What They Are, What They're Used For, How You Can Own One

The Global Positioning System (GPS) was developed by the US Department of Defense in the 1970's. It was a navigational system made up of a network of 24 satellites placed in orbit for military use. By the 1980's the U.S. Government made the system available for civilian use. Today GPS is available worldwide to anyone with a GPS receiver. With a GPS receiver you can determine your position or any other position anywhere on the planet within 3 to 15 meters. GPS units can be installed in automobiles, on boats, and are available in hand-held models so you can take them with you on hiking or camping trips, among other uses. This article will give you more information on the most popular uses, models and pricing, and where you can buy your very own unit.

Uses for GPS Units

Originally intended for military use, GPS units are now available for anyone who wants one and can afford it. And civilians have come up with many useful and fun ways to use them, including:

Outdoor adventures such as camping, exploring, traveling, mountain climbing, skiing, snowmobiling, geocaching, and more
Navigational uses such as in automobiles to help you find a location, and on boats and airplanes.
Mapping, be it directions to specific locations, uncharted areas, efficient routes to destinations, etc.
Positioning, such as locating a lost hiker or climber, position of a boat or ship at sea, height of specific mountain peaks, and for construction purposes.

Looking for a specific camping spot? All you need are the coordinates for said location and you can find it, including directions from where you are currently located. Want to get in on the latest fun craze of geocaching? All you need is the GPS unit and location of the cache from specific web sites and you're off on an adventure. GPS units are also used for more practical purposes, such as in search and rescue missions, and by scientists and surveyors, dispatchers, soldiers, and more.

Another great feature is that once you have your GPS unit, there are no other costs. The satellites are already in place thanks to our government. You just need your GPS unit.

GPS Features

Some of the most common features in GPS units include voice prompts, waypoints, alarms, easily read screens, trip computer, weather resistant, and dashboard mount. Voice prompts are audible prompts that give you turn by turn directions. Waypoints are a way to mark points along the route to your destination. Alarms will alert you when you are nearing your destination, or can also alert you when you are going way off course. If you are going to be using your GPS unit outdoors on camping or hiking trips, you'll want it to be weather resistant. And a dashboard mount is handy if you are going to be using it in a car or boat.

Manufacturers, Models, and Price Ranges

Garmin offers several models ranging in price from $149 to $349. Garmin's eTrex Legend sells for about $149, is a waterproof hand-held unit with 8MB of memory. Comes preloaded with base map of North America, and is relatively easy to use.
Garmin also offers a model selling for about $349. The eTrex Legend CX features up to 500 waypoints, is waterproof and preloaded with base map of North America.
Magellan offers a $149 unit - the eXplorist 200. It's waterproof, has 8MB of memory, has a background map, and more.
Finally, if you can spend about $549, Pharos offers their Traveler model, which also has built in wi-fi and bluetooth technology, and so many features it's like carrying around a computer with GPS technology.

Of course there are more models and features available than we are able to cover here. Check the sources listed below for even more models, features and pricing.

Where To Buy

We found GPS units of all types and price ranges at Best Buy, both online and instore locations; at Circuit City - again both online and instore; and at Radio Shack - online and instore.

Be sure to check our related article under Hobbies about Geocaching.

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