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GPS devices are wonderfully capable but also complicated for the new user. GPS Primer provides GPS info explained in simple, everyday terms to get you started on the right foot in your travels.

Four things that surprise new GPS owners

GPS units are very handy, but also advanced technology. They can be overwhelming. Here are some things about GPS devices that confuse someone using one for the first time.

1 Wow, does this thing eat batteries!
What cool electronic gadget doesn't? Just be prepared with extra batteries or a charger.

2 If I stand still, it doesn't seem to work right.
For most GPS receivers, you must be moving to get all the navigation features to work properly. Read more on the GPS Pitfalls page.

3 So many menu options, so little time!
But that's why you are here, right? To make sense of the gadget you have, or are thinking of buying? That's what The GPS Primer is for. We have distilled the essential information and skills for you to get started. Read through our various tutorial sections for a casual but accurate orientation to GPS receivers.

4 What do you mean I have to buy software, too?
Well, you don't NEED to buy software, but...if you want those detailed maps in your GPS receiver or if you want your computer to communicate with your GPS receiver, you may likely have to buy software or maps that did not come with your unit. Get the skinny on our GPS Essential Skills page.

Top Five Things GPS Can Do

1 Tell you where you are.
Your GPS can tell you exactly where you are on the face of the planet within a few feet. This is the first thing that your GPS will do after you fire it up. Put the batteries in, turn it on, and stand outside. The GPS will do the rest for you. There--you've just learned how to use your GPS! Well, there's more, of course, which is what the GPS Primer is all about.

2 Tell you which way to go next.
You can load your destination coordinates into your GPS, and the GPS will tell you which way to go to get there. Loading this information and using it to travel is the most important part of using a GPS. Learn more about how to get started in our GPS Basics Tutorial section.

3 Tell you where you have been.
This is called tracking and involves recording waypoints. We explain these terms and the other must-know GPS jargon in our incredibly brief GPS Glossary.

4 Tell you the time with atomic accuracy.
Time is what your GPS receiver uses to determine your location. Our How GPS Works FAQ is an easy to read summary of how the Global Positioning System works. Understanding this helps the peculiarities of GPS receivers make sense.

5 Enable you to go GEOCACHING!
A cool pastime, a hands-on way to get to know your GPS, and a way to connect with other folks who enjoy the outdoors. Get an introduction on our Geocaching Tutorial.

But that's not all...most GPS receivers can also:

  • Tell you how far you are from your destination
  • Calculate how fast you are walking
  • Record how far you have travelled
  • Display your altitude
  • Store detailed maps.

Some can calculate your heart rate, tell you which exit to take and even find fish for you! For a run down on all the cool kinds of GPS units there are, visit out our Garmin Demystified page.

GPS Glossary

GPS
The Global Positioning System, consisting of a 24 GPS satellites, portable GPS receivers, and various ground-based support facilities.

GPS receiver
The unit you hold in your hand or have on your dashboard. Abbreviated "GPS" in common use.

Waypoint
A record of coordinates, that is, latitude and longitude (and altitude, too.) You can get them two ways: you can get them from someone else, enter them in your GPS, and have it guide you there. Or, you can use your GPS to record your present location for later use with, for example, mapping software or to give to a friend to find with his GPS.

Geocache
A box hidden in the wilderness that you find using your GPS unit and waypoints recorded by the person who placed the cache.

Geocaching
The sport of finding geocaches.

Tracking
Automatically recording waypoints at set intervals as you travel. These can be transferred to a map (manually or by computer download) to show where you walked.

WAAS
Wide Area Augmentation System. The system through which GPS satellites reference ground stations to improve their accuracy. It helps satellites correct for atmospheric interference and the wobbles of satellites in their orbits. WAAS-enabled GPS receivers are able to use this data to improve their accuracy as well.Learn more in the How GPS Works FAQ.

GPS Primer Info Categories

GPS Primer organizes our GPS info into these categories:

The How GPS Works FAQ
Why do you have to be outside? Why does the accuracy vary so much as you move around? Is Big Brother recording every step? How does this whole thing work, anyway? Those are the kinds of questions answered here. And having these things explained will go a long way toward understanding why your GPS does what it does.

Geocaching
We put this early in The GPS Primer, even before the Basic GPS Skills page for a reason: to give YOU a reason to get excited about your GPS, and to have something to motivate you to get out and use it. You may have your heart set on a navigational unit for your car, and so may never go into the woods. But the skills of finding geocaches aren't much different than using your navigational GPS to find a hotel or restaurant. Both require being able to find a destination, and both have a reward at the end!

Basic GPS Skills
GPS receivers are wonderful tools, but they can get very complex. Before you pick up the manual, read this section. It will tell you what things are the most important to learn. Then the manual will make sense.

GPS Pitfalls
If you are new to GPS, there are several things that you might not expect. These include some confusing ways that GPS receivers can behave, as well as some practical and safety tips that might not occur to you. Rather than just throw you to the dogs to let you learn from hard experience, we clue you in on these pitfalls.

Garmin GPS Receiver Families Demystified
Garmin is a leader in GPS Unit development. It seems as if they have 50 models on the market! How do you know where to begin? To get you started, we have sorted out the different product families to give you an idea of how the models compare in features.

GPS Links
Well, we just can't cover all the details about GPS here. Then it wouldn't be a Primer. But we have collected other solid web references for you. All sites are personally reviewed by us. And we only choose the best of the sites we could find. We favor sites with lots of good information online for free.

Ready to get Primed? Before you leave this page, take a moment to read the GPS Glossary below. The terms defined here are used throughout the primer. Smooosh these into your head to help everything else was say a little clearer. Thanks for visiting The GPS Info Primer. Enjoy!