The 10 Best GPS Devices for 10 Different Sports

by Stephen Schroeder - Mar 24, 2017 Category: Devices
GPS Tracking for Employees and Business

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Dedicated GPS units in the form of handhelds, smartwatches and smart-wearables have improved performance in many sports and have enhanced the experiences and safety of outdoor activities, particularly when used to navigate and for search and rescue.

A sport-dedicated GPS unit can help athletes improve their performance in many ways. Indeed, the world of sports has recently witnessed athletes that are faster, stronger, fitter, and better prepared for competition. At the heart of this development is sports science, where performance data is a critical input in the process.

With advanced technology we are able to obtain more and better data to analyze how physical performance can be improved. GPS units coupled with various built-in sensors play an important role in gathering these data. Besides the regular grueling regimen, training is even more effective when key matrices such as distances covered, speed, rhythm, positioning, heart rate, etc. can be measured.

After all, to manage, you first have to measure. And this applies equally to those who just want to record their activities, perhaps for fun, perhaps to manage their exercise routine, to keep track of their health and to keep them motivated and disciplined. 

Many outdoor activities like hiking, fishing and paragliding rely on geolocation data for navigation and safety. Some dedicated GPS units have built-in sensors that can do smart analysis for users, helping users asses potential bad weather, impassable terrains, no flying zones, etc. GPS technology has enabled users to plan routes ahead and come up with contingency plans, reducing unnecessary risks to allow users to focus more not only the actual physical exercise of outdoor activities, but also the natural environment they are adventuring in.

Selecting carefully from the wide array of activity-dedicated GPS units available in the market, here is a list of 10 sports and outdoor activities that are using and benefitting from GPS technology.

1. Running

Whether you are aiming for Olympic gold or just training to achieve your personal bests, dedicated GPS units for runners are an increasingly indispensable part of the modern run routine. Smartwatches like the Garmin Forerunner 630, one of the most advanced GPS units in the market, can help runners track routes taken, distances covered, time completion, steps taken and speed.

The Garmin Forerunner 630 is a leading dedicated smartwatch for runners
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The Garmin Forerunner 630 is a leading dedicated smartwatch for runners

For more advanced readings, it can be paired with a Garmin HRM-Run monitor to obtain accurate measurements on cadence, ground contact time, stride length, vertical ratio, stress score, performance condition and lactate threshold, etc. – in short, all the data you need for running to run further, faster, and stay healthier. Runners can use the Forerunner 630 to strategize for the next run and to guide them along set runs with time targets. Based on performance condition, it can even predict race times. Its sensors can also let you know when to lax or recover from your grueling workout based on a heart rate stress score.  

As for those training under a ‘Rocky Balboa’ routine, the TomTom Spark 3 Cardio + Music can add drama to the regimen with a soundtrack to inspire from a music storage of over 500 songs (3GB) to source from – for up to 5 hours of play. And while enjoying the music, the unit also keeps runners focus via live audio feedback on their performance. When set to the race mode, runners can challenge themselves against their past workouts. With these units, running does not have to be so banal anymore.

2. Swimming

Want to swim like a pro? GPS technology is here to make it happen. Dedicated GPS units for swimming are built for both competitive swimming in the pool and for open swimming in the seas. In the pool, GPS technology can help swimmers train and focus more effectively.

Coaches use wearables such as IOLITE to guide and train their athletes. Worn at the back of the swim cap and fitted with small LED lights at the corner of the goggles, it is designed to be non-intrusive so that swimmers can continue to swim without stopping to look or get distracted, while getting feedback on their conditions real time. The LED signal indicators provide guidance by communicating high-precision real-time feedback to swimmers as they swim. Swimmers can know real-time if they have veered off course, or are not swimming at the desired pace at any particular stage. They can then adjust their performance accordingly.

IOLITE Swimming GPS Navigation System
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IOLITE Swimming GPS Navigation System

Subsequently, the LED lights can pace swimmers and even cue them when they are finishing so that they can swim in a burst on the last stretch. Swimmers can analyze data such as distance, direction, speed, cadence and more obtained during the swim.

