" />


head for the barn

About BCL

llama packing specifically,
the great outdoors in general


track down our print issues

The BCL Blog

regular updates
from the trail and beyond

The BCL Archive

explore our back issues

Contact BCL

get in touch

Learn to Use GPS in the Backcountry (Intro) | Learn About Your GPS Receiver | Set Up Your GPS Receiver | Practice Recording Locations | Interpret your Data: Recording and Using Tracks

Practice Recording Locations

by Phil Romig Jr.

Getting to Know your Receiver’s Capabilities and Limitations

Now that you have become familiar with the operation of your GPS receiver and have checked all of the settings, it is time to start using it. To keep from being overwhelmed, let’s take it a step at a time.

The most-basic purpose of a GPS receiver is to determine location. Everything else (distance, track recording, etc.) is based on locations. If you can’t trust your receiver to provide locations within an acceptable level of accuracy, then you can’t trust anything else it tells you.

In science, there is a principle that you never measure something once or twice, because you have no way of knowing the accuracy. The best way to develop confidence in your GPS is to measure multiple locations, multiple times, using different methods. It can be easy to do without requiring much time.
  1. Pick some places that you pass regularly and that are visible on a satellite photo (street corners, bridges, buildings, etc.). I use known locations on my one-mile walk to work. (Alexa - include a map and a photo as an example?)
  2. Carry your GPS while going around the area (I keep mine in my bike bag). To make comparisons easier later on, make all of your measurements using UTM coordinates.
  3. When you pass one of the locations, stop and mark a waypoint with your GPS (use a short, simple identifier for each location).
  4. Periodically (each evening?) record the location, coordinates, date, time, weather conditions and GPS accuracy (if your GPS provides that information). If possible, use a spreadsheet to make it easier to do additional calculations later.

Doing these simple steps regularly will help you become comfortable using your GPS receiver. Eventually, it will be as natural as taking photographs or checking your watch, and you will not hesitate to take it with you (and use it) on the trail, whether for a short day trip or a multi-day trek. However, the data you have collected will allow you to do more. The next step will help you develop a better understanding of how much you can trust the location information you unit is giving you.

Next, Interpret your Data

Back to main Navigating the Backcountry page