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GPS for hiking, a definitive intro

37557_lA buddy of mine keeps a site called Trailspotting that includes a page describing pretty much all you need to know to get started with a GPS unit for hiking.

The standard advice from all trail veterans is: anything electronic can die on you at times of critical need. Batteries go dead, devices fall against rocks. So, don’t go bumbling into the woods thinking your GPS will bail you out (for one thing, most GPS units get poor reception in deep woods). Other side of the coin: I know some folks who got caught in a Sierra snowstorm who needed their GPS units to find their way back to where their cars were parked; good thing they kept their batteries warm.

Perhaps the best use of a GPS is to store a track of your hike and combine it with a map that you can print out for a future hike, or share with your hiking group. Trailspotting also has a page telling how do to that using cheap online resources. The site everytrail.com has a vast collection of these kinds of maps, though the reliability is, well, all over the map.

Keep in mind: GPS-track maps that show only one route have limited utility in the bush, because they don’t identify the nearby trails. There’s no substitute (to date anyway) for a map built by a professional cartographer with distances between trail junctions and names of landmarks.

I’ve hiked without a GPS unit for five years without incident, though I continue to be tempted.

Handy GPS links:

  • Features to look for in a hiker’s GPS unit.
  • ConsumerSearch guide to GPS units for outdoor use.
  • Backpacker.com thread recommending which units to check out.
  • one comment | Permalink | Tags: |
    Tom posted at 8:42 am August 20th, 2008

    One Response to 'GPS for hiking, a definitive intro'

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    1. Stuart says:

      Thanks for the shout-out for Trailspotting.

      I’ve expanded my GPS content with an article on “First Steps with your new GPS” with the intent of (a) showing what these devices can do and (b) trying to convince how easy they are to use.


      Permalink | Posted September 21st, 2008, at 6:28 pm

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