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GPS Advice please

GPS Advice please


Postby alexpdjdj » Sat Dec 21, 2013 6:59 am

Hi everyone,

I was just after a spot of GPS advice please.

I've just taken to mountain walking in the last year, mainly in the Lakes but I've done a couple of Munros with my pals in Scotland.

To cut a long story short, we are having group navigation mishaps... on Ben Nevis we had to abandon on the summit plateau in a white-out; on Fairfield last week in total mist we thought we had summitted but on getting home we only reached Cofa Pike, the list goes on. I think a GPS would be beneficial to our group so I am thinking about buying a basic one like a Garmin eTrex 20 or 30.

My question is, all the great walk reports that I read and research on here, can I just upload those GPX files onto my unit and then follow that walk - is that how these things work? I know I need to upskill in terms of my map-reading etc, but when we have our sometimes spontaneous walks and end up in misty conditions etc, sometimes its hard to 'learn' those map-reading skills on the fly. I fully intend to really improve my map-and-compass skillz on areas I know in decent conditions, so I know how to do the correct techniques etc, so my question isnt really about that as I know that is more beneficial in the long run.

But would a GPS like those above be able to use the GPX files I see on most walk reports, and is one worth the money? Also, any personal recommendations of any units would be appreciated. I am loathe to use an iPhone GPS app as I always 'runkeeper' my walks and this sucks the life out of my phone battery, so I could do without that. A full GPS unit is the proposal.

Thanks in advance everyone, and merry Xmas to you all. Cheers, Alex.
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Re: GPS Advice please

Postby gammy leg walker » Sat Dec 21, 2013 11:34 am

I have just purchased a Garmin E-Trex 30 and after a fair bit of advice & help from fellow WH members I can now recommend this gps,have been out with it a few times on low level walks in areas I no well and its been spot on.

In answer to your question, yes you can download gpx routes from WH to your gps.
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Re: GPS Advice please

Postby NickScots » Sat Dec 21, 2013 12:13 pm

Although I use a gps, normaly in the rucksac, I use map skilks and compass skills all the time. I would suggest your group buys in a mountain leader for a days navigation training. Splitting the cost will make it cheap and it will make more difference than a gps.

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Re: GPS Advice please

Postby BobMcBob » Sat Dec 21, 2013 7:05 pm

You're correct about iPhone - the battery life sucks when using the GPS. Android phones do not suffer with this problem, so if you're due an upgrade, an Android phone and ViewRanger will do you nicely. That's what I use.

As for the GPX files - the ones on user's walk reports may have been recorded using a GPS, in which case they should be followable. But some may have been drawn using the WH route planner, in which case their accuracy at ground level could be questionable.

A GPS is a useful accessory but in my view it should never be used to replace map reading skills. Even with your iPhone you should be able to use the GPS to get an OS grid reference. When you're completely lost this can be invaluable, and then map and compass skills will take you from there.
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Re: GPS Advice please

Postby Gareth Harper » Sun Dec 22, 2013 11:09 am

There is a bit of learning to do if you get a GPS, but it's mostly a matter of sitting down and playing with it.
And then maybe taking it out whilst just generally walking about. Do take time to read the manual and get it set up the way you want it, in particular pay attention to power settings.

They are very powerful tools, and they will generally tell you exactly where you are, something a map cannot do.
I still carry a map, but it's mainly for checking the big picture and perhaps if I want to make an alteration to my plans, both of which GPS are not very good for. But to be honest the map stays in the bag, and if I need to check where I am I use the GPS.

I also carry a compass that I check now and again, so I know what direction I'm heading. I'm not keen on the GPS compass. Also when following written route notes the compass can be very handy.

Yup you can just download and upload em into your GPS. All the 'official' routes I've used off walkhighlands have been spot on as have the few members walk report routes I've downloaded. But of course you should check em, at your own risk and all that.

As for what to get, I've been using a SATMAP device for I think coming on 4 years now. It's first class.

Android? My Galaxy S2's battery positively eats itself. Nor are these phones particularly robust. It also has a nasty habit of switching itself on when in my pocket. I would not recommend mobile phones for GPS.
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Re: GPS Advice please

Postby WalkingDutchman » Sun Dec 22, 2013 12:21 pm

Hi Alex,

alexpdjdj wrote:we are having group navigation mishaps... on Ben Nevis we had to abandon on the summit plateau in a white-out; on Fairfield last week in total mist we thought we had summitted but on getting home we only reached Cofa Pike, the list goes on. I think a GPS would be beneficial to our group so I am thinking about buying a basic one like a Garmin eTrex 20 or 30.

Yes, a GPS woud be beneficial, especially in whiteout conditions or fog. But I would start with getting some navigation experience. What if your GPS's batteries die, and you're in a whiteout? You still need to be able to navigate safely off the mountain, just using a compass and a paper map. So get a GPS, but also improve your navigational skills.

Gareth Harper wrote:There is a bit of learning to do if you get a GPS, but it's mostly a matter of sitting down and playing with it.

