Poll: Do you navigate with a GPS or maps?

GPSWe’ve hosted a lot of bike tourists this summer, and we’ve been struck by just how many of them now carry a GPS.

Nearly everyone who’s come to see us has either had a stand-alone GPS unit on their handlebars, or used the GPS functionality on a smartphone to help guide the way.

We’re also navigating by GPS these days. With so many free GPS routes and country maps to download, it couldn’t be easier to plan a route. We can also find the nearest supermarket or campground at any time, and this alone saves us time and frustration.

That said, we still love a good map. There’s just something satisfying about sitting at your campsite and staring at a map to see how far you’ve come and where you’re going.

We’d love to know how you’re navigating these days. Have you gone over entirely to GPS or are you still a devoted map user? Take the poll below, or leave a comment to let us know.



  1. Glen Aldridge
    3rd August 2012 at 3:48 pm #

    With sign markings being confusing at the best of times if they are in a foreign (to me) language I rely on my GPS for turn by turn directions. Still, it is always nice to have the road map as a confirmation that I am headed in my intended direction.

  2. Thomas Arbs
    3rd August 2012 at 3:54 pm #

    My trusted Garmin Geko 201 has been on the handlebars for ages, but it doesn’t sport maps, can only point in the general direction. Therefore maps to go along. Nowadays an Android Smartphone sits aside, but poooh is the battery short-breathed! Impossible to rely on it. Planning on the B&M Kraftwerk hub-dynamo-to-USB thingy.

    • Bob Schilling
      8th August 2012 at 3:04 am #

      Thomas I’d be very interested in hearing about how well the hub dynamo to USB ‘thingy’ works. With everything from phones, GPS units and head/tailights being USB powered it seems like it could be a must-have… if it works well and installes easily.

      • Friedel
        8th August 2012 at 8:44 am #

        Bob, you can see some more info here:


      • Jimm Pratt
        8th August 2012 at 2:43 pm #

        I typically carry a compact 12V battery and a 13V solar panel that works well even in cloudy (low light) conditions to trickle charge the battery – which in-turn charges my smart-phone (GPS/music/blogging/phone). But recently I’ve tinkered with a SON hub dynamo as a 5V USB charger on a recumbent trike. As long as you can handle the *very* slight drag (hardly noticeable once you start using it regularly), you may start to wonder how you ever did without! Had no trouble in my testing in keeping my smart-phone topped up and still having a bit extra to power lights when it got dark. Your mileage may vary, but I think it’s a good combo when set up correctly.

    • Karl
      29th August 2012 at 7:53 pm #

      I have a Ewerk on my bike. With my phone (HTC Desire HD) it works very well. I use my phone for GPS, maps, music, journals, email/facebook etc while on the road. However the battery only lasts a day at best with moderate usage, so being able to charge it every day is a blessing! There is free WiFi pretty much everywhere in France (where I am currently touring through).

  3. Seth
    3rd August 2012 at 3:56 pm #

    Maps! It’s all about the adventure, isn’t it? GPS takes that away from me.

  4. WilliamNB
    3rd August 2012 at 4:05 pm #

    I use an HTC smartphone, running Cyclestreets’ app (with offline maps) and OSMand, again with offline maps. I have a Nokia “bottle” dynamo on which I changed to connector to micro-USB, so I can keep my phone charged as I go.

    In addition, I always take paper maps. A map’s battery just never dies, the screen never cracks, you can see a far bigger area at once, plus many more benefits!

  5. Jurjan
    3rd August 2012 at 4:16 pm #

    We use maps.
    one: they are never out of power.
    two: even if damaged still usable.
    three: far larger area visible for routeplanning.
    four: it’s more sociable when you’re spreading a map out on a table people come and watch, talk etc.
    and many more.

    • Steve Lindley
      8th August 2012 at 9:11 am #

      Jurjan. I understand your reply but I would like to add that my Garmin GPSMAP 60CSx is also never out of power. It runs on 2XAA batteries and I always have a spare set. I have never lost power with it. It is bombproof. It has fallen off my motorbike twice whilst on the move and still works perfectly.

