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Discussion Forum - Gear ! - Satnav advice needed for complete novice

Author: Andy Carpenter
Posted: Wed 6th Jun 2018, 14:24
Joined: 2013
Local Group: Beds, Bucks and Northants
Cheers for your comments, Simon / Matthew! :-) Am always happy to help out if & when I can.
Author: Andrew Beck
Posted: Tue 5th Jun 2018, 21:00
Joined: 2017
Local Group: Thames Valley
Depending on your requirements you might already have a device that might meet your needs for very little outlay.
Most smartphones have GPS in them nowadays and with some free software you can start to get comfortable with GPS navigation.
There are pro's and con's with this route and it might not be right for you.
For example
I use a Samsung Galaxy S7 with "Viewranger" software
This cost me £0 initially as the software is free and I already had the phone, for free you only get openstreetmap and satellite imagery (but I quite often find that openstreetmap is better than ordnance survey maps)
Viewranger does all the classic GPS stuff (Recording trails, Route following) plus some features you won't get on a Classic GPS device (Reporting your location to your family/friends in real time, Virtual Reality skyline)

Can be much much cheaper.
Assisted GPS (Helps get a position lock much quicker - usually in under 2 seconds)
The best web based Route editor, I seen.
Multiple map sources (Openstreetmap, Ordnance Survey and Satellite imagery) - for £25 a year you can get 1:50000 and 1:25000 Ordnance Survey maps, which are also available on the Web route editor (Satmap want you to spend Hundred of pounds on SD card based ordnance survey maps and then another £25 to use them on the their web based editor)
Has Openstreetmap Map data - I've found Ordnance Survey data to be wrong in a number of occasions or not enough details, while Openstreetmap can also be wrong it can be a second source of data. I can also easily fix anything that is wrong with the openstreetmap data by contributing maps updates. Openstreetmaps also has a lot more Permissive paths than Ordnance Survey.
With the Samsung S7 it has a better waterproof (IP) rating than some classic GPS devices.
The software is more responsive than some of the classic GPS devices I've tried.
It is integrate with an active community of route publishers.

Battery Life - not as bad as you think. For me with the S7 for 7 hours of just trail recording will leave me with 65% battery left, 7 hours of trail recording and route navigation leaves me with 35% battery, but I have cheap addon battery pack that will quadruple that life. (using the screen is what drains the battery)
It will use Data from your phone plan - but with pre-planning by download/caching wifi I generally use only about 100Mb a month, so even a very cheap plan it won't cost much.
It is combing your emergency communication device with your GPS device - as you are then using it more it might be more likely to be dropped/broken/run out of charge.

I don't have any relationship with Samsung or Viewranger and my experiences are based single day based UK rural (but not totally remote area of the UK. e.g. North Scotland) and rural use in France (where I use IGN 1:25000 maps subscription for £18 a year)

(Robert - there is a viewranger version for iPhone as well so you could use that for maps and recording)
Author: Don Arthurs
Posted: Tue 5th Jun 2018, 15:08
Joined: 2017
Local Group: Kent
I personally swear by my Garmin GPSMAP 64s, but I'd recommend seeing who in your local group has GPS and asking to borrow any that you come across for a few days. I'm happy to do so when asked and I'd hope your local group members would be the same.

As stated it takes a little while to get to know your device but that's to be expected for anything new and unfamiliar.

The 64s has a relatively small screen, but I've found it to be very accurate and I've never had trouble getting a signal. It also takes two AA batteries so as long as I carry spares I'm good for power - I have a lensar head torch I use for challenge walks which takes AA as well so I only need to carry one type of battery. I bought a clip and rain cover that clips it to the front straps of my daypack so it's always securely at hand.

I think we're well on the way - not there yet but definitely well on the way - a time when the RD is going to be at first optional and then a novelty with challenge organizers expected as a matter of course to provide an accurate GPX file. There were stretches, especially at night, on the Kent 100 when my RD didn't even get looked at.

