GPS with electronic compass?

-- Last Updated: Sep-14-08 6:41 PM EST --

Will be canoeing Topock Marsh in November. Considering handheld GPS for backtracking to launch site (in case I "lose my bearings" in the marsh). Am wondering whether the "electronic compass" feature would be adviseable. It is my understanding that without an electronic compass, the GPS units need to be moving (not sure at what speed) to determine which direction you are heading. I know it reduces battery life, but I would only be paddling 3-4 hours at a time. I also have a regular Brunton compass, but would an integrated electronic compass help in backtracking?

In a marsh
you probably will not get that much benefit from a compass (electronic or otherwise). In marshes you tend to paddle in twisting channels so you often find yourself paddling in the opposite direction (at least for a short time) from your intended destination.

A really good detailed map and the backtracking feature on the GPS are the most useful. I would want to carry some kind of compass anyway since you may need to know north from south to help you read your map.

If you do not have a map and there are lots of intersecting channels, you might want to carry some colored tape (like on survey stakes). When you come to intersecting channels backtrack a little and hang a piece of the tape. That way when you come back the tape will show you which channel you need to use for the return. Be sure and remove the tape as you go out.


It’s a matter of personal preference. I wouldn’t buy a GPS without an electronic magnetic compass precisely because I want accuracy when standing still or moving slowly.

Other people don’t feel that its worth the extra money, and dislike the need to calibrate it frequently (a process that takes about a minute) and the additional drain on batteries.

With Garmins (I can’t speak for other brands) you can set it to shut off the electronic compass when you are moving above X (your choice) speed, which will save battery life. Also some newer Garmins (like the eTrex HCX models) the battery life between the two types is the same according to the website’s specs.

Batteryless compass
I’ve heard that someone has developed a compass that does not need batteries. I’m not sure if this is true or not, but it seems like a wonderful idea; you would not have to worry about the compass failing because the batteries wore out. I’m going to look into it.

Response to arledge

– Last Updated: Sep-14-08 7:55 PM EST –

The "electronic compass" is part of some GPS units.

P.S. I also understand we can actually talk to someone on a telephone that does not require batteries. Some refer to it as a "land-line".

Sorry, didn’t mean to be rude.
It is just that our society’s tendency to over complicate simple basic appliances is one of my pet peeves. It is just that I don’t understand why for example someone would buy an electric oral thermometer when an simple old fashioned one will always work in an emergency. I have the same attitude about electronic compasses.

My brother just paid over $300 to replace the logic circuit in his washing machine. I don’t think I paid that much for my washing machine.

A friend of mine was panicking when she dropped her electronic car key in the water. I just think our society is going going in the wrong direction when car keys are no longer waterproof.

I modified my response
I know what you mean. I reacted too quickly. See my modified response just as you were sending your reply.

tape is wrong
I am the very person that removes tape from any wilderness locations.

The person that puts the tape there has no right to do so. I have the same right as him/her to remove it.

And while we are at it, Geocaching in wilderness areas will have the same result.

I hate coming across “trash”.

I remove the cache when I see one.

“Take nothing but photographs, leave nothing but footprints” comes to mind.

The ranger himself has asked me to remove any tape that was placed in a particular area by other people.

If you rely on tape what are you going to do when it’s gone?

Only a decent map and knowing how to read it possibly the best insurance.

GPS should be only used as back up.

Electronics do fail occasionally :slight_smile:

Orient GPS with regular compass
You can always use your old fashioned, reliable compass to orient the “compass ring” navigation page on your new fangled GPS. Make sure both the "N"s are pointing the same way, and then no worries

Any proper way to mark trail?
Would it make any difference if the tape was dated for placement and removal? I think crab traps and trotlines are supposed to have some kind of dating so abandoned ones can be removed. I am not trying to argue your point on tape. I am just interested if there is any way to properly trail mark in areas where there are not detailed enough maps.

I personally have never carried tape, but after a a couple of instances of being “directionally challenged” in a couple of marshes (despite having maps) I thought about carrying some.


It’s true . . .

– Last Updated: Sep-15-08 12:06 AM EST –

Re: Battery less compasses question: They are called magnetic compasses and they have been around for a long, long time. Learning a little about using them (things like magnetic declination, etc.), as well as reading charts the old-fashioned way will save a lot of money over buying the high technology that will leave you vulnerable to "crashes."

I hear you Mark
but the “dating” on the tape somehow does not work. Very few users would be kosher enough to actually remove the tape. They might have good intentions on the way in but might “forget” to take it down on the way back.

Even if the tape would be removed by the user it is still a visual scar fot the others that might come across it on the day.

Most of us seek the wilderness for a pristine experience. The tape takes it away. The same way I remove cairns built in trail less backcountry I remove tape placed by somebody else.

Although never tried personally, an option would be to take photographs on your digital camera of key “forks in the road” that you might reference to later.

A GPS with breadcrumbs capability is your other back up.

