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Carrying A GPS When Backpacking


Modified: December 28, 2023

by Loella Kaufmann



When venturing into the great outdoors, backpacking allows you to immerse yourself in nature’s beauty and escape the hustle and bustle of everyday life. Whether you’re embarking on a multi-day trek or exploring remote trails, it’s crucial to have the right gear to ensure a safe and enjoyable trip. One piece of equipment that can greatly enhance your backpacking experience is a GPS device.


A GPS (Global Positioning System) is a navigation tool that uses satellite signals to determine your precise location anywhere on the planet. While traditional map and compass navigation methods are still valuable skills to possess, a GPS offers several benefits that can make your backpacking adventures more efficient and worry-free.


First and foremost, carrying a GPS provides you with accurate and real-time location information. This allows you to track your route, monitor your progress, and ensure you’re heading in the right direction. With a GPS, you can say goodbye to the uncertainty of relying solely on maps, especially in areas with complex trail networks or dense vegetation where landmarks may be difficult to spot.


Additionally, a GPS can greatly assist in case of emergency or getting lost. Should you find yourself off-course or disoriented, you can use the GPS to help navigate back to familiar terrain or locate the nearest trail or shelter. This can be an invaluable feature, particularly in unfamiliar or remote areas where assistance may be limited.


Furthermore, a GPS gives you the ability to pre-plan your backpacking trips more effectively. By importing waypoints, tracks, and routes to your device, you can easily follow a predetermined path without the need for constant map-checking or course corrections. This saves you time and energy, allowing you to focus on enjoying the scenery and experiencing the wonders of the wilderness.


Now that we understand the benefits of carrying a GPS while backpacking, let’s dive into the process of choosing the right device that suits your needs and understanding the features and functionalities it offers.


Benefits of Carrying a GPS while Backpacking

A GPS device is a valuable tool for backpackers, offering numerous benefits that can enhance your outdoor experience. Here are some key advantages of carrying a GPS while backpacking:

  1. Accurate Location Tracking: One of the most significant benefits of using a GPS is its ability to provide precise location information in real-time. This allows you to track your route, monitor your progress, and ensure that you’re on the right track. Instead of relying solely on traditional navigation methods such as maps and compasses, a GPS can pinpoint your exact coordinates, eliminating the guesswork and reducing the chances of getting lost.
  2. Emergency Situations: In the unfortunate event of an emergency, a GPS device can be a lifeline. If you’re injured, disoriented, or need to communicate your location to rescuers, a GPS can quickly provide your coordinates, allowing emergency services to reach you faster. This can be especially crucial in remote or less-traveled areas where assistance might be harder to come by.
  3. Navigation in Challenging Terrains: When backpacking through difficult terrain, such as dense forests, rugged mountains, or vast deserts, it can be easy to lose track of your surroundings. A GPS device helps you navigate through these challenging environments by giving you a clear indication of your position. This ensures that you stay on the designated trail or choose alternative routes when necessary.
  4. Efficient Planning: With a GPS, you can plan your backpacking trips more efficiently. By importing routes, waypoints, and tracks into your device, you can easily follow pre-determined paths without constantly referring to a map. This saves time and energy, allowing you to focus on enjoying the journey and exploring the wilderness.
  5. Weather Updates and Altitude: Many GPS devices offer additional features such as weather updates and altitude measurements. These features can help you make informed decisions about your route, especially when it comes to severe weather conditions or planning for high-altitude trekking. Being aware of changes in weather or variations in elevation can ensure your safety while backpacking.

Overall, carrying a GPS while backpacking provides you with a sense of security and confidence in your navigation. It enhances your ability to plan, track, and adapt to the surroundings, allowing you to fully enjoy your outdoor adventures without worrying about getting lost or disoriented. Now that we understand the benefits, let’s explore how to choose the right GPS device for your backpacking needs.


