Get the facts on global positioning systems

GPS navigation devices have quickly become an indispensible resource for many travelers. By interfacing with Global Positioning System satellites, end consumers can track their current locations with perfect precision. Motorists as well as hikers, cyclists and recreational boaters regularly use GPS tracking systems to ensure they stay on their planned routes and have a fallback plan in the event they wander off course.

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Types of GPS Systems

GPS systems for consumers are available in two basic variants: stand-alone GPS navigation devices and systems that need to interface with a computer to work. Some units also offer the capability of recording the consumer's movements during a trip, step-by-step, and making this information available for download. This is very useful for outdoor adventurers who stumble upon previously unknown paths and trails and want to be able to retrace their steps.

Navigation devices that need an external computer connection use GPS software to interface with home computers, laptops, Bluetooth devices,PDA devices or Smartphones. Normally, the navigation device doesn't come with this software installed or included; rather, the consumer has to buy it separately. Take care to ensure system compatibility with your computer.

Popular Manufacturers of GPS Navigation Devices

You'll encounter a wide range of manufacturers when you go shopping for a mounted or handheld GPS system. To aid your search, it helps to have a familiarity with the most popular brands.

Garmin GPS systems offer comprehensive features for an affordable price, including built-in cameras and electronic compasses, and specialized units for truckers, cyclists and swimmers. All in all, the company offers more than two dozen different specialized GPS navigation products to meet the varied needs of today's travelers.

Magellan GPS navigation devices are designed primarily for motorists, and are available in several precision feature-packed varieties. Users are able to view their surroundings in both 2D and 3D for easier navigation, and the company is renowned for producing intuitive, easy-to-use products.

Other brand names you'll probably come across include Humminbird, TomTom, Lowrance, Spot Messenger, Bushnell, HTC, Iridium, Arkon and GlobalSat. As with any major purchase, you should check out user reviews and read the specs for the various models available to find the unit with the features you need.