make offline maps that work with no cell signal for Backcountry Navigator and a couple dozen other apps. I use it as a platform for my own maps, but it also includes a variety of built-in maps. And if you are technical, there are many other public sources for map data that can be configured. More info here - I have written a very detailed tutorial for installing and using the software. Appendix A at the end of the tutorial explains how you can access the classic USGS 24k (7.5 minute) topographic maps.
  • jangeo67 86 Points
    Boodox take a look at (AlpineQuest) this app on a good Android tablet, no apple products like an ipad (not compatible) this app is considered by many to be the best for loading maps including Google ariel for offline use, their is a one time purchase price for the premium version (around 7 dollars)
  • Boondox 1 Point
    Well, nothing is ever easy, is it? :-)

    Noodling around on some of the suggestions makes me realize what a rabbit hole this could be. As an old fart in training, I still have a giant collection of maps and a compass. It kind of makes me wish I could just keep using that. :-)

    It also makes me realize that I don't really want to have to create maps and so on. I took a look at MOBAC and boy, it sure seems cool! But then it also looks like a steep learning curve. I might fool with it a bit because I already have Backcountry Nav on the phone. The one reason I would is if there are significantly better maps of the boonies that can be obtained that way. I often go and find out first hand that a road marked on a map is impassable or no longer exists. So, are there better maps of the sticks available if I go the DIY, make your own GPS route?

    Boyd, in my ignorance I didn't realize that asking if a purpose built GPS was better than one in a tablet was that broad a question. I certainly don't need 10 updates per second. I don't care about accurate MPH or anything like that. I just want to be able to look at detailed maps and figure out places I might go.

    Perhaps a refinement of my question is in order. If going with a purpose built unit, what brand/model comes closest to meeting my criteria above? Or is DIY the only way?
  • Boyd 2043 Points
    Boondox said:

    Boyd, in my ignorance I didn't realize that asking if a purpose built GPS was better than one in a tablet was that broad a question.

    How many hundred brands and models of tablets do you think are available? Do you really believe that their built-in gps chips are similar enough to say whether they are better than a bluetooth receiver? I don't. It would depend on the exact tablet you choose. And no, I don't have a clue as to which would be best. I got my Android tablet several years ago and no longer have a need or interest, I'm mostly Apple-based.

    I don't think this needs to be difficult at all however. Choose the tablet you like from a well-known brand based on its features and price. Then just see how well it works in your own vehicle. If you have problems, it's quite simple to purchase an external bluetooth receiver. There are other brands in addition to Garmin, some may be a little cheaper but they' are in the $100 ballpark.

    With all due respect, I don't think you know what you don't know yet. ;) And that's fine, this will be a good chance to learn by doing - which is exactly what I have done and continue to do. In the case of my Samsung tablet, the GPS is clearly not adequate since it takes a long time to acquire the satellites and also loses its fix from time to time. But this may also be influenced by your vehicle and where you mount the device.

    Follow my tutorial and you should be able to get up to speed with Mobile Atlas Creator in a couple hours. Not a bad investment of time for a lot of gain, even if you only use the built-in maps and the USGS topo's I mentioned above.

    If you really find it all too challenging, have a look at the Garmin Overlander. It looks pretty nice, would probably do everything you want and Garmin will be there to hold your hand if needed. Of course, this all comes at a rather high price and you will be locked into Garmin's system. ;)
  • Boondox 1 Point
    Oh, I know that I don't know! :-)

    The Garmin overlander looks pretty cool. It ain't cheap but it seems pretty rugged.

    In terms of features, how much of the overlander is shared with say the drivesmart? Is the overlander price about the rugged case or are the boonie maps better?
  • Boyd 2043 Points
    edited May 2020
    Well, Garmin maps are Garmin maps. The Overlander is a bit different because it uses Garmin's new cloud-based software instead of Basecamp, which they are gradually phasing out. Garmin's BIrdseye products offer aerial imagery from Digital Globe at a resolution of about .5 meters/pixel (last time I checked). If you make your own maps, you can find imagery of most locations at 1 foot per pixel or even as high as 3 inches per pixel in urban areas. So again, you trade convenience for quality. I gather that Birdseye quality also varies considerably depending on location.

