GPS Advice (Is my phone enough?)

Just a couple of things.

I assume that by northern Maine we are talking inland or Downeast and Bold Coast if coastal. I find that my Verizon coverage is fine offshore in midcoast once I am a bit offshore. It has improved on land from years ago, but has always been reliable half a mile out. It is however fairly useless lots of areas inland in midcoast. It would likely get worse as I proceeded.

I know a surprising number of people who love Maine but have never gotten beyond Portland, thought that was a major expedition. It is similar to “upstate” in NY, people often speak as though they are or have gone way downeast when they made it rather little distance along the coast line.

I respect a GPS unit for if I get caught out by a fog bank in an area I don’t know well, as well as offline maps. Though the latter are of limited use in pea soup fog unless the paddler has kept track of compass headings going out.

Last fall I bought a Garmin hiker GPS and returned it within a few days. It turned out to be an already-used unit that the first buyer had returned but the salesman lied that it was a new unit. I noticed that it had some businesses saved as waypoints from about 400 miles away, and the tiny latch to a rear compartment was extremely finicky—because its tab had been broken by the first buyer. Watch out for nonrobust parts such as this!

So for use as a recorder of my hiking and paddling mileage, avg and max speeds, etc. I just use my old Garmin 310 XT wristwatch unit. Something like this does all the tasks you listed as most important, plus more if you want. It has a much smaller screen than a handheld hiker GPS; thus it’s not good as a map-and-compass substitute, but you already have those anyway (like me).

I just ordered a new wristwatch GPS made by Suunto (Traverse Alpha), because I want one that can use both GPS and GLONAS, and because I suspect the old 310 may croak in the not-too-distant future.

Where I live now, the paddling venues have loads of obvious landmarks nearby, and I too need a training tool more than I need a navigational one. But a wristwatch unit still is nice to have on an unfamiliar hiking trail, along with map and compass. Someday I may buy another handheld GPS; for now I’m not too impressed by what is on the market. Way too much emphasis on smartphone-related bells and whistles and sharing routes and comparing personal bests. They seem to have become more of a social sharing platform than a nav tool.

Addendum: Though you won’t need it for paddling, a device that uses BOTH a built-in barometer and satellites to provide barometric pressure would be handy for land travel. I’ve had some strange records of having paddled uphill on reservoirs. Hmmmm. The Suunto watch supposedly uses both ways of indicating elevation. Could be good for alerts about fast-approaching storm fronts,

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Take a look at the Garmin running watches…the 945, the Fenix 5/6 etc. All of them can track your route, average speed, highest speed, heart rate, etc. There is a kayak app on some (all?) of these watches that will give you detail on your strokes (cadence, stroke length, etc).

The Fenix watches have a built-in kayaking app.

I stand corrected (and edited original post). And I should know…I use the kayaking app on my Fenix 5! I guess at some point that was included and I ditched the original rowing app.

I have to stop living in the past. :slight_smile:

First, thanks for the very informative reply! Do the watches work well as stand alone devices? I know that many of them are marketed as an accessory for the phone. As I said I prefer to leave the phone home plus with no service in a lot of places it would drain the phone battery pretty fast anyway. I’m going to spend a bit of time researching them later today.

I can only speak for sure about the 310 XT, which does work by itself. It has to—I don’t have a smart phone. It must first be registered online, like all such devices. But then it’s no problem to use it alone.

As for the Suunto, it had better work as a standalone! I did not see anything that indicated otherwise.

Just to make sure you know what few functions I have done with the watch…I review the activity data and then delete them every few weeks, if not sooner. The one time I uploaded the data to my account none of it showed up despite repeated attempts that day. Yet many weeks later, to my unpleasant surprise, there they were! Can’t say I like Garmin’s connectivity, just the watch as a short-term recording device. Yeah, do your research on current brands and models.

I saved waypoints to several cool features on my property and then later checked them as if I had no other tool or memory of the route. I trust common sense and my compass better, but maybe that’s because I’ve used them more often.

