Yesterday I splurged and bought a Garmin Oregon 400t handheld gps device. It came preloaded with topo maps for the entire USA, and a nice 3x2 inch touchscreen for recording and viewing tracks, waypoints and maps. I've been on the fence about using one for a while. I've considered whether it would diminish the thrill of walking off into the wilderness with only a map and compass. I've decided that having a gps is actually a good thing. It's really just a tool, like paper topo maps and compasses. It's also an amazing piece of technology, and I've decided to embrace it. Of course it will never replace my map and compass, but it is a welcome addition. I love the idea of having a detailed record of the hikes and climbs I do and the routes I take. There is very little overhead in using it. All I have to do is turn it on and clip it to my backpack. When I'm done, I just save my track and offload it to my laptop when I get back to town. Then I can import it into Google Earth and see my track superimposed over detailed satellite images, etc..
To test my new toy--I mean tool--I decided to bring it along with me on my favorite trail run in Portland. For ten years I've been doing this run up in the west hills, but I've never known the distance exactly or what kind of elevation gains I'm really making. It's impossible to measure it directly in Google Earth because so much of the run is under the forest canopy so the trail is not visible in satellite view. My gps recorded the entire run with amazing accuracy. I love the nine mile run for its diversity. It has BIG hills, Mansion-lined historic districts, lots of forest and muddy trails, spectacular panoramic vistas of Portland and Mt Hood from two 1000 foot peaks, and even a bit of urban running past dog parks, soccer games, and cafes on the return.
Below is the gps track from the run loaded into Google Earth: