Using Garmin GPS Navigation while driving in an unfamiliar area is something most people have had the pleasure of experiencing. The technology is extremely helpful for navigating roadways in countries all over the world.
The same system has been applied to handheld units for when you forego wheels and venture into the world on your own two feet. Garmin GPS Navigation handheld units are just as helpful for hiking in the wilderness as their automotive counterparts are for trying to find that new Chinese place everybody is talking about.
But, have you ever wondered how it all works? Like the internet, it’s easy to use the technology without ever understanding the underlying function. But, it’s actually really interesting to learn how the technology has been developed to allow us to not get lost in this vast, and often wild, planet.
How Garmin GPS Navigation Works
GPS stands for Global Positioning System, and was developed originally by the U.S. military. The system consists of 31 satellites orbiting earth, all inclined 55 degrees to the equator for maximum coverage of the earth’s surface.
Russia has its own system too, called GLONASS, which stands for…forget it, its in Russian. It’s basically the same thing, a global satellite positioning system. Most modern GPS units actually tap into both the U.S.-made GPS, and Russian GLONASS.
While it can be complex and detailed, the basic way that a GPS unit (handheld or otherwise) knows where it is on the earth’s surface is because it receives a signal from multiple GPS satellites. The signal contains a timestamp, meaning the exact moment the signal was sent. Based on the amount of time that the GPS unit in your hand calculates that it took the signal to reach it, it can pinpoint with very fine accuracy where on the earth’s surface the unit is located.
The unit needs 4 satellites to be very accurate. It should be noted that the 31 satellites in earth’s orbit that are part of the Global Positioning System are spaced in a way that 6 are always within view from almost all places on earth.
Garmin GPS Navigation units are very effective at pinpointing their location to within a few meters. Most of their handheld models come with a metric displayed on the screen called EPE, which is an accuracy figure. It will say how many meters of accuracy the location is within (typically 3-10 meters).
How cool is that? Now you know just how modern Garmin GPS navigation units work. Now, go out and get one for yourself. See my guide on the Best Handheld GPS Units of 2017.