Where is Your Grad Going? Get Him a GPS Unit and He’ll Know

Have a family member or friend who’s graduating from school?  Wondering what would be a suitable gift?  Help him figure out where he is and where he’s going with a top-rated GPS unit.

Yes, of course it’s a cool gift.  No, you don’t have to thank me.  Just knowing that fewer grads will remain among the “lost” generation is reward enough.

Here are 3 of the top-rated GPS receivers/travel tools/route finders/etc. 

Seems like almost every piece of tech is expected to multitask these days.  And why not?  No one wants to carry 12 devices when you can meet your needs with 4.  When it comes to traveling, hiking, adventuring, exploring, and not getting lost, a dedicated GPS unit offering some useful auxiliary functions is the ticket.  And, like most technology, these devices keep getting better.  “GPS” has become one of those terms that everyone has heard of, but many can’t remember what it stands for, sort of like “SOS.”  (For the record, GPS = Global Positioning System.   SOS stands for — well, not anything.  It was just an easy sequence to remember in Morse code so it became the universal distress signal.)

You don’t want your graduate sending out too many SOS’s, so help him stay on his true course by getting him…



Garmin Dakota 20

Garmin Dakota 20


The Garmin Dakota 20 is a mid-priced unit recommended by the testers at Backpacker Magazine in their current “Gear Guide.” If your gift recipient is doing some, say, backcountry skiing and isn’t sure where the trail went, a few taps on the color touchscreen provides instant compass, altitude, and Universal Transverse Mercator (UTM) coordinates that can be correlated with a paper map.  The Dakota 20 is palm-sized (5 ounces) and $100 cheaper than competing units with similar performance.  It’s easy to download GPS Exchange Format (GPX) files to it from a PC or Mac (device-independent route, track, and waypoint info), as well as to record your own routes.  It comes with a world-wide basemap.  For $100 more, you can load it with U.S. topo maps.  You can find it at REI.



Lowrance Endura Sierra

Lowrance Endura Sierra


When it comes to a more formidable multitasker, the editors at Backpacker recommend the Lowrance Endura Sierra GPS unit.  Not only can you download GPX files to it, you can add photo, video, and audio files as well.  It comes with excellent  topos.  Its 4 gigs of memory is the most in its class, and you can add up to a 32 GB microSD card to store a ton more.  It includes a vast list of trailheads, outfitters, and store locations.  One of Backpacker’s testers stated:  “With this big-brained GPS, there’s virtually no limit on tracklogs or waypoints you can collect.”  (It will hold up to 2,000.)  It’s simple to operate, weather-resistant, and testers found that it correlated precisely to maps.  When your big-brained graduate returns from his travels, he can share his trip times, altitudes, trails, speed, and distance traveled using the Endura Sierra.  In addition to Buy.com, you can find it at Best Buy.  And for instruction on getting the most out of any of the units reviewed here, get the DVD Hikers and Backpackers Guide to GPS from Bennett Media:

Hikers and Backpackers Guide to GPS -- instructional DVD from Bennett Marine Video (Bennett Media)

Hikers and Backpackers Guide to GPS -- instructional DVD by Bennett Marine Video (Bennett Media)












Garmin Oregon 550t

Garmin Oregon 550t


When the outdoor guys at Men’s Journal got together this spring to assemble the best light-weight, essential gear for backpacking and trekking, the GPS unit they chose to include was the Garmin Oregon 550t.  This compact GPS includes a 3.2-megapixel camera, so your basic photo needs are covered.  (You can send pic’s of your favorite wilderness locations to your friends, complete with coordinates.)  It also offers a feature known as “Sight ‘N Go,” where you use the compass to aim at a waypoint and the unit will plot the route to get there.  It has a 2.5-inch color touchscreen and comes pre-loaded with North American topo maps.  The case is water-resistant, sealed against dust, and is rugged enough to survive a few drops (not that your grad is clumsy).  It incorporates a barometric altimeter and the receiver is WAAS-enabled (Wide Area Augmentation System), making for accurate reception in forest, under heavy cloud cover, or down in canyons.  Get the Oregon 550t for your visually-oriented adventurer from Cabela’s and Buy.com.




Outdoor Navigation with GPS - book cover

An excellent book for learning to use GPS for many kinds of outdoor activities is Outdoor Navigation with GPS:  Hiking, Geocaching, Canoeing, Kayaking, Fishing, Outdoor Photography, Backpacking, Mountain Biking, from the Wilderness Press.



The 3 GPS units above should meet the needs of just about any user.  However, there are always options.  Best Buy is having a sale this week on select GPS units.  So click here or on the banner below to see more options for your wanderer/traveler.  They’re also discounting certain accessories.


And if your grad already has a cool GPS device, click the banner below for more good gift suggestions…

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