How to Use a GPS for Hiking

How to Use a GPS for Hiking

A thousand years ago, people depended on the position of the sun, as well as the North Star, to find a particular location. Then after hundreds of years, people began to navigate using compasses, astrolabes, and topo maps. On more recent times, people have learned how to use a GPS for hiking, since it could show their precise location.

The Basics: How to Use a GPS for Hiking

Below are four common features present in almost all GPS devices used for hiking:

Provide a location.

A GPS device precisely triangulates your location by receiving data broadcasts from numerous orbiting satellites. Your position is specified in coordinates: longitude and latitude or Universal Transverse Mercators (UTMs).

Point-to-point triangulation.

A destination or location is termed as a “way-point.” For instance, you can create an initial way-point by using the location feature.

If you already have the coordinates for the site you are headed for, a GPS device can provide a straight line, point-to-point, and distance to the exact destination. Since tracks seldom have straight lines, the GPS’ will change as you move. The specified distance will also lessen as you approach your destination.

Route navigation.

By merging many way-points on a track, you can go point-to-point with mid-bearing and distance directions. After you reach the first determined way-point, the GPS device can automatically lead you to the next point, or you can do this manually.

Record a track.

The ability to lay a virtual trail of where you have hiked or tracked is one of the most beneficial functions of a GPS device. This is different from a “route,” which defines where you are headed to.

You can program a GPS to drop “track-points” automatically over intervals of either distance or time.

Navigation Abilities

Entering Way-point.

Plotting a course with way-points is simple. Just press the “mark” control, or press and hold the ENTER switch on some GPS units. If you are defining a way-point where you currently positioned, you can do this with the just a press of a button.

Add multiple levels of detail, such as name (e.g.,”fall” or “trail head”), elevation, coordinates, and even a small note. This is mainly helpful if you are defining way-points for the trail before you leave your current location.

Following Way-points.

By having way-points programmed, your GPS device can lead you from point to another. Use the GOTO or FIND key to find a specific way-point mark. Then, shift to the Compass display where the GPS handset will provide you a bearing and asses the time and distance of travel.

Recording Tracks.

If you make an unplanned trip from your base campsite or in any way go into an unknown terrain, one of the GPS handheld’s most valuable features, “tracking,” may be used. When you activate the TRACK RECORDING function, the GPS receiver will automatically mark track-points as you move, basically lay a breadcrumb path to display where you have been.

You can change track-points to be placed at identified intervals of distance or time. The path back is more accurate if the distance between track-points is shorter.

For instance, track-points that program every 100 yards give a greater chance of you wandering off-path, versus track-points placed every 10 feet. The layoffs you choose should depend on the existence of a marked track, the terrain, the weather and any other conditions that you discover vital.

In addition to this important guiding feature of a GPS receiver, tracking also permits you to record distance and time traveled.

Remember the Fundamentals

GPS receivers improve modern wayfinding for backpackers and hikers, but this doesn’t necessarily mean that you must blaze new tracks without completing your assignment. You should continuously stay on recognized trails, if they are available.

Plan journeys to destinations and locations that are within your skills. This includes taking into consideration things such as weather conditions, duration of travel, and access to water and some other factors that might affect your hiking.

Devices can break, signals can disconnect, batteries can fail, and you wouldn’t prefer to find yourself lost in a foreign region.


Your GPS receiver will come full of a range of maps. If the one you need isn’t preloaded onto your device, you can buy them in CD format and install them onto your GPS unit. Some vendors also offer memory cards preloaded with maps that can simply be added to your unit.

Prior to using your GPS handheld, as a primary navigational device in an unfamiliar region, prepare yourself for a fruitful, enjoyable trip by knowing how to use a GPS for hiking. Acquaint yourself with the device’s controls and features.

Review the owner’s manual and train around your area until you are familiar and comfortable with how it works. Finally, it is ideal to do some research before you decide to buy the model you prefer.

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