What to Know When Buying a GPS
Author: Chuck Fitzgerald
Why are GPS units showing up everywhere? You might find one in

your rental car, on your wristwatch or even built into your
wireless phone. Anti-theft systems use one, heavy construction
equipment might use one and having one on your boat now seems to
be a requirement. Anytime we want to know our exact location on
the face of the Earth, the GPS becomes indispensable. Like many
other technologies, feature rich GPS units are now affordable
for the average person. So how do you know which one to
purchase? Let’s look at few things to consider prior to buying
your next GPS unit, but first, what is a GPS unit?

A GPS (Global Positioning System) unit has the primary function
of calculating its own location on land or water by using
satellite signals. Once the GPS unit knows its own location, it
can help the user determine direction and distance to other
known locations. For instance, a GPS on a boat can tell the
captain how far it is to the shoreline or how far it is to a
favorite fishing spot. For the outdoor sportsman a GPS can help
with finding your campsite, your vehicle or your next geocache.
Popular outdoor activities such as hiking, hunting, fishing,
trail running, backpacking, rock climbing, canyoneering and
canoeing are all made more enjoyable and safer when you take
along your GPS.

When buying a GPS system the first thing to consider is how you
intend to use it. If you plan on using it while on foot, you’ll
want a GPS that is lightweight, compact, weather resistant and
that is equipped with features important to foot travel. WAAS
(Wide Area Augmentation System) is one such feature. WAAS
greatly increases the accuracy of your GPS, in most cases to
within 10 feet. Accuracy within a few meters is important for
the outdoor enthusiast but not nearly as important for
navigating through town in your rental car. Next, be sure your
GPS has at least 12 channels of reception too. Since your GPS
will only work when it receives signals from satellites orbiting
the Earth, less than 12 receiving channels will not get the job
done in wooded areas or in steep terrain. If you plan on using
your GPS to navigate while driving in your car, its weight is
not nearly as important as its ability to display street maps.
The GPS mounted to the dash of your truck probably doesn’t need
to be weatherproof, but the one on your boat better be.

Here are the features and products I recommend. For the outdoor
athlete or sportsman, be sure your GPS has these features:
topographical mapping, back tracking, a computer interface,
weatherproofing, 12 receiver channels and WAAS. I recommend
portable GPS units in the Garmin eTrex Series and the Magellan
Meridian Series. For driving applications, be sure your GPS has
these features: street mapping, large display, a computer
interface and external antenna compatibility. I recommend
automotive GPS units in the Garmin StreetPilot Series and the
Magellan RoadMate Series. For boating and other marine
applications, be sure your GPS has these features: marine
mapping, color screen, active sonar, back tracking, a computer
interface and weatherproofing. I recommend marine GPS Units in
the Garmin GPSMAP Series.

Prices for GPS units vary a great deal and in general, you get
what you pay for. While some units cost around $100 and offer
relatively few features, others may cost as much as $1000 or
even more and are loaded with dozens of features. Here is a good
rule of thumb for determining how much money to spend on your
next GPS. You should expect to pay between $200 and $300 to get
a decent GPS Unit. I own a Garmin eTrex Vista. I believe it is
the best GPS available for under $300.

If you don’t have a GPS or yours is more than five years old,
now’s the time to get one. Adding a new GPS to your inventory of
backcountry toys will take your outdoor adventures to a new
level of enjoyment. Use this information and you’ll Get It Right
The First Time. Get Outdoors!

Cache Talk #3
Author: Karen Willman
Face it. By now you are hooked. You’ve walked the walk and
talked the talk. Every time you go somewhere the thought is
about making time to “park and grab” another cache. Good!
It’s natural, at this point, to want to share your enjoyment
with others. Summer vacation is coming up and you’re hungry for
a few out-of-state finds. Uncle Fred and Aunt Bertha are
certainly in for a treat this year. But wait a minute – Uncle
Fred uses a walker. He will never make it to some of the caches
you are used to. To make matters worse, you really don’t know
the area around their farm. How are you going to introduce the
relatives to your favorite hobby and make a good impression?
That’s where the Geocache Rating System comes in.

