GPS Essentials for Hiking

Due to the nature of the activity, hiking can pose some risks and challenges. Among them, getting lost is probably the most common since hikers throw caution to the wind and think that it won't happen to them. Experienced hikers will tell you that tracking your hike and planning your route are as essential as bringing proper equipment and provisions. The best tool you can use is a Global Positioning System or GPS, which uses satellites to locate your position no matter where you are.

A basic unit has controls and a display to show you your latitude (east-west location) and longitude (north-south location). They also have a number of channels so you can switch frequency when there is interference. While the very basic models will suit your purpose, there are a number of options that are beneficial and sometimes essential depending on the types of hikes you're doing.

Added features include waterproof casing which is a must if you think you'll be hiking through streams or rivers or combining your outdoor activity with rafting. Another is a digital compass which is beneficial as a quick reference. Altitude reading is another good option to have. Figuring out altitude when planning a hike on a map can be a lot of guesswork but when used in conjunction with a GPS unit you can figure out the grade and altitude of your hike.

There are less essential options that will help you with location and tracking. These include such features as the ability to download maps of your area and zoom and relocate. Some have a back lit display so they are easier to read at night and a tracking log so you know where you've been. A built in compass does not require you to be moving to determine your location.

One selling feature of GPS units is the number of waypoints or ways of finding your location (there are many more than latitude and longitude). This term is also used as the number of landmarks the unit will display with a map uploaded. Showing too many landmarks can make it too confusing to read so more is not always better.

Prices vary depending on the model and brand of GPS unit and they generally range from $100 to $300. You usually get what you pay for but you can sometimes find deals on older models.

While using the internet to research user reviews and GPS unit features is beneficial, you should test out units to see which one is best for you. Find a store that specializes in units and has a staff knowledgeable on GPS unit features.

If you do your research and know what you'll need your GPS for, you'll find the unit that is right for you.