      I have lost maps in the past and the rain has turned them to lumps of mush. The 60 CSx is also a marine GPS and so you can throw it in the water and it still works.

      I still carry a map as old habits die hard. But we have moved on a long way from maps. There is so much more information available with a GPS than a map.

      • adventure!
        27th November 2012 at 4:10 am #

        Somehow I don’t find using maps lessens my sense of “adventure!” but to each their own.

  6. Alan Tan
    3rd August 2012 at 4:38 pm #

    I use both. Map for reference. GPS for navigation.

  7. TwoWheeledExplorer
    3rd August 2012 at 4:42 pm #

    A Garmin Edge 205 (soon to be upgraded) is my cyclometer on my Novara Safari, so I have a portable charger to travel with it. I also have a DeLorme PN-20 with handlebar mount on my MTB, but whether I am touring or mountain biking, I always carry the “10 Essentials” (Actually 12 for cycling; add spare tube/patch kit and multi-tool) which includes map AND compass. For reasons noted previously, I never rely on the GPS alone, but it does make it easy to enter my rides into the computer.

    • TwoWheeledExplorer (Hans)
      4th August 2012 at 2:10 am #

      My GPS is not for telling me where I am going. It just tells me wher I am now, and where I’ve been. I use Adventure Cycling maps out west (Lewis & Clark Trail) and home-made strip maps for other places, using Topo USA on my PC.

  8. Matt
    3rd August 2012 at 5:56 pm #

    Maps and maps alone – where’s your sense of adventure!

    • Larry
      27th November 2012 at 2:21 am #

      GPS are just electronic maps. If you want ADVENTURE, just go and ask locals about this or that and see where you wind up. The only advantages of maps are the “Big Picture” and group planning over dinner. The advantages of GPS are knowing you are where you think you are when looking at the map, and finding specific spots. they both are just tools, and both lessen the “adventure.”

      • Jimm Pratt
        27th November 2012 at 10:57 am #

        They are tools (just as the paper maps are tools) to help make the adventure possible and often keeps it an adventure, instead of a danger.

  9. bhanu
    3rd August 2012 at 6:51 pm #

    call me old fashioned, a bell compass and paper maps in a waterproof map holder :)

  10. Paul
    3rd August 2012 at 7:31 pm #

    Working my way down from north of Frankfurt to Gibraltar. Had to buy my first map when I got on the wrong road out of Geneva – GPS remains in saddle bag. Was using printed off google maps to Switzerland. Think I may need to get upto date with this GPS technology- but then it may take away from the excitement of looking for a campsite and supermarket without knowing where they are.

  11. Rich
    3rd August 2012 at 9:09 pm #

    2.5 months through Spain/France/England/Belgium/Netherlands on the very GPS in this article’s picture. Also have Garmin’s BaseCamp on a MacBook Air, with loaded target locations, routes, POI’s, etc. I used a paper map designed by students in Ghent, and found it rather useless and confusing. These units don’t take the adventure out of it, as you can enter a waypoint and just follow, turn off any routes, you name it. I had maps, but rarely used them. I love my GPS.

  12. Trevor
    3rd August 2012 at 9:10 pm #

    I’ve thought about this a lot and my conclusion is that relying on a GPS to navigate gets in the way of ‘real’ bike touring.

    Let me explain: having a GPS makes a cyclist very independent and reduces the number of times that they need to ask a local for directions. Each one of these avoided interactions is a missed chance to break through from being a tourist to being a traveller. So leave the GPS at home and ask people for directions instead…

    • Rich
      3rd August 2012 at 9:16 pm #

      I had to ask a couple of times, and they were usually wrong, or gave bad directions. That is no holiday. I want to see the countryside, not chase up bad directions. Africans are known to give directions out of trying to please you, instead of providing guidance. It can get you into a lot of trouble.

