Tips for using your GPS watch to help with navigation.
Whilst teaching navigation skills to runners I often notice that they wear an “all singing” GPS watch but rarely use the functions to get the most out of it. Here are a few of the features that I use that you might want to consider. (I use the Garmin Forerunner 305 and 910XT but the following is relevant to most GPS Devices)
- Go Metric
The Ordnance Survey or Harvey’s map that you are using has gridlines every kilometre and contour lines showing height above sea level measured in metres (unless you’re using your Grandad’s old 1 inch to the mile map which you shouldn’t be!) So set your watch to kilometres and metres rather than miles and feet. If you’re a runner who likes to know your min per mile pace you can always change it back for the road but a wild, wet & windy hillside is no place to be trying to convert miles to kilometres to work out how far you’ve covered on the map.
- Read the Elevation
Lots of people like to look at how much climb they’ve done on a run. This is interesting but you can also use the elevation feature to show your current height. This is useful for working out your position on a hillside or knowing how far is left to the top of a climb. Again this should be metric to match the contours on the map.
- Know Your Pace
It pays to get to know how fast you cover various different types of terrain. I set my watch to show how long it takes me to cover a kilometre (rather than kilometres per hour) Over time I have come to know that I cover 1 kilometre in around 5 minutes on even ground. This is invaluable for working out how far you have covered and so pinpointing your position on the map.
- What’s the Time
By knowing how long you have been running you should be able to make a rough calculation of how far you’ve gone, especially if you know your pace (see above)
- Add a Lap
Your watch should have a lap function, useful for recording your 400m splits in training but also very good for navigating. If you are leaving a known feature such as a summit or stream crossing, press the lap button, then later when you need to identify your location you will know how far past the last feature you have gone. As long as you’ve not been running round in circles this will give you a good idea of where you are on the map. (you need to know which direction you’ve been running in for this to work!)
- Multiple Display
Some watches allow you to display several pieces of information on the same screen rather than having to scroll through (the ungainly 305 excels here allowing 4 bits of data per screen and scrolling through 3 screens so 12 bits of info at your fingertips!) I prefer Pace, Elevation, Lap Time and Lap Distance on my main screen with Total Time, Total Distance, Heart Rate and Average Pace on screen 2.
The picture shows that I am running at a pace of 4 mins 27 seconds per kilometre, am at an altitude of 350 metres, and am 18 mins 33 seconds and 2.37 kilometres past the point where I last pressed the lap button.
- Be a Map Geek
Your GPS will allow you to download your run data onto map software such as Anquet or Memory Map or onto Google Earth. I spend hours after my runs with a glass of sarsaparilla (or similar) poring over the map to see exactly where I’ve been. The extract below shows one such adventure into the less visited parts of the Peak District.
As with any skill the key is to practise. These tips are just a suggestion to help you improve your navigation knowledge and you should learn to navigate without relying on GPS. Always take a map & compass; batteries run out, watches break and remember that in navigation events GPS devices are not allowed!
So dig out the instruction manual to your fancy GPS, (spend half the day learning to reset it!) get a map & compass, then get out, practise and explore – you’ve got nothing to lose but yourself!
For more information on navigation training visit: