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Hiking GPS Tips – Which Handheld GPS For Hiking And Walking

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1 – Introduction To Handheld Hiking GPS Tips

Hiking GPS Tips - Lone Hiker Using Hiking GPS On Mountain.

Our Hiking GPS Tips can be useful to help you answer a question you may be asking yourself:

  • Which handheld GPS for hiking shall I choose?

It can be quite confusing and difficult for the first time handheld GPS seeker to select a handheld GPS from the wide range of brands and models available on the market.

To help you with your selection, we have compiled a list of hiking GPS tips and tricks to consider:

  1. Hiking GPS Selection – Hiking GPS Tips aimed specifically at helping you select or eliminate GPS for hiking.
  2. Hiking GPS Basics – Hiking GPS Tips concerning some of the basics about handheld GPS for hiking which may help you in your selection of a handheld GPS for hiking.
  3. Hiking GPS Usage – Preparation – Hiking GPS Tips about preparing your handheld GPS before going on a hiking trip that may inform you about what handheld GPS is suitable for you.
  4. Hiking GPS Usage – Accuracy & Reception – Hiking GPS Tips concerning the accuracy and signal reception of handheld GPS when hiking which may assist you in deciding which handheld GPS for hiking to get.
  5. Hiking GPS Usage – Navigating – Hiking GPS Tips about navigating with handheld GPS when hiking that could help you refine which type of handheld GPS you want.


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Contents On Handheld Hiking GPS Tips


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2 – Hiking GPS Selection

Handheld gps, Upside Down Interfaces

Which Handheld GPS For Hiking, Upside Down Interfaces—Yandle (Flickr.com)

Before buying a GPS device, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Cheap – If you buy a cheap basic hiking GPS device today, are you wasting your money on a model that does not provide the features you will need in the future, such as mapping, expandable memory or a built-in compass?
  • Expensive – If you buy a top of the range hiking GPS device today, will you be wasting your money on extra features you may never use?

Top of the range handheld GPS devices for hiking are expensive and technology is always moving on at a rapid pace. Hiking GPS devices units may be very different in a few years time. Here are some hiking GPS tips to help you select a hiking GPS:


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2.1 – Intended Use

Consider how you want to use a GPS, both initially and into the future. How you use a GPS initially may change over time:

  • Occasional Use – If you only intend to use a GPS occasionally to confirm your paper map and compass navigation then you only need a GPS to provide a grid reference which any GPS model can do.
  • Primary Navigation Use – If you intend to use a GPS as your primary method of navigation then a GPS which provides some form of digital mapping is needed.


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2.2 – Cold Wet Windy Weather

A GPS may not be suitable for cold, wet or windy weather conditions if:

  • It has small buttons. You are likely to be wearing thick gloves which can make it quite difficult to press small buttons.
  • It has a touch screen. You are likely to be wearing thick gloves and a touch screen requires the use of either a stylus, which can be quite difficult, or your bare fingers.
  • The batteries are difficult to change.
  • The batteries need changing often. Choose a GPS with a long battery life.


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2.3 – Mapping Region

Handheld gps, DAPA GPS Fruit5

Handheld gps, DAPA GPS Fruit5—CIAT International Center for … (Flickr.com)

If you want a mapping GPS then make sure that the model under consideration has mapping available for the region in which you want to hike (e.g. Europe, USA, etc).

2.4 – Signal Reception Reliability

If a GPS has an advanced chipset like the SiRF Star III or MediaTek, reception and signal strength is enhanced in most conditions.

2.5 – Screen Readability

Here are some hiking GPS tips regarding screen readability:

  • Viewing fine detail such as map contours on a screen is usually easier on larger colour screens.
  • A black and white or monochrome screen is adequate in not using any digital mapping.
  • Trans-reflective colour screens are more advanced; can be easily read in bright sunlight; and are particularly good for reading digital mapping details.


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2.6 – Waterproof

For most hiking situations, a GPS water protection rating of IPX7 is sufficient.


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3 – Hiking GPS Basics

The following hiking GPS tips are concerned with communicating with your GPS device and coordinate systems


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3.1 – Manual Waypoint Entry

Make sure the angle units you use are consistent, e.g., ddd.mm.sss (Deg/Min/Sec), ddd.mm.mmm (Deg/Min) or ddd.ddddd (Deg). Also, make sure you enter the correct latitude (North or South) and longitude (West or East).


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3.2 – PC To GPS Transfer

If using a serial port, make sure both GPS and PC serial communication parameters have the same values and the cable is connected to the COM port used by the mapping software.


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3.3 – GPS Coordinates

Maps are divided into a grid in order to identify a specific location by listing its relative position north/south of the equator and east/west of the Prime Meridian at Greenwich in England.