3. Team Sports: Soccer, rugby, hockey, etc.

Winning is everything for professional sports clubs. It is about pride and is a serious multi-billion dollar business. Players are their most expensive assets. Their health and performance are intensely monitored. In fact, some sports clubs are so competitive that they employ hi-tech GPS technology to help them play out formation, rehearse complex strategies, and track player fitness level – in other words, to train smart, play smart and win smart.

Players train with GPSPORTS vest with the GPS unit inserted on a small pocket
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Players train with GPSPORTS vest with the GPS unit inserted on a small pocket

With GPS units like GPSPORTS SPI HPU, coaches can obtain game data to analyze game and individual player performance. Armed with analytics, prep-talks by coaches are increasingly technical, and hard numbers on work rate are making players more accountable too. The GPSPORTS SPI HPU units and its systems are used by top football clubs like Chelsea FC and Barcelona FC. The tough small-sized device provides accurate two way wireless communication, is sensitive to the slightest of impacts and tracks players’ speed, distances covered, positioning, among other metrics.

Catapult analytics measure players’ performance
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Catapult analytics measure players’ performance

Not to be outshone, the Catapult OptimEye S5 (Premium Elite Solution), a sister product of the GPSPORTS SPI HPU (in fact, Catapult is a pioneer of GPS tracking for team sports and acquired GPSPORT in 2014), boasts an even more accurate movement tracking system as it is also supported by the Russian-based geolocation positioning system, GLONASS. Catapult’s proprietary Inertial Movement Analysis tool can measure micro-movements. Not surprisingly, such GPS based technology has caught the attention of world class football teams like Bayern Munich, PSG and Real Madrid.

4. Winter Sports: alpine skiing, snowboarding, etc.

Heading to the Alps? You may want to equip yourself with a GPS unit. After all, it is easy to get disoriented in similar looking white snowy surroundings. GPS units let amateur and professional skiers and snowboarders venture out further, play in confidence, with some peace-of-mind knowing they are more likely to be found and rescued at the call of a distress signal. In the event they are buried under an avalanche or if they injure themselves after hitting a concealed rock, rescuers can easily locate them.

The Recon Snow2 almost turns users into snow patrol cyborgs
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The Recon Snow2 almost turns users into snow patrol cyborgs

But GPS technology is not only for safety. The Recon Snow 2 is a wearable designed specifically to improve run performance with live data feeds on important readings, displayed via a screen tucked into the corner of their goggles. It comes with a waterproof, glove-friendly Bluetooth remote to control many settings.

Garmin Fenix 3
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Garmin Fenix 3

A built-in altimeter provides accurate elevation readings before any vertical drop. The unit lets users track by the run, by the day and by the season. Users can mark favorite or dangerous spots on the trail and share them with other adventurers. In a group setting, users can live-track their friends.

For a more recreational unit, the Garmin Fenix 3, while not exactly a dedicated smartwatch for winter sports, nevertheless has useful features for winter sports. For example, it can automatically auto pause when using the lift line. And for ease of use, the unit has a touchscreen that is glove-friendly. And as the sun can be very bright up in the mountains, the screen of the unit is also sunlight-visible with high-resolution color and an LED backlight, allowing users to access data in any light.

5. Cycling

GPS units offer amateur and professional cyclists alike an easy and convenient way to manage cycling routes and to navigate and to record performances. Widely regarded as one of the best designed GPS units for cycling, the Garmin Edge 1000 comes with a 3-inch, high resolution anti-glare touchscreen that can be mounted out in the front cockpit of bicycles. It comes with a small remote that can be attached to the handlebars, with buttons to control data pages, to set laps, and to manage customized functions.

The GPS unit can obtain data from the Shimano Di2 electronic shifting systems for gearing analysis
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The GPS unit can obtain data from the Shimano Di2 electronic shifting systems for gearing analysis

It is pre-loaded with cycling maps that can work out cycling friendly routes. Cyclists can input a distance to cover and choose from 3 recommended round-trip options, then follow its turn-by-turn, on-road and off-road navigation and points of interest. In the meantime, it can track distance covered, speed, etc.