Agreed. And there's always folks on here willing to help out :D

Gareth Harper wrote:Android? My Galaxy S2's battery positively eats itself. Nor are these phones particularly robust. It also has a nasty habit of switching itself on when in my pocket. I would not recommend mobile phones for GPS.

Definitily not reccommended to us only a mobile/smart phone for navigation. They eat batteries, and (due to antenna restrictions, chip restrictions etc) they are less accurate (which on a ridge in fog/whiteout could be enough to drop you off the ridge). Plus, phones are generally less robust physically. I've dropped my GPS (an 8 or 10 year old Garmin eTrex Vista) a number of times, on rocks and in water. No problem whatsoever. If I did the same with my phone, it would have been dead, and then where does that leave you (no pun intended)?

BobMcBob wrote:As for the GPX files - the ones on user's walk reports may have been recorded using a GPS, in which case they should be followable. But some may have been drawn using the WH route planner, in which case their accuracy at ground level could be questionable.

If the GPX-files have been drawn with the WH routeplanner, I think they only have an X and a Y, and no Z (no elevation). That could indeed throw them off a bit, so you'd need to watch out for that. I tend to download them, convert to KML and look at them in Google Earth. That way you get a pretty decent idea of elevations, steepness, ridges etc. Converting from one format to the other I do with GPS Babel: http://www.gpsbabel.org/. Nifty little tool that allows you to convert GPX files downloaded from here into almost anything, and most likely the native format for whatever GPS you are going to get will be in there too. You can then modify the route in Google Earth, save it, convert back to whatever you need.
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Re: GPS Advice please

Postby Gareth Harper » Sun Dec 22, 2013 1:26 pm

Yes, a GPS woud be beneficial, especially in whiteout conditions or fog. But I would start with getting some navigation experience. What if your GPS's batteries die, and you're in a whiteout? You still need to be able to navigate safely off the mountain, just using a compass and a paper map. So get a GPS, but also improve your navigational skills.


Agreed.

You also have to consider how your behaviour can change if you are using GPS. I do find myself pressing on in white-out conditions when perhaps before I had GPS I might have turned back. Yes it can give you more confidence but be careful it doesn't end up with you doing things that perhaps you really shouldn't. Don't change the way you view routes and weather forecasts just becuase you have that wee miracle device.

Following a GPS can potentially lead to you forgetting about N,S,E and W. If the GPS fails, and if it's foggy, well you might not have the foggiest (ho ho!) where you are or where to head. Though with the right GPS and power settings you really shouldn't have battery issues. (though some have commented that trying to get off a ridge in white out winter conditions can challenge batteries) The only problem I've had with mine is the occasional crash, which means getting the back off and disconnecting and reconnecting the battery followed by a re-boot. It's only done it a handful of times in the 4 years I've had it. But then maps get wet, they blow away, compasses get dropped etc.

Talking of accuracy, quite a few people slate GPS because they expect to take it out of their pack, power it up and for it to tell them exactly where they are. That's something I quickly noticed, GPS likes a moving target and just a dozen steps will often do the trick.

Don't expect it to tell you where you are in a gully, the signal just bounces about. Same standing under rock faces. So you need to understand when it may not be accurate and be able to spot false readings, but really it's pretty easy and just common sense, but some people will use these little unavoidable little quirks to totally slate GPS.

At the end of the day, aye get a GPS, but keep looking at your map and compass.

Also I take it your are navigating as a group.
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Re: GPS Advice please

Postby orion » Sun Dec 22, 2013 1:33 pm

I use a small 4.2" tablet as below in conjunction with Memory Map.

http://androidcommunity.com/samsung-galaxy-player-4-2-review-20120601/

The battery lasts for a weekends hillwalking with constant tracking and a 16 gig card does all of Scotland and the main English and Welsh hills at 1:25k. It is not a phone but does have wi-fi and is a great wee mp3 player to boot.I find phone screens a bit hard to see especially as it`s usually foul weather when you need to have a decent look :wink:

Picked it up for £60 last Xmas.It has all the usual Android apps available.It`s small enough to fit neatly in the pocket also when on the hill.

As before it is advisable to learn how to use a map and compass first though ! Best thing is just to go out on a clear day and learn :)
....
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Re: GPS Advice please

Postby BobMcBob » Mon Dec 23, 2013 9:29 pm

Gareth Harper wrote:Android? My Galaxy S2's battery positively eats itself. Nor are these phones particularly robust. It also has a nasty habit of switching itself on when in my pocket. I would not recommend mobile phones for GPS.


Put it in Aeroplane mode, or flight mode, or whatever they call it. Searching for a signal that probably isn't there will kill the battery quicker than using the GPS. My Galaxy XCover battery lasts about 8 hours like this, using the GPS constantly. I carry a PowerMonkey as backup too. Agreed about the waterproofness with some phones, but there are ruggedised phones for outdoor use - mine is one such phone. It's been dropped in burns, sat on, and driven over and it's still fine. Using the phone as a GPS means one less thing to carry and one less thing to charge.

