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How to Get the Ideal Off-road GPS

How should you choose your off-road GPS?

In this article, we’ll guide you on the things you should know when looking for the right off-road GPS to help you quickly but safely get in and out of your 4×4 destinations.

What Is an Off-road GPS?

off road gps units

An off-road GPS is similar to an ordinary global positioning system that generates an image of your current location or where you want to go with the help of satellites. The only difference is, it gives you an image of overlapping lines. Such lines represent various elevation levels that can lead you to your target destination.

And unlike your regular GPS, off-road GPS normally have an emergency SOS function. For clarification’s sake, SOS is never an abbreviation or acronym of any particular group of words. It’s basically a Morse code that means a distressed signal, or a call for help when someone’s in trouble, and is ONLY often associated with Save Our Ship or Souls for easy reference.

The good thing about the SOS function is it automatically lets you send immediate calls for help to your local emergency service teams if you get stuck or lost. You can also message someone of your preference via your contact list.

When Should You Use an Off-road GPS?

map out a trail

Using an offroad GPS arises when you need to get a clear layout of the trail because you’re unfamiliar with it. There are some that have pre-installed off-road GPS maps which not only provide you with an outline of the trail but also give you a brief info about it like; history and customer-supplied photos.

In some instances, they can even give you a trail rating (e.g., 4/10, 6/10, 9/10.) so you have an idea if the trail is entry level, average, or meant for extreme off-roading. This is useful, especially if you need to:

  • Watch out for certain obstacles.
  • Do the necessary 4×4 modifications.
  • Check if you have the correct emergency items or supplies.
  • Update one another of your present situation.

Are Off-road GPS 100% Reliable?

how gps works
Diagram shows GPS signals at times are either blocked or weakened due to reflection.

Truth be told, off-road GPS devices are not 100% reliable. They’re useful but will always be bound by a certain level of inaccuracy because it’s very difficult to pinpoint a purely exact location. In fact, they can only tell where you are by means of their physical distance from the various satellites in space to where they’re connected to, which’s only an approximation. And such an approximation can still be affected by:

  • Weather condition
  • Radio signals
  • Mountains and buildings

Can Off-road GPS be Used Everywhere?

on and off road gps

There are many off-road GPS’ that can also be used on the road. Some off-road GPS maps are a jack of all trades in a way because they’re equipped with a traffic mode that automatically senses which areas will be congested at specific hours of the day.

You don’t have to pay for this feature provided it’s already included in the GPS device that you purchased. If not, you have to buy a separate traffic receiver that’s compatible with it or pay for a subscription fee that goes with the feature. Obviously, this will come in handy when you’re on your way to work everyday because it helps you look for alternative routes or secondary roads that save you time, energy, and money.

Another thing to note, off-road GPS doesn’t require internet connection when accessing your location and other routes if they’re pre-installed on the device with Google Maps or any third-party service provider. However, if such service providers aren’t available by the time you bought the device, you’d still need to download them via a stable net connection or activating your data.

What Are Off-road Trail Maps?

off road trail maps

Off-road trail maps are those you see with contour or curved lines stacked on one another that’s visible in particular areas of your off-road GPS screen. They often come in various colors like, red, green, or blue, and what each color represents depends on what the map legend indicates. Simply put, they show how high you are above sea level.

The contour lines also consist of numbers that tell you if you’re going up or down. For example, when you see the contour lines’ decreasing numbers, it means you’re going gradually below the original route to your destination. If contour line 1 and contour line 2 are slightly closer to each other and seem to meet at a certain point or intersection, it means one of them can be a shortcut to your destination.

Is There a Difference Between Large-scale and Small-scale Maps?

large scale map vs small scale map

Yes, there is. As a matter of fact, an off-road trail map can be classified into these 2 types. Many people get confused as to what each term meant and end up interchanging it. But the truth is, both of them are virtual representations of the areas’ actual sizes.

For example, when you look at your off-road GPS and notice that place A is about 2 inches from place B, the distance between them could mean 2 miles in real life. However, for easier understanding, below are what makes them distinct from each other:

  • Large-scale maps – are broad layouts of a particular place consisting of some specific details like streets, shops, and popular landmarks. They’re literally big at a glance but they only refer to a single, zoomed-in area. The clue is virtually bigger but actually small.
  • Small-scale maps – are detailed layout parts of the world. They show the country where a particular place is found and to some extent also reveal the other neighboring countries in a zoomed-out manner. The clue is virtually smaller but actually bigger.

How Much Are Off-road Trail Maps?

Types of Fees Price Range
One-time Fees $50-$100
Recurring Fees $50
Application Fees $5-$10

Like what was mentioned before, features included in off-road GPS’ are typically free. On the other hand, if you need something that goes beyond the ordinary or extra perks like traffic alerts which are not in the device, that’s the time you have to sign up for a personal account and subscribe to certain types of fees.

