If you are really into running and other physical activities, you might want to get a device that can monitor your activities and progress. A Garmin GPS watch can do this. However, you want to make sure that it is accurate, which is why it is a good idea to understand whether or not it can lose accuracy.
Garmin GPS watches can lose accuracy. GPS drift and environmental factors are the two most common issues that can cause a decrease in performance. A Garmin GPS watch can also become less accurate with age. Unfortunately, there is no way to ensure perfect accuracy but there are certain steps you can take to maximize accuracy.
If you want to know more about how Garmin GPS watches can lose accuracy and what you can do to combat this phenomenon, read on. You might figure out how to get the best possible use out of your Garmin watch.
What Do Garmin GPS Watches Do?
It’s a good idea to understand a little bit about the functions that Garmin GPS watches can provide before launching into a discussion over how they can lose accuracy. If you are a runner, one of these devices can be a great tool for you.
Basically, what a Garmin GPS watch can do is help you track all of your movements during exercise. It can keep track of how many miles you are running and estimate the number of steps you are taking as well. Not only can it monitor your running, but it can also provide you with useful information on your heart rate and sleep cycle.
Many people would say it’s really quite amazing how many features they can take advantage of with such a small piece of equipment. There are many different types of Garmin GPS watches, all with different capabilities. However, they all have similar software in common, meaning that they are all able to help you keep track of exercise and other health habits.
What Causes Garmin GPS Watches to Lose Accuracy?
There are a few different factors that can cause a Garmin GPS watch to lose accuracy. This means that the accuracy of the GPS itself, as well as the activities recorded, can be compromised.
Simply put, GPS drift is the difference between your precise location and the location that is recorded by the GPS device. The consumer-grade GPS receiver in your Garmin watch is not 100 percent accurate. You can expect the device to record your location as being within three meters, or 10 feet, of where you actually are, about 95 percent of the time.
This effect can be particularly pronounced if you are in an area with a degraded GPS signal. Your device can record movement over a distance, even when you have stopped.
There are many different environmental factors that can influence the accuracy of your Garmin GPS watch. Essentially, any outside influence can result in the degradation of the GPS signal. For example, if there are several people around, this can influence the accuracy of your device.
This is because your device has less than the ability to directly receive a GPS signal, due to an interruption in the signal path of the GPS satellite to your watch.
How Can You Minimize Losses in Accuracy?
Since GPS drift and environmental factors are the most common reasons for inaccurate recordings, there are things that you can do to minimize the effect of these factors. However, you should keep in mind that you will not be able to reduce the impact to zero.
Minimize Environmental Factors
The best and easiest thing that you can do to make sure that your GPS data is accurate is to minimize any degradation and distortion that is caused by environmental factors. When you are exercising, there are certain things that you should try to avoid when you are planning out your routes. These include the following:
- Dense forests
- Tall buildings
- Big groups of people
You should also recognize that if you are using GPS indoors or underwater, the data is likely not going to be accurate.
In some cases, you won’t be able to avoid the effect that is caused by environmental factors. For example, you could be riding a bicycle through a crowded city. In this case, you may benefit from the use of a Speed Sensor. This is a tool that can work in conjunction with your GPS watch.
If you are riding a bike, the speed sensor can determine your distance by using a calculation that involves the size of your bike’s wheel and the number of rotations that it undergoes.
Wait After the Signal Is Acquired
Many GPS watch owners have also noted that it’s a good idea to wait for at least a couple of minutes once your device has found a signal. When your device says that it has found a signal, all this means is that it has picked up the minimum number of satellites that is needed to assess your location.
Waiting for a little bit will give it a little bit more time to communicate with satellites before you start moving. This will allow your watch to maintain communication with multiple satellites, which creates a stronger bond and minimizes the degradation of the GPS signal.
Some of these watches will allow you to use a secondary satellite constellation so that your device can acquire a satellite more quickly and easily. This can help you maintain that necessary connection where environmental factors may interfere with the signal.
Pay Attention to Settings
Sometimes, these watches will continue to record GPS while you have stopped covering distance if you are still moving. This is one of the main sources of inaccuracies in GPS. If you turn on Auto Pause, this will automatically set your device to pause when you are in one place, which will reduce the amount of erroneous distance that is recorded.
Another thing that you should do is to make sure that your device has the necessary updates. Out-of-date software can sometimes lead to problems in recorded GPS data.
Do Garmin GPS Watches Lose Accuracy Over Time?
Any electronic device is going to lose value over time. The internal machinery will slowly degrade, and at a certain point, the device won’t be able to do its job as effectively. Over on Reddit people have reported that their Garmin GPS watches have lost accuracy with age. Sometimes, it won’t track exercise properly, and sometimes it stops tracking exercise altogether.
The amount of time that it takes for a watch to get to this point depends on many factors, such as how well you take care of it and the specific model.
What Should You Do When Your Garmin GPS Watch Loses Accuracy?
If you see that your Garmin GPS watch is no longer reporting accurate data, there are a few things that you can try. You can talk to Garmin technical support to see different options, depending on your specific model. In some cases, a complete factory reset will help quite a bit.
In other cases, it will help to just delete certain files. There are many Garmin products that will record and save activities on your device. These will fill up the available space, to the point where you won’t be able to install software updates or record your activities anymore. In this case, deleting some of your files may restore the capability of your device.
You can never ensure that your Garmin watch is going to be completely accurate in recording your location, or any other parameter for that matter. However, there are things that you can do to minimize the inaccuracies, which are all fairly simple and straightforward.
It’s also good to keep in mind that just because a Garmin GPS watch cannot be perfect, this does not mean that it can’t still be very useful. These devices can go a long way towards monitoring your activities and making you aware of health-related patterns so that you can change them and improve your outdoor experiences.
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David Parnell is the founder and lead editor at Trail and Summit, who enjoys writing on a wide range of topics from travel trailers to trail running. He’s an accomplished mountain endurance athlete who has completed over 25 ultra marathon races (follow on Strava). He is most proud of his finish at The Drift 100 – a high elevation, 100 mile winter foot race that zigzags along the Continental Divide in Wyoming. In the future he hopes to compete in the ITI 350 and ultimately the full 1,000 mile Iditarod Trail Invitational that follows the same path as the historic dog sled race.
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