I’m doing the Yukon River this coming summer and need to look into GPS devices. The Suunto X10 is a GPS watch that’s certainly expensive but I’m considering it. It would be great to hike with, too, and no doubt its barometer would come in handy. I’m new to kayaking and would definitely appreciate any GPS or other gear-related advice I can get.

I’ll be bringing one or two solar chargers for the camcorder and other electronic gear.

Altimeters dont work in the Yukon
We descended the Snake from Duo lakes to Ft McPherson NWT.

After 50 miles of whitewater descent in the Richardson Mountains one persons watch insisted we had gone up 81 feet.

GPS is just a tool Make sure you have a PLB.


The only maps available for the Yukon are pretty old, plus some parts of the river change course each year. The three of us will likely carriy Walkie-Talkies should we be separated (likely).

Personal Locator Beacon for each of you
also you should probably be carrrying a satellite phone. A PLB will allow search teams to locate you in case of life threatening emergency.

GPS is the last thing of the gear tech things you need. They are fun but IMO of a lower priority than map and compass.

what use?

– Last Updated: Jan-07-10 1:22 AM EST –

What use do you want the GPS for? If just to track where you have been, any small one (like the watch) would work. Make sure they are waterproof, of course. And that you can recharge it or replace batteries (can you do this with a watch style one, that presumably uses watch batteries?).

If you want something to help navigate, then something with a map may be better. I use a Garmin GPSMAP 60CSx for this type of thing, but there are others that do it also. Same caveat holds - make sure it is waterproof and you have ways to recharge the batteries.

Assuming you do want to see your tracks on a computer after you get back, you may also want to make sure the GPS can store enough track data, or that you have a way to download the data. I've not had any issue with this on trips up to 10 days, but they do have finite data storage amounts, so much longer trips may be an issue.


– Last Updated: Jan-07-10 11:15 AM EST –

I like having a GPS for keeping track of things like rate of speed and things like that. Also they come in handy in a featureless expanse or something like a delta area where you want to know if you are doubling back on yourself or perhaps going in a circle.
Also nice if you want to make sure you are not travelling away from a "must make this turn" situation.
Mighty handy finding your way back to a campsite if over taken by dark or fog things like that as well.
I don't trust the compass section with them. I always use a non electronic compass for accuracy, though the Gps one for general direction.
Mostly with the altimeter portion being off 81 ft is not that uncommon,some people use them to help predict changes in weather. Esp if you are at a know elevation yet the next time you check it it reads as if you have gone up or down could indicate pressure building or falling with a differnt weather pattern moving in.

Learning the hard way I don't trust my Gps for being waterproof and would treat them as water resistant and keep it as dry as possible. Even though mine was sold as water proof the 1st one leaked. (Garmin 76CSx)

PLB... an example of a Personal Locater Beacon would be one that has been on the market these last few years, sold as SPOT they were required in the Yukon 500 this past year if I am not mistaken. There are others on the market as well.

My friend uses a wrist watch for all his navigation when hiking and doing training runs in unfamilar areas but he is not going in such a remote place as you will be going to.

Good luck.

Have you talked to people who have
paddled that river?

Just in case you think about a mapping GPS…the river changes course every year. I hear that one of the major challenges is finding adequate maps.

over at you will find some discussion

Bon voyage and we are looking forward to your trip report!

Thanks for all the replies, and for the Locator Beacon reminder.

I have Dan Maclean’s guidebook on paddling the whole Yukon, which also notes the difficulty of finding good maps but recommends some ok ones, and it looks like about halfway in, you’re relying on old USGS maps. Still, we’ll have those and a compass, and I thought a GPS should be an excellent tool to have, in addition.

I’ll have a couple solar chargers with me (one as backup) for the GPS, digital cameras and camcorder (planning on making a movie of the trip).

I may have a fourth-hand contact who’s paddled the river before, but maps are my biggest concern. The food situation I have a lot of experience with through long-distance hiking, so we’ll carry 4-5 days’ extra rations should wind or weather keep us in our tents for a few days.


– Last Updated: Jan-11-10 6:55 PM EST –

GPS is no good w/o a GPS co-ordinated map and a compass...I would not trust the signal capturing ability of a wrist mounted GPS! I would spend the $$$ for a good Garmin 60CSx and a Spot GPS Messenger. I not a real fan of all-in-one units like the 530HCx Rino. I'd rather have a separate AA operated 2-way radio and carry xtra batts. NOT a fan of lithium ion or NiMH batteries either, recharging them may not be possible in the wild, even with solar chargers. the 60CSx runs on AA batts. Motorola makes some decent 35 mile( under ideal conditions) range / AA powered radios. you could cheat and buy marine VHF handheld radios but they all seem to be lithium ion powered. Waterproofness counts too. Good luck and safe journey.
PS: I have to argue that the electronic compass in a GPS unit is more reliable for accuracy than a magnetic compass because it is not affected by magnetic variation from topography, it gets its direction from the GPS satellites,not the earths magnetic fields, therefore is not affected by earths anomalies, like iron deposits.

gps compass
in the 60csx, 76csx, etc. there are in reality 2 compasses. the gps compass that nearly all gps units have is not dependent on the magnetic fields, however it only works while one is moving. once one stops it stops. the electronic compass on the csx units is dependent on the magnetic fields of the earth and must be calibrated when new and with each battery change. it continues to work while one is stopped, but the tradeoff is a fairly substantial drain on battery life. like all magnetic compasses it may be affected by vehicles, power lines, magnetic ore deposits, etc. a mapping gps is a good tool to use as backup to a map and compass, and for those times when you need to confirm your position, mark a spot to return to, or when the terrain is uniformly the same (tundra, mangroves) to assist in placing oneself on the map.

Important use
I agree with other postings. Dont depend on the waterproof GPS. Keep in a waterproof container. My Alaska and other remote paddling use is for speed determination. If you are planning on a 10 mile trip to a destination there are paddling time issues. Knowing your real speed is important in determining map location. Paddling in currents can easily mask a true speed and cause you to blow by an expected camp spot or double your expected paddling time.

You NEED a map.
The GPS is a useful too, but being a high tech gadget is subject to Murphy’s Law.

At SJS our trip protocol required that we take TWO sets of maps. (One could be a photocopy) carried by different people, as at various times, a map set got left at a portage or lost in a dumping.

The GPS is handy on big river trips. Rivers like the Yukon, the Slave, the Athabasca, and the MacKenzie are hard to navigate. Every bend looks alike, and if you don’t stay on top of it, it can take you half a day to figure out where you are again.

I’ve also found them useful for marking the exact location of a rapid. Many of the NTS maps are spotty on their locations for rapids. If you are on a windy little stream and you find an obstacle that is not mapped, having a good set of coordinates gives your correction letter to the NTS mroe credibility.

Carry spare batteries.

GPS’s don’t float well. Keep it on a leash. Attach the other end of the leash to something that does float.

Get a waterproof one. It will get wet.

Learn about datums. Most NTS maps use NAD27. Most GPS’s default to WTC. There’s about a 220 meter difference between them in central Alberta. This won’t screw you up on a lake, but can make portage landings trickier.

I completely disagree with that
If you want to be “the master of your fate”, then either a GPs with a back up one or compass and charts are the number one thing I want.

A PLB or satalitte phone would be the last.

-And yes I have paddled in the Yukon, and in the Noatak river in the Arctic as well as most of the Alaska fiords.

jack L