I have a Garmin eTrex that I use with a version of Topo! that I purchased a few years ago. Last week, I took a backpacking trip into the Uintas. Here are a few things I learned on this trip. I will focus mostly on things I’m going to do next time to make better use of my GPS.
In Topo!, it’s easy to layout your planned trail. My eTrex has limited functionality (and memory) so I have to choose how I want waypoints layed out along the trail that works best.
First of all, add waypoints to your map in Topo! for landmarks, such as forks in the trail and peaks or lakes you may want to visit when you reach your destination. Second, use Topo!’s feature to create a track of waypoints that follow the trail. I recommend using a fixed distance between waypoints. My reason for this is it’s much easier to track your progress and psychologically makes the trail easier to hike. You probably don’t need the waypoints to be any closer than 1/4 mile. On my last hike, I used Topo!’s setting to create a waypoint track that most closely followed the trail. This was a mistake. I always knew I was on or very close to the trail, but the waypoint spacing varied so much that I had to look at the map to really see my progress.
Once you have all of the waypoints you want setup, you can download them and the track to your GPS. You should also print out a map with the points marked on it. Print out a copy of the same map for everyone in your group and if others will have GPSs too, download the same waypoints to their GPSs. Assuming you have radios and don’t all hike together, this helps you to communicate more easily your position. Make sure your waypoints are correct. You won’t want to be up in the mountains already when you find out that you’ve made a mistake!
Hopefully, this will help you to have a more enjoyable backpacking trip. I’m going to put these things I learned into practice the next time I hit the mountains.