My Biggest Dartmoor Challenge EVER! Blog 10

March 18, 2021  •  Leave a Comment

A big challenge deserves a big target, if you would like to support the Dartmoor Search and Rescue team Tavistock visit the link below. Thank you for your support.

Target - Raise £20,000 to help fund the new operations vehicle.

A 400 km hike across 170 tors and rocks on the Dartmoor OS OL28 map raising funds to replace their failing operations vehicle.

The Technology Puzzle

Technology is a wonderful thing when it works well and definitely has a place in everyone’s bag! So, what technology should you use and what are the impacts of using it?

Clearly this is a personal view and not intended to be an expert opinion, I’m certainly no expert!

You might argue that a paper map and a compass is technology, although in its basic form. Technology is used to produce the map and certainly to make the compass. A competent map reader (assuming sufficient visibility exists) could navigate the moor without a compass, I have completed a few day trips where I have specifically walked an unfamiliar part of the moor using only my eyes and map, and yes, made it home!

The compass however is essential in areas with low/no visibility or where the land is all but featureless. If you fancy a small challenge in a relatively safe area, try heading out past Penn Beacon, past Shell Top to the trig point beyond. Take a bearing to the first boundary stone on Langcombe Hill at roughly SX 615 655, and see how close you can navigate to it.


Unless you’re a homing pigeon I suspect you will soon find out that a compass and some micro navigating will be required. Two attempts resulting in the closest I achieved was 25 feet, which you may say is pretty good, but this stone is so small and well covered you need to nail it or fall over it to see it.

Another attempt beckons one day soon!


When you can feel you are close, as above, yet unable to see your target a GPS unit comes in very handy. It's also very comforting to know that in an emergency to get you out of a sticky spot the reassurance of your precise positioning is a click of a button away. As well as navigate you to safety if required.

I tend to use mine for confirmation when orienteering between stone circles, cists, etc as often these are just not visible as they are marked on the map.

So, with my challenge ahead it’s time to upgrade from my Etrex 30, which has served me well for positioning purposes but is a bit old and slow now. As the saying goes for kit, two is one and one is none! In other words, have a backup. I’m not going to debate the pros and cons of units out there other than to say I opted for the Active 20 (nope, not flogging it, just an opinion).

What I like about it, very responsive satellite capture, very responsive moving around the display, very easy to use with a big screen, pretty good battery life and charging. Two weeks in and I’m liking it very much.

What is not so good about it, I bought a spare battery however removing the battery from the unit I find is really not easy so a fast battery change is not going to happen if you need it. It’s relatively heavy, likely down to the robust build and battery size. No live tracking (to share on line) or SOS capability and you have to pay to use the planning software.

It seems no one device will deliver everything in one unit so overall based on its design, it’s a bit pricey but does a great job.


Now we come to the backup. To cover all bases and requirements I need SOS satellite capability with live online tracking. Step up the Garmin GPSmap 66i. This is another very capable device with similar attributes to the Active 20. It’s an all-button device which I actually like with a slightly smaller screen, well built and very responsive. Battery life appears to be pretty good however it is integral to the unit so needs to be recharged in situ.

Unfortunately, you do need to subscribe to a bit of a pricey satellite subscription but this is unavoidable for any unit if you use the Iridium Satellite system. I’m yet to set this up to test it.

So, map and compass (two each), GPS for navigation, GPS for backup and emergency SOS I am totally confident I can navigate and extract myself off the moor under the majority of circumstances. Where I physically can’t I have two communication via the SOS capability. Sorted.


Oh, there is one slight fly in the ointment!

All this technology required energy to work so working out a usage plan will also be just as critical over the fourteen days.

I can take some alkaline batteries for the Etrex as the basic turn on and track my progress locally and leave in the bag. I can also take some battery packs for the rechargeable lithiums which will last for about eight days but this won’t cover the whole trip.

Also, batteries have weight, quite a bit when you add it to the GPS units which currently are on their way to a kilogram!

Almost sounds crazy but for any responsible long-distance hiker that could be in and out of signal surely, it’s the right thing to do, isn’t it?

They are good fun to play around with though.

A kilogram of weight, hmm…. I may have to rethink. Trouble is, as a project manager, risk and mitigation plus fall back plans are second nature, it’s hard to do it any other way!

Jury’s out on solar panels to recharge batteries, tried one, not very good but still investigating.




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