Gone are the days when you had to rely on a map and compass to navigate or worse yet, ask for directions.
Nowadays, there’s no better way to find your way than with the help of GPS technology. If you take hiking trips often or frequently travel abroad, then it’s high time that you started using this amazing tool.
How Does GPS Work?
GPS (Global Positioning System) is a high-tech navigation system operated by the United States Space Force.
It works through a network of satellites, with at least 24 of them constantly in orbit around the Earth. The satellites transmit signals that allow GPS receivers to determine their location, the time, and speed at which they are moving.
There are two main types of GPS services available: Standard Positioning Service (SPS), open for general use, and Precise Positioning Service (PPS), restricted for military use.
SPS users can expect their GPS receiver to provide position accuracy within a few meters, while PPS provides higher accuracy.
GPS functionality is included in smartphones, smartwatches, and tablets, just to name a few. They are also standalone units with this functionality that are used by hikers, backpackers, and off-road enthusiasts to navigate through the wilderness.
Why You Need a GPS for Hiking and Traveling
If you’re visiting a new place, it’s always advisable to have a GPS device with you for the following reasons.
While traditional maps are still useful, a GPS device provides real-time information about your current location, tracks your route, and guides you to your destination.
In case of an emergency, like getting lost or experiencing severe weather conditions, a GPS tracker can relay your exact location to rescue services. This precise location data is pivotal for a quick response, potentially saving lives.
GPS devices allow you to mark certain spots, known as waypoints, such as the location of your car, campsite, or any interesting places you discover. This feature helps you find your way back or visit these specified spots in the future.
Modern GPS devices provide detailed topographic mapping that shows important landmarks, terrain morphology, and trails. They can also display highlighted features such as rivers, peaks, and points of interest, giving you a better understanding of your surroundings.
GPS devices can record the track of your journey, speed, traveled distance, and time taken. This feature is valuable for multi-day hikes or trips, where you might want to monitor your progress or evaluate your performance.
Most GPS devices don’t need an active internet connection to work. They link directly to satellites, so they’ll keep working even in remote areas where cell service is limited or non-existent.
Battery Life and Durability
GPS devices typically have longer battery life compared to smartphones and are more rugged and weather-resistant. They are designed to handle harsh outdoor conditions, making them a reliable choice for your adventures.
How to Use a GPS for Hiking or Traveling
Transitioning from traditional map reading to using a GPS for navigation can be a learning curve. But once you understand the basics, a GPS can make your hiking and traveling experiences more enjoyable.
That said, here’s how to use a GPS for hiking or traveling.
Obtain a GPS Device
First, you need to acquire a GPS device. Many smartphones today have built-in GPS capabilities, but for remote hiking or traveling, you may want a dedicated GPS device that doesn’t rely on cellular service and is more durable and weather-resistant.
Set up the Device
Once you get your GPS device, it’s important to familiarize yourself with its functions and settings. This step typically involves setting your local time zone, date, units of measurement, and other preferences.
Understand Location Coordinates
A GPS device provides your exact location in the form of coordinates expressed in latitude and longitude. Understanding how to read these coordinates is important, as it’s the grid reference system used to pinpoint any location on the Earth.
Plan Your Route
Before setting out on your hike or travel, plan your route and enter it into your GPS device. Many devices allow you to create waypoints, which are unique, identified geographic locations that you’ll pass along your route.
Follow Your Route
Once your planned route is in your GPS, you can follow it by keeping an eye on your device’s screen. The GPS will track your movement and guide you towards each waypoint, and you can monitor your progress as you move along your path.
Record Your Journey
Activate the track recording option to keep a record of your journey. Now, your GPS will track and store your location data. This information can be valuable for reviewing your trip or sharing your route with others.
Save Your Important Locations
As you hike or travel, you can mark important places or sights you discover as waypoints. This allows you to revisit them later or find your way back to a specific point.
Utilize Advanced Features
Most GPS devices come with various advanced features, such as altimeters, barometers, electronic compasses, and detailed topographic maps. These tools can enhance your understanding of the environment and provide helpful data about your journey.
GPS Tips and Best Practices
Whether you’re a seasoned adventurer or a GPS newbie, learning some key tips and best practices can optimize your GPS experience. Here’s a quick roundup.
- Know your device: Before setting off, read the user manual and familiarize yourself with your GPS device. Understand the features and settings and how to interpret the data it provides.
- Check GPS system status: Ensure your GPS device has acquired satellite signals and is displaying your correct location before embarking on your journey.
- Plan your route: Plan your route beforehand and set your waypoints. This practice helps you stay on track and reduces the chances of getting lost.
- Check battery life: GPS devices consume substantial battery power. Always check your device’s power level before leaving, and carry spare batteries or a portable charger for lengthy journeys.
- Regularly update the maps: Update your GPS maps regularly to ensure you have the most accurate and updated geographic data.
- Backup your tracks and waypoints: Regularly back up your tracks and waypoints. This data can be useful for future trips or for sharing with other outdoor enthusiasts.
With practice, using a GPS device can become second nature. It’s a powerful tool that, when utilized properly, greatly improves safety, convenience, and enjoyment during hikes and travels.
However, a GPS should never replace common sense or basic outdoor safety practices. Always carry a compass and paper map as a backup, and let someone know your plans before you set off on your adventurous journey.