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GPS big help for outdoors enthusiast

Johnny Molloy • Jan 12, 2012 at 10:02 PM

Global Positioning Systems have come a long way in recent years and have crept into our everyday lives. And they can be of use in the backcountry as well, for hunters, backpackers, hikers and anglers. GPSs are an integral part of my writing, hiking and paddling guidebooks.

I use GPSs to create maps for hiking books. They keep me apprised of mileages on a route, whether on land or by water. I also give GPS coordinates to help readers find trailheads and boat landings.

Nowadays, you can download nautical, topographic and/or aerial maps on your GPS, helping keep you oriented. The nautical maps not only show islands, passes, channels, channel markers and so on, but also display water depths, which can help while boating through places at low tide and finding fishing locations.

Topographic maps display the USGS survey quadrangles, showing roads, trails, streams, elevation and land cover. Aerial maps are photographic satellite imagery. I don’t like using aerial maps because they typically don’t have features named, nor do they show elevation, plus the images can be a little fuzzy.

Backpack anglers and paddling fishermen use GPS technology to count mileage as they travel, and they can mark key waypoints, such as campsites and fishing holes. While backpack fishing I am not so concerned with the miles hiked per day, but rather use the GPS for marking particular locations.

When in the woods, to make the GPS function properly, have it facing upward to the sky, and the absolute best way to do this is hold it in your hand. Hold it as you hike to create a route. Otherwise, you can turn it on every now and at least keep apprised of your position, but don’t expect to end up with an accurate route after sporadically turning it on.

GPSs can be constantly helpful on the water (They do have waterproof marine models). I turn mine on, after hooking the GPS lanyard to something in the boat, and just let it go. I can check the miles traveled, average speed, average moving speed, amount of time stopped, time of day and more, while keeping up with where I am and marking fishing hotspots.

It is more important to time your river travel than on land. Say you are on a 60-mile, five day paddling trip. You don’t want to travel too far in a day and get to the end point too soon, nor do you want to fall too far behind. In this case, a GPS would keep you on average of 12 miles per day.

Hikers armed with a GPS can obtain all sorts of interesting information from their GPS — distance traveled, average hiking speed, elevation gained, highest elevation, lowest elevation, etc. Some GPSs even have a screen showing your elevation profile as you hike. So if a trail seems particularly steep, you can verify that to your hiking partner.

Hunters can mark tree stand locations, points of kill, trails to access hunting spots, places where they scouted during the non-hunting season and more.

If you roam the great outdoors, whether you are on the water or land, it is easy to see that a GPS can be an indispensable tool. Just make sure to have fresh batteries.

Johnny Molloy is the author of several outdoors guidebooks. Visit www.johnnymolloy.com.

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