Buying a GPS?

Here are some questions to consider before buying a GPS

Hand held outdoor GPS and a hiking map

Buying a GPS is a bit like purchasing a car: there are SO many considerations! Am I best suited with a bubble car just for shopping, or a people mover that will fit the kids’ friends, or a 4WD to tow the caravan? When purchasing a GPS, the first question you should ask yourself is the same as when buying a vehicle: “What do I intend to use it for?” Do you primarily want a GPS to backup paper maps, or as a major navigational tool? One user or several?

Generally, you get what you pay for. More GPS features = more cost; greater position accuracy = greater cost; larger screen = larger cost; better maps = yep, higher cost. If you want a device that will connect you with emergency services in a crisis, you’ll pay more and a subscription to a satellite service is also required. If a walking club wants to purchase GPS’s for walk leaders to borrow, then cost and ease of use will be important considerations.

This series of questions is a good place to start:

Do I need a GPS at all?

If you only want to confirm your location, a good navigation app on a smartphone will do what you want.

Is a smartphone or a handheld GPS better for navigating in difficult conditions (e.g. dense canopy; bad weather)?

A high-quality GPS with good maps will trump a good smartphone app with good downloaded maps. A smartphone is made to be a smartphone; a GPS is made to be a rugged outdoors navigation device.
Personally, I get the best of both worlds and carry both devices, as well as a paper map and compass.

I do want a GPS, but how do I research which features I really need?

There is an excellent, detailed article referenced in the Bushwalking Manual: Beginners guide to choosing a GPS device. It is written by the Ordnance Survey of Great Britain and explains all the various features of a GPS in detail. As it’s designed for the British market, there are a few minor differences to the devices available in Australia.

What GPS brands and models are available in Australia?

Garmin is really the only brand relevant to bushwalkers, as Magellan devices now seem to be off the market. Garmin has numerous options: you can compare all the models and their features on the Garmin Australia website. There’s also a recent, good review on GearLab.

So many models! How do I choose?

We are back to our very first question: “What do I intend to use this GPS for?” What features are essential to you? Who will use it? If you only need a GPS to check your position occasionally, then a Garmin eTrex 10 (about $120 at Anaconda) would be fine. At the other end of the scale, if you want a full-featured GPS to plot routes, track your walk, with a detailed mapset and which can communicate in emergencies, then a Garmin GPSMAP 66i ($729 at Johnny Appleseed GPS) may be what you want. There are lots of models in between.

I’ve heard that GPS maps are poor. Is that true?

All GPS units come with base maps. These are not very helpful to the bushwalker who likes detailed topographical maps. Garmin offers three different mapsets for Australia: ‘TOPO’, ‘TOPO Light and ‘TopoActive’. The ‘TOPO’ version is equivalent to maps of about 1:24,000 scale ($199); the ‘TOPO Light’ version, at half the price, is equivalent to maps of about 1:100,000 scale. Of these two, the ‘TOPO’ version is preferable. Some GPS models come with pre-loaded ‘TopoActive’ maps which are based on OpenStreetMap data; currently, ‘TopoActive’ maps are not available to be purchased separately. ‘TOPO’ and ‘TOPO Light’ mapsets can be purchased and added later, but it’s always cheaper to purchase your GPS with your preferred maps pre-loaded. It’s useful to note that good, free maps – also based on OpenStreetMap data – are available from the third-party site OpenTopoMap for Garmin. These maps are updated regularly and an optional contour layer is also available. Installation instructions are provided on the website.

Who can I talk to about purchasing a GPS?

Chat with a walker who regularly uses a GPS on bushwalks. The sales staff in large outdoor stores seldom know enough about these devices; you may do better at a specialist outdoor store like Bogong or The Wilderness Shop. The staff at specialist GPS stores like Johnny Appleseed GPS are usually friendly and extremely knowledgeable.

OK, I have chosen the features, mapset and model that’s best for me/my club: where can I purchase?

if you know exactly what you want, shop around. There are plenty of discounts available. Some outdoors stores, including GPS specialists, will price-match.

Thanks to Ian Mair of Melbourne Bushwalkers for the info on free OpenTopo maps.

Written by Andrew Robinson (September 2021)

Want to start Bushwalking?

You can walk with a Bushwalking Club to give it a go! 


Having discovered the benefits of exercising outdoors when making the most of the limited times available to leave home and to exercise during the Covid Lockdowns, many of us are keen to keep the momentum going. We have come to realise just how important outdoor physical activity is to our health and well-being.

