GPS and Maps for Hiking
Hiking guides and (to a greater extent) trail maps are an important consideration for any hike. Even if you’re going just for a daytrip in your own country, it isn’t a bad idea to carry GPS and maps in case you get off trail or caught in bad weather. Add in the uncertainty of languages and sometimes poor signposting in foreign countries, and this becomes even more important.
We here at Asia-Hikes are sort of from the old school, preferring papers maps much more than GPS devices (especially for long treks where there won’t be reliable power sources for days on end).
Unfortunately for many countries good maps can be difficult to find, especially if you don’t start looking until you’re already on the ground there. For starters, run a search before you leave home for Hiking Maps on Amazon with keywords for your destination country. Another option is to google ‘maps shops’ in whatever city you’re flying into in the country you’ll be hiking in and see if any map shops show up. For some regions, notably Central Asia, this is one of the only good options.
When you do go to purchase, buy as detailed as you can find. We once trying hiking an island in Greece on a 1:200,000 road atlas… and it didn’t work so well! Look for a maximum scale of 1:100,000, and ideally something around 1:50,000 or smaller. For those moments that you find yourself off trail or trying to navigate without much line of site, this can make a huge difference!
(Note: Even if you do buy read on and decide to buy a GPS, always know how to navigate with map and compass! For your own confidence and safety, this is something we firmly believe every hiker should be prepared to do.)
The reality is, sometimes GPS-based maps are just easier to find. If your choice is between accurate and detailed GPS logs or old and huge scale maps, perhaps the GPS is the better choice. To harp on the the point, though, always carry some type of backup if you’re really getting off the beaten trail!
Some notes on shopping for GPS Devices:
– Buy A HIking-Specific Device
We know this should go without having to be said, but we’ve seen hikers in the US before trying to use roadmap GPS units on trail. Don’t be that guy.
– Find An Electronic Compass
Some of the lowest-end devices don’t actually provide a compass, so you have to check the readout and keep hiking until the devices catches up to your progress in order to make sure you’re heading the right direction. Look for something with an e-compass as a basic starting point while you’re shopping.
– Loadable Maps
Perhaps the biggest positive of GPS devices is the ability to upload maps from your computer when you’re unable to find anything else. Many devices, even at the low-end, accept maps prepared with waypoints and
On the budget end of the spectrum, the Germin eTrex 20 is probably one of the better units on the market:
If you’ve got a little more cash to spend, mid-range models offer a few more useful features:
– Track Navigation
Rather than providing a point-to-point distance between location and destination, some models are able to measure the route along a set track to determine how much actual distance you have left to hike.
– Touchscreen Capability
In the day of smartphones as the norm, this is surprisingly not always included on budget GPS units. If its something you consider important, you may have to spend a bit more.
– Altimeter and Barometer
A lot of the hiking you might do throughout Asia will involves pretty drastic changes in elevation. Sometimes it can be nice to know how much uphill slog you have left for the day!
In this range, something like the Garmin Oregon 450 is a good bet. For not a lot more money, you get a couple of extra features that can really come in handy.
Another good option, with the ability to use US Geological Survey maps and a higher-contrast screen (which makes it easier to read in bright light) is the DeLorme PN-60:
The final option, for those first-timers who really aren’t comfortable with the skills necessary for hiking on their own, is to find a guide who can take you out and show you the basics. Websites like GetYourGuide offer trips like this throughout the continent, or you can contact a tour operator in your specific destination to see what they can put together. With a bit of know-how and a decent map, though, this really isn’t usually necessary!
Where do you stand on the question of GPS and maps? Dedicated fan of paper, of true believer in high-tech?