Know the limitations of GPS when hiking

There is no doubt that using a GPS has changed the way we travel. Adding one of the little devices to our cars allows us to navigate effortlessly to our destinations and has all but eliminated our need to carry road maps or stop off at the local gas station to ask for directions. That same technology can be of benefit when we leave the vehicle behind and hit a hiking trail as well, although hikers should be aware of the limitations of their devices, and be prepared to use their common sense and good judgment when employing such a device.

Hand held GPS units are very common and inexpensive these days. Most are small, light weight and battery operated, allowing them to be dropped into your backpack when you head out for the day. They generally offer such features as trail maps, suggested points of interest, and topographical data, all of which can be helpful for finding your way in the backcountry.

But unlike GPS devices in our cars, our hand held units don’t do “turn-by-turn” navigation while out in the wilderness, mostly because there are no clear cut roads or landmarks that can be used in the same fashion as when we are on the streets, and natural obstacles can abound. Hikers are instead provided with a general indication of where their destination is from their current position in an “as the crow flies” fashion, and they are forced to navigate to that destination themselves. When doing so, they’ll generally take advantage of the GPS’s built in electronic compass and topographical information to assist them, but more importantly, they’ll need to constantly survey the terrain, adjusting their course as needed, in order to reach their end point successfully.
Speaking of terrain, it can also have a direct impact on the performance of your GPS device while hiking. In order to find your location, you’ll need a clear view of the sky overhead, and that works fine when you’re in a wide open field. But many trekkers have found their hand held GPS can’t connect to the orbiting satellites when they are under a thick canopy of trees or deep in a canyon or gorge where the sky is obscured by the rock walls. It is important to know how your device will perform on the trails that you’ll be hiking so as to avoid a surprise that may leave you lost in the woods and without alternative methods of find your way.

The battery life of our hand held GPS units are also a cause for concern, as they can chew through a full charge in to time at all if you’re not careful. That means you’ll need to carry more batteries in your backpack, which hampers the portability of the device to a degree. And should you run out of juice while on the trail, then your expensive electronic toy becomes useless. Make sure it is fully charged before heading out, and that you’re aware of how long the batteries last under typical conditions. Also keep in mind that cold weather will have an impact on battery life as well, often reducing run times dramatically.

Most of this isn’t new information of course, and experienced hikers have learned that a GPS can be an invaluable tool. However, they’ve also learned not to become overly reliant on the devices, preferring instead to continue to use the time tested skills of reading maps and compasses to find their way. Those skills are enhanced however by being able to turn on the GPS, take some quick readings to find your bearings, plot your course on the map, and set out for your destination, returning to the GPS from time to time to ensure that you’re still on course and making adjustments as necessary.

Despite some of these drawbacks to the use of a hand held GPS, they can be quite a powerful addition to anyone’s mandatory gear list. They are an excellent navigational tool, as long as the person using it is familiar with both the strengths and limitations of such a device. Finding our way in the backcountry has never been so easy, and we’re definitely safer than ever while on the trail.

Daily deal – Navigon 2200T car GPS unit with free lifetime traffic – $130

My daily deal for today is for the Navigon 2200T traffic enabled GPS unit.

This device has a 3.5″ display and features text to speech, with street name pronunciation, the Navigon “reality view” highway direction system and auto day/night mode for adjusting the screen brightness.

Inside the Navigon 2200T is an FM traffic receiver, and you’ll receive free traffic updates for the life of the unit.

The package includes a windshield mount and a car charger cord.

The Navigon 2200T is on sale for $130 at Amazon.com, but the deal is part of their “lightning deals”, which means it’ll be over in about 3 hours (or if inventory runs out sooner). If Amazon sells out, you’ll also find it on sale at jr.com, who are actually the ones providing Amazon with their deal.

Product review – Garmin Oregon 400t rugged handheld GPS

Welcome to my product review of the Garmin Oregon 400t navigation unit. If you are reading this article expecting to learn all about the latest and greatest car GPS unit, I’m going to disappoint you.

