Route planning for backpacking or other wilderness adventures used to mean poring over topo maps, reading countless guide books and tracking down hard-to-find trail maps. Now, with GPS technology, route planning is a fairly simple affair. But even with a GPS unit, information is needed before using the route-tracking function.
Using a predetermined set of waypoints (fixed electronic "breadcrumbs"), GPS units plot a logical path for you to take for your trip or destination. Having coordinates to enter into the unit will be essential for the GPS unit's route-planning and tracking function.
Setting the Start Point
Most GPS units require a start point for the route-planning function to work. Entering the start coordinates allows the unit to begin extrapolating the next logical waypoint or "breadcrumb" for the route.
The End Destination
Like the start point, the GPS unit needs a destination or end point. If the route planned is an out-and-back, feeding the GPS unit the farthest point before the turnaround will act as the destination. At this point, most GPS units will have a map that allows for individual waypoints to be selected to fine-tune the route.
Shortest Distance Between Two Points
As taught in algebra class, a GPS unit considers the best route between two waypoints to be the shortest route. This does not always take into account physical barriers, such as river crossings, canyons or mountain. When the map comes on screen, and individual waypoints are selected, a GPS unit's route-planning can bypass these barriers and plot a more efficient route.
The majority of handheld GPS units sold in North America come preloaded with maps for the continent. If you are in need of other maps to set the route-planning, go to the Web site of the GPS maker and find sources. A good selection of hand-held GPS units is available at Trails.com.
Article Written By Eric Cedric
A former Alaskan of 20 years, Eric Cedric now resides in California. He's published in "Outside" and "Backpacker" and has written a book on life in small-town Alaska, "North by Southeast." Cedric was a professional mountain guide and backcountry expedition leader for 18 years. He worked in Russia, Iceland, Greece, Turkey and Belize. Cedric attended Syracuse University and is a private pilot.