Newbie GPS question

Posted by: Mike Rawdon

Newbie GPS question - 08/22/10 04:55 PM

OK, so my wife just bought a sleek TomTom vehicle navigation system. Model XL 340.S to be precise. It's not a high end unit, if the price is any indication. I'm a confirmed non-user of such gadgets, so I am taking virtually no interest in this thing.

BUT...

I imagine there may come a time when I could use GPS to help retrace my path through the woods and/or record the location of interesting cliffs or other features far from the road. A quick read through the entire manual that came with this unit, all dozen mini-pages of it, finds not a bit of info on how one would a) program in target coordinates (if I were to learn how to get these from a USGS map), b) enter "waypoints" along the inward trek, or c) navigate back through waypoints on the return. In short, it looks like this unit functions totally on roads and addresses. Am I missing something? Do only handheld Garmin/Magellan type units work off-road?

I imagine there is some help programmed into the machine, but we haven't turned it on yet (battery is still charging) and that would involve me actually TOUGHING the dern thing. eek
Posted by: chip

Re: Newbie GPS question - 08/22/10 09:07 PM

Mike, the model you, er, your wife bought, sounds like the one I got my wife and only does road navigation. The hand held deals will do the other stuff you refer to. You can also get models that fit on your wrist and do lots of other altimeter, compass, alarm and direction stuff, depending on how much you want to spend on, uh, your wife.
By the way, the GPS has been one of the best things I ever got my wife. It only took a year for her to allow me to show her how it works and I haven't gotten any more calls from her asking me where she was.
Posted by: quanto_the_mad

Re: Newbie GPS question - 08/22/10 09:38 PM

A quick google says you should be able to navigate to GPS coordinates... which means it might be able to direct you if you're on the streets, but I can't imagine what it will do if you're out in the woods.
Main Menu - > Navigate to... > Next Screen > Latitude Longitude

Basically, if you put in something off-road, it will show you (most likely) in a big green area. I'd assume there are no topo features, so you'd basically have no way of knowing how to get out.

I don't know if it will display raw GPS coordinates. Maybe there's an option somewhere.

You're probably better off getting a cheap garmin that does basic GPS (w/o mapping).

How about your cell phone, does it have built in GPS? My blackberry has basic GPS readings, which I use when I find something interesting. No easy way to log it, so I'd write them down and then log them into google maps when I got home. For a while I then started taking pictures of the screen with another camera, then found a screenshot program that worked much better. Still, it was manual logging, but for my purposes worked well enough.

Posted by: oenophore

Re: Newbie GPS question - 08/22/10 10:10 PM

I haven't gotten any more calls from her asking me where she was.

Huh?
Posted by: chip

Re: Newbie GPS question - 08/23/10 01:51 AM

Originally Posted By: oenophore
I haven't gotten any more calls from her asking me where she was.

Huh?


Exactly. Two calls a few months apart while I was working to ask me if I could help her figure out where she was and help to get her to a destination. GPS solved that one nicely.
Posted by: Julie

Re: Newbie GPS question - 08/23/10 03:10 PM

Chip, I used to get similar calls from a certain SO of mine. Across the country, even! "Honey, I'm at the intersection with the bank. You know, the bank! How do I get to ** from here?"

Mike, along the lines of a cell ... (don't stop reading!) ... phone with GPS, there are apps like MapMyRide that will track and log where you go. At least, I know they work for bike rides - I hit the "record route" button, throw it in my pocket, and go. And ooh look: http://www.mapmyhike.com/

I got a Droid a month ago, and even tho I have ISD (Innate Sense of Direction), I've found the GPS really useful for spontaneous diversions. Google Maps will act just like a GPS navigator in the car, too (ie, spell out directions), which is handy.
Posted by: oenophore

Re: Newbie GPS question - 08/23/10 03:33 PM

Nevertheless it seems odd to me that someone would phone another and ask, "where am I?" not as a riddle but as a sincere request for such information.
Posted by: HR1

Re: Newbie GPS question - 08/23/10 03:56 PM

Mike, I think what you what to do would be difficult at best with a car type GPS. You can read out your current lat/lon and program in desired coordinates but using that to get from point A to B would be cumbersome at best. (I find it amusing that people assume that we have cell phones with GPS and web access – not sure if you do or not, but as I don't, I cannot really speak to their capabilities.)

