How to Use Handheld GPS Step By Step Guide For 2018


Whether you are going hiking or camping, a GPS can save you from being lost. However, if you are a beginner and want to learn using a handheld GPS, you are welcome here. The system that you use to navigate through your car or mobile device compared to the handheld one is not entirely similar.

There are some complications, but it can give you a more accurate reading of your position by directly communicating with the satellites. So, let’s learn how to use handheld GPS.

Don’t forget to put the map behind you while starting your journey because without the map the device would be worthless. Make sure; your map includes latitude and longitudinal lines as well as a grid of UTM zone. Although some of the tools show maps, those don’t show the latitude or longitudinal lines including values.

However, you shouldn’t just rely on the GPS because sometimes its signal gets weak and go out of service as it depends on the network. If that happens, there is a risk of getting the wrong information, and you can be lost.

On the other hand, WAAS (Wide Area Augmentation System) application has enhanced the signal ability of GPS in recent years. So, before you buy a handheld GPS, you had better ensure this feature on it. By the way, you should bear an extra fully charged battery and compass just for the safety.

Ambiguous Coordinates

Generally, coordinates are a digital signal that identifies a position relative to an axis. However, reading the coordinates aren’t so complicated as long as you want to learn how to use the GPS. Besides, it is helpful to determine your exact location. If you have the idea of latitude and longitude, it's enough for now. Let’s see how a handheld GPS shows the coordinates.

  • Universal Transverse Mercator (UTM): Instead of using latitude or longitude, it uses the grid to explain your position on the map.
  • Degree, minutes, seconds (DMS): It’s the standard way of explaining latitude or longitude. It tells how much your distance is away from the equator and prime highpoint.
  • Degree, decimal, minutes (DDM): You won’t find any dissimilarities between DMS and DDM except the seconds. Instead of seconds, it shows a decimal number that’s added to the minutes.

Creating Waypoints 

Creating waypoints is the most fantastic feature of a GPS. Waypoints are pointers that you set to mark individual locations. We would like to disclose a couple of ways that will guide you.

  • When you know where your destination is, you can follow this way. Being in your home, you can plan your route through waypoints. To do this, you can select your starting and ending point. Then, put markers along the way until the end of your destination. Now, you have to upload the information on your GPS. The GPS would lead you from point to point as you move.
  • When you have no planned route, you can follow this way. You can create your waypoints on the path. Whenever you reach a landmark, for example, a trailhead, a mountain or a waterfall, and so on, mark it on the GPS once in a couple of miles. Besides, you can provide a name, small description, coordinates, even with a picture for each marker.

How To Use Handheld GPS Step by Step

Suppose, you are in the middle of a field, and you want to know your position on the map. On the other hand, you might be seeking a particular place while you know the GPS position but don’t know how to get there from your current location.

  • Step 1: At first, you have to turn on the unit and activate the satellite search feature. The satellites from space would reply to your call after a few moments, and the coordinates would be visible on the screen. For instance, the coordinates are 14T 0240615E and 5329341N. That’s where you are staying right now, I mean it’s your current location.
  • Step 2: Observe the coordinates. 14T signifies the UTM zone where you are right now. Here, 14 represents the longitudinal zone while T means your latitude. The number and letter denote a rectangular piece of your geographical map.
  • Step 3: Once you’ve acknowledged your UTM zone, you can start to determine your position accurately. The first coordinate 240615E which at the right of 14T, is recognized as an easting. The “E” signifies East longitudinal coordinate (vertically). The value 240615 is the distance measurement in meters that determine your position from the zone reference line on a map. You can tell that you are 240615 meters away from the zone reference. However, from the UTM grid on your map, you can calculate your position:
  • Look at the top of your map and find the 240,000 marked grid line.
  • To mark your precise longitude, you would require to move 615 meters to the right of that line. Acquire the conversion scale given in the legend of the map, to obtain the proper distance.
  • To bear the measurement over to the line at the top, you can use a pencil or string. Then mark the orientation.
  • Step 4: In this step, you would require to attain the latitude and orient the spot as it lines up with your longitudinal mark on the map. The second coordinate beside the previous coordinates, “5329341N” called Norther. Here N means North and the value is the number of meters you are away from the north of the equator. To obtain it:
  • Observe the range of numbers marked on the right and the left border. You would also see the UTM grid lines on the map from north to south.
  • Use a pencil or string or the legend to obtain the latitude as you did for longitude in the previous step.
  • Mark the point where the latitude and longitude marks of the Easter and Norther line intersects. It’s your precise location within a meter or two.

Once you learned to find out your current position using a GPS, you can recognize Norther or Easter on your map anytime. Then, you can insert particular coordinates from the map, and your GPS would direct you to that direction. While you do this, your device would display a map as well as compass bearings to help you to reach your ending point.

Test Before You Taste

Any orientation either it’s a UTM location or latitude/longitude coordinates inserted into a handheld GPS is called waypoints. It can be a peak of a mountain, trailhead, parking lot or a campsite. Before you start your trip, you can insert the coordinates of the places you would like to visit. If your GPS is well functional, it will show you the direction based on your waypoints. Once, you ensure that the GPS works fine, you are ready to go.

To avoid getting lost, some savvy hikers in the backcountry put some extra waypoints from start to ending point. These waypoints can be a spot where two or three roads meet together; a trail meets a bridge or a renowned landmark.

A series of waypoints inserted into a GPS unit is called route. Using “Find” or “GoTo” function, you can get information about each waypoint. Once the waypoints appear, you can ask for the bearing of that orientation from your present location. Some units may show you the travel time along with the change of elevation rate between the waypoint and your current position.

Updated UTM Standard

Universal Transverse Mercator, UTM has been developed in the 1940s. It contains USGS topographical Map as well as a standard feature of handheld GPS units. The latest UTM standard is WSP84 which is corresponded by all recently published USGS maps and standard GPS software.

The old USGS map used NAD27 which was developed in 1927 and later upgraded to NAD83. However, your GPS should have installed the default WSP84. You better check it on your handheld GPS device either the coordinates can be slightly off from the latest ones.

Safety Precautions

  • Lock the satellite that you don’t lose any information during your journey.
  • Fully charge the battery before you begin your journey and double check the battery has adequately charged.
  • Always have a hard copy as well as an extra copy of the map.
  • Don’t wholly dependent on the map and check the route frequently.


A GPS is an excellent asset to a traveler who likes to travel in low visibility areas like a snow-covered landscape, a featureless terrain or an open sea. On the other hand, it also provides more accurate info about the current position and makes a journey more flexible by creating waypoints. However, it would be a foolish decision to rely on it as it is an electronic device entirely. You never know what can happen so, it is highly recommended to check the battery, map and other stuff before you begin your adventure.

If you are still confused about how to use handheld GPS, please read the article with full concentration once more. Thank you for being with us all this time. Have a safe journey. Stay tuned for the latest updates. Take care and spread the goodness.

About the Author Kevin Fox

A passionate blogger! Editor at Chooserly, and a regular author at HuffingtonPost, LifeHacker & Forbes!

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