Initializing Your GPS

Sometimes, despite your best efforts, your GPS has trouble picking up signals from satellites. When this happens, you can use a process known as initializing to improve your reception. Most GPS systems are manufactured in Asia, so if you're in the Western Hemisphere, the last version of the sky in the GPS's memory is that from the other side of the world.

Initializing helps your new GPS quickly locate the satellites in the area where you live. Initializing only needs to be done one time, and the GPS will hold this information in its memory. Each GPS model has a different method for initializing, so check your owner's manual.

GPS Waypoint and Go-to

To accurately determine your location, a GPS receiver needs to lock onto four different satellites. The signal it receives from these satellites must be strong. If the signal is weak or the GPS receiver cannot lock onto four satellites, the information you receive may not be accurate.

To get a signal, turn the GPS receiver on and push the satellite button. It may take a few minutes, but you'll be able to see the number, location and strength of the satellites that the GPS receiver is locked onto. If the signal is weak, or there are less than four satellites on the screen, you should navigate using a map and compass.

Sometimes the area where you're standing can have an effect on your signal strength. If the signal is spotty or weak, try moving to a location without any overhead obstructions. Both trees and canyon walls can interfere with the GPS's ability to communicate with satellites. Move into a meadow or a parking lot while the GPS system locks onto the satellites. Once it has locked on, the receiver usually can maintain a connection when you enter the woods.

Two important functions of a GPS receiver are the waypoint and the go-to functions. Waypoints are points that you can enter into the memory of your GPS for a particular journey. They may be the spot you plan to camp, where you parked your car or other interesting places along the trail. You can enter more than one waypoint for each trip. While you're hiking, you can see the waypoints and your relationship to them on the GPS screen.

The go-to function guides you exactly where you want to go. When you're ready to head to camp or home, simply press the go-to button, and a selection of waypoints will appear on your screen. Select the waypoint you want, and the GPS receiver will immediately let you know how far away it is and what direction you need to travel to get there. It will continually update as you hike, so you'll know if you're drifting off course and how much farther you need to travel.

GPS technology has greatly improved in the past several years, but receivers still get confused. While hiking, attach the GPS receiver to your shoulder or the top of your backpack. You need easy access to it, but carrying it in your hand or clipping it to your waistband can create problems. The motion of swinging your hand while hiking can be enough to confuse it and it may not hold a connection with the satellites.