Years ago, the only way to get yourself out of a sticky situation if you were lost in the woods was to learn how to read a compass and/or map. These days many outdoor adventurists prefer to use a global positioning device, commonly known as a GPS, instead of a map and compass.
However, while it’s still a good idea to take a GPS with you, it’s also recommended that you know how to read a map and compass. These navigation skills could be crucial if you get lost in the wilderness or at sea. You shouldn’t become too reliable on a GPS because they’re not as dependable as you may think.
(photo credit: alrocket)
There are actually a few weaknesses when it comes to a GPS. You need to remember that these devices are powered by batteries and once the batteries are dead it’s of no use to you. Like many other mobile devices, they can be drained of power before you know it. This means you’re going to have to make sure you have enough batteries with you at all times to keep it working.
In addition, a GPS needs to use at least three satellite links for it to be able to fix itself on your position. Not all of these satellites are located in the sky directly overhead as many of them are stationed at varying degrees. This means you may find yourself in a location that doesn’t allow you to pick up the required three satellite signals.
For instance if you’re hiking or camping in a dense forest or find yourself down in a deep gulley or valley you might not be able to signal the satellites. Bad weather can also affect the signal in a negative way. If you’re out in heavy rain or snow or a thick fog it could make things more difficult for the GPS. Even lightning and meteor showers can wreak havoc on a GPS and the satellites.
This doesn’t mean you should leave the GPS at home, far from it. You should take it with you at all times if possible, but you should also have a backup system just in case, which would be a map and compass. A detailed topographical map will actually be able to tell you a lot more about the location you’re in than a GPS can.
If you know how to read and orient a topographical map, you’ll know exactly what the landscape has in store for you. It’ll also let you know where you can find sources of water and campgrounds. When used in combination with a good compass you’ll be able to find your location on the map within a few yards.
If you’re planning on heading out in the water a good coastal chart can tell you more about your position than a GPS because it will be able to inform you of channel locations, the depth of the water, and even the type of soil at the bottom of the waterway. This is important information for boaters who are planning to set anchor or are entering a harbor.
Taking a navigation course is a good way to prepare yourself for the next boating, camping, or hiking adventure.