5 Tips for Using a GPS and Staying Safe

If you’re like many people, you received a brand new shiny GPS unit as a gift this holiday season. GPS technology isn’t new, but the compact consumer versions are, and we are seeing more and more drivers and hikers armed with their digital navigation devices. GPS, or global positioning systems, have become a vital part of keeping us connected to the world when out in the wilderness and keeping us on the right path when driving in our car.

Unfortunately, many people have relied on these devices a little too much, forgetting that the technology is only as good as the information it can translate. It doesn’t happen too often, but several times a year, GPS users have found themselves far off the beaten path and even more worrisome, lost. There are, however, ways you can ensure that your GPS will provide you with the best experience possible.

  • Keep your GPS maps up to date. It’s common sense that roads and routes change, due to weather conditions, construction or permanent closure. Most GPS devices have the ability to connect to the company website via the internet (and a cable) and can update maps quickly. A good rule of thumb is to update at least once a month and definitely right before going on a trip.
  • Check the weather. Poor weather conditions aren’t simply a nuisance, they can cause your GPS (and cell phone) to lose their signal. This disconnection can last hours or even days in particularly bad conditions and can even block your GPS 911 beacon. Always check weather conditions all along your route just before leaving, and if possible, update yourself along the way.
  • Prepare for being stranded. It is possible, and even if you don’t use a GPS, you should always pack your car for several days in case you become stranded. Always keep an emergency bag with blankets, nonperishable food, water, snacks, batteries, toilet paper and other necessary items. If you have children traveling with you, bring games or books to keep them occupied.
  • Let someone know your plans. Let a friend or family member know your plans, including your itinerary. If possible, map out the route prior to the trip and provide someone with your ETA for each stop along the way. Plan on calling them at designated stops, so that they can follow your path and contact authorities if they don’t hear from you within a few hours of the planned contact.
  • Use a map. Yes, a map. GPS devices are great, but they also have the potential to fail due to a dead battery or breaking. Having at least something concrete to follow will ensure you can still get to your destination if your GPS fails.
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