3.4 – GPS Coordinate Systems

The most common GPS coordinate systems used are DMS (Degrees/Minutes/Seconds); DDM (Degree Decimal Minutes); and UTM (Universal Transverse Mercator).

3.5 – Standard Lat-Long Coordinates

The standard way to list latitude and longitude with DMS (Degrees/Minutes/Seconds), for example: N47° 37′ 12″ W122° 19′ 45″.

3.6 – Geocaching Lat-Long Coordinates

Many geocachers use a decimal version of latitude and longitude known as DDM (Degree Decimal Minutes), for example: N47° 37.2′ W122° 19.75′ where the seconds-part is converted to a decimal by dividing the seconds by 60.


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3.7 – UTM Coordinates

UTM (Universal Transverse Mercator) is a military-derived grid system not tied to latitude and longitude, dividing a map into a grid of 1,000 meter squares.


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3.8 – Coordinate Conversion

Your GPS can automatically display whatever coordinate systems you select and can also convert coordinates from one system to another.


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4 – Hiking GPS Usage – Preparation

The following hiking GPS tips are aimed at making sure you are more fully prepared before you go out on your next hiking trip:


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4.1 – GPS Hiking Practice

As well as reading your GPS manual, go for hikes on routes you already know until you are familiar with the workings of your GPS.


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4.2 – Memory Cards

If your GPS unit uses memory cards, you could organize your maps for maximum efficiency and ease, such as one card for topographical maps, one for streets and roads, and another for marine charts.


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4.3 – Rechargeable Batteries

Walking gps, GPS tells the story

Walking gps, GPS tells the story—daveynin (Flickr.com)

Always make sure your GPS batteries are fully charged before you set off and maybe carry a portable power supply to recharge them if necessary.

4.4 – Removable Batteries

Make sure your GPS has a fresh set of batteries at the start of your trip to reduce the need to change the batteries whilst hiking. Also carry spares.

4.5 – Lithium Batteries

A GPS with Lithium batteries is better for longer hikes as they have a long life and are less likely to need replacing or recharging. Also, when brand-new, they create a brief power spike that adds unwanted horizontal lines across some GPS screens. Use them in another device for a few minutes before using them in your GPS.


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4.6 – Backup Compass

Always take a decent compass & map as backup in case your GPS runs out of power, fails or cannot get a signal. Also, a GPS enhances your navigational skills via technology. It does not replace a map and compass, or your knowledge of how to use them, so always carry a map and compass.


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4.7 – GPS Update

It is important to ensure GPS software is up to date so that any software bugs are fixed and any base maps are updated with any changes.


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4.8 – Waterproof

Put your GPS device into a waterproof ziploc bag when not in use to improve waterproofing.


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5 – Hiking GPS Usage – Accuracy And Reception

The following hiking GPS tips are concerned with the accuracy and reception of signals from satellites:


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5.1 – Accuracy

There will always be some error in determining your location, speed and altitude from GPS readings. Always consider this potential for error when hiking and also carry an altimeter when hiking at altitude. Also, do not rely on your GPS directions unless you get a good signal from at least 4 satellites. Use your map and compass.


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5.2 – Satellite Reception

Handheld gps, DAPA GPS Fruit4

Handheld gps, DAPA GPS Fruit4—CIAT International Center for … (Flickr.com)

The functioning of a GPS relies on the reception of satellite signals. Consider the following hiking GPS tips:

  • If a new GPS is not picking up signals when you use it for the first time, initialize it so that it orients to its current surroundings and downloads information from the satellites in the local sky. Future satellite acquisition will be quicker and more effective.
  • It could take several minutes before your GPS locks on to satellites, so be patient.
  • Sometimes you can acquire a satellite lock more quickly when turning your GPS off then back on.
  • The optimal circumstance for a satellite lock is a clear view of the sky.
  • Anything that obscures the GPS view of the sky or the horizon, such as overhead trees, gorges and high buildings can impede reception and satellite lock.
  • Find an open space, clearing or a high point if you need to get a stronger satellite signal.
  • When hiking under heavy foliage, once you have satellite lock on your GPS, keep it on as it may be difficult to reacquire the lock if lost.
  • If you lose satellite lock when hiking under heavy foliage try to find a clearing to reacquire the lock.


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6 – Hiking GPS Usage – Navigating

The following hiking GPS tips are concerned with actually navigating using a GPS device:


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6.1 – Mark Start Location

Always set the start location of your hike in your GPS in order to find your way back after the hike or in case you get lost. Also mark intermediate points.