    Garmin also has Birdseye Topo, which gives you scanned USGS 24k topo maps. This costs extra on other devices, not sure about the Overlander. These would be the same maps I mentioned above that you can get for free with Mobile Atlas Creator.

    For road navigation, Garmin City Navigator is considered the "gold standard" by many people and that is included on the Overlander and all Garmin vehicle devices, along with lifetime updates.

    Garmin also has their own "24k" topo series that has nothing to do with the USGS maps. These have routable roads and POI's just like City Navigator, plus topographic features. They are rather expensive and only cover a few states each, not sure if they are included with the Overlander. I really haven't looked at it very closely.

    If you just want a vehicle gps with a nice, big screen that also supports aerial imagery and scanned topo maps, look at the DriveTrack 71. I started this thread on it awhile ago and am still very happy. Again, I especially like it because it supports the maps I create myself so that gives me a very different point of view. It won't give you any special off-road capabilities and doesn't have the advanced track management features of Garmin's outdoor devices.

    The other Garmin device to look at might be the GPSMap276cx. This has been a very controversial product, also quite expensive. But early adopters were very unhappy - even angry - by all the bugs and poor performance. @Chris_Sav bought one and ended up returning it. Maybe they have finally had time to correct these problems? It also has a pushbutton interface with no touchscreen

    If you shop around at places like gpscity and thegpsstore you may find a refurb at a better price. But the DriveTrack 71 is still a lot cheaper.
  • deserteagle56 194 Points
    Boondox said:

    Well, nothing is ever easy, is it? :-)

    be obtained that way. I often go and find out first hand that a road marked on a map is impassable or no longer exists. So, are there better maps of the sticks available if I go the DIY, make your own GPS route?

    Perhaps a refinement of my question is in order. If going with a purpose built unit, what brand/model comes closest to meeting my criteria above? Or is DIY the only way?

    As someone who has been using GPS and paper maps for many years I can tell you this for a certainty: There is NO SUCH THING as an up-to-date map, be it digital for a GPS unit or on paper. They are all obsolete before they are published. Mother Nature washes out roads and landowners lock gates; many's the time I've created a track to follow only to find that the road is impassable for one reason or another. Google Earth Pro is no help there at all - it certainly won't show you the locked gate on that road. Generally the most up-to-date maps, in my experience, are available from and even they are sadly out of date.

    I live out in the middle of Nevada where there are very few paved roads - if I leave my driveway and drive due south it is 102.5 miles to the nearest pavement. So the remote outback is what I'm used to and it is where I spend most of my time. I am also part of the local Sheriff's Search and Rescue Unit and one thing the members all have in common - they use a Garmin Montana GPS unit because for most GPS functions it seems to be the best overall. You can get an older used/refurbished model for a decent price (I bought one of the first ones that came out and it still works fine despite multiple crashes on my dirt bike and quad). Load the Garmin 100k maps on the unit if they aren't already on it, and then download whatever states you want from At least for Nevada, Utah and Arizona, the Garmin 100k maps show more of the primitive roads than do the Garmin 24k maps. The only advantage the 24k maps have is that they are routable but that's not a big deal for primitive roads. Several of the members also have found commercially available hunting maps to be more up to date and with good detail - but expensive. Download Basecamp from the Garmin web site and learn how to use it with the maps you get - you'll be surprised at how functional this setup can be.

  • Boyd 2043 Points
    edited May 2020

    Generally the most up-to-date maps, in my experience, are available from and even they are sadly out of date.

    GPSFileDepot is another site that is slowly dying. I have been very active there since 2008 and my own maps have been downloaded more than 40,000 times. But GPSFileDepot is only for Garmin maps. I'd say that the majority of them are about 10 years old. Unfortunately, quite a large numbe suffer from a problem with the installer that is not fully compatible with newer versions of Windows. The forums there used to be very active with mapmakers discussing their projects. Those people are long gone. It's a real shame because it used to be a great place. However, if you have a Garmin GPS it's certainly worth having a look there.

