Walking with GPS

In this article Alan Goddard, a prolific walker and enthusiast for long distance walking, describes how he uses GPS devices whilst walking:

GPS stands for Global Positioning System and is based on a receiver getting signals from satellites circling the globe. For walking purposes we are talking about a hand held GPS receiver that can be conveniently carried. The receiver picks up signals from a number of satellites and uses this information to precisely locate itself on the ground. From our car GPS satnav systems we know that this information translates into a location on the map within the device. For walking navigation this is an Ordinance Survey type map rather than a road map but the principle is the same.

The real value of a GPS is that it absolutely stops you getting lost. Anyone who has ever seriously walked with map and compass has got lost. A GPS receiver pinpoints where precisely on the map you are. It identifies just where that vaguely marked footpath that you’re looking for is so that you can’t miss the turn. This is its real value. Sure it keeps a record of where and how far you’ve walked and how long it has taken which is nice to have but its absolute value lies in keeping you in touch with the map.

There are two main types of walking GPS device. The first type is purpose built devices. The main manufacturer is Garmin and prices range from £60 to over £500. The picture shows a £430 model, the ‘Oregon GB Discoverer”. It comes ready to use with a 1:50K scale Ordinance Survey digital map of the whole of the UK. It is waterproof and has a 16 hour battery life. For the technically inclined It has a high speed USB interface to link with a pc or mac. It has 4GB of internal memory with an SD card slot for memory expansion. In short it has the capability to do all you need for a price.

The second type is the smart phone. Both android and iOS (iPhone) devices work. This article is primarily based around the iPhone but the principles apply to android operated phones as well. Providing you own a smart phone the advantage of using it is self evident; cost. I have very satisfactorily used GPS on iPhone 4, 5 and now 6 for both long distance and local walking. However purpose built devices are waterproof and have longer battery lives and are generally easier to read in bright sunlight. Therein lie the differences. Having said this waterproof covers are available for smart phones.

Of course the first requirement is to acquire an ‘app’ (software) and some digital maps. I use Anquet (see www.anquet.com)

On the app store it is called Anquet Outdoor Map Navigator and costs £3.99 (on Google for Android £4.00). Digital maps come at both 1:25K scale and 1:50K scale and in standard and high definition (HD). As an example the HD Peak District download at 1:25K scale and covering the whole of the national park retails at £22.50 and is ideal for walking in the Peak District. I took a short local walk to illustrate how the software looks. Below is a screen shot showing the walk:

The blue circle (it is the GPS location marker) shows the start and finish of the walk and where the screen shot was taken. As the walk progresses the circle moves to show precisely where on the map you are. The blue line traces the route and the red arrow is the (optional) compass. The blue icons below the map are the iPhone app controls. A separate screen gives the walk details - 0.91km at 5.71 kph (I can walk at that speed for 1km). It really is just that simple and it does make navigation straightforward for everyone. Just one word of warning and it really is self evident. Don’t rely exclusively on a smart phone on a longer walk across remote terrain. A phone battery does have a limited charge (6 hours for an iPhone 6+ under test conditions). Take a map in a back pocket together with your compass.

Footnote - If you have suggestions for articles in this series please let me know.

Keith Shaw, Assistant Editor