get to grips with your GPS


Everyone who ventures outdoors knows how important it is to be a competent navigator in the terrain that you are in – be it countryside, moorland or mountain. This is even more vital when leading groups; your navigation should be so slick that it doesn’t impinge on your responsibility for the group’s well-being and enjoyment. GPS technology, while never being a substitute for conventional navigation, is an outstanding aid, if used correctly, particularly in an emergency or when you’re simply “temporarily uncertain of your precise location”!

My name is Rick Shearer and I’ve been using GPS technology for more than 15 years and over 800 of my logbook mountain days, in Britain and beyond, have a GPS track recording where I have been. I turned to training outdoor navigators and leaders at the invitation of my association and over the years I have developed a unique method and style of delivering this training. Although I’m a self-confessed “geek” who loves technology, I’m also passionate about leading groups in all types of terrain outdoors. My approach is to start with the skills and techniques that we as outdoor navigators know and love, and explore how GPS can support these. You need to know a little about the technology along the way to understand both the limitations of GPS, as well as the game-changing possibilities, which are simply astonishing!

I’ve been delivering training sessions for MTA members close to where I live, using the publicly accessible Wicksteed Park as the training ground. Although this is hardly mountainous, it has interesting and complicated terrain, ideal for learning to use GPS – in a safe and benign environment. For the introductory session, I use brand-new village hall facilities – with an excellent classroom, a café, and plenty of parking. We learn a little indoors, try a little outdoors, learn a bit more indoors – and then spend several hours really consolidating everything in Wicksteed Park. Finally, a concluding session back in the classroom brings it all together.

The basic and advanced courses, pitched at different levels, focus on the 5 essential core GPS skills: setup and operation, location, waypoints, go-to (basic navigation) and track-back. Every outdoor navigator who carries a GPS needs to be familiar and competent in these core skills; if you’re not, it’s easy to get misleading and inaccurate information from a GPS device which, in an emergency, could further compound the situation! The advanced course builds on the 5 core skills and develops use of the GPS as a navigation device. The digital mapping course explores the remarkable range of smart digital maps useable on devices or computers.

Words by Rick Shearer

What do workshop participants think of the training?

GPS practice
We'll let the comments from recent attendees speak for themselves:

“The whole course was well thought through and well delivered (showing excellent knowledge and preparation); the resources were well prepared and reflected current best practice & technology.” (MTA member)

“Rick provided an incredibly extensive handout which reflected the course delivery, so I could soak up your tuition without having to take notes; you were able to build both my knowledge of the subject and an associated skillset at an appropriately challenging pace.” (MTA member)

“I have to say it was no surprise to me that every aspect of your course was carried out with meticulous attention, starting with your pre-course information about which GPS device to use on the course and all practical aspects of the arrangements.” (MTA member)

“The aims of the day were made very clear - to cover GPS fundamentals, and the essential concepts that underpin GPS use. The presentation was succinct and thorough with detailed handouts to avoid the need to make notes. A hands-on approach tailored to our individual needs was taken throughout the day. An outdoors session provided the chance to use the GPS in action to practice a series of key skills. For me the outcome was that I became adept at using my GPS for core skills. Thank you, Rick!” (MTA member)

“Rick’s GPS courses are perfectly suited to all instructors working in the outdoors. Through theoretical and practical application, Rick teaches the power and potential of modern GPS units. Rick’s basic and advanced GPS courses show, in context, how modern GPS devices can be used as an integral part of your navigation.” (AMI and MTA member)

“I thought the syllabus was about right to give anyone a basic understanding and working competence sufficient to use a GPS on the hill. The syllabus for the two units was balanced and the extras, check lists and tips useful. In this age of digital awareness, it would make sense for BAIML to incorporate something similar in their training and assessment.” (BAIML member)

Forthcoming workshops

Click on the links and enquire below:

Basic GPS for Outdoor Navigators and Leaders - 13th June 2018

Advanced GPS for Outdoor Navigators and Leaders - 14th June 2018

Digital Mapping for GPS Navigators and Leaders - 15th June 2018

Become a GPS guru