trust your GPS?

6:20 p.m. on February 1, 2011 (EST)
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This is interesting


Infallable GPS...

7:34 p.m. on February 1, 2011 (EST)
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That story is not much different from this one-just a different season-

There were a lot of stories and comments when this happened.

Common sense might have saved both of these people, but it is easy to place blame from afar.

10:45 p.m. on February 1, 2011 (EST)
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Too many people think they can blindly follow their GPS.  In October 2009, three backpackers went on a loop in Kings Canyon NP.  From the reports, it was a hard trip for them.  On the way out, when they got to Sugarloaf Valley, they saw from their GPS that if they just followed the Roaring River drainage down, it was only four miles back to their cars at Roads End instead of about 15 miles over Avalanche Pass.  If they had a topo map, they did not consult it, because there is a reason why no trails go directly from Sugarloaf to Roads End - 2000' cliffs.  As they went down the Roaring River drainage, they eventually lost one of their packs crossing the river.  Then they got stuck on top of the cliff and were unable to go back up.  And to make things worse, the first winter storm rolled through and dumped a few feet of snow on them (short of tent space and sleeping bags because of the lost pack).  They were eventually spotted by a search helicopter a few days later.

11:03 p.m. on February 1, 2011 (EST)
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I have developed a habit of studying the topo before heading out, it helps to know the lay of the land, and to identify landmarks, handrails and backstops on the map before starting a trip.

I use a GPSR but rely on a map.

11:07 p.m. on February 1, 2011 (EST)
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Simply looking back over your shoulder to see what the return trip should look like or noting coordinates with a compas would dramatically reduce the number of lost souls in the wilderness, yet few people ever practice this behavior.  I am surprised how few hard core trekkers follow this advice too, especially when traveling in situations with no trails to guide them back. 


Folks chuckle when I place a five gallon jug of water in the trunk for trips over deserts highways, or a shovel, chains and sleeping bag when traveling in the winter.  It would amaze people how harsh sitting out a breakdown along a major interstate can be, once the battery dies and the heater/AC stops functioning.  Help is certain to arrive in such an instance, but the intervening hours can be hell without warmth or water, and perilous in extreme summer or winter conditions.



1:19 p.m. on February 3, 2011 (EST)
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I don't have a handheld GPSR, but I do have one for my car....and....if the handhelds are anywhere near as inaccurate as my car model(a Garmin), I would be very afraid to trust them.  When followed "blindly" it has taken me off course and told me that 10 feet to my left was a Wal-Mart, when in fact it was a pasture with nothing around (fortunately I knew where I was actually going for that one).

  Trout has a great point/idea, be familiar with a good ol' TOPO map and even take it along as backup.  I like my maps, because I have a much more expanded view (without shifting screen to screen) of where I am.  Just my opinion.

4:14 p.m. on February 3, 2011 (EST)
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Man I love me a good map after reading this tragedy.

4:40 p.m. on February 3, 2011 (EST)
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Back in July I met some 17 & 18 year old kids in the heart of the Cerokee/Nantahala NF on a backpacking trip who asked It I could help them with where they needed to go.

I find out they didn't know which trails they were suppsed to take for the rest of their 4 day trip, what trailhead they had started at, nor at which trailhead car had been left for them.

Oh, and of course...they had no map, no compass, and no GPS.

I gave them two maps and clear directions. Two hours later, we found them sitting at a tail junction, not knowing which way to go.

I just hope the trip had I high learning curve for them :)

7:57 p.m. on February 14, 2011 (EST)
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Even if the GPS were perfect dumb people will still do dumb things. I mean how many people go out in the woods without water? Or first aid kits?

9:12 p.m. on February 14, 2011 (EST)
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I have never used a GPS, I use my 43 year old Brunton compass when I need to find my way. usually tho after 2 scores of years I can find my way by looking at the topo and line of sight.

9:26 a.m. on February 15, 2011 (EST)
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 usually tho after 2 scores of years I can find my way by looking at the topo and line of sight.


I'm with you there Gary. I can't remember the last time I used my compass. In many cases if you start from a known position and can read a topo map and can read the landscape you don't need one.

2:41 p.m. on February 15, 2011 (EST)
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On the news over here I heard of a guy who followed his Tom Tom's commands, which took him and his new Mercedes over an old wooden bridge. Of course the bridge has been broken for a few decades. Splash!

D&G, the same thing happended to me. I was driving to a small village to pick up my daughter. I ended on top of a large hill surrounded by farmland on both side-being late at night did not help either. "You have reached your destination...."-Geez

10:53 p.m. on February 16, 2011 (EST)
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To me my GPS (for hiking) is about 60% recreational, 30% functional, and 10% safety.

The recreational aspect comes in from its ability to satisfy my geeky desires for statistics on my hikes, such as distance, average speed, elevation, sunset, sunrise, etc.

The functional aspect comes in from being able to use it in planning my trips - though quite frankly in the current state of the technology ( & more importantly, the available map data), they're of relatively limited use in that regard for primarily trail hikers such as myself (they don't do trail routing, or if they do, it takes an inordinate amount of effort to set up).  If it could do that, I'd probably say 45% recreational/45% functional/10% safety, or perhaps even more slanted toward functional.

The safety component comes in from my ability to use the linked SPOT transmitter to send an SOS should I find myself unable to extract myself from a bad situation.  As a largely solo hiker, this is valuable, not only from a practical perspective, but in terms of peace of mind both for myself & my friends & family (e.g. to send "I'm OK" messages.  [I don't use it as a crutch though... I go the same places and do the same things with or without the SPOT ... but it's nice to have it].

Using a GPS on the road (currently I'm using MotionX-GPS Drive on my iPhone) is different.  That's about 70% functional (it really does have the potential to help you find your way on unfamiliar streets/roads), and 30% recreational (again, gathering statistics for viewing later).  As has been mentioned, it's unwise to blindly follow it ... but it's still useful (and entertaining).


11:31 p.m. on February 21, 2011 (EST)
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I punched in the street address in my car GPS for a boat yard I was looking for.  It took me to the driveway of a private home no where near the boat yard.  Right town, but not close.  It looked logical on the road map, too.

10:21 a.m. on February 22, 2011 (EST)
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Technology, of course, is not the only denominator to those disasters. Others include poor planning, faulty judgment, bad luck and the lemming-like rush of visitors to Death Valley in the summer
Read more:

I bought my wife a GPS for her car two years ago. She immediately wants to plug it in, punch in the address and blindly follow the little purple path without even knowing more about where it is taking her then she can see on the screen. I tell her unendingly, this is just a fancy, electronic map that shows you where you are, in relation to where you are trying to get. You still need to know how to read a map and take a half a minute to look over the route you want to take to get there. This way, you will hopefully realize when the GPS is trying to make you do something stupid, which is quite often.


Lately, Callagan has been working with technology companies to remove closed and hazardous roads from their navigation databases – but with only partial success.

"I'm pulling my hair," he said. "I was never able to reach a single human with Google Earth Maps. But in their system, they have a way you can let them know something is wrong. And over the course of a year, I was able to get their maps updated."

Read more:

A Year! One month... then it is time to look up a physical address and go kick in somebodies office door. Its amazing the number of companies these days where you can't, in any way, shape or form, get anyone on a phone anymore.

The Garmin maps are as bad as you can get. Likely a factor of Corporate America rushing products to market, concerned more about effective marketing and the next quarterly earnings report than anything and using people in third world countries to make the maps, probably using air/sat photography that can't tell an off road vehicle only scar on the earth from any other, in conjunction with outdated survey's to put a name to it. But hey!! They work for $0.25/day!!!


Going into a place called DEATH Valley, in a rental car and with no provisions for a less then perfect situation is just Darwinism at work. Just too bad the children had to pay for it.

2:11 a.m. on February 23, 2011 (EST)
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When I was moving to LA, a friend of mine who was already here told me to get a Thomas Guide. I had no idea what that was, but went to a bookstore and got one. Anyone who lives in LA and doesn't have one, should, if they drive anywhere.  My old one needs replacing, but  they are invaluable. 

I have a friend who would constantly call me for directions which I would look up on my AAA maps (the TG is in the car) and so finally I bought her a GPS as a birthday present. She still calls me because she usually leaves it at home. Argh!

A GPS is nice, but a map and compass, even a cheap base plate model, is a must. I have yet to have a compass run out of power.

7:44 p.m. on February 23, 2011 (EST)
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Thomas (currently a division of Rand McNally) does maps for all of Calif and Ariz, plus a few other western states. When we moved back East when I finished grad school, I naively thought Thomas Bros. was nationwide. In the Northeast, the best I could find were the Polk maps. Thomas Bros is several orders of magnitude better. As a ham radio operator (and back in California) and as part of our local emergency communications team, we have to use the Thomas Bros maps and give locations based on the Thomas "squares", since all the police, fire, and ambulance services use them.

However, the Thomas Bros map books, AAA maps, topographic maps, compasses, GPSRs, and every other aid to navigation requires the knowledge and experience to use them correctly, and the use of basic common sense. If I had a dime for every person I have had ask me for directions to a place within 100 meters of where we were standing, I would be as rich as Bill Gates. And some of those people had to be led that 100 meters at that, even when the destination was in sight. I have even had people ring my doorbell (with the house number right next to it in the building code required 4-inch high numbers) and ask if "Joe" (my neighbor across the street) lives here, even reciting Joe's house number (ok, it is different in the last digit - but my number is even and his is odd, the usual house numbering convention)

4:08 a.m. on February 25, 2011 (EST)
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Thomas Brothers' maps are golden!

Back in the early 80s I was involved in a venture that whose objective was making an electronic handheld you could enter a start point and destination, and it would relay back in text the step by step directions of the drive.  Part of our research entailed determining what map content providers had the best data bases to adopt for this purpose.  Thomas Brothers allowed us to utilize a grid based indexing/zoning system that was scaleable, categorize streets as expressways, fire roads, etc, cross-referencing, by block number, zip code, city and governmental jurisdiction, and more; even the content update systems were robust and dependable. 

As Bill mentions, most other map content providers fall unfortunately considerably short of TB’s quality and execution.  As Tom points out, TB guides are THE reference for getting around town wherever they are published.  Alas the feasibility of our device depended in part on third party content providers, and since the better quality map content providers were regional affairs back then, each wioth their own proprietary system, we would have to develop a data translation routine for each source, a development cost that was not tenable. 

Today’s GPS systems are based on content from several providers that are overlaid and stitched together to form the composite metadata you see displayed.  One reason these systems have glitches is due to the complexity involved in delivering an easy to read display.  Device orienting errors can arise from several causes, given the huge amount of data involved, along with the extensivity of the combinations of data attributes from different source.  Even the military is resigned to cope with the bugs described in other posts on this thread.  My sister works for a satellite imaging company that generates eye-in-the-sky data, and merges it with other sources.  She has commented that the military often does not use standard GPS composite data when high precision is required for tactical operations; instead they contract firms such as hers to generate custom data sets tailored for the specifics of a given mission.  She could not tell me the exact nature of what they request, other than to say it may entail anything from customized GPS apps to comparatively simple hi res topo maps.


12:50 p.m. on February 27, 2011 (EST)
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In the factory automation world, you never trust software when safety is concerned. You get input, then verify input. If a threat is posed by the machine, to product or person, you make sure that you can handle it by mechanical means. (The gravity in most FABs is reasonably dependable.)

The same should go for a GPS, IMO. It is an amusing toy, but don't trust it. Always verify, on a relatively up-to-date topo map, the data. Every year we have people lost on hikes in the White Mountains because "their GPS told them to go left"; taking them off the trail, down a series of ledges, and into a bog. From then on, they can follow a Will-o'-the-Wisp with greater dependability than their GPS.


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