Car type gps's are wonderful for what they are designed to do (navigate roads), but IMHO won't be of much help past the parking lot (or pull off as the case may be.) For instance, as you mentioned batteries, my wife's nuvi doesn't really last much more than an hour while on battery power.

I would not say that a GPS is a real necessity for any hike or climb, but if you really want to limit the potential impact of navigation issues being a limiting factor on an outing, a hiking type unit is the way to go.

BTW I'll send you the track to Hillyer Falls from last March.
Posted by: quanto_the_mad

Re: Newbie GPS question - 08/23/10 05:46 PM

Sure, not everyone has a phone with GPS. But it's worth checking your phone to see if it does.

Sure, a GPS may not be necessary for navigation. But it does come in handy. Last year I took some GPS readings around the Preserve and plugged them into Google Maps to find the exact location, and then superimposed it on the Ulster Parcel Viewer to check that I was still on Preserve land. Unfortunately without cell signal I didn't have access to gmaps, but GPS reception still worked. I could have done it the old fashion way with a map, compass, and DR, but it's not as precise.

As for phone calls from the SO with a car NAV, I get calls now and then when she's hit traffic and wants to bypass it. The GPS can route around traffic, but only if it knows the traffic is there. If it doesn't and you leave the highway, it tries to route you back on. You can try to put in a waypoint around it, but it's easier, especially if you're driving, to call someone and ask them to route you around it than to futz with the GPS.

With Google Street view, it's also funny that I can say "Ok, on your left you should be passing a white farmhouse with red shutters. Just after that, you'll see a blue split-level ranch with picket fence, make a left there..."
Posted by: Mike Rawdon

Re: Newbie GPS question - 08/23/10 11:02 PM

Thanks all. FYI, I am probably the LAST PERSON who'd have a GPS-enabled phone.

But maybe this means I should consider getting one down the road (heh!) sometime.
Posted by: MarcC

Re: Newbie GPS question - 08/23/10 11:27 PM

Actually all phones in the past 5 or maybe more years are GPS enabled. This is what allows locating you on a 911 call. So the real issue is whether a phone allows you to access its GPS information and provides an appropriate user interface.
Posted by: charliebutters

Re: Newbie GPS question - 08/24/10 01:26 AM

My current service provider offers daily rates on gps access, last time i checked it was $3 a day or $10 a month. A car charger is a good idea as gps eats battery power quickly. My phone is four years old and seemingly basic.
Posted by: quanto_the_mad

Re: Newbie GPS question - 08/24/10 04:14 AM

Well, the thing with the "service" is that it's useless without a cell signal as it's pulling maps over the cell network. That's what you're really paying for.

If the phone has a built in GPS, you may be able to see the raw GPS data. On the blackberry, it's buried two or three layers down in the settings. On other phones, you may need to go into diagnostics mode. If you just need raw GPS data, it's worth spending a few minutes googling to find out if it's available. At the very least, having GPS coordinates will tell you which way you're hiking in the event you're completely lost.
Posted by: Mike Rawdon

Re: Newbie GPS question - 08/24/10 12:09 PM

Originally Posted By: quanto_the_mad
At the very least, having GPS coordinates will tell you which way you're hiking in the event you're completely lost.



Too bad there isn't some small, lightweight, cordless device that would tell me that. wink
Posted by: quanto_the_mad

Re: Newbie GPS question - 08/24/10 01:24 PM

Well, a compass only tells you which way you're facing. If you're hacking your way through dense underbrush, you could get turned around and be heading the wrong way... but every time you check the compass you just happen to be facing the direction you want to go.
Posted by: RangerRob

Re: Newbie GPS question - 08/25/10 12:43 PM

Quanto, do you think the average person out there would be able to extrapolate direction from two given GPS coordinates? I doubt it. Using UTM's would be easiest...pythagorean Theorom. But do it given lat/long?? That's pretty complicated math to do out in the woods.

It's not that difficult to check your compass every 100 feet or so to make sure you are going in the right direction...assuming you know what direction you want to go in the first place.

Compasses are simple, easy, and almost totally reliable (Magnetic anamolies aside). All a person has to do is take a half hour and learn how to use it properly.

Damnit! Mike beat me to the punch
Posted by: quanto_the_mad

Re: Newbie GPS question - 08/25/10 02:09 PM

Originally Posted By: RangerRob
All a person has to do is take a half hour and learn how to use it properly.


Well, that and actually bring it with them. That was my point really, most people don't carry one. But they probably have their cell phone, and if it has a GPS, it could be useful.

It's not hard to figure out which direction you're walking with raw coordinates. If one number increases/decreases while the other stays relatively constant, you're moving along an axis. If both numbers increase or increase/decrease at similar rates, then you're moving on a diagonal. That would help you self-rescue if you know there's a road to the east or something like that.

I'm not saying a GPS can replace a compass or that you shouldn't learn to use and carry a compass. I was pointing out that even with a compass, you can get easily turned around. Though, on second thought, maybe that's just us experienced people who put the compass away between checks, beginners might actually keep them in hand and follow the compass.
Posted by: RangerRob

Re: Newbie GPS question - 08/25/10 06:37 PM

I'm a lifelong beginner. When bushwhacking the compass and map never go in my pocket and I constantly update my location on the map. I hear what you're saying with the GPS on the phone. However, the people who won't bother to bring a compass with them and just rely on their cell phones are probably not the ones who how to interpret GPS coordinates either. But hey, if you can a coordinate on your GPS, you can probably call 911, so there ya go. Problem solved
Posted by: quanto_the_mad

Re: Newbie GPS question - 08/25/10 08:05 PM

Well, that was another point, that the GPS reception works without cell coverage. Or it should, unless the service provider has blocked it to make it a part of a paid service.

You're right, most people don't know and will never think of it on their own. But who knows, maybe it'll help someone when they crash in the jungle and they remember hearing that they can use the GPS in their phones to navigate towards the ocean and rescue...
Posted by: talus

Re: Newbie GPS question - 08/27/10 12:42 AM

does anyone know if you need any special software for a garmin to work in europe?
Posted by: quanto_the_mad

Re: Newbie GPS question - 08/27/10 02:47 AM

Depends on the GPS unit, but most likely you have to buy maps. Some auto nav units have both NA and EU maps, but I'm pretty sure most don't.

The Garmin maps are pretty expensive, I think it might be cheaper to rent a unit while overseas. They do have 3rd party maps that are cheap/free, never actually got around to trying them.
Posted by: RangerRob

Re: Newbie GPS question - 08/28/10 12:05 AM

I don't think so. I think you just need to adjust the datum to the correct one. Do that in the set up menu.
Posted by: pitfall

Re: Newbie GPS question - 08/30/10 02:01 AM

Hey Mike, if you need to borrow a GPS to map out an adirondack adventure, stop by on your way through Albany. I've got a hand held Garmin that will do what you need.

That said, I agree that knowing how to properly use a map and compass is an important skill, no matter what technology anyone is using to get them through their hikes...plus a little common sense but that's a whole different story.
Posted by: chip

Re: Newbie GPS question - 08/31/10 12:14 AM

Having done some very detailed orienteering mapping with compass and overhead photos, I wondered if GPS would take the fun out of orienteering. The accuracy of GPS is not yet as detailed as is needed for orienteering, but will get you in the neighborhood. I find it much faster to read the map while running than to try to run in the direction indicated on a GPS as it keeps you on much more recognisable features and out of thickets, marsh, etc., but someday that may no longer be the case.
Posted by: HR1

Re: Newbie GPS question - 08/31/10 01:38 AM

Haven't used a gps have you? Yea, figuring out that last ten feet can be really tough.

Was sort-a wondering the same thing at one point. However, even though doing things the hard way can be rewarding in it's own right, and knowing how to get around w. map and compass is very important, off trail navigation by GPS is to map/compass what the computer is to a typewriter.
Posted by: chip

Re: Newbie GPS question - 08/31/10 02:15 PM

I have used GPS and disagree, depending on the quality of map and the speed at which you are trying to complete a course. An orienteering map is another level of detail and readability. I have run off the side of a few USGS maps because they were just so bad and/or the terrain was that difficult to follow without a high level of detail and GPS would undoubtably help in that situation.
That said, it may be indispensible in bad visibility, such as an alpine storm.
Posted by: Aya

Re: Newbie GPS question - 08/31/10 10:15 PM

Originally Posted By: quanto_the_mad
Well, the thing with the "service" is that it's useless without a cell signal as it's pulling maps over the cell network. That's what you're really paying for.