All of that said - using an RD can be fun, and also keep your mind occupied on longer challenges. Much as I like to shill using a GPS I expect all you're missing RD wise is practise.
Author: John Pennifold
Posted: Tue 5th Jun 2018, 11:59
Joined: 1996
Local Group: London
Simon Pipe,
Satmap is the name of a company which manufactures one brand of GPS devices. Satsync is the name of the proprietary program which was written by Satmap to copy (into and out of) GPX files between your PC and your Satmap device; it is only of use if you have a Satmap device. With older models of Satmap (10 &12), Satsync was the ONLY method that could that would interface your Satmap device to your PC. I believe that with their latest model (Satmap 20), you can access the device with Windows File Manager (File Explorer) and presumably drag & drop files backwards & forwards, but I can't say for sure.
I have had a Satmap 12 for a few years now and I would not recomend that particular model (maybe the Satmap 20 is much better, but I somehow doubt it). The Satmap 12 has so many ideosyncracies and old-style functions (in terms of software & hardware) which make it very difficult to learn and use. Also, you have to buy your maps from them on (micro-)SD cards, so you are really tied to them once you commit to their models. I initally bought the Satmap 12 because a friend recommended it, but it was only after I had purchased it did I find out that he wasn't using it to anywhere near the level that I required.
A lot of people swear (favourably) of the Garmin range of devices but as I have never had or used one I am unable to comment.
What ever device you buy, you will have a long learning curve before you feel confident in its use.
You can practise building your own GPX files and downloading them by playing with and choosing 'Course Creator'.
Best of luck.
Author: Iain Connell
Posted: Tue 5th Jun 2018, 11:51
Joined: 2010
Local Group: East Lancashire
Hi Simon

I'm a relatively recent GPS device user, believing that most of the early hardware problems with GPS devices had been fixed, or substantially improved, by now. This unfortunately turned out not to be the case, at least for devices in the lower-price range, so I'm stuck with same sort of battery-life and satellite-drop-out problems that were reported ten years ago. The solution for my device (a Garmin touch-screen) is to turn most of it off, or down, except for tracking (very good at that) and mapping (good range of defaults, map card slot also available in mine).

However, there are now such a large range of devices on the market that it should be possible to find a discounted hand-held (rather than wrist-mounted) device with full OS mapping at a price which is non-prohibitive (currently up to £500 new, you may find a slightly older one in the £150-£250 range). There are also many people with several years of experience of different device types, loads of whom have contributed to this Forum's pages. (It appears that by now most people who wanted a GPS have already used at least one!)

Navigating though that lot is a massively impressive but also daunting prospect, but there are several introductory books available, the best three of which I found were:

'GPS for Walkers: An Introduction to Gps, Digital Maps and Geocaching (Pathfinder Guide)' by Clive Thomas
'GPS the Easy Way' by David Brawn
'GPS Made Easy' by Lawrence & Alex Letham.

None of these are up to date in the tech sense (like other GPS books, not updated since the mid-noughties), but will give you a good indication of what GPS can do (for a walker, primarily) and how (bar the later interface layers) it works. In particular, Clive Thomas's UK-oriented book is very clear on the relationship between GPS and map & compass navigation.

As to current devices, I was able to get some good advice, and (literally) hands-on practice, from my local Cotswold Outdoors (and then 15% discount for LDWA members). Like most retailers, their in-store displays have moved away from hand-helds to wrist-mounted, but their website still has a good range of the former (and they do in-store collection with a trial period). The 'swamped' GPS hand-held market by now appears to work in our favour.

And while you're researching that lot, Greg Milner's excellent 2017 book

'Pinpoint: how GPS is changing technology, culture and our minds'

will tell you everything there is to know about the origins of GPS, navigation satellite networks and earth-bound tracking devices (including smartphones, but omitting social media).

Author: Matthew Hand
Posted: Tue 5th Jun 2018, 9:16
Joined: 2001
Local Group: Mid Wales
I've never had a GPS and been strictly map and compass man, on occasion that I have thought one, the jargon when reading discussions on here has immediately put me off - I have absolutely no idea what people are talking about. Very similar to trying to get sense or advice on bikes from keen cyclists!

The post below is simple to follow and even I understand it, now I have some idea on how they work. Thank you very much.
Author: Simon Pipe
Posted: Mon 4th Jun 2018, 23:15
Joined: 2006
Local Group: Bristol & West
Andy, I'm actually rather touched that someone took the trouble to be so thorough. Thank you.