The Oregon 400t is a handheld GPS receiver with a very strong focus on outdoor activities. For starters, the unit is waterproof, and comes in a very sleek and sturdy enclosure.

The unit has just one button – power. The rest of the controls are operated using its color touch screen display. Operating that display is a breeze, and each feature can be accessed by pressing a large icon – making it easy to use even when you are wearing gloves. Moving from screen to screen on the device is done by “swiping” your finger to the next set of options, much like on the Apple iPhone. The screen is anti-glare, and can easily be read in direct sunlight though you may need to adjust the backlight settings to get make it more readable.
Inside the Oregon 400t is much more than just a GPS receiver – it also contains an electronic compass and a barometric altimeter.

When you first go out to use the device, you select a profile – each profile sets the device up for the specific activity you have planned for the day. The 5 different activities are recreational, geocaching, automotive, marine and fitness.

The feature is pretty smart – when you select “geocaching”, the geocaching menu option appears on the main menu page, and “automotive” moves the “route planned” and trip computer to the first screen. Another smart feature is that the background image of the device changes, depending on which profile is selected.

The Oregon 400t comes complete with a 3D topographic map of the U.S. (or Europe on the EU version). The map detail includes things like parks, forests, points of interest and trails, making it perfect for active use. Thanks to the built in MicroSD card slot, you can add additional maps to the unit. Additional maps are available for other countries, as well as regular Garmin City Navigator navigation maps for turn by turn directions. In addition to these regular maps, the Oregon 400t can also be expanded with specialty maps, like the Garmin Lakemaster and Bluechart marine map products.

Maps on the device can be viewed in 2D or 3D, and update very fast, even when you are using it on a plane. To start navigating, you can have the device direct you towards recent locations, waypoints, tracks, points of interest, tides and geographic points. You’ll notice that it can’t direct you towards an address – the topographic maps don’t include that data.

Now, on to the unit itself; on the rear of the device is a locking clip for keeping the rear battery cover on place, behind the cover are the 2 AA batteries, and behind the batteries is the MicroSD card slot. The rear cover also has 2 grooves for attaching accessories. Included with the unit is a carabiner clip, and Garmin will also gladly sell you a car mount, belt clip, marine mount or bike mount.

On the bottom of the device is the interface port, which uses a generic MiniUSB connector. This allows you to connect the Oregon to your computer, a MiniUSB cable is included.

The list of features on the Oregon 400t is impressive. You’ll find everything from wireless exchange of data with other Oregon units, to Wherigo location based adventures.

What impressed me most on the Oregon 400t is its well designed interface. Everything is where it should be, and most screens can be customized to your liking. The unit also features several handy additional applications like a calculator, calendar, alarm clock and even an image viewer.

These three screen captures show some of the screens you’ll find on the unit. The left map is a 3D elevation map showing a plotted course (in this case, a 757 heading towards O’Hare airport). The middle image shows a 2D map and the right image is of the trip computer, showing just a couple of the variables the device can display. You’ll notice that we were traveling at 631 mph and were descending.

GPS reception on the Oregon 400t is absolutely fantastic. The unit grabs hold of the weakest GPS signal and has no problems getting a “fix” even indoors or inside a plane (which is a heck of a lot more fun than watching the Airshow).

All in all, the Oregon 400t is the best outdoor GPS unit I have ever tested. There is no denying that the $599 price tag will scare you a bit, but if you spend a good portion of your time outdoors, then this is one investment you may want to consider.

The unit can be expanded with a great variety of mounting options, as well as a Garmin heart rate monitor and bike cadence sensor. Several vendors have decent deals on the unit, including Amazon.com, who sell it for $509.

The Oregon line of GPS receivers comes in several different flavors, the 400t comes preloaded with US topographic maps, the 400c comes with the Garmin Bluechart maps and the 400i comes with a US Inland Lakes map. 2 slightly cheaper models come with Garmin base maps.