    I was also an early adopter of the Garmin Montana. Still have it and it works fine.... but the plastic over the power button broke off, exposing the inside. This is a very common problem with the Montana and Oregon series unfortunately. The new version of the Montana is very similar to my old one and I just can't bring myself to spend that much money for technology that feels old. But there are certainly many happy users. If your main use is in an enclosed vehicle, I don't think it's a very good choice, the screen is only 4". It's nice for use on foot, but very large and heavy.
  • Boondox 1 Point
    Ok, I continue dig through the tablet angle. That will take a while before I can even formulate sensible questions. So, let's take a look at the Garmin options.

    Seems like on the low end we have the Drivesmart 65. One step up in price we have the Drivetrack 71. Then on top we have the Overlander.

    Maybe I should just call Garmin and ask, but what are the significant differences between these units? Obviously the Overlander has the most rugged case. The Drivetrack has a dog tracking feature but that doesn't apply to me. The Drivesmart has an attractive price but seems oriented towards city driving.

    The Montana has too small a screen. While I don't live quite as far off the beaten track as Desert, noodling around on vague and sketchy roads is my most common trip. I am happy enough with Backcountry Pro on my phone for hiking.
  • Boyd 2043 Points
    The DriveSmart 65 is a minor update to the older DriveSmart 61, which I also have. See this thread:

    There have been some nice deals on refurbished DriveSmart 61's, not sure if you can still find one. But the differences between the 61 and 65 are pretty trivial - the hardware is the same. Neither of these is going to be a good choice for what you describe. They can load Garmin-format topo maps, but do not display all the features correctly. Most of the POI's on topo maps just don't appear at all.

    Arguably, the biggest defeciency with all Garmin automotive units is the lack of proper track support. You can record your track ("bread crumb trail" that shows where you went) but the only controls are turning tracking on and off. You cannot save individual tracks for future use, it is all just one big file. There are no menu options that control the method of track recording (such as recording points at regular intervals, or when you move a certain distance). You cannot control the style they are displayed, such as the color or line type. But you can copy the tracks to your computer as GPX file where they can be used in various software packages, including Garmin Basecmap, Google Earth, etc.

    The really big problem is, you cannot send those tracks back to the GPS. If you do, they are just ignored. So the GPS will only show the current track that you have recorded on the device itself. This means you can't build a library of tracks and use them again in the future on the GPS. Garmin handhelds, the Zumo series (for motorcycles) and the Overlander, have a full set of track controls. You can give them names and save them, change the color/style of the lines, send and receive them from your computer.

    Garmin automotive units also have far fewer menu options to control the appearance of the map, the user interface (what data is shown on the screen) and many other features available on their outdoor devices. Basically, they are "dumbed-down" and optimized to just show the pre-loaded City Navigator Maps. They also have special features for auto use, like traffic data, detailed display of highway interchanges, etc. Garmin's whole strategy is NOT to provide overlap between their outdoor and automotive devices - they want you to buy (at least) one of each. ;)

    The DriveTrack 71 is an oddity. Just ignore the dog tracking stuff, you can turn it off and never know its there (like I do). Read the thread I linked to. It is virtually identical to the DriveSmart 61 (and 65) but it allows you to use specialized maps and imagery not available on any othe Garmin automotive devices. It includes a pre-loaded copy of the Garmin 100K US topo maps (these are the ones that @deserteagle56 recommended above). However, the caveats I mentioned above still apply and many of the features won't appear, or won't look quite right.

    The DriveTrack also includes a one-year subscription to Birdseye aerial imagery for the whole world.

    The 100k Topo and Birdseye would cost $130 to buy separately, which would effectvely lower the cost of the DriveTrack 71 to $270 (if you want those maps, and you probably would). But you will still basically have an automotive GPS that can also use aerial imagery. You can also load other types of special maps, such as the ones I make. This gets a bit more complicated however. Anyway, I like the DriveTrack a lot, but that's mainly because I can load my own maps and aerial imagery.

    It certainly is nothing like the Overlander and should not really be compared with it, assuming that you want a full set of outdoor/offroad capabilites. And the DriveSmart 65 won't really do anything you want, although it is certainly a nice automotive unit. BTW, the DriveSmart, DriveTrack and Overlander all use the same 7" 1024x600 LCD panel, which is bright, sharp and generally just beautiful. These are designed to work well in bright sunlight and are likely to be much better for this than most (if not all) Android tablets.
  • Boondox 1 Point
    Boyd, thank you for taking so much time to help me out! While I am not quite ready to pull the trigger, I feel like I am getting much more informed!