If you would like to venture further afield to exercise in natural surroundings; to use walking tracks that will lead through our wonderful native forests, to visit a waterfall or a mountain creek hidden away from the roads, or off the beaten track, a lookout over a valley of tree ferns; - you should try bushwalking.

A bushwalk can be a short non-taxing way to exercise or an all-day strenuous workout, or anywhere in between, the choice is yours. If you want to go on your first bushwalk or start bushwalking regularly, a great way to start is to walk as with a bushwalking club. Clubs’ programs cater for all levels of fitness. They provide walks in a variety of locations, with differing time commitments and distances and degrees of ease or difficulty. Clubs have experienced walk leaders among their members. The leaders do the planning and preparation, and they know their walks.

Bushwalking Clubs welcome new bushwalkers, so please do not hesitate to contact one or more clubs that interest you to find out about how to join them as a guest on a walk or become a member. Most clubs affiliated with Bushwalking Victoria have their program of upcoming walks online. Have a look at the club programs from the list below. For a full list of clubs and their contact details, click here

Club Name Walks Program Link
Ballarat Bushwalking and Outdoor Club
Bass Coast Strollers
Bayside Bushwalking Club
Ben Cruachan Walking Club
Benalla Bushwalking Club
Bendigo Bushwalking & Outdoor Club
Berwick and District Bushwalking Club
B'nai B'rith Ramblers
Border Bushwalking Club
Boroondara Bushwalkers
Bunarong Bushwalking Club
CAEX Bushwalking Club
Catholic Walking Club of Victoria
Croydon Bushwalking Club
Dandenong Valley Bushwalking Club
Diamond Valley Bushwalking Club
Echuca Moama Bushwalkers
Eltham and Environs Walking Group
Escaping Your Comfort Zone
Essendon Bushwalking Club
Geelong Bushwalking Club
Gisborne Bushwalking Club
Grampians Bushwalking Club
Great Dividing Trail Association
Happy When I am Hiking
Iranian Bushwalkers
Koonung Bushwalking Club
Maroondah Bushwalking Club
Melbourne Bushwalkers
Melbourne University and Alumni Bushwalkers
Melbourne Walking Club
Melbourne Women's Walking Club
Melbourne Young Hikers
Melton Bushwalkers
Pakenham Bushwalking Club
Peninsula Bushwalking Club
Shepparton Adventure Club
South Gippsland Walking & Adventure Club
Strzelecki Bushwalking Club
Sunraysia Bushwalkers
The Ramblers Walking Club
Victorian Mountain Tramping Club
Walking Club of Victoria
Warby Range Bushwalkers
Warrnambool Walkers
Waverley Bushwalking Club
Werribee Bushwalking & Outdoor Club
Wimmera Bushwalking Club


New Mornington Peninsula Walks Map

A New Map from Meridian - Mornington Peninsula Walks Map Guide 2nd Edition

 Mornington Peninsula Walks Cover 1

Mornington Peninsula Walks is so much more than a map: as well as being a comprehensive guide to many walks, it also offers a wealth of information to those wishing to explore this marvelous area which is easily accessible from Melbourne. Notes on flora and fauna, local history and public transport access are all provided. There is even a list of suggested reading and websites for visitors to the region. It is difficult to see what additional information could be packed into this publication.

Mornington Peninsula Walks (published Jan 2021) contains some information from the older Mornington-Arthurs Seat Map (2001), but has been so extensively updated and reworked that it is basically a new guide. It covers Point Nepean National Park, Mornington Peninsula National Park, Arthurs Seat State Park, Two Bays Walking Track and the Peninsula Coastal Walk.

Making a walk map of the Mornington Peninsula can be ‘awkward’ because a single map scale and orientation is not appropriate for all areas. Meridian has overcome this with two clever ideas: firstly, four of the six maps are printed at 1:25,000 and two at 1:20,000 (where more detail is required). Secondly, the two coastal walk maps are oriented across the page, rather than having north at the top. Clear north pointers are provided on all maps and the grid serves as a reminder to the map reader as to the map’s orientation. This enables the guide to be quite compact, whilst offering information-packed maps at a scale that is ideal for walkers.