For advanced measurements, cyclists can pair their unit with ANT+ sensors to measure heart rate, pedal cadence and pedal power sensors. Training data can then be uploaded to Garmin Connect, Garmin's online user data and social media platform, for analysis. For the very serious cyclists, the unit can even communicate with Shimano’s particular Di2 gear platform and store the gearing data for analysis.

When cycling in groups or on a particular shared route, cyclists can compete against each other by linking up on Garmin Connect. Cyclists can live-track each other’s positions. The unit can guide cyclists on pacing and distance to cover, etc. and can share route information with fellow cyclists.

6. Golf

Mastering golf has gone hi-tech. Dedicated GPS units for golf let players practice swings with analytics for reference, train judgment on distances between them and the holes, help them negotiate terrains, provide any other information to decide the strategy to score – all while playing in peace, with scorecards and etc. taken care of.

The Microsoft Golf Band, a resulting product of a partnership with Taylormade, promises to do all of the above. It aims not only to provide golfers access to all information relevant to the round of game, but also to guide players get around them.

The Microsoft Golf Band gives you all the information you need – no more excuses for a poor game
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The Microsoft Golf Band gives you all the information you need – no more excuses for a poor game

It tracks scores, distance to the front, center, and back of the green, all via live game feedback. The unit can detect which hole the golfer is playing and find the range. Advanced sensors track strokes, steps, heart rate, and even calorie burn. The technology is so advanced it can differentiate between practice swings and actual swing strokes. Golfers would have to connect to its mobile applications to access the analytics.

On the other hand, Garmin takes a slightly different approach with the Approach G8. Unlike the Microsoft band, the unit is a light and sleek handheld with a 3-inch color touchscreen. It is preloaded with more than 40,000 golf courses around the world updated automatically via internet. But just like the Microsoft Taylormade band, it can advise golfers the distances to the target, adjusted for uphill or downhill shots, etc.

7. Hiking, Backpacking and Mountaineering

Activities such as hiking, backpacking and mountaineering are activities that rely heavily on geolocation data, directions and information on outdoor conditions. People are venturing out further and further away more confidently, thanks to dedicated GPS units for these outdoor activities. GPS units help users manage routes and navigate in poor visibility through rough terrains or in a landscape with little or no distinct features. It allows users to communicate with each other and with their group. Distressed users with GPS are also more likely to be found and rescued as they can send signals and be tracked in real time.

Never underestimate a Garmin, the Oregon 600 is a small but powerful device
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Never underestimate a Garmin, the Oregon 600 is a small but powerful device

The Garmin Oregon 600 is 100% built for these outdoor activities. For a start, with its rugged built, it is designed to last the harshest of conditions. It comes with a simple base map or full-fledged topographic maps, viewable on a 3-inch sun-visible touchscreen, from where users can navigate point-to-point, and evaluate their route and retrace earlier steps. It has a boosted satellite power, covered by GPS and GLONASS, which improves connectivity in remote wilderness. It has built-in sensors such as a 3-axis electronic compass with accelerometer and barometric altimeter sensors to pinpoint altitude and to track the weather. Its two-way-radio can receive weather-radio forecasts that will also be useful in the event of search-and-rescue. These are useful especially when climbing on mountains, where weather conditions can change very drastically. Battery life is critical, and where there is limited access to charge, the unit can be quickly replaced with AA size external batteries.

If there is room for spare unit in case of emergency, the InReach Explorer is good candidate to consider bringing along. Its interactive SOS platform communicates with their dedicated 24/7 search and rescue monitoring center.

InReach Explorer wants you to experience more of activity and nature with less worry
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InReach Explorer wants you to experience more of activity and nature with less worry

8. Fishing

Fishing is a favorite past time worldwide. Fishing enthusiasts can either fish on water bodies found in-land, or in the coastal areas. The latter requires more preparation as it involves boating far out in the seas. A fishing expedition can be enhanced using a GPS fish finder, attached on the boat or handheld. As the name suggests, the fish finder relies both on GPS and sonar technology to locate fish population for increased chance of successful fishing and to better navigate terrains. It can store information on routes, coordinates, checkpoints and direction.