    Ok, screen visibility is a big influence for me. That alone is influencing me towards the Garmin units. The Drivesmart is out. The Drivetrack sounds like a good possibility and I do indeed want the 100k maps as detail is way up there on my list. It sounds like the Overlander can do the 100k maps too and that it comes with them?

    I have downloaded the user manuals and find them a little lacking in details about what you can load and so on. Perhaps I am missing it, I will continue to read. I am realizing that I could put some map software on my little laptop that I carry with me for planning and playing purposes. It has no GPS but could still be used for looking at maps.
  • Boyd 2043 Points
    edited May 2020
    If it fits your budget, it sounds like the Overlander might be a very good choice for your needs. It is specifically designed for vehicle use - probably more rugged than needed in an enclosed vehicle, but that doesn't matter a lot. I see they have dropped the price from $700 to $600. Still very pricey.... but I paid $1000 for a Garmin StreetPilot 2620 back in 2004. ;)

    I find the Overlander specs confusing, but my interpretation is that it includes the Garmin 100k US topo, City Navigator, Birdseye satellite and Birdseye topo. I think these would be "lifetime" maps. Caveat - not really clear on any of this, so be sure to confirm it for yourself with Garmin before making any purchase decision. I have never seen an Overlander and know very little about it personally.

    I think you are misinterpreting @deserteagle56 's comments about the 100k map. Are you famliar with real USGS 100k topo maps? They are very inaccurate. "100k" means that a real object is 100,000 times larger than it appears on the map. In other words, one inch on the map represents about 1.6 miles in the real world. This is the level of accuracy Garmin was shooting for with this product. Compare that with a USGS 24k topo where one inch on the map represents 2000 feet in the real world.

    The reason why some people like these maps is because they tend to show more trails in certain areas than Garmin's other maps. This varies by location, this map is generally poor in the Northeast US from my experience. The unpaved roads have always been very inaccurate in my own area, and were based on old Census Bureau (TIGER) data that is notoriously bad. But one advantage of the 100k maps is that you have coverage of the entire US with one file that is only about 3gb.

    But consider that for a minute... I made a very detailed map of New Jersey that is about 100mb and covers about 9000 square miles.

    The whole US is about 3.8 million square miles, so (if my math is right!) a map of the US with my level of detail would be about 42gb - which is 14x larger than Garmin's 100k topo. :)
  • Boondox 1 Point
    I realized later that I was indeed screwing up the map sizes. It is (as you know) a ratio, so 1:24k is higher resolution. Does the Overlander have 24K maps? I don't need the entire US at one time, just a few states.

    Looking at reviews, it seems like a lot of people are unhappy with the Overlander. While the price is high I could do that if it is the right choice. Your comment about the screen visibility in daylight is really sticking with me though, I have peered at enough screens to realize how important when driving that could be.

    Still looking at the tablet option but I am leaning more towards the Garmin. Still wrestling between the Drivetrack 71 and the Overlander.
  • Boyd 2043 Points
    edited May 2020
    Like I said, no personal experience with the Overlander. For all I know, you would hate it. ;) However, from the marketing materials it sounds like a good fit for you. Be sure to understand the return/exchange policy of the seller if you buy one, just in case.

    Garmin sells a separate series of "24k" maps. These are completely unrelated to USGS maps, and are basically more detailed versions of the US Topo 100k maps. They also have routable roads (can calculate turn by turn directions) and POI's similar to City Navigator. The Overlander already has City Navigator, so that probably isn't much of an advantage, but the maps are more detailed. However many people feel that the trails and unpaved roads are less complete than the 100k Topo product. This varies by location however. Garmin's 24k Topo maps only cover a few states each and cost around $100 so it would be impractical to get full US coverage, and there are technical limitations to Garmin's map format that would also prevent loading a large number of these maps. Anyway, I doubt these are included with the Overlander, you could purchase any areas of interest separately.

    The BIrdseye Topo is (evidently) included however, and these are scans of the the paper USGS 24k topo maps. This has been covered before, please review my earlier posts.

