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 GPS Tips 
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Post GPS Tips
GPS Tips
by: L. Woodrow Ross

If you are an outdoor person and spend time is some of the more remote areas of our state or other parts of the country, you should be familiar with the use of a compass or GPS system. The compass has been around for centuries and is a very dependable tool for a person to use to maintain his orientation in the wild. A compass does not have batteries like a GPS system, but it can fail unless you use precautions. If you hold it too close to a dense metal object, it will affect the reading. Also, anything magnetic will make it render false readings. If you eliminate those items when using the compass, you will be okay.

Basic compass use is easy and there are plenty of guidebooks on orienteering with a compass. If you chart a course and watch the compass, it is easy to backtrack with a minimum of skill. If you are traveling for a great distance with a lot of twists and turns, you will need a good topographical map of the area for reference and a good compass with a base-plate and adjustments for declination. Declination is the difference between true North and magnetic North. Depending on where you are, you have to make a minor adjustment to know where true North happens to be.

A GPS is much easier, but you have to keep fresh batteries in it or it is useless. Various units have many different features and many of them have a base map in the software package and will show you where you are on the map. They will provide you with latitude and longitude readings so that you can look at larger topographical maps and determine exactly where you are. They also tell you the altitude, sunrise and sunset times and many more neat things. You can pre-plan a route and enter recognizable waypoints so that you can easily reach your destination. These units can be linked to your computer and the information stored for future reference. You can use computer topographical programs on your computer and map out routes and even see them in three dimensional images to see the grade in the mountainous areas.

GPS (Global Positioning Systems) process signals from satellites to determine your location. It takes access to two satellites to give longitude and latitude reading and three satellites to provide altitude readings.

These are neat units, but there are traditional ways to determine directions. The most obvious is to be aware that the sun rises in the East and sets in the West, therefore on reasonably clear days, you always have a reference. If you observe trees in the forest, you will see that most of the trunks are not exactly round. They are oval. The longest axis of the oval would be North and South (it’s up to you to decide which is which). The old myth of moss growing on the North side of the trees is partially true, but in very damp shady areas, it may not be dependable. At night, the North Star and some of the other constellations can be used as a guide.

Personally, I have a GPS unit, but I always feel comfortable having a compass in my pocket. It is dependable and almost fool-proof if you know how to use it.

By the way, if you are out a lot, it’s not a bad idea to have a first aid kit and a little elementary survival gear. Water treatment pills, water filter, high energy snack bars, and such are good ideas.

If you are looking for a neat thing to remind you of the places you have been, pick up a small rock that is unusual in appearance and when you get home you can use a permanent marker to record the date and location on the bottom. They make great paperweights. I use acrylic paint and paint outdoor scenes, fish, flowers and such on mine. I have them all around the house and at the office and each one reminds me of a great day outdoors.

About The Author
L. Woodrow Ross is a freelance writer/photographer who lives in Travelers Rest, SC. He has written an outdoor/travel column for two years and just completed his first novel, “Return to Oak Hill”. He is an active fly tier, fisherman, and hunter and participates in many outdoor sports. His websites are and

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Tue Mar 01, 2011 2:52 pm
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