Choosing the Right GPS Device

When it comes to selecting a GPS device for your backpacking needs, there are several factors to consider to ensure you choose the right one that suits your requirements. Here are some key considerations to keep in mind:

  1. Navigation Features: Look for a GPS device that offers essential navigation features such as route planning, waypoint marking, and track recording. These features allow you to create and follow routes, mark important locations, and record your trekking progress. Additionally, consider devices that provide topographic maps or the ability to load maps to help you navigate accurately.
  2. Battery Life: Backpacking trips can span several days or even weeks, so it’s crucial to choose a GPS device with a long-lasting battery. Look for devices that have a decent battery life in GPS mode and consider options that allow you to use replaceable batteries or have the ability to recharge in the field.
  3. Durability and Water Resistance: When backpacking, your equipment will be subjected to rugged conditions, including exposure to rain, moisture, and rough handling. Ensure the GPS device you choose is built to withstand these elements, with a durable and water-resistant design that can withstand the demands of outdoor adventures.
  4. User-Friendly Interface: Opt for a GPS device that has an intuitive and user-friendly interface. You want a device with clear and easy-to-read displays, simple navigation menus, and ergonomic buttons for easy operation—even when you’re wearing gloves or are in low-light conditions.
  5. Size and Weight: Consider the size and weight of the GPS device, as you’ll be carrying it along with other gear during your backpacking expeditions. Look for compact and lightweight options that won’t add unnecessary bulk or weight to your pack, ensuring maximum comfort and ease of use.
  6. Connectivity Options: Some GPS devices offer additional connectivity options such as Bluetooth or Wi-Fi, allowing you to sync your device with smartphones or computers. This can be useful for downloading maps, uploading data, or connecting to compatible accessories like heart rate monitors or external sensors.
  7. Price: Finally, consider your budget when choosing a GPS device. Determine your needs and find a device that strikes a balance between features and cost. Remember, investing in a reliable and feature-rich GPS device is an investment in your safety and enjoyment during your backpacking adventures.

By considering these factors, you can select a GPS device that meets your backpacking needs and enhances your navigation capabilities on the trail. Now that you have a better understanding of choosing the right GPS device, let’s explore the various features and functionalities you should be aware of.


Understanding GPS Features

When selecting a GPS device for backpacking, it’s important to understand the various features and functionalities it offers. This knowledge will help you make an informed decision and choose a device that aligns with your specific needs. Here are some key GPS features to consider:

  1. Satellite Reception: GPS devices rely on satellite signals to determine your location. Look for devices with strong satellite reception and the ability to connect to multiple satellite systems like GPS, GLONASS, or Galileo. This ensures a more accurate and reliable positioning, especially in challenging environments with limited sky visibility.
  2. Mapping and Waypoints: Consider GPS devices that provide mapping capabilities and the ability to mark waypoints. Topographic maps show the terrain and important landmarks, while the ability to mark waypoints allows you to save and navigate to specific locations, such as campsites, water sources, or scenic spots along your route.
  3. Track Recording: Track recording allows you to record your movement on the trail. This feature is useful for reviewing your route, analyzing your pace and distance covered, and creating logs of your backpacking trips. Look for devices that offer ample storage for track recording and the ability to export your tracks to share with others.
  4. Altimeter: Many GPS devices come with an altimeter, which measures your elevation above sea level. This is particularly useful when venturing into mountainous terrains or planning hikes with significant changes in altitude. The altimeter helps you gauge your progress, estimate remaining ascent or descent, and monitor the effects of altitude on your body.
  5. LCD Display: The display on your GPS device should be clear, easy to read, and visible in various lighting conditions. Consider devices with a backlit LCD display or e-ink technology that conserves battery life. An intuitive interface and customizable screen layouts can also enhance your user experience when navigating.
  6. Wireless Connectivity: Look for GPS devices that offer wireless connectivity options like Bluetooth or Wi-Fi. This allows you to connect to your smartphone or computer to transfer maps, firmware updates, or share your adventures on social media. Wireless connectivity can also enable you to pair your GPS with heart rate monitors or other compatible sensors for additional data tracking.
  7. Data Compatibility: Ensure that the GPS device you choose is compatible with the data formats you use. This includes compatibility with mapping software, GPX file formats, or online platforms where you can plan and share routes. Seamless data compatibility makes it easy to import and export data between your GPS device and other devices or applications.

Understanding these GPS features will help you make an informed decision when choosing the right device for your backpacking needs. Once you have selected and obtained your GPS device, it’s important to properly prepare and configure it before setting off on your wilderness adventure. Let’s explore the steps you need to take to get your GPS ready for backpacking.


