GPS: A Great Outdoor Tool

GPS unitOne of the handiest devices to come along to enhance your enjoyment of the outdoors is a GPS unit. With one of these you need never lose your way in the woods, always find your way back to your favorite fishing or mushroom hunting spot, or more importantly, find your truck.


Just for review, GPS means Global Positioning System. This is a network of satellites (established by the military) that circle the Earth, and each sends out a signal that can be picked up by a handheld receiver, which uses the location of these signals to do a math trick called triangulation to figure out exactly where on the planet you are standing. The GPS shows your location by giving you its latitude and longitude. If you remember your high school geology, latitude is a series of calculated lines that run east and west, while longitude are lines that run north and south. Where the two cross is your location, and that location is your “coordinates”.


Knowing the “lat and long” of your location is interesting but doesn’t mean much to you unless you’re trying to find yourself on a map. What is useful is that the GPS unit can save these coordinates as a “waypoint” identified by a number or a chosen name. For example, you’ve found a great place to deer hunt and you want to find it again next trip. You turn on your GPS unit, and when it’s had time to find several satellites, you push a button and save the spot as “waypoint 16” for example, or you punch in a name and call the waypoint “Buck 1”. Then, and here’s the beauty of it, when you show up next trip and park your truck, you turn on the GPS, and using a feature called “Find “or “GOTO” you tell it you want to go to Buck 1. An arrow pops up on a screen that points in the direction you should walk and tells how far you are from it. Just follow the arrow and it will take you back to the spot. Usually the accuracy of a GPS unit in our area is around 15 feet, so it will get you plenty close enough. It’s a good idea to always mark where you parked the truck as a waypoint so you can easily find it again. I can’t tell you how useful that is at two in the morning. The unit can also save a “track”, a line of travel you walked, drove, or rode a bike. This allows you to retrace your trip pretty accurately.


Low end GPS hand held units run around $100, or you can spend more and get one that displays maps with road locations and even topographic land features. Some can give you sunrise and sunset times for each day, and other information. They really are amazing little devices. I have run into trouble using the units under a thick forest canopy or in really rough terrain with tall mountains and deep valleys, so I would recommend getting one with an external antenna that will hopefully pick up the satellite signals better. The units seem to need to pick up a good signal from at least four different satellites to be really accurate. GPS units can be found in most outdoor catalogs. Garmin, Magellan, and Brunton are few name brands.

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