Death by GPS

Relying on electronics is a fool’s game at best.  The new term is “Death by GPS” but you could expand that to any technology in your Bug gear_review_gizzmovest_gps_case_survivalOut Bag that you are relying on.  Remember, when it comes to gear “Two is One and One is None”.  Having served in the Marine Corps I’ve seen numerous occasions when various electronics have failed and left the mission in jeopardy.  I’ve also read various news articles about people relying on their GPS systems only to be lead down dead end roads or otherwise stranded in the middle of nowhere.  My best advice is to have manual backups for the electronics in your pack (and your home) and know how to use them.

Here’s a section taken right off the Death Valley home page:

“GPS Navigation to sites to remote locations like Death Valley are notoriously unreliable. Numerous travelers have been directed to the wrong location or even dead-end or closed roads.  Travelers should always carry up-to-date road maps to check the accuracy of GPS directions.”

Do Not Depend On Your GPS

A GPS is a great tool to have, but if something happens to the satellites and you’re forced to bug survival back ups, survival knife, survival rifle, bug out bag, bugging inout and all you have in your pack is a GPS, I’m afraid you’re out of luck.  We’re coming up on a time of heightened solar activity, so this kind of scenario may not be as far fetched as you might think.  All it would take is one good solar storm and the power grid could be down for months – or longer.  If you’re trying to walk to a redoubt with only a GPS to navigate by and the satellites are not working, chances are excellent you’re going to get lost unless you’ve memorized how to get there – or you have a map and compass as a backup.

Another thing that could cause problems is a battery resupply.  If you wind up in the field longerbugging out, bug out bag, survival knife, survival rifle than you expected and don’t have enough batteries on hand and no way to get more, your electronics will start to die one by one.  And if you think you’re going to carry a years’ worth of batteries in addition to ammunition, weapons, food, water, shovel, knife, saw, and other survival gear I would highly suggest you put it all in your pack and take it for a ten mile spin through whatever terrain you think you might be walking through if SHTF.  I’ve carried sixty pound packs plus a PRC77 radio on many forced marches and I can tell you right now it was hard at 20 when I was in great shape, much less these days now that I’ve been a civilian for many years.  Most people simply don’t have the conditioning to do this.  These days I feel comfortable with a 40 pound pack for ten miles, but certainly wouldn’t want to carry it more than fifteen miles in a day and I know there are people out there in a lot worse shape than I am.

Therefore, my advice is to have a compass and map of the area you expect to be operating in and know how to use them.  A couple of quick questions: Can you determine the declination constant on your map and adjust for it?  Can you find where you are on a map using terrain association or by using two back azimuths?  Do you know what your pace count is for 100 meters or 100 yards? If not, you might want to learn or at least brush up your land navigation skills.

Another idea is to have a wind up radio and flashlight on hand.  It gets dark in the woods at night especially if there’s no moon or it’s overcast.  The radio can help you figure out what’s happening (if someone’s broadcasting) and the light could prove invaluable to finding your way.

For communications your cell phone or your hand held radio may not be working.  If communications is important you may want to designate drop sites along the route where you can leave or pick up messages from other members of your group that you may be separated from.

Technology / The Back-up

GPS / Map & Compass
Walkie Talkie or Cell Phone / Signal Mirror/Drop site
Lighter / Matches/Flint
Flashlight / Lantern/Candles
Car or Truck / Bicycle/Good Hiking Shoes
Furnace / Wood Stove
Electric Well Pump / Hand operated Well Pump
Tap Water / Hand Pump Water Purification Method
Kindle e-Reader / Survival Books
Radio / Hand crank operated radio
Electric Stove / Camp stove / Camping Grill / Solar Stove
Washing Machine / 5 Gallon Buckets & Kids
Your Home / Tent or Shelter System
Electricity/ Back-up Generator / Alternative Energy

Do you have more ideas for backups?  Please share them below.

As I’ve said before, I’m no “Luddite“.  I love technology and computers, but in the past I’ve seen electronics fail and if you’re dependent on them you could find yourself in big trouble some day.  Have backups with you and a plan on what to do with and without your technology.

