How to Use a Handheld GPS for Hiking

handheld gps for hiking

GPS technology has come a long way in helping people with their navigation regardless of what activity the user is doing. Whether it’s driving, mountain climbing, or hiking, the GPS is a valuable tool when it comes to navigation. In fact. GPS handheld devices are an essential tool to hobbyists and adventurers alike when they are doing various hiking activities.

But how to use a handheld GPS for hiking? There are several ways to use a handheld GPS when you are hiking. First, it helps display your current position on the map and automatically records track when needed. Other ways to use the handheld GPS in hiking are listed below:


Display your Current Position

The handheld GPS will tell your current position, which will be displayed in coordinates. The device will also show you the position in its based map. By default, the handheld GPS will show your location in coordinates which are in latitude and longitude. But using these coordinates can be challenging to use to pinpoint your exact location.

Another way to know your location is using the device grid references. In this method, the device will be using the grids overlay topographic map when displaying your location. The GPS device will display the UTM coordinates or the Universal Transverse Mercator,, the geographic coordinate system used to identify locations on earth.

The GPS handheld device will show the UTM fields, which are usually composed of a seven-digit field. It is a must to learn how to read this coordinate for you to know your position using this method.

To activate the grid display, you will need the GPS handheld device to display in UTM coordinates. You will usually need to change the display in the setting of the GPS and select the UTM coordinates in identifying your location.

Record and Navigate your Track

You can also use the handheld GPS device to record tracks on your device. When you turn on the tracking of your GPS, it will automatically lay down the digital bread crumbs, the secondary navigation system that uses the user’s location on the site.

The bread crumbs are called the track points at regular intervals, which will be used to review your track or evaluate the path that you have traveled. Recording your track is essential to assess your performance during the hike.

The handheld GPS will also help in navigating your track. Your pre-planned track will be downloaded to the GPS device to let you see the track on the map screen. Once downloaded, the GPS handheld device will already know where you are located on the track.

In using the handheld GPS device when navigating your track, checking the compass screen will let you be guided by an arrow which will point in the direction of your walk. It will also give you additional information such as the distance to destination and the estimated arrival time.

Displaying the Distance of your Walk and For How Long

how to use a handheld gps for hiking

The GPS handheld device will also function similar to the dashboard of the car which will show the speedometer and odometer. The device will you how far you have walk and how long you have been walking.

In the device, you can see how long you have been moving since started walking. It will also provide other information such as how long you have been resting. If you have the idea how long the hike is, you can have a rough estimate the amount of time needed to reach your destination.

Loading a GPS File to Navigate a Known Trail

The GPS device can also be use to navigate an old or known trail using the previous GPS file. These files are usually found on a website and can be downloaded into the handheld GPS device. The information on the old GPS file will be used to navigate the knwon trail.

Downloading the GPS file to the device will all depend on the brand you are using. Some brands can download easier while others gets more complicated. The file usually come sin GPS format which can be used in many of the handhelp GPS device.

Please note that sme older models of this GPS device does not accept this file format. Downloading it in their native file format will not work for some older device. What you will do is file into a format which can be read by the handheld GPS device.

The GPS file usually contains all the information in a particular trail including the track, the route , and the way point. These are the terms which are normally use in a GPS handheld device and should be familiarized by the user.

Navigating From Point A to Point B

Another usage of a GPS handheld device is when the user navigate from one point to the other. The handheld GPS device will help direct the user by providing direction and distance going to a particular location. This information is the waypoint which can be pre-marked by putting the coordinates at home before going on the hike.

On the outside, the waypoint will be marked as the place you’d like to return to such as the campsite or the trailhead. The GPS handheld device will then provide the bearing the the distance of the way point.

As you hike, you will see that the bearing will change in the GPS device because trials usually do not follow a straight line. Meaning, the bearing changes as you hike. The distance to travel will also decrease as you get nearer to your destination.


A handheld GPS can provide a lot of help to every hiker in terms of the navigation of the hiking activity. So, it is a must to learn how to use a handheld GPS for hiking to make it easier for the hiker to navigate to the destination. The handheld GPS device will also give other information that will make the hike easier and fun along the way.

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