Ultra Simple GPS Device?

Why isn’t there a simple GPS device that just shows your current coordinates??

Just that one thing. No bells, no whistles. One thing.

No tracking, no maps, no waypoints. Just one button and your location shown in Lat/Lon and UTM format. (Ok, maybe some format alternatives or datum choices, but no other features.)

With loooong life battery.

Just press a button to turn it on, get a lock, get your coordinates, turn it off. So, the battery should last weeks or months without recharging because it is not constantly on.

Just getting coordinates is essentially what I use my phone for. I use the iOS MilGPS app to get my UTM coordinates and then check them against my map.

But, having that on the phone means a long, involved process of setting down the pack, fishing out my phone, taking it out of the waterproof plastic, turning it on, wait, wait, waiting for it to boot, entering the code, firing up the MilGPS app, and waiting for it to get a GPS lock. Once I have the coordinates, I have to turn the phone off and restow it (and everything else around it) without succumbing to the temptation to use it for other things.

Instead, imagine:

A small, simple device on my pack shoulder pad or neck lanyard or in my map case; flick a switch to turn it on and wait for it to get a GPS lock to read my coordinates – all while still hiking.

I wish there were such a device. I’ve looked for one but can’t find it.

Where’s Adam Smith’s invisible hand when you need it?


Cool map & compass navigation tip


Cool Navigation Tip I learned at a refresher nav course: use some twigs, straight ones please, to put on your map to check when at a fork in the trail.

Align your map and compass north and in the direction of the fork:. Put the twigs onto the fork on the map to emphasize the angle. Visually check how the twig fork matches what you see in front of you. Pick the proper fork.

I’ve used this tip already twice since learning it, to figure out unmarked trail forks.

UTM tool for Half-Mile’s PCT maps

Half-mile’s maps of the PCT have an unusual scale: 1:31,680, so that one inch on the map equals a half mile on the ground.

Like any decent map they have UTM coordinates on them, so you can find where you are if you have those coordinates. I use the MilGPS iOS app on my phone for that.

MapTools is the site I first used to get me into UTM format and how to use it. I can do math based on tens much easier that our clung-to clumsiness of the sexagesimal math of the Babylonians.

But UTM grids on maps are still a kilometer wide. Sometimes, I like to have a bit more accuracy than that when looking at the map (and estimating). That’s where grid tools come in.

Documenting last weekend’s lunch spot on Half-mile’s PCT map with Maptools grid overlay tool

The basic function of the grid tool is to extend the precision of your map to match your GPS UTM coordinate more closely.

The grid tools they make are simple to use. It is a small plastic square that you place on the map over the grid you are located within, and then it allows you to pinpoint your location to within the grid to within a hundred (or less) meters of accuracy.

The grid tool must of course match the scale of your map and Maptools makes a grid overlay tool for the uncommon 1:31,680 scale of the Pacific Crest Trails maps made by Half-mile.

And at 4.5 grams, while I admit it’s more of a WANT than a NEED, given my style of on trail hiking an eyeball estimation within that square kilometer is usually close enough to know where I am on the trail, I do enjoy my maps and navigation, so it’s light enough to take. And of course, when you are off-trail, location specificity can be vital.