Subscription fees are basically divided into 3 categories:

  • One-time fees – are those fees that only need to be paid once. Some maps require payment after a given period, like by the end of the agreed contract or before making a renewal of the agreed contract.
  • Recurring fees – are those fees that need to be paid regularly. They can be monthly or annually depending on what’s been stated on the contract. Some map fees are subject to change and are increased based on the manufacturer’s policies.
  • Application fees (App fees) – are fees that are offered after downloading the map. Normally, they let you pay for the download for a small amount and let you use the trial for a certain time. When the trial period is over, they automatically ask you for a bigger payment if you want to continuously use it.

What’s the Recommended Screen Size for Off road GPS?

gps screen size comparison

There’s no recommended uniform off-road GPS screen size because the screen size basically depends on the type of vehicle that you own. Generally speaking, jeeps can have off-road GPS screen sizes that range from 4-6 inches on average, with 4 inches on the small side for a GPS and 7 inches is a larger size that makes for easier usability.

Route Hazard Mapping

Large screens meant you can easily input your truck’s weight and height for accessibility. This is because there are bridges that aren’t fit for heavy trucks and can easily collapse. Then, there are also overpasses which are very low that lifted trucks won’t be able to go through.

When your off-road GPS has a record of your truck’s basic info, it automatically alerts you of such possible hazards in the area and provide you with alternative routes that are safe for passage.

What’s Better for You: A Mounted GPS or Handheld GPS?

handheld off road gps

If you’re someone who’s really into hiking, mountaineering, or camping, handheld offroad GPS are what you need. This is because these types of GPS are compact enough to be kept in your bag or pocket (that can be about the size of an iPhone or iPad mini). Moreover, in cases when you need to step out of your vehicle to go exploring, they’re waterproofed to a certain level to make them more resilient against the harsh elements. But mounting them is also possible with the right hardware.

Garmin Montana 700i

garmin montana 700i
Photo courtesy of

An example of a handheld offroad GPS would be the Garmin Montana 700i which is IPX7 waterproof; where the Ingress Protection X means it’s not tested for intrusion of solids like dirt, dust, etc., but 7 means, 1 meter of water level won’t enter it for 30 minutes.

If you’re wondering what IPX means, refer to the infograph below.

ipx rating

Magellan TRX7

magellan trx7 off road gps
Photo courtesy of

If you’re more of an overlander or a 4x4er, mounted GPS are your option. This is because such GPS versions like the Magellan TRX7, can be fixed on a specific place in your vehicle (e.g., dash, rear, window, etc.,) where you can conveniently look at them, without interfering with your driver’s view.

However, you have to install them which meant they may either require the rewiring process or you need to purchase mounting hardware like clamps and bolts. You can even attach them to a 1 to 1.25-inch tubing.

Are Off-road GPS’ Voice Activated?

gps with voice command

Some offroad GPS can be voice activated depending on the design. Unlike those requiring you to be tapping screens or pushing buttons, these rely mainly on your voice commands so you need to give your full attention to the trail and say your orders loud and clear, lest one wrong command can easily get you stuck or lost.

Garmin DriveSmart 65

garmin drivesmart 65 with amazon alexa
Photo courtesy of

One example of a voice-activated GPS is the Garmin Drive Smart 65 that does the same thing and offers system assist function as well, which notifies you when you’re approaching a steep surface or when there are vehicle speed changes.

Can You Use a Garmin Map on a Magellan GPS?

garmin map on magellan gps

The blunt and brutal answer is no. You can’t load your Garmin map into your Magellan GPS and your Magellan map into your Garmin GPS. This is because even though a lot of off-road GPS maps run on third-party service providers like Apple Maps, Google Maps, and OpenStreetMaps, the look or layout of these still vary by off-road GPS brand and model.

And when we meant “vary”, there are some features that may only show on Garmin GPS but not on Magellan GPS and vice versa. Furthermore, problems like incorrect street names and missing roads or places can occur.

How Much Is an Off-road GPS Unit?

Offroad GPS prices are divided into three categories that also determine your preference and need level.

  • Cheap off-road GPS’ – are GPS with prices ranging from around $70-$100. These are recommended for light off-roading purposes which are useful for newbie 4x4ers due to their standard features.
  • Affordable off-road GPS’ – are GPS ranging from $250-$675. These are intended for optimal use of the average 4x4ers; from waterproof options to extra safety functions.
  • Expensive off-road GPS’ – are GPS that go $700 and beyond. They’re meant for hardcore 4×4 enthusiasts.


What to look for in an effective offroad GPS may vary from one person to another based on utility. But staying on track of what you need and for what reasons, will help you maximize your trail adventure and prevent it from turning into a disastrous version of hide and seek. Share us why you need an offroad GPS by commenting below.






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