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Thread: Can Car GPS be used for trail navigation?

  1. #1

    Default Can Car GPS be used for trail navigation?

    May be a stupid question. I have flat and light Garmin Nuvi 350i car GPS. I took it this summer hiking in Glacier NP just for fun. It shows elevation and your coordinates. For the most parts it was accurate, except on very steep slopes, when hiking up sometimes indicated elevation loss. Next year I am going to Alaska for the first time and will be doing a lot of day hikes. I hear that using compass and topo maps may be necessary in bad weather when you can't see the trails well. (I am planning on hiking 17.2 miles Kesugi Ridge section and many others). So my question is can I use my car GPS as is and find my position on the map or can I download a special software used on "hiking" GPS like people carry on the trails?

  2. #2


    Well, you will be able to do the same thing you did in Glacier, but in my opinion that isn't really useful, because your base map (cities and highways) will simply show a lot of blank space. What you need is an additional map, available on a CD and which you then load on your GPS from your computer via the USB cord that came with your unit. Or you can order the pre-programmed SD card with the topos on it, all you have to do is put the card in your GPS, and bingo.

    I recommend this one, available for purchase from both Garmin direct or a reseller. Then you will have topographic maps of all fifty states, including Alaska. I believe it will then do everything you want it to do. Though trails will only appear if they are on the USGS topo maps. According to the website the maps are compatible with your model.

    They also have a National Parks one which includes park specific features such as trails, campgrounds, etc. Won't help with Kesugi Ridge though.

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Aug 2006


    I love my Garmin eTrex Vista Cx, but I wouldn't trust my life to it. You never know when something might fail. You also can't see the big picture very well on a 2" screen. I would get a set of maps of where you want to go, and a reliable compass too. The Alaska Gazetter is a book of AK topo maps that you can buy locally for $20, or you can go to a USGS map store and get more detailed ones. You can buy those in Anchorage as well.

    GPS altimeters are not especially reliable or accurate. The electronic ones that use the GPS signals are pretty bad actually. They may be off by as much as 200', and possibly more at any time. They seem to go up & down as you are just standing around. The GPS units that have a air pressure based altimeter built in are more accurate for small gains & losses, but need to be recalibrated as the weather changes. Not hard to do if you have a topo map with you though.


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