GPS Navigation

GPS Navigation

The world is getting smaller. Everyone knows that. But it’s also getting easier to find your way around. With the advent of Global Positioning Satellite or GPS Navigation, anyone can know exactly where they are at any given time.

GPS is a network of satellites orbiting the Earth, transmitting the time and their location using radio signals. On Earth, the small device receives information from several satellites, and determines how far it is from each satellite and relates that information in terms of longitude and latitude. It does this by measuring and analyzing the time transmitted by the satellite, and comparing it to the current time. By knowing how long it took for the signal to reach the device and how fast the signal travels, it can then calculate its distance from that satellite. Do this with several satellites and BINGO! You know right where you are.

Okay, enough of the boring stuff. What it really means is that you can take this on your next hiking trip and always know where you are, even if you don’t.

Does this mean you can never get lost again? No, knowing where you are is useless unless you can relate your location to some other known location like a town or highway, but it can reduce the chances of being lost by a great deal. For example, you can’t find where you are on your map and you’re not exactly sure if you can retrace your path. Pull out your handy GPS and fix you location. Then see if you can place yourself back on the map. Or, if you were thinking ahead, every so often you would have stopped and marked your location on your GPS so you could look to your device to help retrace your steps. I don’t think technology gets any better!

Here are few things you should consider before purchasing a device or deciding on which model to buy.


Even though these devices work very well, there are conditions in which it you may not be able mark your location accurately. Canyons, tall objects and atmospheric conditions may interfere with satellite signals and create incorrect or insufficient information about your location. Canyons can block signals from getting to the unit entirely and tall obstructions such as buildings can deflect signals. Atmospheric conditions may slow signals, which can impact the timing of the calculations and ultimately cause errors. Although these errors are usually relatively small (feet not miles) it is important to recognize and be prepared for them.

Another factor to consider is when your GPS tells you how far away a landmark or waypoint is, this information is linear (as the crow flies) and does not take into account hills, swamps or other obstacles.

Finally, to use your device proficiently, you will need to spend a good deal of time with the instruction manual and your GPS. It’s better to figure it out in your comfortable home than when you are lost in a rainstorm, at night.


  • Never use your GPS as your primary navigation system at the Grand Canyon (Continue to use your compass, map and navigation skills).
  • Periodically mark you location along your route.
  • Read the instruction manual before going anywhere, and take it with you just in case.
  • Download any maps of the area in which you will be traveling.
  • Make sure that you’ve recharged your battery before hitting the trails.
  • Keep in mind that like any other new technology, next year’s model will be faster, more powerful, lighter and cost less. So don’t be upset that you don’t have the latest and greatest. Remember, it still works the same as when you bought it.
  • When shopping for a GPS, look at several places. Many stores have a limited selection and prices for identical models can vary greatly.

Features to Consider:

  • Channels – The number of channels a GPS has access to, impacts the time it takes to acquire a location. The more channels, the less time. Almost all of the devices out on the market today have 12 channels.
  • Base Map – Some GPSs come out of the box with a basic map of North America or some equivalent. This map would include major roads, rivers, lakes, etc. But not topographic or area specific information.
  • Number of Waypoints – The number of waypoints is how many marked locations your GPS can store in memory. The numbers vary from product to product but all seem to have a sufficient amount (WHAT IS A SUFFICIENT AMOUNT). Get what makes sense to you.
  • Compass and Altimeter – GPSs geared toward hiking may have these additional features beyond the normal GPS functions. The Garmin eTrex Summit and the Brunton Multi-Navigaiton System are two of them.
  • Downloadable Maps – You will want to make sure that the GPS you choose has the capability to download maps of the area you will be in when using your GPS.
  • Battery Life – The battery life on GPSs varies from device to device anywhere from 15-36 hours with the average being about 24.
  • Weight – Weight is a factor for any piece of outdoor gear. The difference in the handheld GPS weight ranges from 5 – 10 ounces.
  • Accessories – If you think you will be using your GPS for more than just hiking, make sure that the accessories you want are available for the unit you choose.
  • Waterproof – All of the devices claim to be waterproof, weather resistant or water resistant. They all mean something different to each manufacturer. So read the fine print to exactly how deep and how long the device can be submerged.