Here It Is: The Ultimate GPS Selection Guide for Adventure & Dual Sport Riding
Four “Must Have’s” for your next GPS
Thanks for choosing this guide to help you select the best GPS for your Adventure and Dual Sport Riding. You’ve made a wise choice to learn about the best equipment and how to use it to boost the fun and safety of your next adventure.
I’m not a guru at this, I’m self-taught. Everything that I share are things that I’ve learned over the years by trial and error. This is GOOD NEWS because if I can do it then YOU CAN DO IT TOO!
I’m not going to explain how GPS works. If you want to know how GPS works then google it or watch a YouTube video. You can also consider it “magic” since science fiction author Arthur C. Clarke said “any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic”.
Before GPS was a thing I remember using a map (and sometimes a compass too!) for navigation when we went into the back country. On almost every trip at some point my buddy and I would come to an intersection where we’d discuss which way we should turn. The conversation would always go like this: “Well, if we’re HERE then that means…” The conversation ALWAYS started with “If we’re here…” GPS has solved that for us. No longer are we wondering “if we’re here”. With GPS you know with absolute certainly EXACTLY where on the planet you are! GPS has eliminated the words “if we’re here” from our back country navigation conversations.
With GPS I have been able to travel the world and have taken it with me on adventures in Baja, Uganda, Peru, Haiti, Canada, Alaska, Hawaii and many places in the back country of the continental US like Death Valley and in the Sierra’s. It’s allowed me to go places that I’d never try on my own. It’s given me the confidence to strike off across the most barren and desolate parts of Baja with my friends in tow because I know with absolute certainty that 32.5 miles away, over that mountain range, over near the coast, is the next Pemax gas station and our rendezvous point with the chase vehicle. I’d have never chanced going to an unfamiliar place in the wilderness of a foreign country without this lifesaving little tool. Are you ready to set off on your next adventure?
My goal with this guide is to make sure you know how to:
- Know the main criteria needed for a good off-road GPS.
- Understand the importance of a proper mount.
- Answer questions about using your phone as your primary GPS.
I often get asked “which GPS should I get?”
Although there are many different GPS options there are only a couple that I would recommend to my friends for Dual Sport or Adventure Riding. When it comes to getting the right GPS there are a few things to consider. Here are the things to look for:
- Ability to upload TRACKS, WAYPOINTS & ROUTES – This is ESSENTIAL! Your GPS needs to have the ability to upload tracks, waypoints and (hopefully) routes. Your GPS should be able to upload all three but if you can at least upload tracks & waypoints then it’s useable for Dual Sport & Adventure Riding.
- Ability to display TRACKS, WAYPOINTS & ROUTES - This is ALSO ESSENTIAL! I’ve seen GPS’s that you could upload a track to but it would not display the track on the screen. Being able to see your tracks, waypoints and routes is necessary for this to work. Your GPS should be able to upload all three but if you can at least upload tracks & waypoints then it’s useable for Dual Sport & Adventure Riding.
- Buttons – Get a GPS with actual buttons that you can press. Not a touch screen. Actual buttons provide you with positive feedback so you can FEEL them “click”. A touch screen is hard to operate if the screen gets wet or you’re wearing gloves and when it’s cold It’s hard to have the fine motor skills necessary to click small buttons on a touch screen
- Display Size – Get the largest display that is practical for your situation. A larger display gives you more information and is easier to glance at quickly while riding. It also makes it easier to see without having to stop and put on your reading glasses.
The purpose of TRACKS
For most Dual Sport & Adventure Rides you will receive an email containing your tracks as an attachment, usually as a .GPX file. These tracks will become the “breadcrumb” trail that you will follow on your ride. Your GPS to needs to be able to upload and display these tracks or it will not work for your Dual Sport or Adventure ride.
Which Maps Should I Get?
The maps in your GPS come directly from the GPS manufacturer. If you have a Garmin GPS then you’ll get your maps from Garmin. GPS manufacturers have put controls in place to prevent users from sharing maps so maps are not able to be shared between different people or GPS units.
My suggestion is to get a recent version of the city maps for the areas that you ride in. I use a recent version of Garmin “City Navigator”. I know that it has the word “City” in the name of the maps but this map set has all the back country roads that I go on all the time. It also shows rivers, mountains, park boundaries and many other useful map features.
What about Topo Maps?
I’ve looked at and purchased topo maps but for Dual Sport & Adventure Riding I don’t like using a topo map. Because Topo maps have so much more information they clutter the screen with a lot of unnecessary information like contour lines and hiking trails. Contour lines help to tell you how steep the ground is but on a motorcycle it doesn’t matter. If a hill is steep I just twist the wrist a little more or find another trail. If I’m walking or pedaling then how steep the trail is would matter a lot more. Lastly, hiking trails are not another name for “single track” so I don’t need to see them when Dual Sport & Adventure Riding so the “city” maps work just fine.
What’s the Best GPS?
I don’t know the “best” GPS but I know which one I like to use and recommend. My favorite GPS is any of the Garmin 60 series GPS MAP units. This includes the GPSMAP 60, 62 & 64. There are several variations of each unit. Some come preloaded with certain maps, etc. so just find one of these units that meets your needs. There are also several others Garmin GPS units that work well and units from other manufacturers. Any of them that meet my above criteria will work just fine but GPS’s in the Garmin 60 series are my favorite.
Mount your GPS where you can see it when you ride. I’ve seen people drop a GPS in their backpack or put it in a jacket pocket and say “I’ve got my GPS!” then head out on the trail… This doesn’t cut it. You want your GPS mounted security to the handlebars where you can see it while you ride. It’s a bonus if it’s also powered by the bike. Many manufacturers make awesome GPS mounts but my favorites are from Touratech (https://touratech-usa.com/Motorcycle-GPS-Mounts).
Can I use a phone for my GPS?
Sometimes people ask about using a phone for their GPS. This is possible but I discourage it for the following reasons:
- I’d rather risk a rugged, waterproof dedicated GPS unit than my $1000 phone on the handlebars of my bike.
- A phone doesn’t have real buttons (see above).
- A phone display might be harder to read while riding.
- There are several GPS software options out there but you’ll have to figure out how to use them.
If you decide to use a phone as your primary GPS for Dual Sport & Adventure Riding then I suggest getting an old phone that you don’t care that much about. That way if it falls off or gets smashed you didn’t just lose your $1,000 phone.
You’ll also have to find a navigation app that you like and figure out how to use it for your purposes. I suggest learning how to use it at home in your neighborhood before you take it to the trails.
Thanks for taking the time to learn these tips for selecting your GPS. When you’re ready to take your Dual Sport & Adventure Riding and GPS navigation skills to the next level join us in Yosemite for a family friendly two-day GPS based event coving over 100 miles of Logging, Fire & Forest Service roads in and around Yosemite National Park. Learn more here: