GPS Recommendation, Please

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I'm looking for a recommendation for a handheld GPS for deep woods navigation. I will predominantly use this while riding horses. Touchscreen preferred. No less than a 3" diagonal screen, larger is better. Satellite reception is crucial. Many, if not all, iPhone GPS apps will lose reception in the woods we frequent. A good friend uses the Garmin Alpha 100, which was designed to track dogs. It has proven to be highly reliable. So, that's my benchmark. I am searching to see if there is anything even better out there. Thank you for any feedback.

FWIW, the forest we ride in is the Shawnee Forest of southern Illinois.
 

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#2
I’m surprised that reception would be an issue; I’ve never found my iPhone gps accuracy to really be any worse than a dedicated unit and I run them side-by-side for work (tracks and waypoints for biological field surveys) all the time. That said, if it is an issue I’d still recommend just getting an external GPS receiver (such as bad elf) for your phone. The functionality and ease of use of Gaia on a phone vs a Garmin dedicated unit (any of them, and ESPECIALLY the touchscreen units tbh) is like 20 years ahead. For work, some database formatting currently requires us to still record on a garmin but most of us just turn it on, throw it in our pack, and use Gaia for our actual work because it’s so much better.
 
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Brendan, I know the Gaia app gets rave reviews here. I’ve tried it, with less luck than I like. Again, where we ride no app has been successful. Maybe there’s a way to augment my phone to improve on that. But, please consider the question I posed. I’m not looking to debate apps versus GPS devices. I’m asking for GPS device recommendations. Perhaps no one here uses them. That’s fine! If so, that is good information and I will inquire elsewhere.
 
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#5
I'm looking for a recommendation for a handheld GPS for deep woods navigation. I will predominantly use this while riding horses. Touchscreen preferred. No less than a 3" diagonal screen, larger is better. Satellite reception is crucial. Many, if not all, iPhone GPS apps will lose reception in the woods we frequent. A good friend uses the Garmin Alpha 100, which was designed to track dogs. It has proven to be highly reliable. So, that's my benchmark. I am searching to see if there is anything even better out there. Thank you for any feedback.

FWIW, the forest we ride in is the Shawnee Forest of southern Illinois.
Any of the Garmin Touchscreen handhelds will do. Montana or Oregon. Montana is the most expensive and is heavy. Satellite reception will be hindered by tree cover to about 16 to 20 feet average. This is the case with my 64ST which normally gets 4 feet in open terrain.
 
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Brendan, I know the Gaia app gets rave reviews here. I’ve tried it, with less luck than I like. Again, where we ride no app has been successful. Maybe there’s a way to augment my phone to improve on that. But, please consider the question I posed. I’m not looking to debate apps versus GPS devices. I’m asking for GPS device recommendations. Perhaps no one here uses them. That’s fine! If so, that is good information and I will inquire elsewhere.
Apologies if I buried it in my response, but I was suggesting looking into external GPS receivers that work with your phone (Bad Elf and Dual XGPS are the two I know of...there might be more). These increase receiver accuracy to at least as good as standalone units, are cheaper, and you still get the interface advantages of Gaia.

If you are deadset on a stand-alone unit, I much prefer the 64/66 series or etrex (non touch) series to the Oregons or other touchscreens. Battery life is much (!) better, more reliable in our experience, and the UI is better (though still poor). Guys at my work that bought any of the Garmin touchscreen units pretty much universally dislike them compared to the button models and we’ve had several instances of data just randomly getting lost on some of the newer models.
 

LarryBoy

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#7
Is the issue the GPS connectivity to the satellite, or cell service to get the underlying top layer? Cuz if its the latter, you can just download maps beforehand.

Honestly, not being snarky, I wonder if the issue is your particular device. Bc pretty much everybody's phones have GPS reception even in deep canyons nowadays...
 
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Larry, it's a fair question. First, if cell service is required for iPhone map apps to work, that would explain a lot. For instance, my wife will use a Garmin Colorado GPS and I will fire up Avenza, a map app for which a local hiking group has painstakingly created custom maps of the main trail system for southern Illinois. After a day of riding, we compare our tracks. Mine will consist of several straight lines where we absolutely did NOT travel in straight lines! Hers will accurately show our traveled trail. Mine will underreport miles traveled. My conclusion is the app was losing connection and therefore averaging, creating a straight line between two points where it did have reception. The same thing happens when I use AllTrails, another commonly used app. The averaging appears not to be as prevalent when hiking as when horseback riding as most hikers in this area use Avenza. Avenza, when checked against a GPS unit, is usually within 50-100 feet, but no more accurate. That's been my experience. For those reasons, I know of no horse riders that successfully use phone apps. Hikers, yes.

A large group that uses GPS on horseback in the Forest are the squirrel hunters that bring along dogs. They seem to love the Garmin Alpha 100 because it is not only a GPS, but a dog tracker, when used with corresponding collars for the dogs. It has an external antenna and a touchscreen and has proven to have a good track record of keeping reception in the Forest. That will be my default device, I guess. But, I hoped to find something with a larger screen.

There's even a group of endurance riders that use Garmin Fenix watches! They provide just a bread crumb trail, but will get you out of the Forest if you've become disoriented. At the speeds they travel, the possibility for that exists!

Brendan, to be honest, I've not heard of external GPS receivers for my phone! I will investigate that! Thanks for the tip.

