Hiking with GPS devices – what do you need to look out for?

More and more young people are discovering outdoor sports and exercise, and hiking in particular is on the rise, with nature attracting young and old back to the front door and offering outdoor adventures. Navigation is not necessary on signposted hiking trails, but off the beaten track it is important to know your destination and the route. Many people use their smartphones for help here, and map services such as GoogleMaps then point the way via cell phone. Classic maps or pre-printed routes also help you on your journey of discovery. Devices with GPS support offer modern and safe support.

Definition GPS device

GPS devices are small, handy gadgets that can be purchased in various shapes and designs. They can be easily attached to clothing or equipment and carried around. In addition, they must be connected to an end device, regardless of whether it is a smartphone or tablet, but usually your own cell phone, as this is always carried with you.

These devices determine your current position and the speed at which you are moving, so your location can be determined at any time and used for further calculations.

The best-known use of the GPS system is the classic navigation device for road navigation in the car; these outdoor GPS devices also work in a similar way and, depending on the user interface, even have a digital map.

How GPS devices work

GPS devices work with the help of the GPS system, GPS stands for global positioning system. In short: a worldwide system that enables you to determine your own location.

The GPS system originates from America and is also operated from there; the geostationary satellites orbit the earth at a constant speed and constantly transmit a specific signal. Any GPS device can receive this signal. The current position and speed of the GPS device is calculated based on the duration of the signal transmission and the distance from the satellite, from which your own location is determined. This information can also be used to determine and display the distance to the next destination or a fixed point on the route.

The device then displays this data on its own screen or sends it to the paired smartphone, either in the form of a text message or via the Internet. An integrated SIM is required for both transmission paths. A link can then be found in the device’s text message, which can be used to call up the current location. If the position is transmitted via the Internet, it can be viewed in the corresponding app.

More than just a navigation system

Some GPS receivers not only work with the GPS system, they also combine different signals to obtain a particularly accurate result. Many of them combine Galileo, GPS and Glonass. These are other navigation systems that can be used by civilians; the signals from the Galileo, GPS and Glonass satellites are received and evaluated in the same way, with the GPS device using the clearest signal for the calculation.

Setup and use

To ensure that the GPS device can always determine and send all the required data, certain basic requirements must be met.

SIM card

The SIM is used to display position data or send it to the connected end device; the GPS device uses the mobile network for this purpose. Some models have an integrated card, others have to be purchased separately. It is important that it has sufficient credit to transmit contact data.

Battery life

GPS devices used on hikes are not permanently connected to a power source. It is therefore important to ensure sufficient battery life and a full charge. If the battery needs charging, the device informs the user within the app, on its own display or by text message, thus ensuring that the device can always deliver its performance. Other models can be permanently connected to the power supply; these are ideal for hiking with the e-bike, as there is no need for regular charging as the battery is always sufficiently charged.

Subscription of the provider

In addition to battery life and SIM, many providers require an additional subscription in order to process and analyze the data received.

High-quality outdoor GPS devices with navigation functions are usually offered with a corresponding app, which must be installed on the end device. Within the app, it is possible to determine your own location on a map so that the user can find their way along the route and be guided. All routes taken are stored in the app or the provider’s online portal for a certain period of time. By regularly paying the subscription fee, the user gains access to this information and can view individual evaluations. He receives detailed data on his last hikes, distances traveled and also his own speed.

Visibility for the GPS signal

GPS reception is important for determining your position; satellite reception and the signal are influenced, distorted or degraded by external circumstances. For outdoor activities, the route and position can only be reliably determined if the device has a clear view of at least four satellites. Especially near mountains, the result can be distorted by a reflection of the signals, which leads to an incorrect position determination.

Attachment of GPS devices

GPS devices are usually small and handy and can be easily carried and stored in a pocket or rucksack. If you are out and about on your bike, you can attach it to the steering wheel with the right accessories to use it like a sat nav.