Not true, exactly... GPS nav on my phone (google navigation) loads up what it needs when you enter it and then it doesn't need a cell signal after that. i.e. you need service at the outset, but certainly not along your whole route... at least on my phone. There are some pretty fun aps that let the phone work as a basic GPS in the wilderness also, haven't really tried them out extensively but sometimes I pop them on (they do drain battery quick) when out hiking or riding to see speed, elevation, all that jazz.
Posted by: quanto_the_mad

Re: Newbie GPS question - 09/01/10 02:26 AM

Yes, Google maps does cache bits of the map. So if you're moving around an area you've already looked at, it works. However, if you move outside the cached data, or try to zoom, you'll just see your location on a grey screen. Exactly how much data is cached might depend on the phone.

Driving through Harriman, I always lose data coverage (AT&T SUCKS), especially when there's traffic and all the other iphone users clog the network. So it alwasy shows me moving through a grey background, until I get back into decent coverage when the maps start loading again.

There's an app for the iPhone called "offmaps" which allows you to capture maps off google maps, including several zoom levels, so you can use it while out of network coverage. Haven't gotten around to using it yet, mostly planning on using when I'm travelling overseas and don't want to incur the overseas roaming fees.
Posted by: RangerRob

Re: Newbie GPS question - 09/02/10 04:42 PM

HR1 I think you have it backwards. A GPS is like a cute little toy that may help in certain situations, but to people who need to navigate in the heavily forested areas of the northeast, you absolutely need to understand the intricacies of a topographic map, as well as using a compass along with it. Knowing how to relate features on a USGS map to what you are actually seeing in the field is critical. GPS and cell phones are electronic. They run out of batteries, get wet, lose signal....ergo totally unreliable. I would never attempt a new bushwhack without the appropriate topo and a compass. I sometimes throw the GPS in the pack when I want to play around with it. GPS is a small added feature to occasionally improve your navigations needs, it is not the base tool.

RR
Posted by: quanto_the_mad

Re: Newbie GPS question - 09/02/10 05:33 PM

Unless you're in areas where a compass isn't much use, such as deserts and open water.
Posted by: HR1

Re: Newbie GPS question - 09/02/10 08:17 PM

RR

I think that I am in general agreement w/ you which is why I posted my opinion up-thread that a GPS was not required for any hike. The ability to navigate is though. I have navigated via map/compass for many years, having purchased a GPS less than a year ago,so am sort of playing devil's advocate here.

Originally Posted By: RangerRob
A GPS is like a cute little toy that may help in certain situations, but to people who need to navigate in the heavily forested areas….

While I might agree that the GPS enabled cell phones are not much more than toys, a quality mapping GPS is a powerful tool with the ability to track in even the densest of our NE forests (think Rocky, Balsam Cap, Friday Mts) as well as in steep terrain with amazing accuracy. However like any tool it is useless, or worse, in the hands of someone who does not know how to use it.

Originally Posted By: RangerRob
Knowing how to relate features on a USGS map to what you are actually seeing in the field is critical.

Agree 100%. Which is why, IMHO, a mapping GPS is vastly superior to a non-mapping one. While knowing that I am at a certain lat/lon (or utm coord.) is neat, and having a GPS tell me to head 2 miles "that-a-way" can be nice, the ability to look at the map and see that there is cliff or river or something else in the way can save more than a few headaches. The commercially available GPS topo maps for our area kinda suck. (At least the ones for/from Garmin anyway, then best that they have is 100k for the Cats!) However, there are third party 24k topos that are MUCH better, and can include almost, if not all info from the USGS maps.

It is in route planning that I think that GPS navigation can rally shine. When I lay out a route for map/compass I usually try to keep it as simple as possible, relying on major features to mark the way. When laying out a GPS route, you have more flexibility to optimize your route. I have incorporated info from aerial photos (ie, dense coniferous forest,) and tax map overlays (private property – we would not want to piss anyone off around here would we?) that might be difficult to observe in the field until you were into them.

I too would not head off on a new BW w/o topo & compass, but have been surprised at how quickly the GPS has become my primary nav-aid.
Posted by: RangerRob

Re: Newbie GPS question - 09/03/10 02:56 AM

Fair enough HR. I actually misinterpreted what you previously. Bushwhack away!