Don’t get lost with GPS!

GPS is a useful tool, but is not a replacement for navigational skills.
GPS is a useful tool, but is not a replacement for navigational skills.
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With numbers of hill walkers soaring during the summer months, a reminder has gone out that the key to a safe return does not lie in gadgets.

Mountaineering experts have warned that electronic gadgets can even lead people into danger if they are not used properly.

Heather Morning, mountain safety advisor with the Mountaineering Council of Scotland, said: “Navigation devices such as GPS and satnav can be amazing tools – but only if people learn how to use them properly.”

Walking in the Scottish mountains is well attested as a great way to improve physical and mental health, but people should remember that navigation can be challenging – particularly if the cloud comes down and visibility is lost. This is a time when many hill walkers will pull out their GPS, press a few buttons and expect their troubles to be over.

However, experience of mountain rescue teams has shown that’s not always the case – and it’s not because the gadget is wrong.

Heather said: “Our GPS will do the job it is designed to. It will tell us exactly where we are and it will compute the most direct route from point A to point B.

“But it doesn’t know whether there’s a river, a steep cliff or even a whole mountain between A and B – that’s what you have to know from understanding the map.

“And if you are going to be following the arrow on the GPS to get home, you need to know how to programme that information correctly into the device.

“This all demands knowledge from you. It’s only with your input that a GPS can compute a safe route for you to follow.

“It’s an attractive thought that purchasing an electronic gadget could solve all our problems in the mountains and keep us safe from harm.

“Recent trends with mountain rescue call-outs suggest, in fact, this is quite the opposite, and there have been cases where ignorance of how to use a GPS properly has actually resulted in a 999 call having to be made.”

Basic skills of navigation remain essential in the hills and mountains of Scotland.

As part of its role in improving safety in Scotland’s mountains, the MCofS offers a number of heavily subsidised navigation courses, which give walkers an easy to follow practical introduction to map and compass skills which will make them safer and more confident in the mountains.

Details are available at the website www.mcofs.org.uk/navigation-courses.asp