Sunday, March 18, 2012

15 tips for the new handheld GPS owner

HIll Walking in the English Lake DistrictIf you got a new handheld GPS, I’m hoping the weather is nice enough for you to get out and play with it. Here are some tips to help get you off on the right foot:

Use it around town

Learn to set a waypoint and navigate to it, and how to follow a track or route, before going off into the wilderness. And if you don’t know what those words mean…

Learn the terminology

We’ve got a handheld GPS 101 series just waiting for you.

Let it bake

Not in the oven! Take it outside, turn it on and let it sit motionless under open sky for awhile. It can take up to half an hour to fully download the satellite almanac; do this and when you want to use it over the next few days, it should lock onto satellites very fast.

Protect it

Before going out in the woods, get a screen protector. The investment is well worth it.

Go green, save green

Handheld GPS receivers will go through alkaline batteries very quickly. Get yourself a good set of Eneloop rechargeables; keep a spare pair charged and you’ll always be ready to go.

Calibrate it

If your unit has an electronic compass, learn to calibrate it. And if it has a barometric altimeter and you’re an adventurous backcountry explorer, it’s fun to find a USGS benchmark and calibrate the altimeter too.

Backup your GPS

This one will take awhile but connect it to your computer and just copy the entire GPS drive over; you’ll always have a backup with factory settings.

Get some free maps

If you have a Garmin, head on over to GPS File Depot for some awesome free topos and trail maps. They’ve got some great tutorials too. The best way to do this is to put them on a microSD card; that way if you run up against the rare incompatibility issue, all you’ll need to do is pull the card out.

Try geocaching

Many models include a free 30 day trial membership at, allowing you to experience the full joy of paperless geocaching.

Update it

Unlike auto GPS, handhelds often get new features with firmware updates. Here are some resources for updating your DeLorme, Garmin or Magellan unit.

Download some tracks

Want to have the trail shown on your GPS? Download the track from one of the many .gpx file sharing sites; my current favorite is Garmin Connect. Oh, and you might want to check to be sure the track wasn’t collected using a smartphone.

Create an “if found” splash screen

This tutorial is geared towards the Garmin Oregon, but it should work for just about any of the newer Garmin models.

Grab some BirdsEye aerial imagery or topos

If you got one of the more recent Garmins, check out their BirdsEye aerial imagery and BirdsEye Topo US and Canada.

Don’t get lost

After all, that would be pretty embarrassing. And believe me, there are plenty of ways to get lost with a GPS.

Learn more

Check out our handheld GPS FAQs.

About Rich Owings

Rich is the owner, editor and chief bottle-washer for GPS Tracklog. Connect with him on Twitter, Facebook or Google Plus.

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