      Also, a GPS records where you have been. Something a map cannot do anywhere close to what a GPS can.

      • Jimm Pratt
        27th November 2012 at 11:02 am #

        in fairness, Rich, you can always mark your route with a pencil/pen, so yeah you can know where you have been if you want to. 😛

    • Friedel
      6th August 2012 at 10:21 am #

      I don’t agree. Asking for directions is only one opportunity to interact and there are many other chances to meet people while on tour. I would argue that if you get lost less because of your GPS, then you have more time to stop and talk to interesting people along the way because you’re not backtracking down a dead-end road :)

      • Rich
        6th August 2012 at 5:49 pm #

        On my last tour in Europe, if that was the case, I wouldn’t make it 20 km each day if I had to ask for directions and get to know people along the way.

  13. rich
    3rd August 2012 at 10:13 pm #

    Maps all the way, it’s natural and it’s why you’re cycling.

  14. rich
    3rd August 2012 at 10:15 pm #

    to be fair, I did have a Spot GPS which showed where i was every day to other people, but i didn’t use it for guidance.

  15. Pam
    4th August 2012 at 1:39 am #

    We use maps. Often we pick up great maps at tourist bureaus. When we leave an area where a particular map is no longer helpful, we use the map as a table cloth over a messy picnic table, then roll up all of our compostable garbage inside, and dispose of it in a proper receptacle (if available).

  16. John
    4th August 2012 at 4:12 am #

    I still use a Map for Travelling around Ireland although I have not taken my Bike abroad yet to France or Netherlands. I have Google GPS on my Mobile phone and it shows me exactly where I am and gives me an idea how far from the next Town. It is not quite as good as a smart Phone but very useful all the same.

    I hope to get a good GPS System in a Camping shop with a big dial,a hand held one rather then something on the Handlebars. The best thing about a map is it has no Batteries to wear out.

  17. Juha
    4th August 2012 at 3:16 pm #

    Garmin Edge 800 gave me the easy navigation through cities. I truly recommend it to others.

  18. Andrew Priest
    5th August 2012 at 5:54 am #

    I voted for both. I like the map as it gives me a good overview of my options but I also like the GPS as at times it has come in handy for plotting a new route option.

    Also it tells me where I am, can help heaps in cities and the like and of course captures all the data of where I have been for uploading at a later time.

    I use a Garmin Edge 800.

  19. Eric & Elaine Hendrickson
    5th August 2012 at 3:51 pm #

    We use a Garmin CSX 60 for a number of year and love it. We always keep it headed north and use it with a map. We fine it is not a substitute for a map but in addition to a map. Always mark locations for the next day that we want to stop.

  20. Katrien
    5th August 2012 at 8:39 pm #

    For cycling trips, I rely on maps for 99%. Preparing the trip, setting out the route for the next day, during the day, … Only when I am really completely lost, I will use the gps functionality on my smartphone, but only to bring me back on the right track.

  21. Andrew Priest
    6th August 2012 at 10:41 am #

    Another option/tool for iphone and iPad users is the Maplets App. Interesting to note Tom’s comment about it :)

    After a continent spent asking men with donkeys at track junctions the way, any way of accessing decent local maps is always a good thing!

  22. Doug W.
    7th August 2012 at 7:28 am #

    We get by with maps and printed Google Maps directions as a cue sheet. We keep a smartphone tucked away in the bag in case we’re unsure of where we are or need to find something specific. Otherwise, just paper and a sense of direction/adventure.

  23. Anja & Eric
    7th August 2012 at 9:06 am #

    We use our iPhone & the CityMaps2Go App. Before we get to a new country/area we download the corresponding maps through wifi. It’s then stored on the phone and with the iPhone’s GPS we know exactly where we are. In Europe we found the maps to be very detailed as they even show cycling and hiking paths.