The Garmin GPSMAP 8624 MFD offers a comfortable size fish finder
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The Garmin GPSMAP 8624 MFD offers a comfortable size fish finder

A good fish finder like the Garmin GPSMAP 8624 MFD also advises on the best fishing days, tide information, fishing spots, docking and anchoring, nautical and marine charts. For better user experience, the unit is equipped with a powerful sonar CHIRP technology that ‘pings’ continuous sweep of high and low frequencies, creating a much higher resolution image of the results, and this is complemented by a large screen, a 24-inch full HD color display that is pinch-to-zoom touchscreen that is also sun-visible. A large colored screen is needed to shows a clearer terrain layout which can help you navigate shallow and rocky waters. On the other hand, if you do not own a boat, or happen to have several boats, the Garmin Striker 7sv is a handheld device that you can carry aboard any boat. It comes with a relatively large 7-inch color screen, and has similar features as its larger sister device.  

9. Boating and Sailing

Whether you are an amateur or a seasoned sailor, navigating the seas can be rough and intimidating. GPS device is essential for safety. The search time for distressed sailors with GPS trackers is undoubtedly reduced and callers are more likely to be found, increasing their chance of survival. In fact, GPS based beacon like the EPIRB (emergency position-indicating radio beacon) is usually installed on boats as a mandatory safety requirement in some countries for boats travelling further than the indicated threshold nautical miles out into the sea – specific to local requirements. An example of an EPIRB is the Smartfind Plus/G5 GPS.

The Smartfind Plus/G5 GPS EPRIB installed on the boat (left) and floating in the seas (right)
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The Smartfind Plus/G5 GPS EPRIB installed on the boat (left) and floating in the seas (right)

The device is a float-free EPIRB that can automatically deploy and be activated when the boat is sinking. Its multi-channel GPS ensures better accuracy even in remote areas. It can conduct its own comprehensive diagnostic on battery usage and its operation. It is equipped with bright flashing LED lights to attract attention. The ACR GlobalFix Pro RLB-37 is another example of a high quality EPIRB. Unlike the Smartfind Plus/G5, this EPIRB can not only quickly and accurately relay positions to a global network of search and rescue satellites, it can also identify the caller based on a unique registered distress signal.

10. Flying: paragliding, hang gliding, hot-air ballooning, etc.

Nothing gives adrenaline junkies more rush than flying - it mixes the element of fear, risk, uncertainty, and speed. For that short period of time up in the air, and when life is at stake, flyers would want the absolutely most reliable flying equipment to count on to make decisions. So, if any flyers lose their bearings, a GPS device can help them get back on track in the right direction and help maintain flight.

Alt vario GPS combos
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Alti-vario-GPS combos combine variometers with GPS. Added sensors like Flymaster’s Heart G (middle) can be paired to measure external readings such as heart rate and G-forces for analysis

Flyers use alti-vario-GPS combos like the Flymaster GPS Sd+ to obtain flight information and to navigate, especially where to fly safely in view of restricted airspace zones. To reduce clutter which may cause errors, the unit features a unique ‘Designer’ where flyers can create and include only the instruments the flyers need to suit their own style of flying. Flyers can also upload all flight information onto Flymaster’s very own Cloud Flights Web Service to review and analyze flight data, including G-forces and heart rate values that can be obtained by pairing with Flymaster’s Heart G sensor. Another example of an alti-vario-GPS combo is the Syride Sys'Nav V3 which has a thermal sensor that warns paragliders when the sink rate indicates some lift nearby.

Conclusion

The greatest beneficiaries of GPS technology in sports and outdoor activities tend to be those that involve racing or competitive timing, positioning and the potential need for search and rescue situations. Activity-dedicated GPS units can help users improve performance, enhance the experience of their activities, and improve safety. The best devices are those that come with features designed to facilitate their specific dedicated activities.