Support for outdoor adventures

Beginners and advanced hikers alike need support from navigation devices when hiking, especially on unfamiliar routes. Most people are also interested in the distance traveled, for example if they are aiming for certain destinations. Many technical devices offer such an evaluation with an overview. Navigation also plays an important role, so routes off the beaten track can be hiked alone. The GPS device serves as a hiking navigator and guides the user to their destination.

GPS devices for beginners

Even small hiking navigation devices are sufficient for beginners or athletes to reliably determine their own position. They offer the user navigation between two waypoints, display the exact coordinates and reliably record the entire route.

These minimalist outdoor GPS models work with simple and less detailed maps. These products are absolutely sufficient for beginners and people who use the GPS device infrequently. The route is visualized for the user using the map on the display, and the distance and speed are also shown for orientation. In addition to the lack of details within the map, these devices cannot always be operated with a touchscreen; some still have conventional buttons for menu navigation.

GPS models for experienced hikers

If you regularly go hiking or cycling, you should invest a little more in your outdoor equipment and GPS devices. These devices often offer routable maps and are geared towards the respective outdoor sporting activity. GPS models in this price range offer similar navigation functions, touchscreen and convenience as in-car navigation systems. Outdoor devices in the mid-price segment offer additional functions, such as directions to turn-offs and points of interest


GPS devices for professionals

Passionate hikers and mountaineers rely on high-quality equipment and modern technical facilities. GPS devices in the “Professional” category offer many additional features, a touchscreen display and an intuitive menu. In addition, they are equipped with a barometer and altimeter, and in addition to the necessary maps, many devices also offer up-to-date road maps, making it easy to navigate from the start to the end of the tour.

These devices communicate with smartphones and thus enable live tracking along the route.

GPS tracker

Another variant of GPS devices are small trackers. These usually come without an actual user interface and can only be used and set up via the associated app. There are many different GPS trackers. They are available in many forms – for example as watches or mini trackers. As they rarely have their own display, it is important that they are connected to a tablet or smartphone, as this is the only way to view the GPS routes traveled.

In addition to the actual navigation, these devices offer further advantages for the user. They have additional properties and can also be used in everyday life. They offer a detailed evaluation of your own training, for example when hiking or cycling. They are equipped with various alarms and the integrated SOS button can be used to call for help in an emergency.

Due to their compact size, they are particularly suitable for navigation on hikes, as they do not weigh much.

GPS logger

Small data loggers, also known as GPS loggers, record hikes via GPS points. These are determined and saved by the device itself at a specific interval. An SD card is required for this data, which can only be read out and evaluated after the hike using an external device, such as a computer. The entire route can be reconstructed and visualized on the PC using the saved waypoints. However, such devices are unsuitable for actual navigation as they do not provide up-to-date data. The data obtained can also be transferred and visualized in Google Maps at low cost.

Smartphone as navigation when hiking

Young people in particular not only use their smartphones to make calls and send texts, they can also be used for navigation and route guidance thanks to special apps. Depending on the application, the user is offered additional benefits: in addition to pure navigation, recommendations or points of interest are displayed along the planned route.

GPS watches

GPS watches are basically small GPS devices with the additional function of a watch. They are worn like a watch and can be operated via a touchscreen or with small buttons. The user receives a detailed evaluation of their own activity in the corresponding app. The app is rather unsuitable for navigation when cycling or on hiking trails, as the right device is always required. However, the GPS watch can be used to determine your own location, and these GPS coordinates can then be used to navigate with your cell phone.

Mini GPS device with integrated compass

With the help of GPS devices, a more precise location is usually possible than with the smartphone itself. They have a large antenna and receive the satellite signal better than conventional cell phones. They are also much more robust than sensitive smartphones, the display does not crack immediately if the device is dropped, and they are also protected from water and dirt. Small models in particular only have a small screen, on which key tour data and a compass for navigation are displayed.

GPS tracker as a hiking navigator

Hikers often use a conventional GPS device for their tours through nature. The advantage of these is that they not only offer the function of navigation and recording, they can be used in a variety of ways and are not limited to hiking.

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