Any recommendations for rugged devices would also be welcome. I see forum discussions about Satmap and Satsync, at it means nothing. These discussions are presumably great for people who already have a good level of knowledge.
Author: Andy Carpenter
Posted: Mon 4th Jun 2018, 21:55
Joined: 2013
Local Group: Beds, Bucks and Northants

"GPS" is the name of the overall system (Global Positioning System), but is also often used to informally describe the device itself (e.g. "using a GPS").
"GPX", on the other hand, is the type of file that contains all the info which describes a given route. So, when you download a route-file from the LDWA website (or from wherever), it'll be a file which has a .gpx extension on it (exactly like how a Word-document filename has a .doc extension on it).
So, a GPX file can be downloaded to your PC from the LDWA site, and then you can copy that file to your GPS device (the method of copying will vary from device to device).

Once it's on your device, that file can be used to navigate you along the route. Some devices allow you to follow a line that is superimposed over an OS map, some will show a simple arrow in a compass to indicate the required direction of travel, some will give you a warning (a beep or whatever) if you stray too far off the route, some will tell you how far it is to the end of the route, etc, etc.

Another use of a GPS device is to record the route you are following. So, you could wander around while the device records the route on a new GPX file, which you can then upload to your PC when you get home. This is often how GPX-files are created for LDWA events - i.e. someone will walk the route while recording it on a GPS device, then they will post the resultant GPX file on the website, so that entrants can then download to to use on their devices.

Most GPS devices can also show a range of other information, such as current speed, average speed, total time take, in-motion time, distance covered, current altitude, total ascent climbed, sunrise/sunset time at your current location, etc.
You can also use it to record "waypoints", which is just a name for a specific location. For instance, if you park you car somewhere, & take a waypoint on your device there, you can then set off walking around for the day, safe in the knowledge that at any time your device can tell you how far away - and in what direction - the car is as the crow flies (so you can use it to get back if lost). Some devices will even help you navigate back along the exact route you took to get from your startpoint to where you are now, which will sometimes be more appropriate than an as-the-crow-flies direction.
A GPX file can even be manipulated afterwards. As an example, if you were recording a route for someone, and you made a small mistake somewhere along the way, once you've got home and copied that GPX file to your PC, you could then remove that mistake from the GPX file, so that the file you give to the person is a perfect representation of the route. (Don't worry about stuff like this for now - I only mention to illustrate the power and capability of satnav.)

They can have other capabilities too, but the above is a summary of the key features and uses of these incredibly useful devices.

Personally I use a wrist-mounted old-style device, which I know you've said isn't what you're after, so I'll leave it to others to get into the whole thorny debate about which one of the various handheld devices out there is The one to go for! The main things to consider are likely to be screen clarity/brightness, type of map offered (ideally OS), length of operation on a charge, and ease of operation. Beyond that, you may wanna also consider stuff like method of charging it (including while out & about if you think you'll need to do that), weight, size, and durability. Depends on which are the most important factors to you.

Happy navigating,
Author: Robert Newell
Posted: Mon 4th Jun 2018, 13:03
Joined: 2014
Local Group: Norfolk & Suffolk
Simon, if I can just add to your posting. I am also in the same position and am interested what the other competitors used.

On the 100 I did use the O/S map app on my iPhone which worked well, however I’d like something that can track my hikes too. I did try to use Runkeeper (which I have used on shorter challenges) to track, but it used too much battery and using two GPS apps at the same time sent my phone into meltdown (and it’s operator!)

So any Satmap type thing that also tracks hikes would be good.
Author: Simon Pipe
Posted: Mon 4th Jun 2018, 10:36
Joined: 2006
Local Group: Bristol & West
I have absolutely no understanding of GPS for walkers and runners, but I need to invest in it because I simply cannot consistently follow a route description, and the problem is getting worse.

Could my fellow LDWA members please use this space to explain how it works, and what to buy? What's the difference between GPS and GPX?

I dislike wearing a watch, so a hand-held device would be best. A watch-size screen would not be big enough for me.

Many thanks

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