Best Off-Roading GPS: Go Off the Beaten Path Without Getting Lost
These off-road GPS units can help you navigate the wilderness.
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While a GPS device can be great for navigating unfamiliar city streets or sidestepping traffic, it really earns its keep when used for off-roading. After all, most people can get where they need to go using street signs and Google maps, but what are you supposed to do when the only identifiable landmarks are trees and boulders? The GPS units in this buying guide are ideal for venturing off paved roads as they can help you travel outside your comfort zone without fear of getting lost.
This off-road GPS is for motorcycles, ATVs, snowmobiles, and more. It has base maps, topography lines, hill shading, and trails in North America, and you can download additional maps.
It has Buddy Tracking, so you can keep track of up to 20 other riders in your group. It also connects to your machine to display speed, distance, elevation, etc.
It doesn't have a gas gauge, the screen resolution could be improved, and the display is a little on the small side.
This navigation device is designed for all-terrain motorcycles. It features off-road maps with land boundaries as well as 4x4 roads.
Listen to turn-by-turn directions through a headset or helmet. The device is water-resistant and glove friendly. Includes Garmin Adventurous routing options.
The instruction manual is not very detailed, so you must figure out many features on your own. The mount could be better.
This navigator syncs to other devices using Wi-Fi. It has preloaded points of interest for overlanders and info about public campgrounds.
It can be a little challenging to operate, and the directions aren't the best. It doesn't have a backtrack feature.
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Benefits of an Off-Roading GPS
- Never get lost. With a good quality off-road GPS, you will never get lost no matter how far you go into the outdoors. This allows you to explore unknown terrain with certainty and confidence.
- Plan ahead. Thanks to the ability to check the roads, contours of the land, and altitude, it’s possible to plan your trip in advance. You can avoid bad roads or places that are to steep for your vehicle to climb.
- Always have communication. The best off-road GPS devices now have built-in satellite communication. Even if you are far from conventional signals, you can always find your way.
Types of Off-Roading GPS
Most phones and tablets support navigation apps, which can be quite cheap. It is also possible to download from multiple map sources and geo-tag photos. The disadvantage is that they often require cell coverage and are also heavy on battery life.
Many modern vehicles come with built-in GPS devices. The disadvantage of these is that they are normally locked to a provider and don’t have the option of downloading new maps or software. Aftermarket units are also available and they often incorporate a Bluetooth phone and music player. Another disadvantage of an in-dash unit is that they are fixed to the vehicle and can’t go with you on a hiking trip.
Portable units normally have smaller displays, but they can fit in a pocket and go anywhere. The best portable GPS devices are tough and have a decent battery life for extended journeys. Some models have extensive features like a compass, altimeter, and built-in satellite phones.
The Garmin name is synonymous with the best off-road GPS devices out there. They were founded in 1989 in Kansas and their first customer was the U.S. military. Since then, they’ve grown exponentially and now manufacture a large range of tracking equipment including GPS devices, fitness trackers, fish finders, and even dog trackers. A best-selling product is the Garmin in Reach Explorer+.
Magellan is an American company headquartered in California, but with offices around the world. They are known as the creators of the first commercial handheld GPS receiver in 1989. They currently make a wide range of products including offroad GPS devices and vehicle tracking devices, including the Magellan TR5 Street and GPS Navigator.
TomTom is a Dutch company founded in 1991. Their first navigation device was released in 2004 and they now have a presence in 29 countries around the globe. TomTom makes handheld devices and also many of the in-dash factory units that come in new cars like Subaru, Mazda, and Toyota. One popular device is the TomTom VIA 1625TM 6-Inch GPS Navigation Device.
Off-Roading GPS Pricing
- $50 to $100: In this range, you can get a basic GPS with common features like lifetime maps, driver alerts, turn-by-turn directions, and USB storage. They will get the job done, but won’t have any advanced features.
- $100 to $200: At this price point you can get some advanced features like waterproofing, hands-free calling, a compass, Bluetooth, and Wi-Fi.
- $200 and up: These GPS devices are available with satellite communication and advanced GLONASS navigation.
For off-roading, it’s critical to get a feel of the terrain. Topographic mapping shows the geological features and contour lines. It can also show off-road tracks and national park tracks. This is important because there might be places where your particular vehicle can’t go, and in this case, the GPS can double as a safety device.
Points of Interest
Having the points of interest feature on the off-road GPS it allows you to plan journeys around places you might want to visit. It also users to easily find national parks, fuel stations, and campsites easily. Having this feature means that you can also make unplanned stops should the need arise.
In very remote areas, there might be no signal or cell coverage. It pays to have an off-road GPS that can download maps in advance so that you won’t need connectivity to find your way around. Offline maps should be updated regularly to keep up to date with any road or terrain changes.
- Communication. When traveling to remote places it pays to have connectivity because anything can happen. If you have an off-road GPS with satellite connectivity, you will always be able to get assistance should the need arise. It can also be used to communicate with family far away.
- Durability. Tough terrain requires tough devices. Many high-end off-road GPS devices have rubberized or plastic-coated outer shells to offer protection against the elements. Some GPS devices also come with dual battery systems because charging points can be scarce in the wilderness. Always test the main and spare batteries before leaving on your adventure.
- Type of Satellite. Conventional GPS devices connect to the Global Positioning System and require connection to at least three satellites in order to work. Advanced units can also connect to the GLONASS satellites developed by Russia. These satellites have slightly faster connection time and are a great failsafe in the event of the normal GPS satellites not connecting.
Best Off-Roading GPS Reviews & Recommendations 2021
- If you want to attach your GPS to a vehicle, find one capable of being mounted to a dash or console. If you prefer to carry it on your person, however, be sure that it will be small enough that it won’t weigh you down.
- Many units have built-in communication features, which is important if you like to push yourself in extreme conditions. A unit that makes it easy for others to find you is as valuable as one that makes it easy for you to find your way home.
- A few models have multiple positioning sensors inside, which improves their accuracy and allows you to travel to a wider variety of locales. This is especially important if you plan to go off-roading in places other than the United States.
Q: How reliable are off-roading GPS units?
That will vary depending on the unit and the number of sensors it houses. They should all be able to provide you with your location within a few feet. Some of the higher-end models are likely to be able to give you a more accurate picture of your surroundings, however.
Q: Are GPS devices updated regularly?
Most manufacturers release regular updates, and many allow you to download specific, up-to-date maps from their servers. To download them, you need to connect your GPS unit to a computer or buy one that has internet capability.
Q: Are off-road GPS units durable?
If a GPS unit is designed for off-road use, it’s a safe bet that it will be ruggedly constructed. Many have shock-absorbent casings, allowing you to use them freely without constantly having to worry about damaging them.
The Garmin inReach Explorer+ is our favorite GPS for off-roading because it boasts a wide array of safety features and has a truly global reach.
While not as versatile as some other units, the Garmin GPSMAP 64st is nevertheless a useful unit that won’t break the bank. We especially like its bright, easy-to-read display.