  24. Richard
    7th August 2012 at 11:06 pm #

    I’ve used maps but on my most recent tour managed to use the google street view to GREAT success…in Canada and the US at least…

  25. Froze
    8th August 2012 at 5:36 am #

    As others have pointed out a paper map never runs out of batteries, there’s nothing expensive to break should something happened leaving you without a clue and hundreds of dollars short. However the power problem is all but eliminated nowadays with very well made portable solar systems used to charge either, and new generator hubs are out also with adapters you can use to plug a GPS or other stuff to keep powered up. But I personally like maps and asking people, it’s more fun and adventurous.

  26. chris
    8th August 2012 at 7:12 am #

    I use both. The map is still my primary navigation guide, but the GPS assistance helps me quickly know where I am and what’s around me. It’s helped me on numerous occasions get back on route after taking a wrong turn. I know this is an adventure and all, but I prefer to cycle than spend time doing U-turns and apologizing to my riding partners for leading us astray.

    I tend to tour on established bike routes. For that reason I load the European bike maps from http://www.velomap.org/ onto my Garmin. These are fantastic.

    The GPS also serves as a record of my tour, which I can later synchronize with my photos to geotag where each photo was taken.

  27. Frank
    8th August 2012 at 7:19 am #

    I start a bike tour with planning at home with “old fashioned” maps. That’s half the fun in my opinion. Then I plot the route on a routeplanner online and download de gpx file to my navigation device. Pure for assistance.
    I think I always will be using maps, don’t know why but I’m kinda hooked on that way of planning a trip / tour.

  28. Rufus Acosta
    8th August 2012 at 7:23 am #

    Sorry. I Don’t care if everyone used the bloody satelite, I use maps and word of mouth from the locals who are often wrong. Wouldn’t have it any other way.

  29. jeroen
    8th August 2012 at 9:03 am #

    A ride with a map and use my GPS for logging, it’s more fun that way, and it’s good to know that when the batteries run out, I still have my map skills 😉
    but when needed, I can alway rely on the gps. It saves me from time to time.

  30. David Piper
    8th August 2012 at 9:49 am #

    My route plan starts with a map, then I highlight the places I want to see and ‘join the dots’ using the map to find the quiet roads or those following contour lines (rivers & railways are good clues). Cant really do that with GPS, although it is really useful for finding accomodation, specific addresses etc

  31. Karina Devriendt
    8th August 2012 at 11:10 am #

    We start choosing what we want to do and then we “investigate” on internet. But we travel with maps, I suppose we are rather oldfashioned! The guests of our bed and breakfast normally travel with map and GPS, and normally we indicate a better road from our village to their next stop.

  32. Louis-P & Lysanne
    8th August 2012 at 2:53 pm #

    After 2 years on the road, we did use both map and GPS. Map for planing and GPS to navigate. We think that a GPS is a must in some part of the world. For example, in China the map quality is very poor you can’t find one. If we had to relay only on map and people info, our experience would’ve been very different because we would had taken just medium to major road and get lost very often. The combination of GPS and Bike route toaster is perfect. That way we only chose small road that you do not see on map. One great help from a GPS, is getting in and out of cities that becomes almost headache free. This is good to keep the tension out of your mariage! ;o)

    Taildwind to you all

    Louis-P & Lysanne
    On Roule La Boule

  33. Ric Hines
    8th August 2012 at 4:40 pm #

    Use an old Garmin GPSmap76, a Verizon iPhone, and always have maps! They all serve their purpose. Will want to find a good replacement for the Garmin in a few years for my X-USA trip, as the old cannot carry all the maps needed.

  34. Raditya
    8th August 2012 at 5:45 pm #

    I usually search the road or maps by opening GoogleMaps. That’s helpful. And I combine it with the map.

  35. David Badcock
    8th August 2012 at 8:48 pm #

    I have just completed my first six day cycling adventure before dementure at the ripe old age of 61! I rode Hadrians Cycle Way to Silloth, down the Cumbrian Coast to Workington and back using the C2C route.

