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You already know what a GPS can do for you in the car but what can you do with a GPS on the hiking trail? Plenty, and we’re here to help you get started!

First of all, it’s important to make a distinction between GPS units made for the car and those made for the trail. For hiking you’ll want a small, handheld unit that runs on AA or rechargeable batteries – after all, who wants to lug a car battery around the trail with them 😉 Seriously though, while it is possible to get some use out of your car navigation system on the trail, you’ll want to get a GPS made specifically for the outdoors if you plan on using it on a regular basis. Garmin has several outdoor series GPS units including the eTrex, GPSMap, Geko, and now the new Oregon and Colorado series. From Magellan the Triton and eXplorist series are good outdoor choices and DeLorme is even getting in on the game with its Earthmate PN series.

No matter which outdoor GPS you choose for hiking, here are the things you can expect to do (at a minimum) with your GPS on the trail:

  • Track distance, time, and speed. It’s always good to know how far you’ve been and how far you have to go on the trail and a GPS can help you out big time. Imagine the trailhead sign says it’s 4 miles to the scenic overlook – you can use your GPS to tell you exactly how far you’ve been. Speed is another good thing to know – if you’ve moving at 3 miles per hour, you’ll get to that overlook 1 hour and 20 minutes after you start the trail!
  • Mark cool stuff for your next trip. Every GPS allows you to mark waypoints along the trail that you can label for quick reference the next time you’re out. Mark the position of that gnarly looking pine tree on the side of the trail so you can point it to your friend the next time you’re hiking. Or, mark the location where you parked your car in case you forget 😉
  • Map where you’ve been. Basic GPS units may not be able to show you where you’re going but every GPS we’ve used at least shows where you’ve been. At first glance this might not seem helpful but I’m here to tell you this feature has saved me on more than one occasion. Once, while hiking Camelback in Phoenix, Paul and I found ourselves at the top of the hike when the sun went down. Hiking down what we thought was the trail we quickly realized we were heading in the wrong direction. Checking the GPS showed that we were off the original trail we hiked on the way up so we walked left to rejoin the correct route. On a mountain biking trip Leah and I got onto a trail that basically fizzled out and we needed to rejoin the dirt road we pedaled up on. The GPS revealed the road was a few hundred yards above us so we bushwacked our way back on track.
  • Check your elevation. When hiking in the mountains, it’s often helpful to know how high you are and most GPS units can give you a good estimate of your elevation. A trail guide, for example, may tell you the peak is 12,280 feet high and your GPS can help you estimate how far you have to climb to reach the top. Some GPS units even plot your elevation as you go so you can view a profile of where you’ve already hiked.

These days hiking and outdoor GPS units are adding more features like color screens, advanced navigation, topo maps, and even integrated digital cameras. Pick up a GPS before your next outdoor adventure to make sure you stay on track! Read our outdoor GPS reviews right here on tripleblaze.com.

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