Field Tech Gear

What I Used to Map over 600 Miles of Trails

Hiking for the book 60 Hikes within 60 Miles Cincinnati required some specialized field gear like a GPS mapping unit. The GPS mapping system allows me to create trail maps that are crazy accurate. If you are mapping trails, you want the mapped trail to be as close as possible to the actual trail because being off 30-50 feet is a big damn deal.

After trying out one unit, in July, in a wet meadow and being eaten alive by mosquitos – I realized that I bought the wrong GPS mapping unit. The one I bought was less expensive (I was on a budget).

GPS Antenna

The problem was that it didn’t have an extended antenna. Every cloud in the sky, bird, or spec of dust would cause a loss of signal. Which meant, I stood melting in humid heat waiting for the GPS to pick up enough satellite signals that I could continue mapping the trail. Cursing my frugalness costing me hours and a pint of blood.

If this GPS unit didn’t have enough satellites, it estimated where you were on the trail based on where you had been the last time there was a signal. Which annihilates the point of using a GPS unit for accuracy. The problem too is that if you are a fast hiker, say anyone over 2.8 miles per hour and you are on a curvy or switchback trail, you most definitely are not going to have anywhere close to an accurate map.

In my experience, most trails are not straight lines through the woods. Trail managers like to meander the trails through the woods as the point is to meander not to get from point A to point B in the most expeditious manner possible.

Back to the Store

Angry, hangry, tired, soaked in sweat, and covered in red welts, I returned the GPS to the store when asked why I stated, “Does POS count?”

The clerk was young. He desperately looked for the right box to check. Shrugging he checked one and I got the return.

Buy a Garmin

I promptly put my money down on a slick Garmin GPS 60 series. It had an antenna. No matter what hollow I’ve hiked or cloudy sky I’ve hiked under the Garmin 60 series, hasn’t dropped signal.

If you want to map trails, a phone GPS isn’t going to give you an accurate map. It is going to guess where you are based on cell towers and if you aren’t near enough cell towers – well – it’s still going to guess. And, that is going to produce maps that are works of fiction.

About the Garmin

The Garmin 60 series are rugged little GPS units. I’ve found alkaline batteries work better than lithium or rechargeables. If you are hiking and mapping, take along extra batteries. Nothing screams “failure to plan” louder than having your battery die 5 miles into a 10-mile hike.

I excel at setting things down and then never seeing them again, so everything I take into the field is tethered to me. I used the handy dandy clip holder and loop on the back of the Garmin to secure it to a lanyard so I don’t accidentally leave it somewhere or have it pop out of my gear bag.

Next Garmin

My next Garmin is going to be the Garmin GPSMAP with messaging and SOS. I think it is a good addition to my gear as I don’t always hike in areas with cell signal so having the ability to call for help should I need it – is appealing. I mean it’s not like I’ve even fallen down a hill or anything. 😉