Thanks! That gives me a much better starting point to search! I know Suunto makes great compasses and inclinometers so a solid brand.
Off to search the web

I have a Fenix 5X+. It works as standalone GPS including maps, navigation and land-based route finding (it comes with built in maps of Western Europe, with detail level down to some 30 cm wide foot paths!).

I usually have it on the deck in front of me so I can watch my speed, heartrate, map and other information (for the heart rate I wear a separate heart rate sensor and do not depend on the built-in sensor).

But watches of this type are often more expensive than a dedicated GPS unit, so unless one has other reasons for buying a watch, the dedicated GPS may be a better choice.

I appreciate the insight. I’m good with a regular handheld, watch or whatever as long as it tracks the things I need for gauging performance and tracking improvements. Speed, distance, time, top speed. Things like heart rate wouldn’t be bad, but not what I’m looking for.

Here is an example of a recording. For some reason it has not recorded stroke rate (which would be futile anyway with the watch on the deck, but it usually tries to do that anyway).

Vejle Kayak


A cell phone is a phone with a GPS tucked into the corner or wherever they can find room. he less room, the cheaper the GPS.
A GPS is a GPS with no room for a phone.

NO cell phone will be as good as a real GPS.
Iwould suggest a GPS with an extended antenna as in Arizona, the signals are blocked by trees and mountains and clouds so the better the antenna, the better the reception.

Many devices with screens today use the Android software and hardware platform, even if the styling and screen layout don’t resemble a smart phone. It’s cheaper, more reliable, and much more profitable than maintaining something entirely custom.

There are only a few GPS hardware makers, and these are put into just about everything. Antennas are usually built in unless you need something insanely accurate for surveying or military applications.

No antenna is going to help get signal through a mountain. I can’t recall a time when trees seriously hampered my signal reception and location. Clouds don’t block GPS signals.

Seriously, what kind of accuracy is required for personal navigation? I’d be happy with 10m, maybe worse. I usually get 3m or better.

If you need better than that, a guide dog might be better suited.

Actually I am a land surveyor and I can tell you that phone GPS is accurate enough to get within a few feet of your truck and it’s about to get better. At a conference a couple years ago one of the GPS guru’s was actually talking about the accuracy of phone GPS and says that in a very short time they will be accurate to within an area about the size of the phone itself! I will actually use a phone at times to locate a monument with published coordinates on it. Certainly not accurate enough to do actual measurements with, but for navigation it is way more than accurate enough.

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Until the phone battery dies, which was stated as a concern earlier. Then, if it’s got a silver case, and you catch the sun just right, you can use it as a signaling device.

Definitely battery life is a problem, especially when like me you spend multiple days in areas where there is no signal. The base map can’t load and he battery dies fast when it’s searching for signal. Plus I hate having my phone with me on my weekends.

Also consider that the iPhone doesn’t just use the GPS system, it also uses GLONASS, Galileo and QZSS signals, integrating all of those data sources in real time. I don’t think that all of the Garmin devices do that just yet.

They do, although I don’t think Galileo is a very robust network yet. It does add to the total none the less.

Although I also carry a downloaded printed chart and compass, I also carry a Garmin 76CSx and an old Garmin V as a further backup. I have the GPSs on my front deck in a waterproof clear map case. In navigating confusing marshes I occasionally bring along a Google Earth satellite printout.

I use the GPS to track mileage, speed, both average and current, sunset, and time and distance to a destination if marked and back to the launch. If I am in a confusing marsh I can usually find the main channel through and looking at the track, find the way back. There are several other parameters that can be tracked.

When I get back I download the track and track information to my computer and save it. I now have over 500 waypoints and over 1000 tracks saved. This information is invaluable when planning to return to an area or when someone has a question about an area where I have been. I also save a copy of the track as a JPG and append it to the day’s photos.

That way when I’m old and senile in a couple of days I can sit in my wicker wheel chair and relive the glories of my past.

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I used a Garman GPS device for years but now I take only my iPhone with appropriate mapping apps and an external battery. I like the screen resolution on the iPhone and the phone is also my camera, my phone, and my device for listening to audible books. I find that the GPS on the phone is just as reliable as the Garman device. Hope that helps.