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Use lockdown time for navigation practice!

“Practise, practise, practise’’ is a mantra well known to participants of Bushwalking Victoria’s Smartphone navigation course.

Bushwalkers appreciate the need to hone their skills if they want to use a GPS or smartphone as a navigation device in the bush. So they may have been surprised to recently read this article, about a walker who was lost while on a solo 4 day walk on the Arizona Trail, in an area with numerous side trails. We asked Andrew Robinson, presenter of the smartphone navigation course and map expert, to share his thoughts with us. Below is his take on it and some very handy tips!

Although an experienced bushwalker, Gary Morris was using a new GPS, a Garmin GPSMAP 64st, which he had only tried out once previously. This seems akin to purchasing a new 4WD and, after a brief tryout, embarking on a solo crossing of the Simpson Desert! The article implies that Morris was not using a map and compass as a back-up. After being rescued, Morris’ mapping software was blamed for him becoming lost; there was no acknowledgment that his lack of experience with the new device may have contributed.

COVID-19 lockdown is an ideal time to “Practise, practise, practise’’ while walking the streets within 5km of your home. You can’t really get lost there! Start by updating the software of your GPS/Smartphone. Many of the navigation apps, eg. Avenza,, Terra Map and many others, have added new features and updated their maps. You now have time to explore the online manuals and help files. It’s amazing what features and tricks you can find there. Then hit the streets and try navigating to waypoints, tracking, following a route, etc. This adds interest and enhances skills on the daily walk with the dog.

A couple of tips:

  • The compass on most GPS\Smartphones uses a magnetic sensor. Just as with a magnetic compass, those functions on the GPS/smartphone which use the magnetic sensor will be affected by metallic objects such as vehicles, metal fences, etc. These functions include the compass (obviously!), but also one which indicates direction of travel and one which orients the map in the direction of travel. In a few apps (e.g. Terra Map), one can switch from a magnetic compass to a ‘GPS’ one. Direction is then determined from GPS points, but this only works when one is moving.
  • Some GPS’s have a “Lock on Road” function. Turn it off! This function allows the GPS to lock its position pointer onto the nearest road or track. It can cause major confusion if there are lots of tracks in the area, or if you want to go off track. It is sometimes set ‘ON’ by default in a new GPS. Interestingly, Morris’ Garmin GPSMAP 64st had this feature: I wonder if he knew enough to turn it off.