Preparing Your GPS for Backpacking

Before embarking on your backpacking trip, it’s essential to properly prepare and configure your GPS device. Taking the time to set up your device will ensure that it functions optimally and meets your navigation needs on the trail. Here are some important steps to consider when preparing your GPS for backpacking:

  1. Familiarize Yourself with the User Manual: Start by thoroughly reading the user manual provided with your GPS device. This will give you a comprehensive understanding of its features, functionalities, and settings. Familiarizing yourself with the manual will enable you to take full advantage of your GPS’s capabilities during your backpacking adventure.
  2. Charge the Battery: Ensure that your GPS device is fully charged before setting off on your trip. Some devices may require several hours to reach a full charge, so plan accordingly. If using replaceable batteries, pack extras to have on hand as a backup during extended trips. Check the battery life indicator regularly throughout your journey to avoid running out of power.
  3. Install and Update Maps: If your GPS device supports mapping, check if the pre-loaded maps are up to date for the regions you’ll be backpacking in. If not, consider purchasing and installing updated maps or downloading them from reliable sources. Take the time to verify that the maps cover your intended area and that they contain relevant trail information, topography, and points of interest.
  4. Configure Settings and Units: Navigate through your GPS device’s settings and configure them according to your preferences. This includes selecting the appropriate units for distance, elevation, and speed (miles or kilometers, feet or meters). Adjust the display settings, language preferences, and time settings to suit your needs. Personalizing these settings will enhance your overall user experience.
  5. Create Waypoints and Routes: Use your GPS device to mark important waypoints along your planned route. These waypoints can include campsites, water sources, trail junctions, or any other significant landmarks. If possible, pre-plan your routes and import them into your device. This will save you time and effort while navigating on the trail and help you stay on course.
  6. Test and Calibrate Sensors: If your GPS device has built-in sensors such as an altimeter or compass, it’s recommended to test and calibrate them before starting your backpacking trip. Follow the instructions provided in the user manual to ensure accurate readings and reliable performance. Proper calibration will enhance the accuracy of elevation measurements and aid in navigation.
  7. Carry Spare Batteries or a Power Bank: To ensure your GPS device remains operational throughout your backpacking journey, consider carrying spare batteries or a portable power bank. This extra power source can come in handy, especially for longer trips or when you anticipate using your GPS extensively. Having a backup power option ensures uninterrupted navigation capabilities.

By following these steps, you can properly prepare your GPS device for backpacking and ensure that it’s ready to assist you in your navigation and tracking needs during your outdoor adventure. With your GPS properly set up, let’s delve into how to effectively use it for navigating in the wilderness.


Navigating with a GPS in the Wilderness

Once you’ve prepared your GPS device for backpacking, it’s time to put it to use and navigate with confidence in the wilderness. Here are some tips to help you effectively utilize your GPS for navigation on the trail:

  1. Mark Your Starting Point: Before you set off on your hike, mark your starting point as a waypoint on your GPS device. This will serve as a reference point in case you need to backtrack or navigate back to your starting location.
  2. Follow Waypoints and Routes: If you have pre-planned waypoints or routes, use your GPS to guide you along the designated path. Follow the waypoints in the correct order and refer to the route guidance on your device to stay on track. This can help you navigate through complex trail networks or areas where there are no obvious markers.
  3. Monitor Your Progress: Keep an eye on your GPS device to monitor your progress along the route. Pay attention to the distance covered, remaining distance, and estimated time of arrival at waypoints or your destination. This will help you gauge your pace, make adjustments to your itinerary if necessary, and ensure you stay on schedule.
  4. Track Your Route: Utilize the track recording feature on your GPS device to create a digital breadcrumb trail of your journey. A track log can be extremely useful for retracing your steps or analyzing your hike after you’ve completed it. Refer to the track log to verify your path and confirm that you’re following the correct route.
  5. Use the Compass and Altimeter: If your GPS device has a built-in compass and altimeter, take advantage of them for navigation purposes. The compass can help you determine your heading and navigate in situations where trails are not clearly marked. The altimeter can assist in identifying prominent landmarks or estimating your position based on changes in elevation.
  6. Stay Aware of Surroundings: While a GPS is an excellent navigation tool, it’s important to still stay aware of your surroundings. Look for natural landmarks, trail signs, or other physical features that align with your GPS readings. This will provide an additional layer of confirmation and help you navigate more confidently.
  7. Keep Your GPS Handy: Keep your GPS device easily accessible during your backpacking trip. Attach it securely to a backpack strap, use a protective case, or wear it on your wrist. This ensures that you can quickly check your location or make adjustments to your route without having to stop and dig through your gear.
  8. Bring Navigation Backups: While your GPS is an invaluable tool, it’s always wise to bring backups, such as a physical map and a compass. These traditional navigation tools can serve as a reliable backup if your GPS malfunctions, runs out of power, or encounters signal issues. Familiarize yourself with map reading and compass navigation skills as an added safety precaution.

