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When cycling, and increasingly when hiking, I use a bike computer GPS app on my phone, but my phone is no longer waterproof, so I'm thinking of a dedicated GPS device. However I'm picky, and having borrowed a couple of devices haven't found one I like. I find that I have a much better sense of direction if I follow a breadcrumb trail with the map set to north at the top, rather than turning with the road. Combined with good mapping on a good screen (easily identified) this makes things like rerouting and working out what I can see in the distance much easier. This is probably a legacy of learning to navigate on paper, which in many ways I still prefer for hiking - but I want to navigate, not be navigated.

But this feature either doesn't exist on any unit, or is never listed in the specs - so how can I identify a device that supports it, before ordering (and I would have to order online)?

  • Garmin seems to have this option. – Weather Vane Jun 18 at 8:46
  • @WeatherVane you mean the Garmin GPSmap64 does, I assume. The several other Garmin devices I've tested or asked the owners about don't. The GPSmap64 has some nice features (and some that I'm less keen on). It's interesting that while I've only seen "north top" they use "north up". If that's universal it may be helpful for brands that put full manuals online in a searchable way - it suggests that some Garmins for cars do this - no use to me but indicative – Chris H Jun 18 at 9:30
  • ...Maybe also some recent etrex – Chris H Jun 18 at 9:35
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    Every GPS device I have ever owned has north at top either as default or as an option: various Garmins, eTreks and TomToms, as well as all my android phones – Rory Alsop Jun 18 at 15:17
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    @ChrisH I would recommend you self-answer your question, with what you learned from the various comments and your own research. Specifically, that many models of GPS support north-at-the-top as an option, and maybe list some of the models/manufacturers you found that do and don't support that option. I think that could be very useful information to someone else. – csk Jun 18 at 18:24
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Many even most current models do in fact support this. It's presumably common enough that the manufacturers don't feel the need to specify. Manuals and menus aren't always clear, and experienced owners have told me that it's not an option on their device when it actually is buried somewhere.

Garmin use the term "north up" (as opposed to "track up") and their manuals are searchable online. For some models the setting is a feature of an activity profile rather than global. While my original Etrex lacks this option, most more recent models do.

For Wahoo, disabling "always rotate map" via the android app is the way to configure it, but this only applies if you're not following a route.

In both cases it's a configuration option rather than something easy to toggle from the navigation display. The few modern devices that really don't seem to offer this option are those that that provide only minimal mapping features on the device itself.

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The point of having a GPS displaying a map is to know where you are instantly by looking at it, which can't be done if the map rotates. So most GPS'es will have the feature you want, and since it's quite an obvious feature, it won't be listed in the specs.

Simply google "name of your GPS" and "north up", for example "garmin north up". You'll get the manual page explaining how to set it up.

If you want a cycling GPS then the other features you might consider interesting are compass, altitude sensor, and other bicycle interfaces like heart rate monitor or cadence sensor.

Without an onboard magnetic sensor (compass) the GPS has to guess your heading from the direction of your movement on the map, which requires a good enough GPS signal, and it only works when you are moving. In other words, if you're moving slowly or are stopped deep in the woods with bad signal, a real compass works a lot better whether it is inside the GPS or just a good old compass on your handlebar. Also the latter doesn't require batteries and will get you home even if the GPS dies.

The altitude sensor measures elevation more accurately than the GPS does. GPS is pretty accurate for positioning but it requires more visible satellites and good signal for accurate altitude.

And make sure the screen is readable in full sunlight, and the touchscreen still works in rain.

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