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Survival gear: Three more tips to get your GPS ready to navigate.

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You can’t guarantee a GPS won’t go weird on you sometimes, for no apparent reason. Here are some tips from survival instructor and GPS expert Blake Miller for getting that transmitter squared away for you take off from the trailhead.

I’m always coming up with story ideas for Blake after I’ve made mistakes or something hasn’t worked like it should. Recently, my GPS acted really strange while I was on a hike in the Oregon Badlands. This let to a bunch of questions. Blake, experienced (and patient) teacher that he is, responded. – Leon

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There are a few other techniques that I use to get ready to navigate with my GPS receiver.

Garmin Oregon 450

Every GPS receiver can act strangely on occasion. Take some precautions to make sure it doesn’t happen to you in the field.

While driving to camp, turn on the receiver and place it on the dashboard. If the GPS hasn’t been used for several months or if the user has traveled a great distance since last use, the unit needs to initialize and update satellite data received from the GPS constellation. If that is not possible, allow the receiver to process satellite data for 10-15 minutes in an area where the sky view is open and not blocked by terrain or forest canopy.

Second, give your receiver the time to do its job, especially with older receivers. For example, with an older GPS (my 10 year old Garmin 12CX) before marking a waypoint I will ensure that at least 4 satellites are being tracked and that the horizon isn’t completely obstructed by canopy. While my friends might have been able to mark waypoints considerably faster, I am going to give mine the time to accomplish the task. I will evaluate the estimated position error and if the value is getting smaller I will just wait until it steadies up.

Third, I tend to navigate through the backcountry with my GPS powered up, all day, during a day hike. This allows me to record a track and keeps my position data current. Should I be hiking the length of the Pacific Crest Trail, battery consumption would be a concern. That said, for my long day jaunts, battery conservation isn’t really an issue.

Older models, and those without an electronic compass, require motion to develop heading and bearing data.  For example, when returning to a waypoint/destination, take a few steps and observe the display changes and adjust as necessary.  Once the GPS has settled on the correct bearing to the waypoint, use your compass to back up your navigation. (And always carry a map and compass along, even if you’re using a GPS!)

Remember to calibrate the electronic compass each time batteries are replaced.

Blake Miller

Blake Miller has made a career out of staying found and knowing where he is at all times. His formal navigation training began when he joined the U.S. Navy in 1973. He served as an officer aboard several Navy ships over his twenty-year career; many of those tours included the duty of Navigator. Blake began working with satellite navigation systems at sea in 1976, culminating with the then-new Global Positioning Systems aboard the Battleship WISCONSIN in early 1990.

In 1998 Blake started Outdoor Quest, a business dedicated to backcountry navigation and wilderness survival. Blake has taught classes to wild land firefighters, state agency staffs, Search and Rescue team members, hunters, hikers, skiers, fishermen and equestrians. He regularly teaches classes through the Community Education programs at Central Oregon (Bend) and Chemeketa (Salem, OR) Community Colleges.

As a volunteer, Blake teaches navigation and survival classes, to students in the local school district and conservation groups. He is a member of a Search and Rescue team.

Contact Information :

Website: www.outdoorquest.biz;

Phone: 541 280 0573;

Email: outdrquest@aol.com

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