About Jarhead Survivor – “Jarhead Survivor” is a nickname given for my experience with the, bugging out, bug out bag, survivalMarines and my interest in survivalism.  Before I became fully aware of  the prepper movement I thought a lot about being ready for things like power outages and did some thinking about what would happen if… (name the disaster).  I was talking to a friend one day a year or two before the economic mess in ‘09 and he was talking about the economy, peak oil, and social collapse.  I was instantly hooked.  I’d never been able to give a name to what it was that made me uneasy, but from the various rumblings I’d heard in the news there was something making me wary.  Now I was able to put a name to it.  To reach Jarhead Survivor, write to: [email protected] (dot) com

On behalf of the SurvivalCache Team, we want to thank Jarhead Survivor for the great guest post.  We are long time fans of the

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Written by Joel Jefferson

Joel is one of the original founders of After college, he joined the USMC where he served as an (0302) Marine Infantry Officer. Joel is an avid outdoorsman and spends much of his free time in the mountains. Joel’s hobby is researching survival gear & weapons as well as prepping. Read his full interview here. Read more of Joel's articles.

38 thoughts on “Death by GPS”

  1. Excellent post, sir, and thank you for your service. An interesting point about map and compass is that the declination changes year by year. Every few years some airports have to renumber their runways because the compass headings have drifted (Runways are numbered according to the nearest compass heading divided by 10 – runway 9 – 27 points generally east – west, 18-36 north – south, 14 – 32 northwest – south east, etc.) Your 5 or 10 year old topographic map might have a couple of degrees error in where magnetic north is. Do you know how to find true north without a compass using the sun? If you do that and then compare true north to magnetic north you have a good idea of what the declination is at that spot. There is a reason airports have a compass rose painted on the tarmac somewhere. It is useful and used.

  2. I ran into a couple on Mount LeConte this past weekend having trouble with their GPS. I also had a GPS and two maps and compass. They were getting ready to make a wrong turn and head toward Georgia. Great article.

  3. Firstly, I would also like to thank all of you for your service. I don't even use a GPS, one for reliability and because I feel Land Navigation with a map and compass is a highly perishable skill. Just because you have a compass doesn't mean it's gonna help you unless you have the knowledge to use it. I remember an Army pathfinder I used to know always used to insist that I was a fool for not carrying TWO compasses… as it goes: Two is one and one is none. Also, for night Land Navigation I would suggest a GEN 1 Night Vision Device if you are looking to be discreet, also since they are no where near as expensive as modern ones, and SAFETY GLASSES! Walking face first into a branch hurts…

    • The lowest tech, probably lowest cost, least likely to be adversely affected by lack of batteries and other hassles "night vision" out there is a good pair of 7×50 binoculars. No, they aren't as effective as all the specialty night vision stuff out there, but they're better than most people who haven't used them much might think they are. Other binoculars might do ok, but according to one write up I saw that went into details about comparing the size of the average human eye pupil to size of the objective lens and power of magnification the two "sweet spots" were 7×50's (which are ubiquitous and what I used all the time standing bridge watches in the Navy) and 8×64's (which I haven't seen anywhere).

      Personally, I have always carried a magnetic compass in the glove compartment of my vehicle and another one in my bug out bag. I also try to make sure that there is an up to date road atlas of the entire U.S. stashed in my vehicle as well. I have also seen atlas/"gazetteer" maps of individual states available that are almost as good as topographic maps. I keep one of those in my vehicle also for the state I live in.

      The bizarre potential problem with using magnetic compasses, which people should be aware of, is that if the earth's magnetic field does "flip" then there may be a period of time during which magnetic compasses will be unreliable, and another one during which you're going to have to figure out what the new declinations are after things have stabilized.

  4. My bug out route is ~1,300+ miles. I have a couple GPS units, but purchased DeLorme Atlas & Gazetteers for every state I could travel through on Interstates, and every adjacent state. Put me back a few hundred, but that's the backup method, stowed in the toolbox along with a compass.

    But I prefer the GPS! Most of my electronics takes AAA or AA, and I have a small solar re-charger. The BoB also has dozens of lithium batteries, so I guess if I've lost or gone through them, I might not have the charger or GPS by then.

    • 1,300 what??? WTF? I am hoping that is a misprint. 1,300 miles away is not a bug out location…it is another country. I think it is time to rethink the plan.

      • I live in VA (DC area). My parents 100 acre farm is in NE. My brothers live within a few hours of there. That's where I'll go if things fall apart. I'm trying to move closer, but the job market isn't cooperating. IMO if TSHTF, staying on the east coast is akin to committing suicide, so the plan is to bug out until I can move. It's just the reality of the situation – I can ignore it or plan for it. I planned for it.

        • I totally understand. My bug out route is covering well over 200 miles. Way less than you but it's unavoidable. My step-kids live almost 200 miles away, so we have to get them(and probably their mom, step-dad and siblings) and then get away from the heavily populated urban area that they live in.

  5. Because it's obviously better to be surprised by good fortune than by bad I just assume that anything electronic in my BOB won't work when the time comes and plan accordingly. If the SHTF and my stuff DOES work then it'll be an unexpected little pleasure.

