Troubleshooting GPS Issues

September 1, 2009

Sometimes even your GPS doesn’t know where it is. If your GPS is having trouble acquiring a satellite
signal, consider the following:

  • A GPS unit looks for satellites based on the location where it last acquired a position fix. If you’ve since moved more than a few hundred miles, it will need to search the entire sky to relocate them. This can take several minutes; speed it up by entering your approximate location during the search process.
  • Give your GPS a clear view of the sky. Know where the antenna is located and don’t block it with your body; clip it to the top of your pack’s shoulder strap rather than lower down.
  • Water blocks GPS signals; the leaves of a thick forest canopy can contain enough water to prevent satellite acquisition. Look for an opening in the woods or a patch of leaf-free conifers.
  • Consult the satellite page on your unit, which indicates where the satellites are located overhead and can help you find an appropriate view of the sky.

This column originally appeared in the print edition of AMC Outdoors along with the column “Wilderness Lifelines: Getting found when in peril.”

Photograph courtesy of ACR.

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Matt Heid

Equipped blogger Matt Heid is AMC's gear guru: He loves gear and he loves using it in the field. While researching several guidebooks, including AMC's Best Backpacking in New England, he has hiked thousands of miles across New England, California, and Alaska, among other wilderness destinations. He also cycles, climbs, and surfs.