Wilderness Navigation

“The first rule of the GPS receiver is not to become dependent on it,” say Bob Burns and Mike Burns, authors of Wilderness Navigation, 2nd Edition. “It is best to consider the GPS receiver as an extra navigational tool—a useful addition to a paper map and a magnetic compass—rather than as a replacement for them.” The most efficient way to use a GPS receiver is to use it only occasionally and to travel by compass the rest of the time, say the Burns. Here’s why:

  • Most GPS receivers cannot determine direction—so you’ll still need a compass to use them.

  • Some GPS receivers contain built-in maps and accept topographic maps downloaded from your computer—yet you still need conventional maps to view the big picture of the route.

  • Some high-end GPS receivers contain built-in electronic compasses—but if the GPS receiver isn’t working, you’ll still need a magnetic compass.

  • You could experience electronic failure, drop the GPS, or simply lose it.

  • GPS receivers must track signals from at least four satellites in order to provide trustworthy position information—but signals can be blocked by heavy forest cover, cliffs, or canyons.

  • Most GPS receivers will not work at temperatures much below freezing.

  • Battery life is limited depending on the model and type of batteries used.

  • Traveling with a GPS receiver turned on and in your hand, constantly observing its display, wastes battery power and occupies a hand that might better used for climbing, scrambling, or holding an ice axe or ski pole.

  • Traveling with a GPS receiver turned on distracts you from observing the route, its hazards, and the scenery (and it looks really nerdy).

Adapted from Wilderness Navigation: Finding Your Way Using Map, Compass, Altimeter, & GPS, 2nd Edition by Bob Burns and Mike Burns; $14.95 paperback


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