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Gear Advice: GPS
Global Positioning Satellite (GPS) receivers will allow you to plot your exact location, show you a map with the trails on it, they will show you where you have been, where you are going, and with some advanced units you can see where your friends are, talk to them, check weather radio, and observe local weather trends. The problem with this is that battery technology is not keeping up with features, and these units are very power hungry. Going through 2 or 3 AA batteries a day is common, and you really don’t want to carry a brick of batteries on a week long pack trip. I suppose that one option would be to rig up a solar powered battery charger with a collector plate on the top of your pack……..What ever happened to getting away from it all?
All of that aside, a simple GPS is good to have in your pack, as long as you understand how to use it, and that includes synchronizing it with your map. I tend to turn my unit on to mark car and camp locations as well as various waypoints. Once I used it to mark the location we stashed our packs in Dominquez Canyon (the location depicted in the site banner), and it is a good thing I did, as we missed them at the end of our 3 hour side trip. The GPS took us right back to them. Other times, we have used my GPS to figure out where we were on a map, and that is handy. In all of these cases, I kept the unit powered off until I needed it for the specific function. For backpackers, that will be the standard until the power issue has been resolved. Because of this, you don’t need one of the real fancy units, as most of those features only work when the unit is powered up for the duration of your trip. Now on a day hike or weekend backpacking trip, that is another matter all together. In these cases, you can keep the unit on and use the advanced features. They are fun to play with!
I run a Garmin eTrex, but keep eying the Garmin Rhino series. At $400 it will be a while. This technology is changing very quickly, and I suspect an upgrade is in my future. For now, my eTrex works well.