Backcountry GPS Navigation


Course Syllabus








Found - Use of a GPSDepartment of Sports Science & Physical Education - Idaho State University




Course: Backcountry GPS Navigation (PE 1165 )

Semester: Fall Semester (Workshop Format - Held one evening during the week and all day Saturday & Sunday - Check the university course schedule for dates - or contact the instructor at the email address, below.)


Place: Held in the Field


Instructor:  Justin Dayley



GPS for Outdoor UseGPS OutdoorsGPS for Outdoor Use




No text is required.




The practical use of portable GPS devices for outdoor applications. Topics covered include angular and rectangulat coordinates, cross-country land navigation, use of waypoint coordinates, determining distance, and limitation of GPS.




The Sports Science and Physical Education Department’s Outdoor Education curriculum at Idaho State is based on a foundation of five national recognized standards.  The following standards apply to this course:  Standard 1 (Content Knowledge), Standard 3 (Safety and Minimal Impact), and Standard 5 (Experiential Skill and Field Experience).




GPS Activity Definition: The Global Positioning System (GPS) is a space-based global navigation satellite system (GNSS) that provides location and time information in all weather, anywhere on or near the Earth, where there is an unobstructed line of sight to four or more GPS satellites. It is maintained by the United States government and is freely accessible by anyone with a GPS receiver. We will use this system to navigate for the purpose of backcountry recreation.


GPS History Summary: The GPS project was developed in 1973 to overcome the limitations of previous navigation systems, integrating ideas from several predecessors, including a number of classified engineering design studies from the 1960s. GPS was created and realized by the U.S. Department of Defense (USDOD) and was originally run with 24 satellites. It became fully operational in 1994.


GPS Philosophy Summary:   GPS is owned and operated by the United States Government as a national resource. Department of Defense (USDOD) is the steward of GPS. Interagency GPS Executive Board (IGEB) oversaw GPS policy matters from 1996 to 2004. After that the National Space-Based Positioning, Navigation and Timing Executive Committee was established by presidential directive in 2004 to advise and coordinate federal departments and agencies on matters concerning the GPS and related systems. The executive committee is chaired jointly by the deputy secretaries of defense and transportation. Its membership includes equivalent-level officials from the departments of state, commerce, and homeland security, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and NASA. Components of the executive office of the president participate as observers to the executive committee, and the FCC chairman participates as a liaison.



The course is taught for one night in a classroom to prepare the students with necessary skills to participate on the field session. The field session allows students to apply the skills they’ve learned in the classroom setting in a real environment. The course is designed to help students develop skills, form an appreciation for safety, and gain an understanding of GPS history and equipment.  The following value statements help guide course strategy:



Objective 1 (Academic Objective): To gain an understanding of the history of GPS, route finding

Objective 1 Learning Outcomes - By the end of the course, students will:

1a. Be able to explain the history of GPS and new trends in the activity.
1b. Demonstrate how to use a map and compass for route finding and navigation.
1c. Explain the map symbols and colors used on a topographical map.
1d. Explain the various grid coordinate systems commonly used.

Objective 2 (Motor Skill Objective):  To develop an understanding of the use of a GPS and other supporting equipment.

Objective 2 Learning Outcomes – By the end of the course, students will:


2a. Be able to explain the various features used on recreational GPS.
2b. Demonstrate how to input and mark waypoints on a GPS.
2c. Demonstrate how to navigate to a waypoint.
2d. Demonstrate the proper method of building a route using waypoints.
2e. Explain the various types of error that can affect a GPS. 


Objective 3 (Motor Skill Objective):  To develop basic skills in navigating using a GPS.

Objective 3 Learning Outcomes – By the end of the course, students will:

3a. Demonstrate how to use a GPS to follow a bearing.
3b. Demonstrate how to place a cache. 
3c. Explain and demonstrate activities that can be done using a GPS.
3d. Explain how to properly use mapping software with a GPS.


Grades for this course are determined by using a point system.  The final grade is reached by adding points from three components:

Total Number of Points Possible:  100 pts


Grading Example


As an example of how grades are determined, let’s say that a student in the course attends 2 out of the possible 3 total class sessions; and they receive 25 pts. on the skill assessment test. Here’s how the grade would be calculated:

  • Attendance and Participation  2 x 25 =  50 pts.
  • Skill Assessment  25 pts.

Total Points:  50 + 25 = 75
Percentage Grade: 75 / 100 = 75%
Letter Grade - Using the ISU grading scale (below):  C


A         93-100             C+       78-80.9            D-        63-65.9
A-        90-92.9            C         75-77.9            F          62.9-below
B+       87-89.9            C-        72-74.9
B          84-86.9            D+       69-71.9
B-        81-83.9            D         66-68.9



If you have a diagnosed disability or believe that you have a disability that might require “reasonable accommodation” on the part of the instructor, please call the Director, Center of Services for Students with Disabilities, 282-3599. As a part of the Americans with Disabilities Act, it is the responsibility of the student to disclose a disability prior to requesting reasonable accommodation. 





Course Segment

Topic and/or Skills


Tuesday Evening 6 – 9 pm

GPS history, Map history, map symbols, contour line identification, colors,

Objective 1, 2 and Learning Outcomes 1a, 1b, 1c, 1d, 2e

Saturday 8 am – 5 pm

Introduction to GPS System Coordinate systems, datums, maps, Move to field location GPS course #1. The skills practiced on this course include, recognizing multipath, sources of error, using the map to travel around objects, using the map to more effectively travel around topographical features.

Objective 1, 2 and Learning Outcomes 1c, 1d, 2a, 2b, 2c, 2d, 2e

Sunday Evening 8 am – 5 pm

Move to field location GPS Course #2. The skills practiced on this course include creating a waypoint, bearings, using the gps map, using the gps to follow a bearing to a waypoint.

Objective 2, 3 and Learning Outcomes 2a, 2b, 2c, 2d, 2e, 3a, 3b, 3c, 3d



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