All that said, I don't rely on it because I can read a map. If I was reliant on it for navigation I might invest in something more dedicated, but maps are cheaper and nicer to look at :)
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Re: GPS Advice please

Postby Gareth Harper » Mon Dec 23, 2013 10:33 pm

8hrs, that's exactly what I mean. Useless.

I keep it switched off and in my backpack where hopefully it won't do it's favourite trick of switching itself on.

Use a Satmap for navigation. Almost bomb proof, well when compared to a phone anyway. Never had any battery issues, can use it for several days on one charge if need be. And refer to map if I need to see the big picture.
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Re: GPS Advice please

Postby kmsharp » Mon Dec 23, 2013 11:16 pm

I'm a big fan of GPS's. I started out with a very basic Garmin device that would only show satellite coverage and an OSGB grid reference, I needed to transfer the position displayed on the GPS onto a map which kept my map skills fresh.

I'm not sure if you can still buy such devices as new. If you can, or at least get one on eBay, it should be a cheaper way of testing the water. Even though I'm an iPhone user I still prefer my Garmin GPSMap 62 with it's OS 1:50k and 1:25 color mapping.

Keith.
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Re: GPS Advice please

Postby WalkingDutchman » Tue Dec 24, 2013 11:59 am

Gareth Harper wrote:8hrs, that's exactly what I mean. Useless.

Agreed.

My Garmin uses 2 AA-batteries, and I turn it on when I start walking, and only turn it off when I've made camp. Two AA-batteries give me 4 days straight usage (I use it for recording mainly), in fairly low temperatures (if it's 18 degrees Celsius or more it'll give me 5 to 6 days - have had that happen in France). Since I only get out on the hills once or twice a year, I tend to go for long-distance walks only (6-10 days or so) so my smartphone will never do. I do carry a powermonkey for my phone as well, for emergencies and reporting "All's well" to the homefront whenever I have coverage, but I'm going to get a Spot to do that. Makes the homefront feel better about me being out there on my own too :wink:
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Re: GPS Advice please

Postby islayhawk » Wed Dec 25, 2013 2:32 am

I use a basic Garmin GPS ( yellow one) and I cannot fault it. I use it for Ghillieing in the Scottish Highlands. Use for plotting position of kill and finding my way in and out of the hills in sometimes atrocious conditions The accuracy for such a basic unit is amazing - I would not be without it. Get one - you will not regret it - but keep up the map reading skills and always carry the map and compass.
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Re: GPS Advice please

Postby alexpdjdj » Thu Dec 26, 2013 1:32 am

Wow thanks everyone for such a great deal of replies, and some really informative answers.
I'm just confused about one thing, if I buy say a Garmin etrex30 or a satmap10, I have to pay for the maps on top? Is that right? If I download the reports on here, are they just waypoints that will get added, so I wouldnt see the profile and topography that I would get by buying the extra maps?
See what I mean... confusing?!
Merry Xmas everyone and thanks for all your replies so far, Alex.
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Re: GPS Advice please

Postby Gareth Harper » Thu Dec 26, 2013 1:09 pm

Yup generally you buy the device then add your maps.

I bought a Satmap 10 + Lipol battery + full GB 1:50000 maps bundle.

I think it's best just to bite the bullet and get the full GB map bundle when you buy the device. 1. It's cheaper in the long run. 2. You have only one SD card for the UK. (no fiddly little cards to swap or loose)

The cards are assigned to the devices. You can make a copy (which you should) but you can't use it in the device. Satmap will replace the SD card if it ever fails.

The only weakness I found with the Satmap is that the USB flap breaks off. The unit as it is is water resistant and very tough. But obviously not water resistant once the flap has broken off.

Satmap do provide back up and servicing for their stuff. But rather than send it back for repair, as I don't like to be without it, I bought the silicone cover which makes it fully waterproof, though not quite as nice to use once it's fitted. Getting batteries in and back out with the silicone cover fitted is a pain, so I'm glad I got the Lipol battery which is charged via the USB socket.

Another thing to bear in mind, is do you want touch screen or buttons to work the device. Satmap has nice chunky buttons which I can operate with gloved hands.

I think there's the new Satmap 20 now, which would be nice, but more cash I guess.

I've never tried any other mapping device but I'm very happy with the Satmap, and hopefully they have improved the USB flap since I bought mine (4 years ago).

And I think the few crashes I had might have been as a result of me pulling the device out of my pocket just as it was auto-shutting down and asking it to boot up. So if I pull it out and it's shutting down (it says so on the screen), I wait a few seconds and then reboot it. I don't think it's crashed on me for a couple of years now.

As a solo walker, and somebody who's always meandering and taking photos (so the old time and direction techniques are a bit vague for me) I find it reassuring to have the Satmap with me. And when the cloud comes down or it's white out time in winter, yes it's very reassuring, it does tell you exactly where you are, it's saves lots of time and no more panicky worry that you might be totally lost.

But don't forget that some day you may need to get home without it, whether it fails or the GPS system goes down (never has but it could), so it's still worth paying attention to your compass etc.
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