I’ve added a gallery with some more images of the product.

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When not to listen to your GPS unit

If I had to make up a fake statistic, I’d say that one in three cars currently has a GPS navigation system. In the past decade, these systems have gone from the ultimate in luxury to just another $100 gadget.

One thing that has not changed however, is the inability of some people to make up their own mind and drive around without using the GPS commands as something other than a mere suggestion.

Here are 5 incidents when a driver let the soothing voice of their GPS unit tell them exactly where to go; without thinking about their next move.

Turn right at the railroad crossing with the approaching train…

A grade crossing in Bedford Hills, NY was the scene of an accident where a driver took a GPS suggested turn, right onto the tracks of the Metro-North railroad.

When the car got stuck, the driver and passengers got out and called 911. Unfortunately, the dispatcher was not able to reach the oncoming train on time, and it struck the car. Nobody was injured but passengers in the train were delayed several hours. An exact same incident occurred earlier this year, also involving a GPS unit.

Via: LoHud.com news and Engadget.com

Road safety truck stuck…

This stuck truck would be just as hilarious as any other situation where a driver failed to check the height of his truck before driving under a bridge. But the truck in question was on its way to a seminar to teach school children some important lessons on road safety. It took a salvage company several hours to pull the truck from under the viaduct.

100ft cliffs on the road to Crackpot

I’m not sure what is funnier; that GPS units have been directing people on a route along the edge of a cliff, or that these people are on their way to a village called Crackpot. When drivers get stuck on the perilous route, they attempt to reverse their car along the edge of the cliff. Thankfully nobody has gone over the edge yet. Villagers are trying to get the route removed from GPS maps.

Source: BBC News

Turn left (if you are a bus)

The Dutch have a fantastic public transport system. Their roads are so bus friendly, that they actually make entire routes and shortcuts just for the bus drivers. So, let that be a lesson to anyone who is NOT driving a bus. This bus route has a hydraulic gate which opens and closes for the local bus, and is clearly strong enough to lift your poor Volvo in into the air.

Corner VS. truck – corner wins!

Residents of the Welsh village of Tycroes have tried everything to warn drivers about the dangers of Cwmferrws Road, but it took this stuck Polish truck driver to finally force the council to design a road sign telling truck drivers not to rely on their GPS units for navigating the village. The truck in question was stuck for hours, and kept hitting a garden wall in his attempts at getting his truck unstuck.

Nokia and Lonely Planet team up to bring guides to your phone

Nokia has teamed up with Lonely Planet to bring their travel guides to select Nokia Mobile Phones.

Nokia phones with support for the free “Maps 2.0” application can purchase and download Lonely Planet guides directly to their phone. Each guide costs $13.99 which is slightly cheaper than their paper versions, which normally sell for around $18 each.

Lonely Planet currently has 100 different guides available for mobile use, with more on the way. By combining the GPS receiver built into many current Nokia phones, you can make the move from paper guides, to an advanced guide with turn by turn directions. Of course, for some people there is no replacement for a good old paper guide full of scribbled notes and bookmarks.

This is the second phone Lonely Planet has added mobile support for. Previously, they introduced a lineup of spoken phrase guides for the iPhone, it is however the first time they have made their popular guides available for a smartphone.

With more and more phones adding GPS receivers, it is probably only a matter of time until other phones get access to the guides, location based services are taking off in a huge way, and within the next few years it is expected that 50% of all new phones will have GPS built in.

To get Lonely Planet guides on your Nokia phone, you will have to install Maps 2.0, you can check whether your phone supports this here. To download a guide, simply open your maps application, click “extras”, then “guides”. Alternatively, you can download the Nokia maps loader program to your PC and install the guides locally. If you are traveling abroad, I highly recommend purchasing the guides you need on your PC, to save the insanely high data charges when you roam on an international network.

Source: Nokia press release