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How Do You Use GPS When Hiking?

What To Do If You Get Lost While Hiking – How To Use GPS On Your Next Adventure

Mastering Your GPS While Hiking: A Guide to Staying Safe and Savvy on the Trails

You’re lacing up your hiking boots, stuffing your backpacking pack with essentials, including a sleeping bag, water filters, and of course, your trusty handheld GPS device. With your gear guides’ top picks in hand, you’re ready to hit the trail. Yet, understanding the ins and outs of GPS for hiking isn’t just about finding the best device or keeping your phone’s battery from draining. It’s about using this navigational tool smartly and knowing its limits. In this article, we will discuss how to avoid getting lost while hiking with the help of GPS, and what you need to know about the technologies’ limitations. Let’s go!


Using Personal Locator Beacons For Hiking

On your next outdoor adventure, you might strap a compact, real-time GPS tracking system to your backpack. This nifty gadget, promising a lifeline in emergencies, sends your location to search and rescue personnel. With an initial cost around $400 and a monthly service fee of about $40, it’s a commitment. Plus, you can conveniently access your tracking system data online or through a software program. However, a handheld personal GPS tracker is not a guarantee for safety. Let’s explain.

Despite their rising popularity among nature enthusiasts, these systems have also garnered criticism. Search and rescue teams are noting an uptick in misuse, leading to a surge in false alarms. So much so, they’ve even dubbed these devices “Yuppy 911 Devices.”

What’s at the heart of the issue? Overreliance on technology. It seems, as more people venture into the wilderness, they lean heavily on their GPS tracking system, often sidelining common sense. This over-dependence has led to two significant problems:

Firstly, with a false sense of security from their real-time GPS tracking systems, individuals are embarking on unnecessary risks. Secondly, the influx of non-emergency assistance calls, facilitated by the readily available GPS data, is escalating.

Search and rescue teams, while acknowledging the benefits of these tracking systems, emphasize the need for responsibility. Keep in mind, just because you’re equipped with a tracking system or GPS, doesn’t mean you’re invincible in the wild. Remember, respect for nature’s unpredictability should always be your primary navigational tool.

Search and Rescue GPS Tracking

Every time your GPS tracking system sends an alert, search and rescue teams spring into action. Picture it like a hang-up 911 call – they don’t know what to expect, yet they prepare for any level of danger. Unfortunately, false alarms from GPS tracking systems have become all too common, draining valuable resources. Worse still, each alert puts the lives of these brave rescuers on the line, especially when responding to those who’ve been careless. To help you avoid getting lost and unnecessarily putting rescuers at risk, here are five tips every outdoor adventurer should follow:

  1. Master Basic Navigation Skills: While GPS units and navigation apps like Gaia GPS are convenient, mastering traditional navigation skills is essential. Learn to read topo maps and use a physical compass for accurate positioning.
  2. Prepare for the Elements: Equip yourself with appropriate hiking gear including trail running shoes or hiking boots, a rain jacket, and hiking pants. Weather can change unexpectedly, so being prepared can prevent unexpected detours or delays.
  3. Use GPS Wisely: Use GPS systems like Garmin GPS, Garmin watches, or your phone’s GPS responsibly. Ensure you’re not solely dependent on it, and know your current location before relying on it to get to your next point.
  4. Conserve Battery Life: Keep your phone’s batteries charged, especially if you’re using a hiking app or GPS app. Consider bringing along a handheld GPS device like the GPSMAP 66i or Garmin InReach as backup.
  5. Be Trail-Smart: Whether you’re trail running or on a leisurely hike, always stay on the marked hiking trail. Straying off can lead to unfamiliar areas where GPS signals may be weak or nonexistent.

Imagine the frustration of search and rescue personnel when they’re called out, not for emergencies, but due to hikers’ discomfort or poor planning. As one anonymous rescuer put it, “It creates a hardship for us.” This issue became glaringly apparent when a hiker in the San Bernardino mountains activated his GPS system, not due to a real emergency, but because he didn’t want to stay out longer due to unexpected weather changes. His activation triggered an all-out search effort, using valuable resources for a situation that stemmed from irresponsibility.

So, before you hit the trail, take the advice of these hardworking officials: plan ahead for potential environmental and weather conditions, and always know your limits. Remember, real-time GPS tracking systems are fantastic tools, but they’re meant for real emergencies, not as a convenient shortcut out of a little discomfort.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can over-reliance on a GPS device lead to danger while hiking?

Yes, absolutely! GPS devices, such as a Garmin GPS or a GPS app on your smartphone, can provide accurate positioning based on satellite signals. However, over-reliance can lead to unnecessary risks. You might find yourself in an unfamiliar hiking trail, with no signal or a drained battery. Hence, it’s crucial to conserve battery life and download maps for offline use before you set out. Remember, your navigation skills are still essential.

Can you still get lost while using GPS for hiking?

Yes, even with GPS, you can still get lost. Satellite communication isn’t foolproof. You may face issues with GPS signals, or your GPS receiver might malfunction. Offline maps and navigation apps like Gaia GPS can provide backup. Yet, knowing how to read topo maps and use a physical compass are skills that should always be part of your hiking gear.

What precautions should I take if I’m relying on GPS for navigation while hiking?

First, always keep a power bank handy to ensure your GPS device doesn’t run out of battery. Also, consider using GPS units like the GPSMAP 66i that offer extended battery life. Download maps for offline use and keep a physical topographical map as a backup. Plus, don’t forget your old-school navigation skills—these can be a lifesaver if technology fails.

How can I prevent my GPS device from draining battery while hiking?

You can conserve battery life by dimming the screen, closing unnecessary apps, and switching to power-saving mode. Garmin watches, for instance, have settings that optimize battery use. Also, consider carrying power banks for extended trips. Remember, saving battery also

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