    Garmin's devices are designed to work on external power, so they can run brighter screens without worrying about battery life like a tablet. These big-screen Garmin devices do have batteries, but will only run a very short while on them.
  • Boyd 2043 Points
    Regarding the DriveTrack 71.... that will give you the nice 7" screen, the 100k topo and Birdseye aerial imagery. But the software is really just a DriveSmart 61 automotive GPS with no advanced "outdoor" features. Just be sure that's all you really want, because you won't get any of the special capabilities of a device like the Overlander, Montana or GPSMap 276cx.
  • Boyd 2043 Points
    BTW, one other thing you need to understand. Garmin devices aren't like phones, tablets or computers where every year there's a software update that provides new features. Garmin just never does that, no matter how long you keep it, the software will always be the same as when you bought it. Software updates are only bug fixes. And you can't add new apps, these use Garmin's proprietary operating system. Consider that the Drivesmart 65 is the exact same hardware as the Drivesmart 61. A software update *could* easily turn a Drivesmart 61 into a Drivesmart 65 or even a DriveTrack 71. Hardware is all identical. But you can't do that. They are all separate products.
  • deserteagle56 194 Points
    Boondox said:

    I realized later that I was indeed screwing up the map sizes. It is (as you know) a ratio, so 1:24k is higher resolution. Does the Overlander have 24K maps? I don't need the entire US at one time, just a few states.

    I wish I had the ability to post photos on this site...that went away with the Photobucket debacle. I have screen shots of the exact same area with both the Garmin 100k and Garmin 24k maps. In practical use, all you are getting with the Garmin 24k maps is more of the topo lines (contour lines) showing up on the map. In a mountainous area the Garmin 24k maps are a dark mass of contour lines because of the elevation changes. That is what they mean with "higher resolution". With any other aspect - such as listing old mines, springs, etc. the 24k and 100k maps are the same, at least for Nevada. As far as roads/trails, the 100k maps are more up to date - the screen shots I'm talking about show a graded road that has been there for 50 years that I know of on the 100k maps. That road DOES NOT appear on the 24k maps.

  • deserteagle56 194 Points
    No Garmin GPS comes with the Garmin 24k maps loaded on them (at least not new, from Garmin). As Boyd said, you have to buy them at about $100 a mapset from Garmin.
  • Boondox 1 Point
    Desert, that is very useful information. Doesn't sound like the 24K maps are of much use to me. More recently updated sounds better than useless unreadable detail.
  • Boyd 2043 Points
    edited May 2020
    I'm not a fan of the 24k Garmin maps. Also not a fan of the 100k, because in my area they have been very poor. I have a copy of new version that came with my DriveTrack 71. I removed it first thing when I got the GPS and just archived the file on my computer. I put the 3gb of space to better use on the GPS with aerial imagery. One difference with the Overlander is that it has 64gb of internal memory - the most Garmin has ever used. The DriveTrack has 16gb. The Montana 680t (which includes the 100k topo, but not City Navigator) has 8gb, and the Montana 610 (with no maps included) only has 4gb. All Garmin devices can be upgraded with micro SD memory cards but internal flash memory is a little faster to access. As a practical matter, that makes very little difference however.

    Regarding the 24k maps, I think they make more sense for somebody with a device like the Montana 610, which doesn't include any maps. The 24k topo will give you standard road POI's (gas stations, restaurants, etc) and turn-by-turn directions just like Garmin City Navigator. So it can be a multi-purpose map for driving and hiking. As for the contour lines, if you're on foot you typically zoom way in since you move more slowly. I think the contours are probably reasonably spaced at the 300 foot map scale, but if you're driving with the map zoomed at to .2 miles, they can make a mess out of the display. :)

    Have not looked at the 100k topo for a long time, but if you zoom in to 300 feet, I also suspect that roads and trails with have points that are spaced farther apart than the 24k maps, which would show a bit more detail. But I've never looked at maps of Nevada, so I just don't know. And at driving speed, you zoom father out so fine details don't matter as much.

    You can still post photos here the same as always. It's photobucket that changed, not gpsreview. Just find another site that lets you upload photos and link directly to the image files.
Sign In or Register to comment.
↑ Top