When you’ve got a GPS on hand, the possibilities for adventure are limitless.
That is, of course, if you know how to use it.
There are a few things you should know before you traverse into the unknown with your GPS.
Don’t throw out your map!
A GPS doesn’t replace the old standby, map and compass pair. While a GPS is an extremely versatile and useful technology, it is meant to enhance navigational skills, not replace them. It’s important to carry an accurate map and compass, as well as possess the skills to use them.
And, hey, even if you’re a master with a map and compass, you should practice with your GPS and become familiar with it before venturing out into the wilderness.
Back to basics
Nearly all GPS devices are capable of four basic functions.
They can give a location, where the GPS triangulates your coordinates and presents it in latitude and longitude or Universal Transverse Mercators (UTMs).
A GPS can create waypoints for location to location navigation. This way, when you plug in different coordinates, you’ll receive information on distance and navigation. Entering a waypoint is easy.
Hold down the ‘Mark’ button (‘Enter’ on some GPS devices). If you wish to set the waypoint to where you are, it may be as simple as pressing that button. If you would like to enter coordinates, then insert them into coordinate field brought up by your GPS.
There is also always the option to ‘Route’ your course. Trails don’t lead in a straight line, and there’s no reason you should with your GPS. If you log multiple waypoints in your device, you can set up a route. Once you reach one waypoint, the GPS will set you towards the next one. There should be a ‘GoTo’ or ‘Find’ button on the GPS. Press this, and you should be prompted to select the waypoint you wish to pursue.
Another option is to use a tracking system. Most GPS devices are capable of recording the path of your travels. This way, you can always retrace your steps and see where you’ve been. If you go through your GPS menu options and settings, there should be an option to track recording. Select this to enable the tracking system. You may even be able to customize how often it records a point, from 10 to 300 ft.
Reading coordinates is key. There are a few ways the GPS may present this information: DMS, DDM, and UTM.
DMS stands for Degrees-Minutes-Seconds; e.g., N32° 22′ 108” W45° 11′ 110.” What this tells you is that you’re 32 degrees 22 minutes and 108 seconds in reference to latitude, and 45 degrees 11 minutes and 110 seconds longitude.
Meanwhile, DDM stands for Degree Decimal Minutes and looks something like N32° 22.416′ W45° 11.345.’ This is just another way of looking at the latitude and longitude as broken by dividing the seconds by 60.
Finally, there’s UTM, which stands for Universal Transverse Mercator. These would show up looking like 8T 3068505 3194275. This system comes from the military which breaks a map into a grid, rather than using latitude and longitude. The ’8T’ represents a zone on the map, and the numbers following place the location of the coordinates on the grid.
If it’s your first time using a GPS, it’s probably easiest and best to go through your GPS’s menu and set it to display coordinates in DMS.
Eye in the sky
A GPS uses satellites to register its location.
That being said, you’ll need to know how get your GPS to correspond with the satellites relevant to your position.
To locate satellites, go to the satellite option on your GPS. From there, it should tell you how many satellites your GPS is able to communicate with. The optimal number you want to is four. If you have less than that, you can wait to see if more appear, wait for the sky to clear up a little, or seek out a higher spot with better access to the sky. If none of that works, you can always try and reboot your GPS by turning it off and then back on. If all else fails, use your map and compass.
A GPS with fewer connecting satellites is likely to give you poor coordinates.
The most important tip of all
Make sure your batteries have juice!
What adventures do you use your GPS to make possible? What do you want to do with one? Let me know in the comments.