Wednesday, July 27, 2011

GPS vs Maps

Here is a discussion that is ongoing, using a GPS (Global Positioning System) or a map while outdoors.  I will admit a GPS is a very nice and handy tool and I use one myself but they do have some limits.

The first limitation is the life of the battery.  Recently I thought I would be smart and bought some batteries at a local Dollar Store, batteries are batteries right?  Not so, normally my GPS with fresh batteries can run most of the day, this time it only ran about four hours then my device died and I had to resort to the map.  The second limitation is the screen size.  To date no outdoor GPS has a screen the size of a standard map thus the details are limited to how far you have the screen zoomed in.  When the screen is zoomed in you miss the larger picture, when it is zoomed out you miss the details.  Either way you are missing something.  On longer trips you must also carry extra batteries which adds weight to your pack and most experienced backpackers are looking for ways to lighten their loads not add to them.

The old fashioned map also has a few limitations.  To stuff them into your pack or pocket you have to fold your map creating creases, usually along you route being traveled.  You also must put the map in some sort of protective cover, I personally like clear contact paper, to protect it from moisture.  The third limitation to carrying a map is you usually end up carrying more than one map because the trail is never on only one map, this is more common with the Green Trails Maps specifically made for the Cascade Mountains (I highly recommend these maps for the back country if you are in the Cascades).

The truth is, I always carry a GPS with extra batteries and an old fashioned map that way if the GPS dies I have a backup and if I want to see a broader picture with details out comes the map.

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