It has been awhile since I tried the Gaia app. If I remember correctly, it might have been a map issue that turned me away. Not all the apps have detailed topo maps available for the Shawnee Forest in southern Illinois. And, as I mentioned, the local folks have created very detailed custom maps of local trails for the Avenza app. Back to more research! Thank you all for your thoughts.
 

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#9
Well there is the obvious solution.

1) Obtain a selfie stick. There's absolutely no reason to buy one, just bludgeon any one of a million unsuspecting tourists in our national parks and take theirs.
2) put phone on end of selfie stick.
3) hold up in the air above your head as you ride. Problem solved.

If you need more connectivity still, you may need to bludgeon a pair of tourists and duct tape their selfie sticks together.
 

Dave

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#10
After a day of riding, we compare our tracks. Mine will consist of several straight lines where we absolutely did NOT travel in straight lines! Hers will accurately show our traveled trail. Mine will underreport miles traveled. My conclusion is the app was losing connection and therefore averaging, creating a straight line between two points where it did have reception.
Another possibility here is that whatever app you are using is only taking measurements at fixed intervals and those intervals are spaced too far apart to give you the kind of granular detail you want. Many apps will have different settings based on activity (walking/running/driving) to manage this. Fewer GPS fixes means less battery drain, so there's an advantage to polling less frequently. May not be the issue in your case, but worth investigating.
 

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Dave, that is an excellent piece of advice! I had not consider that possibility. I will contact the Avenza group and ask about this! This app has settings for Horizontal Accuracy, Distance Threshold, and Time Threshold. It is quite possible that I have chosen the wrong settings for my activity.

So, is it possible within the Gaia GPS app to adjust by activity?
 

b.stark

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#12
For whatever it's worth... I've used Gaia to record bike rides with the phone stowed in a backpack. The tracks have been pretty good.
 

Dave

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So, is it possible within the Gaia GPS app to adjust by activity?
Im not sure, to be honest. I’ve been happy with Gaia’s accuracy in my experience and have not had to mess with it. But on early iOS devices I used MotionX and that app really benefited from having the correct activity selected.
 
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#14
Is the issue the GPS connectivity to the satellite, or cell service to get the underlying top layer? Cuz if its the latter, you can just download maps beforehand.

Honestly, not being snarky, I wonder if the issue is your particular device. Bc pretty much everybody's phones have GPS reception even in deep canyons nowadays...
X2 on the modern GPS receiver being good enough in both handheld dedicated GPS devices and in modern phones. After having 4 generations of the former and four of the latter and having navigation experience personally and professionally I moved off the Garmin devices I used and moved to my iPhone 8 years ago and am never going back. Having a dedicated large scale map on hand and the touch interface makes it far superior. And GAIAGPS rocks! (full disclosure, I am a beta tester for them).

BTW Since the electronics industry has done so well miniaturizing and making the small radio receivers so much more sensitive and low power consuming pretty much all receivers are more than good enough. Ever since the GPS recievers went from SiRF to SiRF II and then SiRF III standards they have become tree-cover insensitive IMO. The only time I have trouble is occasionally in a deep, dark canyon or frantically waving my phone up against the plastic window trying to follow what is on the ground during my airplane flights in those tin, radio-shielding/conducting-cans! :)
 
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#15
I would check your phone gps settings.

I do most of my hiking in similar terrain that you do, East KY and the Southern Appalachians. A friend of mine has an iphone with Gaia and he has had no problem getting a gps fix deep in the valleys of the Smokies.
 
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#16
I'm staying with the Garmin 62/64 series and preloading pdf maps from Caltopo on my phone. If I use my phone as a GPS, I will destroy it as I have 2 handheld GPS'es in the past 4 years. My waypoints on my GPS match those on my maps and it works well for me. I truly hate Gaia and even though I have a subscription, I can't stand it.

If and when Caltopo comes up with full function phone apps, I may get on board but until then, I'll do it semi-old school.
 

Q-see

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#17
There's one thing to consider.
I was once kayaking in Slovenia and wanted to call the shuttle while it was raining.
I almost couldn't dial the number because the rain heavily disturbed the touch screen, I had to find a dry place to do so.
I don't know what my navigation app would have done in this situation but I can imagine that it would have been annoying.
Of course this does probably not happen very often but in such conditions, my old Garmin Oregon with a resisitve touch screen would have acted better.
I agree with those who prefer a mobiel phone as the touch screen is much better in normal conditions. Also the screen resolution is fat better, not to speak of the user interface.
I often use both, the Garmin for track recording (rechargeable batteries last one day) and the phone just from time to time when I want to know where I am.
 
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I would check your phone gps settings.

I do most of my hiking in similar terrain that you do, East KY and the Southern Appalachians. A friend of mine has an iphone with Gaia and he has had no problem getting a gps fix deep in the valleys of the Smokies.
I did hear back from the Avenza folks. They made a suggestion of changing a setting in the GPS configuration. We will see if that helps!

I am curious about Gaia. If I download a map for offline usage, will I be able to check my location on that map while on the trail? Is it possible to leave waypoints on that map? The suggestions I read in an article about using your iPhone for a GPS suggested using Gaia and downloading maps. The article seemed to imply that you could save a lot of battery life by occasionally checking your location, instead of marking a trail continuously. That might work for me if I could drop waypoints onto that map. I usually do like to mark the entire route so I can then see miles traveled, and rate of speed (average moving speed and highest rate of speed). But, for purely not getting lost, or getting back to the truck, having a map and the ability to drop waypoints and then check my location on demand would work.
 

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