Sunday, March 18, 2012

Handheld GPS 201: Using online tracks for trails

Download GPX track

One of my early experiences with GPS surprised me. I went out for a hike in Van Damme State Park, using my GPS to collect a track along the way. When I got home I transferred the track to my computer, opened it in a mapping program, and was surprised to find that my track was a lot more accurate than the USGS map of the trail. read more

Handheld GPS 101: Routes vs. Tracks

Routes-vs-tracks This is the fourth in a series of posts designed to help introduce beginners to the use of handheld GPS receivers.

I’ve covered both routes and tracks in this series, so now it’s time to do a direct comparison. Here are some key differences:

  • Routes are about where you are planning to go; tracks are about where you have been
  • Backcountry routes typically use straight-line, “as the crow flies” navigation; tracks more accurately reflect the shape of the trail, with all its twists and turns

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Handheld GPS 101: Tracks

This is the third in a series of posts designed to help introduce beginners to the use of handheld GPS receivers.

GPS-101-tracksTracks are a record of where you’ve been. People often use the term “breadcrumb trail,” a la Hansel and Gretel, to describe tracks. Your GPS receiver creates this record as you go along, allowing you to follow the electronic breadcrumb trail back to your starting point. A sample track is shown at left. A hike of a few miles can have 1,000 or more track points, which make up the track (also known as the tracklog — and if you guessed that’s where this site got its name, you’re right!).

Once you return from your outing, most handheld GPS receivers allow you to download the track to your computer. With mapping software, you can view your track on a topo map or aerial photo.


Your GPS probably has a trackback function, allowing you to navigate back along the track. Various brands may differ in how they handle this, but generally speaking, it takes a few dozen of the most significant trackpoints and creates a route from them.

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