    I used the Sustran maps and my Garmin Edge 705. It worked really well and all the data collected by the Garmin was of interest. I did have an issue in charging the GPS as I camped and could not charge and the Edge is only good for a day between charges. I took a Power Monkey which did not work very well and have decided to get an E-Werks gizmo to fit onto my SON charger and use pedal power to charge during my next adventure.

  36. adventure!
    8th August 2012 at 8:54 pm #

    I use maps because I’m a bit of a map fiend. I can’t say that I won’t ever use GPS, though. There are scads of unmarked forest service roads near me, and I know folks who ride these roads use GPS otherwise they’re likely to get lost. But for now, I rely on maps.

  37. Derek
    9th August 2012 at 5:47 am #

    I prefer using a GPS unit over a map. I carried a Android phone and a NEMA map in Australia and found that I only used my phone for navigation. Maps were tossed into the garbage by about the 3 week. However, when I could pick up a free local tourist map, I would refer to it on occasion to save battery life.

  38. François Dumas
    9th August 2012 at 1:13 pm #

    I use the free google maps on my iphone. I simply punch in my destination while in a wifi hotspot (not always easy) and then scan the route while still in the hotspot. This keeps the route in memory while offline and the built-in gps without 3G locates me in relation to the trajectory. No downloading of maps and go off the sampled route too much and it becomes sketchy but this is a cheap way of navigating without the downloading of maps. I’ve done over 2000 kilometers in Europe since using this method. What can I tell you? It works.

  39. loly
    9th August 2012 at 9:25 pm #

    I’m old school who migrated to New School. I use the gps primarily but I carry a map as well. My old School mentality tells me that when batteries fail, or electronics die, a map will never let you down.

    • Jimm Pratt
      9th August 2012 at 9:30 pm #

      …unless the map is hopelessly outdated due to new construction or other obstacles that appear after the map was printed. At the very least, a paper map still gives you a power-independent overview of the area you travel, useful for reference when not 100% accurate.

  40. Keith Spangler
    10th August 2012 at 8:09 am #

    On my first solo tour ~ which I completed a couple weeks ago ~ I used a combination maps and GPS to navigate. The maps were easier to plot longer distances and multiple points. Thanks

  41. Travel Nerd
    12th August 2012 at 10:35 am #

    Def. by map. Sometimes even without it. Depends on where you are. For instant on the KKH it is really difficult to get lost and therefore no map for me :-)

  42. Steve Gale
    13th August 2012 at 6:31 pm #

    Just returned from a first tour along Hadrians Wall – we used the Sustrans maps for the majority of the time with a smartphone GPS just to check where we were occasionally. If we had the option we’d try something like the Garmin 800 next time, it would probably have warned us we were going off track the two times we got lost. sdg.

    • Mark
      16th August 2012 at 11:01 am #

      Following Sustrans routes you hardly need a paper map let alone a GPS as generally the routes are well signed. Unless of course you want to track you route for later analaysis…

  43. Mark
    16th August 2012 at 10:37 am #

    Detailed paper maps of India are not available, I mean showing all the tiny trails. I used Google Earth to plot my route then converted the files for Garmin use. Incredibly accurate, and I’ve cycled through beautiful tiny villages and along narrow trails that I would never have discovered with paper maps. Indeed often when people have asked me where I’m going they have said its not possible going in my current direction, but following my plotted GPS route more often than not I get to my planed desitination along some truly memorable, adventurous, non-trafficked routes. As for those who say GPS takes away the adventure, if I was relying purely on paper maps I would have been mainly on the usual surfaced roads with the associated traffic, where’s the adventure in that?? Instead I’m ‘trailblazing’ and having a whale of a time. However, I do enjoy paper maps for general route planing and for putting places into context, seeing the bigger picture… In addition more easy to take a wrong turn depending on the detail of a paper map, where’s the fun in passing a junction, not being sure if you are going the right way or not, only to find 10km down the road you have been going the wrong way and having the frustration of cycling 10km back, an extra 20kms for no reason…