And if all the above does not satisfy you, I think that going to a place where you might have trouble coming back from is maybe not the place to be in for starters.

Think of it: that tape might disappear.

Can not be relied on.

I’d suggest you pass on the electronic compass and use your regular compass - you’ll want to carry one or two of them for safety’s sake anyway, so might as well use one of them to get a little extra battery life out of the GPS.

One feature I would defintely want is a tracking feature that displays the path you have travelled on the screen. This is an invaluable aid in many ways when exploring a swamp-type environment.

I can’t believe that someone would remove tape that someone else has put up.

First I have never used it, and never will for the very reason that you don’t, but:

  1. I sure hope you don’t remove tape that is new, and be the cause of someone getting lost.
  2. I know of several places in the Everglades National Park where the park rangers have marked canoe trails with tape, and it even calls to watch for it on their hand out maps.

    I would strongly advise; curse it, but leave it alone.

    Why not just advise people that when they use it to please remove it on their way back.



For what it is worth:
I paddle in many swamps, marshes and estuaries, and have found the best way to keep track of your route when there are dozens of criss crossing waterways is to take a waypoint about 25 yards before the intersection and then another one about 25 yards after it.

It might require paddling back to where you should have taken the first one when you realize the proper direction, but it is well worth it to keep you coming back in the right direction.

Then when you return, you not only can use your “track back” feature, but can double check yourself with your waypoints by creating a route back.



jackl, there is a difference between
the ranger putting up the tape and individuals putting up tape.

When the ranger does it, it’s to mark the official route/trail.

When individuals do it is random.

I have followed tapes thinking: Aha, somebody official has marked the trail… not so. It often ends up nowhere.

So why should I only remove old tape that should have been removed in the first place.

The person that puts up the tape should assume the risk of the tape “disappearing”.

It would be foolish to rely for your way out on that little colourful ribbon.

Since the “taping” is not something endorsed by a governing body (except for cases like the official one that you mention in Florida) I have the same right to take it down as much as the other person putting it up. Technically, if the person putting it up does not have a permit to do so he/she is actually polluting and I am removing “trash”.

Taping is something a hate as much as “improvement” of wilderness campsites.

Dang, people, the wild world is shrinking.

Let’s leave that little that is left untouched.

I will strongly stand by my opinion of removing tape.

If a person cannot navigate without it he/she should not be venturing there.

I feel sorry for you !
I remember the first time I was led through “the trail of tears” (mangrove tunnels) which is down on the Atlantic side of Key Largo, by a good friend who resides down there, and I happened to notice a little yellow piece of surveyors tape at a intersection of two water ways.

The next time I traveled that route, I was just about ready to take the wrong water way when I happened to see the yellow tape.

In another place in the Everglades there is a well marked canoe trail called “The Hells Bay Trail”. some of the markers are missing from various hurricanes that come through. there are zillions of criss crossing water ways, small ponds and mini lakes.

At one particular intersection the markers have been missing for several years, and some kind person has put up a few pieces of surveyors tape. Without it, a paddler could very easily get lost and remain lost until a search party found them.

I sure would hate to be the one responsible for a novice or a expert spending a unwanted night in a place like that.

I think you would do a lot better taking out all the tangled fish line you come across and leaving the tape alone in which case you be helping not hindering.



Well, there are good uses

– Last Updated: Sep-15-08 9:38 AM EST –

there are good uses for new technology and good reasons to discard old one or at least use it only as a back-up or in cases where it really still works.

A simple cheap old-fashioned compass works fine and usually is easier to use than a GPS built-in one. I'd take that over the GPS compass but having both does not hurt - different circumstances may make using one or the other simpler (e.g. backlight on the GPS may be handy, having it integrated with the GPS map so it is rotated the right way can be *very* handy).

Have you had to take a temperature reading from a sick impatient toddler with an "old fashioned" mercury-based thermometer lately? Old fashioned means in this case breakable, highly toxic, slow, unreliable (did he hold it the right way or over some clothes for instance, screwing the reading?)... It takes good 5 minutes for the thing to reach the right temperature. I'd take a $7 electronic termometer that takes a reading in 30 seconds or better yet an instant reading from a more sophysticated one that is both more reliable and the kid will actually allow you to use it on him...

And I can tell you that my front loading washer does a lot better job with clothes than my older top loader. And it also is off the "eficiency scale", being more energy efficient than the most efficient washers that this scale covers -;). Costs more initially, but if built well, it lasts long and pays for itself in a few years. And the clothes get *a lot* less wear compared to my previous washer. Not to mention I can barely hear it work...

On the other hand, I loathe phones that have all that stuff in in them but won't let you make a quick call -;) The iPhone excluded -;)))

Does the compass
integrate with the map, giving you the proper orientation of the map while not in motion? That would be a useful feature to have…

One could argue
and many do, about the need for a compass-enabled GPS.

My advice is yeah, go ahead and buy one. But have a magnetic compass mounted as a backup.