Most official geo-cache web-sites have a rating system for each
submitted hide. The rating will show the potential seeker how
easy it is to find the cache and the type of terrain you are
expected to encounter. Now scroll through the listings until you
find a very easy hide and one that will take in account Uncle
Fred’s walker and Cousin Emma’s 2-year old. Nothing is more
embarrassing than NOT to find their first cache. So make it an
easy one and save the juicy ones for later. The most popular
geo-caching web-site uses stars for a rating indicator. But what
do those stars actually mean?

Of the 5 stars listed – 1 is the easiest and 5 is the hardest.

Do you need special equipment to get to the cache hide (like a
boat, 4-wheel drive or maybe even scuba gear)? That is a
definite 5 for a terrain rating! Maybe you only have to walk on
a paved pathway (1), well packed dirt (1 1/2), or a sand and mud
animal trail (2 1/2). What about if there is no trail at all and
you need to set off cross country or up a river bed? Try a 3-4.
Now let’s add the trail extras like bushes (low or high), thorns
or poisonous plants (PI) or animals. What about the elevation?
Is it flat or steep? How steep? Do you need to climb up the side
of a hill or down into a ravine?

Let’s put a few of these scenarios together and come up with
possible ratings. Take the paved pathway (which could be a 1)
and pair it with a slight incline – that 1 has now been elevated
(no pun intended) to a 1 1/2 or possibility a 2. Take a sand
animal trail at 2 1/2 that crosses a dry river bed and up a
semi-steep incline to get out at the other side – it now could
be rated a 3 to 3 1/2. Add poisonous plants (PI) or animals and
a warning should be issued.

Finding a cache has ratings as well. If it is obvious then a
rating of 1 is in order. Do you have to gather clues to find
missing coordinates – try a 2? Do you have to solve puzzles to
move forward on a multi-cache hide – try 3? What about signal
strength – tall buildings and dense forests will not allow you
to pinpoint a hide. This would make the find rating go higher.

Whew! Enough already, you get the picture. Just remember that
ratings are based on the opinions of others. A marathon runner
will think their hide could be found with “just a stretch of the
legs” while the weekend seeker will think otherwise. It is
important to read the log entries of past seekers – and not just
the top 5. I once set my sights on a real easy cache to use as
an introduction to friends that were interested in seeing what
this caching was all about. The ratings showed the hide was a
difficulty 1 and the terrain was a 1 1/2. This was going to be
such a cute little grab, listed as one that their 80-year old,
wheel-chair bound Grandmother hid. I was lucky enough to open
more of the logs and read the comments of several past cachers.
The comment I liked best was that they must have air lifted
Grandma with a helicopter to get to the hide since that was the
only way a wheel-chair could have gotten there. Naturally I
picked a different cache for my friend’s first find but did
visit the site hid by old Granny and found the comments of past
cachers to be accurate.

I tend to use the terrain rating to help determine possible
locations that the cache could be hidden. While in Edinburgh,
Scotland a few weeks back I sought a cache that had a 1 1/2
terrain rating. At 1 1/2, I had narrowed my search to a certain
type of area. Unable to find the cache, I proceeded to enlarge
my search field which included a 4-foot climb up a vertical
rock. Bingo, there is was! It did not seem right to rate a
4-foot climb up a rock as 1 1/2 and although it did not hinder
the find it did taint the mind-set as to where the search area
could be.

Two quick Geo-language words used in this article:

Park and Grab: just what it means – close to parking and easy to

PI: Poison Ivy, poison oak, poison sumac, or just about any bad
thing that can ruin a day of caching.

Next time we will get into cache common sense, travel bugs and

About the author:
Wife, mother of 2, grandmother of 3. Retired school
administrator, survivalist, former NRA instructor, weapons
enthusiast, specialist in trail cooking, world-wide Geo-cacher,
explorer of historical detection.

One Response

  1. Your post seem hard to understand for me.
    However thank you for posting

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