An off road GPS system can be a game changer if you spend any amount of time venturing off the pavement. The average consumer GPS system is of extremely limited use when the paved roads end, with maps that focus entirely on widely accessible, established routes and waypoints. What use is that when you’re following a trail deep within a national park, or mud bogging somewhere well off-the-grid in Alabama?

That’s where off road GPS systems come in. Aimed squarely at overlanding enthusiasts, these units come preloaded with thousands of maps covering much of the country’s surface area, complete with topographical data and popular trails. They also tend to deliver far greater accuracy when it comes to pinpointing the user’s exact location; have a penchant for picking up a signal where a more mainstream GPS units might fail; and commonly feature waterproof and shockproof housings to protect against common off road hazards.

So, which off road GPS system is the right one for you? Here, we’ve rounded up five of the best units currently available, covering a range of different price points.

Garmin Overlander

Garmin Overlander Off Road GPS

As the best known name in street GPS units, it should come as no surprise that Garmin also produces a number of great off road GPS systems. Among the best is the Garmin Overlander – a rugged, suction cup-mountable navigator with 64 GB of internal storage and loads of topographical maps covering North and South America. One particularly nifty feature allows the user to enter their vehicle’s weight, height, and length so that the GPS can make vehicle-appropriate route recommendations, and the 7-inch touchscreen display can be connected to up to four BC 35 backup cameras.

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Magellan TRX7 CS

Magellan TRX7

A similarly versatile unit for a bit less than the Garmin Overlander, the Magellan TRX7 CS is housed in a drop- and shock-resistant, waterproof, dustproof case, with a high-resolution 7-inch touchscreen display. It ships preloaded with more than 160,000 4×4, ATV, motorcycle, and snowmobile trails from across the US, and high-resolution topographical map data covering the US and Canada. The unit has a built-in 5MP camera with an LED flash (a less-expensive camera-less version is available here), and one-touch track recording allows you to “bread-crumb” your path as you go, creating track data that can be published for viewing and use by other Magellan off-road GPS users.

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Garmin Oregon 650t

Garmin Oregon 650t

If you’re looking for something in a more portable form factor, suited for use both in-car and on-foot, check out the Garmin Oregon 650t – a 3-inch handheld off road GPS unit with a built-in 8MP digital camera. The 650t can track and share routes with other Garmin units over Bluetooth, and a dual-battery system allows you to run the device on both an internal rechargeable battery and a pair of AA alkaline batteries. The total average battery life is rated at around 16 hours, so you can get lost for a while and feel confident that you’ll have enough juice to find your way back.

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Trail Tech Voyager Pro

Trail Tech TR5

Designed primarily with powersports users in mind, the Trail Tech Voyager Pro is a compelling off road GPS offering primarily for its nifty Buddy Tracking feature. Buddy Tracking uses radio signals to communicate the locations of up to 20 off-roaders in a group, allowing each group member to keep track of where their friends are. The unit is housed in a handlebar-friendly waterproof, dustproof case with a 4-inch touchscreen display.

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Magellan TR5

Magellan TR5

Looking for a budget option? Check out the Magellan TR5 – a smaller, less expensive off road GPS unit. Its case isn’t as rugged as on the TR7 CS; it has no built-in digital camera; and its screen measures 5 inches instead of 7. But the core features are similar, with topographical maps covering the US and Canada, and some 115,000 pre-loaded 4×4, ATV, motorcycle, and snowmobile trails from across the US. Plus, the TR5 allows for the same track recording and publishing/sharing as the TR7, allowing you to upload tracks you’ve discovered for the benefit of other Magellan off-road GPS users.

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How Does Off Road GPS Work?

GPS, or the Global Positioning System, is a network of roughly 30 satellites orbiting the Earth. Originally a US Military tool, regular folks like us have been able to use the signals generated by these satellites to triangulate our positions for some time now. The best part is that today’s GPS units are extremely user friendly and not complicated to use.

Wherever you are on the planet, at least four GPS satellites are within range of your GPS device. Each satellite sends out its position and the current time at regular intervals. These signals are picked up by your GPS, which then calculates how far away each satellite is based on how long it took for the messages to arrive. As long as your GPS has received signals from a minimum of three satellites, it can pinpoint your location using a process called trilateration. Trilateration is pretty cool. Basically each of the three satellites’ signals will say you’re within a given area, calculated as an oval. Your GPS then pinpoints your exact location by finding where the three ovals interconnect. As software and signal strength has improved over the years, accuracy of best off road GPS units that we use has greatly improved.

Do You Need GPS?

The newest crop of off road GPS systems are outstanding. They help you stay on the trail and even help you find your way to new trails. These units make it easier to find new trails through GPS by having online data you can download. These websites provide you with complete trail maps right on your GPS, and have waypoints and trail info from other users inputted right into the data stream.

The best off road GPS systems also work when you’re trying to ride as a group, by keeping everyone on the same trail. Some systems even communicate with each other for you, letting you know where everyone is at all times.

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