The sleds we know and love today are leaps and bounds ahead of what we rode just a decade ago. Sleds today are taking us into terrain that was before only gawked at from below. With that terrain comes much greater risk, though. We, as backcountry riders, often (willingly or unwillingly) find ourselves in eerie mountainous predicaments.
Luckily gadget technology has kept up with the development of the sleds that we are heading far into the backcountry on.
I don't think anybody would argue that Global Positioning Systems, or GPS, are one of the best consumer products we have seen go mainstream since the first handheld was released by Magellan in 1989.
The market is now flooded with GPS devices. So which one works best for our sport? The Garmin Rino 500 series would be a good pick. It will set you back just about $400, however, the features are well worth it. The Rino 520 and Rino 530 boast up to a 12-mile communication range, large color display, mini-USB interface and built-in auto-routing base map. The Rino 530 has the same features as the 520, plus a seven-channel weather receiver, electronic compass and barometric altimeter and that's not even the best part. The Rino has unique location reporting features that combine the integration of navigation and communication technologies, enabling users to "beam" their location to other Rino users over the two radio spectrums.
Other users can then see the location of the sender on their map display, which shows the distance and direction between the sender and those receiving the broadcast location. Rino units may also be used for location-polling. With this feature, a user can send out a polling request to a specific Rino radio within range and the unit will automatically transmit back its location, making it ideal to carry if the people you ride with already have one.
Less Expensive Options
For those of you who don't want to drop the money for the Rino and already own an Android or iPhone smartphone or tablet, there are much cheaper options. You will, however, give up several key features when not going with a dedicated GPS device. Google My Tracks is a free application from Google for the Android platform. My Tracks enables you to record GPS tracks and view live statistics, such as time, real time speed, max speed, average speed, distance, elevation gained and max elevation.
Once recorded, you can share your tracks and upload them to Google Maps. Within your Google Docs account you can record and save all of your rides with dates and notes about that particular ride.
The comparable iPhone app is GPS Kit and will cost you $9.99 in the App Store. The iPhone version has very similar features to the My Tracks app. Note that without cellular data reception these apps will not load the maps. This means that while in the mountains you will only see a line representing your path on the device and will not be able to use the GPS to navigate. Once you have reception you will then be able to see your route with the Google Maps underlay.
If you don't currently ride with a GPS and own an Android or iPhone device you should definitely download either of the above apps from the app store or marketplace.
If you're serious about backcountry riding then you will probably want to look into getting a Garmin Rino. The Rino's $400 price tag probably wouldn't seem too steep if you were spending the night in the hills.