Over two dozen walks are mapped and briefly described. Walk difficulty ratings (from easy to difficult), distances and times are provided. The times are generous, being equivalent to a walking speed of 2-3 kph, and range from one-hour family rambles to the rather more challenging 26km Two Bays Walking Track, with which many bushwalkers would be familiar. The information on the maps is comprehensive: parking and picnic areas, toilets and shelters, patrolled beaches, emergency marker locations, views and points of interest. The maps are peppered with interesting snippets of history and references to other recreational activities. A UTM grid is discretely under-laid on all maps for those wishing to use it; the 10m contour interval provides a good sense of the topography.

Printed copies of this publication can be purchased from local and online retailers and through Meridian Maps; all six maps are also available in georeferenced electronic form through the phone app Avenza. Having the electronic version of these maps and using the GPS capability of the phone means you always know exactly where you are. This is the beauty of having the maps available both as paper and on a phone app that has full navigational ability.

This publication is ideal for all types of visitors to the wonderful Mornington Peninsula – from a family that enjoys short walks during their holidays, through to serious bushwalkers who’d like to try an iconic Peninsula walk. Mornington Peninsula Walks is an invaluable resource; I have not seen any other walk publication of this area which is as detailed, easy to read or as comprehensive.
Review by Andrew Robinson
(Bushwalker, Camper, Mapping and Navigation trainer)


New Victorian Desert Maps

Little Desert National Park & Mt Arapiles Map Guide, 1st Edition and Victoria’s Deserts 4WD Touring Map, 5th Edition

   Little Desert National Park Cover MidRes    Victorias Deserts Ed5 COVER MidRes


The popular Victoria’s Deserts 4WD Touring Map, now in its 5th edition, is a ‘must’ when planning a trip to the beautiful deserts of Victoria. Released in August 2020, this is the map I’d spread out on the table to research everything this area offers. The main map at 1:350,000 (that’s about 3mm representing each km) is essentially a road map; it extends from the Murray south past Horsham and west across the border into South Australia. It is packed with up-to-date detail on roads, tracks and camping sites and it also highlights tourist activities such as the Silo Art Trail. There is even a list of recommended reading for visitors to the region.

On the reverse side of this large map are enlargements of seven popular areas, including Wyperfeld and Little Desert National Parks, Pink Lakes, Mt Arapiles and the northern Mallee. Scales of 1:100,000 (10mm per km) to 1:175,000 (about 6mm per km) are generally used; most walkers would find larger scales more helpful, although one could navigate from the enlargements at a pinch. Relief shading is used to illustrate topography, but, except for the Mt Arapiles map (1:50,000), no contours are shown – understandable on medium-scale maps of a relatively flat desert region. The grid is in Latitude/Longitude, which could be a challenge for those who use MGA grid references. These enlargements are also packed with clear, easy-to-read detail relevant to any visitor.

If the Little Desert, Mt Arapiles and the Wail State Forest are your areas of specific interest, then the new, smaller format Little Desert National Park & Mt Arapiles Map Guide is for you. Whilst essentially offering the same level of detail as the Victoria’s Deserts enlargements, these maps have slightly larger scales; the Mt Arapiles section is well-detailed at 1:20,000 and includes contours. These maps will interest walkers, as they show walking tracks in addition to vehicular tracks and roads. Again, lots of visitor information is included.

All of these maps are also available in georeferenced electronic form through the phone app Avenza. Once your trip planning’s completed using the paper map, you can hit the track with the electronic version. The GPS capability of the phone means you always know exactly where you are. This is the beauty of having the maps available both as paper and on a phone app which has full navigational ability. Interestingly, the electronic Little Desert map has an MGA-UTM grid overlayed, unlike the paper version.

As there are few maps of these fascinating areas, these publications would be an invaluable tool for those planning an adventure in this region post-COVID. As a bushwalker, when I’m on the track I prefer to use a large-scale map with contours and some indication of vegetation cover and other topographic features. However, for a touring or camping trip, I’d definitely use these paper maps for planning – this is where the Victoria’s Deserts maps really come into their own.

Andrew Robinson

  (Bushwalker, Camper, Mapping and Navigation trainer)

  • Victoria’s Deserts 4WD Touring Map, 5th Edition [RRP $14.95]; pdfPress release

  • Little Desert National Park & Mt Arapiles Map Guide, 1st Edition [RRP $8.95]; pdfPress release

Looking for something?

Want to receive Bushwalking News?

Subscribe below to our
monthly news bulletin:

Email address:

Current Campaigns

Follow us on facebook 240px

Stay Connected

Admin Users only required to login.
Other users no longer have to log in to gain access to walks and member resources