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On Comms Part 1 - Trail Communication

Navigation And Radios
Pete Trasborg
| Brand Manager, Jp
Posted May 1, 2013

Getting Out When You Get Out

Who doesn’t like wheeling? We always say that a bad day wheeling is better than a good day at the office. But, a bad day wheeling usually means you either broke the Jeep, got it stuck, or got lost. Even if you go wheeling with your buddies it is possible to become separated from the pack. And what happens when that happens? Well, unless you’ve got some kind of communications or satellite device with you, you got a long walk ahead. And if you are lost, unless you are a maestro with a map and compass, you might be up the proverbial creek.

Look, we smash on electronic stuff all the time, and after this story we will again so don’t worry about that. In the meantime, we’ll put all the juvenile name-calling aside for a minute to help you guys wade through the huge selection of often mind-numbing electronic devices that might just one day save your bacon if you do have a bad day of wheeling. In this installment we talk about satellite communication. Tune in the next time for ground-based communications.

When it comes to GPS units you are going to have to make a choice. Which is more important to you: on-road or off-road navigation? There were “crossover” GPS units on the market a few years ago, and we are lobbying the manufacturers to build them again, but the bottom line is they didn’t sell too well. So, for the Jeep guy who drives his Jeep to the trail, over the trail, and back home again, either two units will be needed, or compromises will need to be made.

GPS units are, unfortunately, like any other technology in that what you buy this year will be obsolete next year. Every year bigger screens and faster processors make their way to the marketplace for less money than the year before. That said, we’ve been using both styles of GPS units for years and can give you some key items to look for in each. Whether you are looking at an on- or off-road unit, buying from a major manufacturer is always a good idea. The map data is constantly updated and there are always updates available for purchase which is important to keep up-to-date with new construction, minor streets that might have been missed, and rural areas.

For on-road GPS units, get the biggest screen you can afford. Manufacturers include Magellan, Tom-Tom, Garmin, and others. Google maps on smart phones is a great tool, but is not reliable in areas with poor cell coverage. Get a unit that comes with the map for your country pre-loaded on the unit so that even in mountainous terrain you can still find where you are going.

Also make sure that the favorites saved on the unit can be taken off of it, just in case you upgrade or get another unit. With some GPS units it is possible to go into the file system through your computer and copy the “favorites” folder. Some units you will need to write down the GPS location of your favorites to manually transfer them. Some units don’t offer either possibility which means when the unit dies, or you upgrade, all your favorites are gone. A lot of the newer units offer an optional “real-time” traffic coverage that we find isn’t nearly as “real-time” as needed, and often redirects us when not needed or doesn’t redirect us when needed. In general, save your cash on the traffic option.

Some on-road navigation units won’t let you navigate to an off-road destination at all. When you are purchasing, take a pre-determined GPS coordinate for an off-road favorite and plug it into the unit. If it just comes up with an error, and you want to use it off-road, go for a different manufacturer. If it does let you input it, off-road navigation with on-road units can be annoying at best. They will always try to send you back to the nearest road. It is possible to find and save off-road favorites, but to get to them you will need to zoom out, and follow the proverbial needle in the haystack, often resulting in a spiraling into the location.

Off-road units are great tools to have out on the trail. Like the on-road units it is a good idea to buy from a major manufacturer. Garmin, Magellan, Lowrance, and DeLorme all manufacture GPS units intended for hikers and backpackers which can be used in a Jeep in a pinch. Garmin and Lowrance both manufacture larger-screened units primarily marketed to boaters but can be loaded with maps for off-road use as well.

Things to look for include a screen big enough for you to see, the ability to import tracks and bookmarks so that you can share with friends, and dust and water resistance for you open-topped Jeepers. A lot of them won’t come with maps pre-loaded but come with a trial period that has access to the company’s maps. Pay attention to what the map subscription is going to cost you down the road, if it is going to cost you anything. That’s where the companies make the most money. Most of these units will also allow you to import other things such as finer topographical maps and satellite imagery which can be very useful when wheeling.


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