By following these tips, you can effectively utilize your GPS device to navigate with confidence in the wilderness. Remember, while a GPS is a valuable tool, it should complement your overall navigation skills and awareness of the natural environment. Now, let’s explore some additional tips to further enhance your GPS backpacking experience.


Additional Tips for GPS Backpacking

As you embark on your GPS backpacking adventures, here are some additional tips to enhance your experience and make the most out of your GPS device:

  1. Practice with Your GPS: Before heading out on a major backpacking trip, take the time to familiarize yourself with your GPS device and its functions. Practice using different features, navigating to waypoints, and creating routes. This will build your confidence and ensure you can utilize your GPS effectively in the field.
  2. Keep Your GPS Protected: While backpacking, your GPS device may be exposed to various weather conditions and rough handling. Invest in a protective case or cover to safeguard it from water, dust, and impacts. Additionally, consider using a screen protector to prevent scratches on the display.
  3. Carry Spare Batteries or a Portable Charger: To ensure continuous power for your GPS device, always carry spare batteries or a portable charger. This is especially crucial for longer trips when you may not have access to electrical outlets. Regularly check the battery level and replace or recharge as needed.
  4. Regularly Update Software and Firmware: Keep your GPS device up to date by periodically checking for software and firmware updates. These updates often include bug fixes, performance enhancements, and improved features. Updating your device’s software ensures that you have the best and most reliable performance.
  5. Back up Your GPS Data: It’s essential to back up your GPS data regularly, especially if you’ve logged important waypoints, tracks, or routes. Create backups on your computer, external hard drive, or online storage platforms. This protects your data from accidental loss or device failures.
  6. Practice Smart Battery Management: To conserve battery life, optimize your device’s power settings. Dim the screen brightness, turn off unnecessary features when not in use, and minimize unnecessary map display refresh rates. Additionally, enable the power-saving mode or sleep mode when your GPS is idle for extended periods.
  7. Stay Updated with GPS Navigation Technology: GPS technology and software are constantly evolving, so stay informed about the latest advancements and updates in the GPS navigation field. This knowledge can help you make informed decisions when upgrading your device or exploring new navigation features.
  8. Share Your Adventures: Capture the memories of your backpacking trips by using the GPS device’s photo tagging feature. This allows you to associate photos with specific waypoints or track logs. Later, when you review your journey, the photos can provide a visual reminder of your favorite views and experiences.
  9. Continuously Learn and Improve: Utilizing a GPS device for backpacking is a skill that can be refined over time. Learn from each trip, adapt to different terrains, and continually improve your navigation abilities. With practice and experience, you’ll become more proficient in using your GPS device effectively.

By following these additional tips, you can optimize your GPS backpacking experience and make the most of the navigation capabilities provided by your device. Remember, while your GPS is a valuable tool, it should always be used in conjunction with traditional navigation methods and environmental awareness. Enjoy your backpacking adventures with the confidence and convenience offered by your GPS!



Carrying a GPS device while backpacking can greatly enhance your outdoor experience by providing accurate navigation, improving safety, and simplifying trip planning. The benefits of using a GPS are numerous, from accurate location tracking to emergency response capabilities. With the right GPS device in hand, you can confidently explore remote trails, navigate challenging terrains, and ensure you stay on the right path.


When selecting a GPS device, consider factors such as navigation features, battery life, durability, and user-friendliness. Choose a device that aligns with your specific needs and budget, ensuring it meets your expectations for long-lasting performance in various outdoor conditions.


Understanding the features of your GPS device, such as satellite reception, mapping capabilities, and altimeter functions, will empower you to navigate with confidence in the wilderness. Take the time to prepare your GPS properly by installing maps, configuring settings, and testing sensors. Additionally, pack spare batteries or a power bank to keep your device operational throughout your backpacking journey.


Once you hit the trail, utilize your GPS device by following waypoints and routes, monitoring your progress, and staying aware of your surroundings. While GPS navigation is a valuable tool, it should never replace traditional navigation skills, map reading, or an understanding of the environment.


By practicing with your GPS, protecting it from the elements, and staying updated with software and firmware, you can ensure that your device performs optimally. Remember to back up your GPS data regularly and embrace the opportunity to document and share your backpacking adventures.


In conclusion, a GPS device is an invaluable companion for any backpacking enthusiast, enhancing safety, convenience, and navigation capabilities in the great outdoors. With the right GPS device and proper usage, you can embark on your backpacking journeys with confidence, fully immersing yourself in the beauty of nature while staying on track to your desired destinations.