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6.2 – Clear Track Log

Clear the track log from GPS if low on memory before going on a long hike. If you are going to store waypoints for tracking back to your starting point this is important. Better to begin hiking with clean GPS memory than discover low GPS memory part way on your hike.


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6.3 – Breadcrumb Trail

Whenever venturing into unknown territory you can set your GPS to automatically record trackpoints as you go, which you can retrace if you get lost.


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6.4 – Storing Waypoints

When storing waypoints for finding your way back, make sure you include a serial number with each waypoint, such as track1, river2, etc. This way you do not have to rely on your memory to know which waypoint comes next and makes retracing your route easy.


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6.5 – Carrying GPS

Hiking gps, hiking Mount Rose GPS

Hiking gps, hiking Mount Rose GPS—brewbooks (Flickr.com)

Here are two useful hiking GPS tips about carrying your GPS during a hike:

  • Attach your GPS to your backpack shoulder strap in order to give it a clearer view of the sky.
  • When walking with your GPS in your hand do not swing your arms, as this motion may disorient the GPS receiver.

6.6 – Magnetic Deviation

Unless you know the exact magnetic deviation for your location, use the setting provided by the GPS to coordinate the GPS with your compass readings.


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6.7 – Heading Display

Unless you move at 10 mph or faster, the heading and speed indication given by a GPS compass display is not reliable so use a compass. Also a GPS displays the distance and bearing to the next waypoint. Set your compass to that bearing then follow your compass.


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6.8 – Turn 90 Degrees

When hiking to a specific waypoint, you know when to turn when your GPS bearing is 90 degrees less than compass heading for left turns, or 90 degrees more for right turns, unless you straddle 360 degree marker.


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6.9 – Barometric Altimeter

A Barometric altimeter can still give you an accurate elevation reading if you cannot get a good satellite signal since it measures air pressure. It also gives you an indication of weather changes coming your way via a display of a chart of barometric trends.


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6.10 – Conserve Power

Consider turning off nonessential GPS features such as auto-routing and backlighting to conserve battery life. Also, the magnetic compass is redundant if you carry a traditional capsule compass and a hard-copy map. If you need to conserve the GPS battery life you can turn off the magnetic compass and just use your capsule compass.


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7 – Which Handheld GPS – Hiking GPS Tips Summary

Lone Hiker Using Hiking GPS On Mountain.

Which handheld GPS for hiking you select will depend on how you intend to use it, other personal preferences and your budget.

There are many brands and models to choose from on the market which makes selection a bit confusing.

However, if you take these handheld hiking GPS tips into consideration you should end up with one that is suitable for your own personal circumstances today and in the future.

Here’s to your handheld GPS selection success and some pleasurable and safe hiking.

If you need more information about handheld GPS then read our post about Handheld GPS For Hiking And Walking go to this post or if you want to know about the best handheld GPS brands go here.


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8 – More On Handheld GPS For Hiking And Walking

8.1 – Posts On Handheld Hiking GPS Choice

1. Here is a little snippet from “REI” from their Tips On How to Use Your New GPS Receiver and is relevant to hiking and walking:

If this is your first GPS unit, you’ll likely have some questions when starting out. Here’s a quick overview and some tips to get you going.

2. The snippet below is from “GPS Track Log” from their GPS For Hikers article which contains some useful tips refarding GPS for hiking and walking:

When selecting a GPS for hiking, two key criteria come to mind. It’s likely that a hiker will want a unit that’s good for navigation and that will not encounter reception problems.


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8.2 – Video On Handheld Hiking GPS Choice

At 1 minute 34 seconds, this brief video from the user “Camping” on YouTube about handheld hiking GPS:

Camping & Backpacking Tips & Gear : Camping GPS

A camping GPS is a great tool to find directions on a camping or hiking trip. Learn how to use a camping GPS with tips from an outdoor activity expert in this free camping video


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9 – Related Resources

If you need further information about handheld GPS for hiking checkout the list of articles below:

  • GUIDE – Hiking GPS, Walking GPS and Handheld GPS Units Guide – this post provides a full description of most aspects of handheld GPS with respect to hiking and a downloadable PDF for you to take away.
  • OFFLINE CHECKLIST – Buy GPS Checklist, Compare Handheld GPS For Hiking Or Walking – this post provide a list of features to consider when selecting a handheld GPS for hiking and an offline PDF checklist for you to take away to assist you when shopping offline.
  • UK ONLINE CHECKLIST SHOP or US ONLINE CHECKLIST SHOP – Handheld GPS For Hiking Or Walking – Buyers Comparison Checklist – this page provides Amazon search display for doing handheld GPS for hiking research and an online comparison checklist to help you compare products.


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