  6. Semper Fi Marine! Great article. I too am a Marine and when attending artillery school and in the Fleet Marine Force they preached "do not get reliant on technology" know how to conduct fire missions (calculations for shooting the artillery rounds) manually. It was difficulty but it made sense. If generators go down (lack of fuel, destroyed in combat) there will be no firing solutions computed with computers but what we called "charts and darts". It had to be correct or we could miss our intended targets or worse hit our friendly units. This lesson is a basic principal to most do not understand but need to if creature comforts of today go away tomorrow.

    • When I was at 'Comanche County Cannon Cocker College' (Ft. Sill, OK for you non red leg types) we learned something called black magic. How to adjust artillery fire with no maps and no fire direction control either. Takes a few more rounds than with the electrics but we could get steel on target with nothing but the Mark 1 Calibrated Eyeball.

  7. I would submit for your consideration that the GPS is an excellent tool if available and used quickly enough. Having been lost in Chicago, the GPS found me much quicker than I could have done with a map. Early in a SHTF GPS probably works and would be good to get you out of the immediate disaster zones (anything east of St. Louis). The key is to 1) not be totally reliant on it, 2) routinely (frequently) verify and validate the results the GPS is giving you, and 3) have a workable, well practiced backup navigation method. If you can save 3 days off of a trip by using GPS early and for as long as it is reliable, then it would be foolish to needlessly lengthen your journey. Additionally, you can use the GPS early on to check the reliability of your compass and map systems.

    • CaptBart – I couldn't agree with you more. When the things work they're awesome, but when they don't and you're depending on them you're screwed. Use them as long as you can and if and when they stop functioning go to your manual backup.

  8. Death by GPS, I love it.

    I think the real deal is to know how to use what you've got, be that map and compass, GPS, or just dead reckoning, to know your limits, and to trust your instincts.

  9. Maps, resection, and terrain association, GPS to verify and get a confirmation fix. I plan on staying on the rocky mountain region and not moving around too much, so terrain association and landmark refference works for me. I do plan on "receeding" into the terrain once SHTF even begins to raise up it's slimey head.

  10. I have a love hate relationship with GPS.

    It told us to get on a 6 lane highway/road where the ramp was on the left.
    Keep left.
    Keep left.
    Keep left.
    Take exit on right. – Recalculating.

    Yeah, across 5 other lanes of traffic? I don't think so. Piece of junk.

    • Hey Chefbear! Nice to see you over here too. Yeah, it doesn't hurt to branch out a little and the guys here a really cool… we have a lot in common with our military backgrounds. Maybe they'll let me post here again sometime. Love the picture! I've been wondering what you looked like. You look like a big guy. 🙂

      • One of the benefits (or drawbacks depending on perspective) of having Scandinavian, German and Celt blood, along with football and weight-training most of my life. That picture was taken about 7 months and 30lbs ago. Obviously during rockfish season, on a good day! Hopefully we'll see more posts from you!

        Take it easy Jarhead

  11. Great article. I don’t know the time frame you served but I carried a PRC-77 myself and when you included the spare batteries and encryption you were screwed and your best tool to keep it working was a WP bag, trash bag and an eraser. We had the GPS (pluggers) and sometimes it worked and sometimes we were off by 200 meters or more and that could be life or death in Close Air Support and in night training I had a few injured students out at San Onofre due to GPS being off. Learn the basic, advance from the basics and remember one EMP and all your tech is down. Any Marine/Soldier issued NVGs especially ANPVS7 always carried AA batteries for when the NiCads went out or were no good. Happy prepping and learn something new everyday!

  12. Great article! I can't stress enough how simple orienteering or land navigation is a skill that you can quickly loose. And find yourself in trouble not being proficient in. I have spent the last 7 years training joint warfighters heading overseas and now I am at the point too retire. Learn the basics. Like how to use a shadow tip method. Or stop wasting money on fancy watches and buy a simple old style wrist watch and learn how too use it to find north. So many soldiers are dependent on GPS that they have become complacent. Old school it! It's not that hard. Basic instruction can be self taught with a boy scout book.

  13. Didn't read all the posts so forgive me if I'm repeating – With a couple of solar panels from solar-powered outdoor lights, a diode and a little elbow grease – you can actually create a solar-adapter for a rechargeable battery pack (the ones the plug into normal light sockets.) I've tried it and they really do work – so for anyone that has anything battery powered – give it a shot.

  14. Really been thinking about this. While I think GPS is a valuable tool, land nav is invaluable, something I really need to build more skill at.