  44. Rik
    16th August 2012 at 10:50 am #

    Great post!
    We used a mixture of a compass & maps in Europe and I gotta say, we sucked at using them… almost all our disagreements were either food related (we were hungry) or direction related, except in France following the eurovelo 6 – those maps were a joy to use. Maps can be good if you have the right scale – which, aside from France, we never managed to get right. The biggest downside was finding a supermarket or an ATM (Cashpoint) or a camp ground at the end of the day when we were hungry, tired and hungry :(

    When we went to Thailand we bit the bullet and bought the same GPS travelling two use (duty free) and WOW, in Thailand we had no disagreements on direction, where to find food… well there is a 7-Eleven almost every km, accommodation etc.

    Have just purchased the Garmin topo maps for Aust & NZ at $240 AUD (about $230 USD). Sheesh, expensive – but Aussie is a big place and i believe these maps include dirt roads & fire trails.. so looking forward to exploring more of our home country

  45. Elske and Bauke
    22nd August 2012 at 6:28 am #

    We use maps, no GPS. We have a small compass on the handlebar and we love it: http://baukeandelske.wordpress.com/rides-gear/ It has helped us navigate for over 2 years now.

  46. Tom Allen
    24th August 2012 at 10:06 pm #

    Couldn’t there be a ‘none of the above’ option? Anyone else prefer local recommendations, road signs, spontaneous unplanned exploration, tuning into one’s surroundings?

    • friedel
      28th August 2012 at 8:28 am #

      I suppose there could be but I’ve never met a bike tourist who was totally ‘flying free’. Have you done this, Tom?

    • Travel Nerd
      12th January 2013 at 7:49 pm #

      Yeap, you are right. Flying free is the best way. At least if you have unlimited time and no “appointment” like a ferry or plane to catch.

  47. Bevan Woodward
    7th September 2012 at 12:49 pm #

    Maps for me, I love the challenge and simplicity of navigating. Whether I’m cycling, sailing or tramping, it’s great to get away from being digitally connected to the system!

  48. Jimm Pratt
    27th November 2012 at 11:10 am #

    Android smartphone GPS using OpenStreetMap for cycles http://www.opencyclemap.org/ (maps stored for offline use) recharged by solar panel (which even charges a bit on cloudy days), backed up with printouts of GoogleMap or OpenStreetMap of the region i will be travelling in. Otherwise I grab a local map when available.

  49. David Rayson
    5th July 2015 at 2:32 pm #

    I am from Australia and relatively new to long distance cycling. Being in a new country for the first time and without a good knowledge of the geography I found cycle navigation very tricky in Britain and Europe.
    A couple of years ago we did parts of the Land’s End to John O’Groats ride with regular maps only and without real knowledge of the National Route system. We were constantly looking at the map and our journey seemed to take for ever as a result.
    The next year we cycled in France in Languedoc and along the Loire, a fantastic experience but we tried to navigate using a Garmin Edge 810. This was unsuccessful as there is insufficient room on the screen to see enough detail. If you deviate at all from your pre-planned route, zoom out to find where you have been the detail is lost and it is useless. Also we used Garmin Connect to create the routes, this uses Google maps as the base, when downloaded to the device the device uses propitiatory maps which don’t exactly correspond with the Google maps. Maybe we were not sufficiently skilled to use the device.
    This year we did self directed cycling trips in Northern Italy, Sicily and around Bordeaux in France. Again a fantastic experience, in this case we used a Garmin Montana which has a 4″ screen and easy to see the path. Its not so easy to track where you have been or maintain the trip statistics, again this is probably due to lack of expertise using the device. Basecamp is used to create the tracks and it uses the proprietary maps as the base. A far better outcome and the GPS made a very positive contribution to out navigation.
    My question is how can I get a digital (gpx) file for the Lands End ride.
    Kind regards

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