I'm shopping around for a handheld GPS, and from what I'm seeing, none of the big vendors (Garmin, Magellan and Delorme) make a unit that can use, for example, a simple georeferenced TIFF or a Shapefile as a background layer on screen. They all want you to buy (or subscribe to) their own closed-off product which basically just repackages data that is often otherwise freely available (like USGS quads) and allows you to use it with their GPS units.

Is there a vendor that sells a device like a Garmin GPSMap or Delorme PN which can use freely-available GIS data standards like TIF, SHP, OSM data, and so on? I know Trimble's handhelds can do some of this, but they are much more expensive.

  • May or may not be exactly what you are looking for in terms of accuracy, but if the GPS in your phone is of sufficient precision for your needs, you can definitely find a number of apps for the major smart phone platforms that will let you use either shapefiles, or KML's, or other user provided data as a background. As far as that app goes, it just depends on what all you'd want it to be able to do, what other functionality you'd need it to have, etc... just a thought – John Feb 28 '14 at 16:19
  • It's a good thought, I'm just looking for something with better accuracy, battery life, and durability. I may end up sticking an old cell phone in a rugged case with an extended battery though. – Dan C Feb 28 '14 at 16:21
  • I loaded my own Custom Maps on my Garmin Etrex 30 without subscribing, only use it for hike or geocaching, other than that using a smartphone (nexus5) which has many mappy apps for free. For camping have a portable charger. – Mapperz Feb 28 '14 at 16:22
  • Using a Shapefile (yes converts it) on a Garmin GPS youtube.com/watch?v=kNHI7tB8hQ8 – Mapperz Feb 28 '14 at 17:40

Depending on your level of accuracy I would suggest the following:

Low level Accuracy

Use QGIS for Android (free and has a gps toolbar) along with your tablet or handheld native gps

High Level Accuracy

Use QGIS for Android along with your vendor gps

  • Agreed; if you can figure out the battery concern, that tethering a 'real' GPS to a smartphone is likely the best option. – Darren Cope Feb 28 '14 at 16:31

This might be such an obvious answer that others haven't said it (or you already know it) but it seems worth saying: There are good value units (Garmin Etrex 20 or 30 for example) which can relatively easily be set up to use OSM vector data. With some skill I think that it is possible to adapt the renderings etc too (rather than simply going with what's offered).

See 'Openmtbmap.org' or 'talkytoaster.info' for a starting point.

I'm 99% sure (without having ever checked properly) that what's going on here is the use of a semi-standardised method for changing the OSM data to fit with whatever requirements are specific to the Garmin device (i.e. rather than the Garmin device being able to read other formats). Presumably though such a system would be adaptable to conversion of alternative data formats in the same way.

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