  15. Literally "Death by GPS"….
    A British Columbia couple followed their GPS off-road, where their RV got stuck in the terrain. Amazingly, the woman survived for 49 days after her husband (for who the search has recently been called off) went for help.
    They blindly followed the directions of the GPS in order to take the shortest route to their destination, and it has cost one of them their life. Tragic story, but valuable lesson.

  16. yes! nothing beats having a good map and compass (or two), and knowing how to use them. i have hiked hundreds of miles in the boonies and i definitely know how good it feels to pull out a map and compass and find the correct heading you need when the trail goes to pot, or has been re-routed. the same is true for off-trail, cross country work. does the road your following lead to an abandoned strip mine? does the ridge top your hiking end in an abrupt cliff? a good topo map is a handy tool that can play a good part in saving your life in a survival situation, even a good road map can be useful.

  17. I have seen one bad outcome and one near-miss from "experts" using GPS. The near miss was an specops team training in maritime ops near the mouth of the Columbia River in 1994 (GPS was relatively new). We were performing a night, (zero illumination) "over-the-horizon" infiltrating from the ocean up the Columbia River. The navigator had failed to plot a waypoint around the A jetty and we had to execute a hard maneuver way to close to it to avoid running aground at full throttle. The other incident was in Iraq in 2003. An armor battalion XO, the battalion engineer and battalion chem NCO drove into a templated enemy minefield after getting disoriented because their GPS was not updating. Hit a mine and the NCO fractured his foot and leg. The officers were not injured. As the man said, "Trust but verify" when it comes to GPS.

  18. I fully agree with the subject of this article. While I was in the guard I was constantly upset by the over reliance on technology over simpler means of getting the job done. I sometimes was looked at like a dinosaur. I usually countered that in the case of GPS receivers, batteries do go dead at the wrong time. A map and compass don't rely on batteries. Learning to navigate using terrain features and night skies also don't depend on satellites and electronics that could be disrupted by solar flares and sun spots._

  19. One of my last drills when I was in the Army National Guard the unit I was drilling with was doing Lanes Training (current version of SQT/ Common Skills Training). At the station for navigation skills they were only training on the PLGR (plugger). No one was training on using a compass and map. When I asked about this they younger soldiers said that in Basic and AIT they no-longer train on land navigation with such antiques. This was in 2001 just after the 9/11 attacks. I was shocked to learn that TRADOC thought that soldiers didn't need the skill to use a compass and map anymore and to rely totally on a GPS system like the PLGR. I still think that knowing not only how to use a compass and a map to navigate, but how to use a map with military style grids on it to determine your location down to ten meters are skills that know no limitation of time or place.

  20. To expand upon my previous commentary: Technology is great until it fails, so you should always know how to do things the "Old School Way." I agree with this article, relying totally on the high-tech can lead you into trouble especially if your not paying attention to things like recalibration of you GPS unit. Another skill they've pull from the Scouting manuals is the skill of trail signals. This was taking natural items and making signs for comrades to follow so that they know where you've gone in case you're self extracting from an area or your party gets separated from each other on the way to the bolt-hole.

  21. I guess that your GPS can be a wonderful device for being tracked by officials and militaries in case of SHTF, how can you be sure that the militaries will be friendly with civilians? In spite of being a convenient tool, i haven`t purchased one coz i rather be untrackable as much as possible in the wild…SHTF bug out in my opinion can not be reffered as a "conventional" survival situation in which you are trying to reach back civilisation (man vs wild :)) but rather an escape of the civilisation due to the fact that YOU have chosen to stay away as much as possible from desperate and dangerous people and to rely solely on knowledge, proper skills, mindset and equipement to survive and eventually to strive in a harsh environment…That is what i`m preparing for! …and i rather die that way than being shot by militaries or abused by gangs…Bugging out offers NO guarantee of success but it can offer for the properly trained FREEDOM. So, in my opinion, a combinaison of 21st century equipment such as : cree flashlights, radio, walkie talkie,water filter, technical clothes and shelter, a good shotgun… along with a combinaison of native knowledge and willingness may be the option?

  22. I do believe all the concepts you’ve offered for your post. They’re very convincing and will certainly
    work. Nonetheless, the posts are very brief for starters. May you
    please lengthen them a little from subsequent time?
    Thanks for the post.

  23. GPS units are risky in different climates and parts of the country. swampy area aren't friendly to GPS units either. Be aware, carry a water tight map and a compass. If you cant read a compass, then learn to. Survival items should be basic as possible. Everything I carry is military issue, which means its been tested and approved! A compass doesn't use battery's either.


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