How to Use GPS

How to Use GPSUsing a global positioning system, or GPS, is a low-cost and effective method of pinpointing your location in seconds, anywhere in the world. Even if you are not a world adventurer, though, GPS can perform a number of important functions that will assist you in your everyday life and during your outdoor recreational activities.


Difficulty: Moderately Easy

Things You’ll Need:
  • GPS receiver
  • Topographic map
Step 1
Find your location on a map. GPS receivers can display your location in a number of different formats, but the two most popular ones are Latitude and Longitude, or Lat/Lon; and Universal Transverse Mercator, or UTM.
Step 2
Read the Lat/Lon or UTM position from your GPS receiver and then locate that position on any topographic map (topographic maps also use Lat/Lon and UTM coordinates). By pinpointing your location on a topographic map, you now have awareness of where you are in comparison to other features on the map that are also visible to you.
Step 3
Store a position so that you can return to it at anytime in the future. Today's GPS receivers typically have enough internal memory to store hundreds or thousands of positions, called "waypoints." If you have ever worried about locating your car at the airport after a trip, or finding it at the mall after a busy day of shopping, you can understand the power of storing waypoints.
Step 4
Add a descriptive name or a small graphical symbol to your waypoints to make it easier for you to remember what they represent.
Step 5
Share waypoints with other people, who can then use their GPS receiver to locate your waypoint. This is the concept behind the popular treasure-hunting game called "geocaching," in which people hide or "cache" a treasure (usually some small toys in a waterproof container) and then publish the GPS location of their cache on the Internet. Other people then use their GPS receiver to try to locate the cache.
Step 6
Follow a route. You can also load a series of waypoints into your GPS receiver, creating a route. Routes are very useful when you are trying to follow a trail or path that may be unmarked or obscured by overgrown brush. Create a route by scaling the waypoints from a topographic map of the area, or with computer mapping software that will allow you to create a route by simply clicking on a map with your mouse. You can then transfer the route to your GPS receiver electronically.
Step 7
Record your journey. GPS receivers can record a "track," which is a series of waypoints that are chained together under a common track name. Like waypoints and routes, you can share tracks with other GPS users, who can then use your track as a route in their GPS receiver in order to retrace your steps.
GPS receivers can record tracks automatically by distance, such as storing a new waypoint every 20 feet, or time, where the GPS receiver will store a new waypoint after a user-selectable interval of seconds or minutes has passed.

Tips & Warnings

GPS receivers work best when they have an unobstructed view of the sky. If your GPS receiver will not calculate a position, move to an open area.

Article Written By Roy Scribner

Roy Scribner is based in Silicon Valley, where he writes about outdoor recreation topics for various online media outlets, while moonlighting as the business development manager for a defense aerospace firm. Roy and family are avid RV'rs and campers, averaging 5,000 miles every year in the Western United States.

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