Are GPS Devices Good for Wild Camping?
GPS devices (Global Positioning System devices) are small handheld pieces of equipment that are used for navigation. Using satellite connectivity, they can actively track your location and provide you with a wealth of information to aid in your adventures.
GPS devices vary widely in what they offer, but their main objective is to act as a receiver for satellite data. In turn, this provides a hiker with crucial information such as directionality, velocity, and pathfinding assistance. They can also include weather forecasts, SOS beacons, and multiple geographical guidance tools.
This information can be particularly useful for hikers and wild campers who wish to explore remote areas in the backcountry. A GPS device is a potentially invaluable gear item for wild campers, but they do come at a price. Are they really worth the money or can hikers survive without? Let’s find out.
What is a GPS Device?
GPS devices come in many forms. Originally, they were developed by the US military, but the technology was released for general use. Now, they are commonplace items seen on most vehicle dashboards all around the world.
Similar GPS devices are used for outdoor sports, but they are generally more specialised and come at a higher price. Often, they are handheld trackers specifically designed for intricate mapping roles (think of brands such as Garmin). These items have a good charge, many useful tracking features, and a durable design.
Alternatively, many hikers simply use the GPS devices on their phones. Many modern smartphones have maps integrated as a default app. Users can also download other apps to help with navigation or camp-finding. This is a cheaper option, but the product won’t be as specialised.
A related device is a GPS watch. This works in a similar way to your smartphone and the two GPS devices can be paired together. The watch will have a built-in GPS receiver to pinpoint and track your location. However, the screen is small so it’s hard to search for wild camping spots, but it is a valuable tool for navigation and safety.
What is Wild Camping?
Wild camping is a recreational activity where you head into a nature area to sleep for the night. Wild camping is essentially any form of camping that occurs outside a regulated campsite. In the UK, it’s legal in Scotland but it’s not permitted in England and Wales (other than Dartmoor).
Finding a wild camping spot can be challenging as it needs to be in a discrete and remote area. It’s difficult to tell someone where they should pitch a tent as the whole activity of wild camping is off-grid and unregulated.
Now, with modern technology, you can use GPS devices to provide you with a highly detailed and accurate map. You can then input GPS coordinates to guide you to a pre-planned camping area with high precision.
Pros of Using GPS Devices for Wild Camping
Wild camping trips take you into the backcountry and away from civilisation. If anything goes wrong, you could be in trouble. Carrying a GPS device allows you to get help should anything bad happen.
Often, a phone won’t have any signal. However, a GPS device can use global satellite communication to contact the authorities or mountain rescue. For that reason, GPS devices can keep you safe when wild camping.
In backcountry hiking, it’s common to leave the beaten track. You need to be a good navigator to ensure you don’t get lost. A GPS device will actively track your location and you can pre-plan a route on your device with exceptional accuracy.
Cons of Using GPS Devices for Wild Camping
GPS devices are expensive. It may be the most expensive piece of equipment you buy for your wild camping adventures. However, it could save your life so the high cost may be worthwhile.
GPS devices can break or run out of charge. Your smartphone might run out of charge in a day or become damaged in severe weather. A smartwatch or GPS device can also run out of charge leaving you stranded.
If you’re wild camping in a particularly remote area, this could spell trouble. At this point, how do you find your way back to safety? It’s hard to see the same thing happening if you’re using a classic map and compass. Plus, these kit items hardly cost anything.
When searching for a place to pitch your tent, GPS devices aren’t perfect. They are great for navigating, but their small interface can make it difficult to search for camp spots. It’s much easier to use a map before you leave. Then, when you’re on the ground and hiking, simply look around and trust your instinct.
Best GPS Devices
Garmin is head and shoulders above their competitors in terms of GPS devices. The Garmin InReach Mini (£300) is a very popular option for hikers but the screen is tiny. The Garmin GPSMAP 66st (£400) is more expensive but it has a bigger screen, excellent functionality, and it’s more suited for expeditions.
Garmin has numerous products perfect for any kind of wild camping adventure. The Garmin Fenix Watch (£500) includes ABC (altimeter, barometer, and compass) technology and is a tremendous tool for serious adventures.
If you want to save money and are set on using your phone, make sure you come prepared. Download an app that specialises in GPS navigation for hiking and outdoor recreation. Gaia GPS, Topo Maps+, AllTrails, and Maps.me are all excellent options.
Be sure to test the apps out before you leave home. A paid version may be required for you to use the maps offline when you have no signal. As a backup, carry a portable charger to give your GPS devices a little more juice!
Final Tips on GPS Devices
GPS devices have many uses for wild campers. They provide hikers with more information, a greater safety net, and greater technology for accurate navigation. However, they should never be solely relied upon. It’s always wise to have a secondary option and it’s hard to beat a map and compass! Ultimately, a GPS device is an expensive upfront investment, but can you really put a price on your safety and wellbeing?