outdoor navigation

GPS navigation instructions: How do I find my way off-road?

How do I find my way off-road?

These GPS instructions describe step by step how a handheld GPS device can be used to navigate off-road using prepared hiking routes.



GPS handheld device: with transmitted GPS routes

For longer tours: spare batteries or batteries

A GPS handheld device from our shop is used here as an example. The screenshots come from a GPS device from our range. In principle, however, any portable GPS device is suitable for hiking, as long as it masters the navigation according to predefined routes and is not only designed for street navigation. Maps installed on the GPS device are not required.

Directions to the starting point of the hike

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The GPS device can not only be used for hiking, but also when approaching the starting point of the hike. The first point of the first saved route (here G101) is the point to be reached by car. Waypoints are selected on the device using the “FIND button”. Then menu item “Waypoints.” and “ENT” for Enter. Then select the starting point with the cursor keys and confirm with “ENT”. The waypoint coordinates are displayed. Use the “Goto” button to navigate to this point. As the crow flies, of course – unless the GPS device also understands road navigation. In this case, it will calculate a road route to the starting point.

Navigating to a point as the crow flies means that the GPS device always shows the direction and the distance to the selected point (as in the right image above). But not possible obstacles or street routings. Nevertheless, it is a good tool to find the parking space at the starting point of the hike.


Preparations before the hike

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The following things should be done at the starting point of the hike:

Now switch on the GPS device at the latest and wait until the satellites are recognized and sufficient accuracy is displayed. You can find out which satellites are currently being received on the Garmin emap via the in the main menu, which can always be reached with 2x “MENU”, and the menu item “GPS Information”.

Clear track memory. The GPS device records all movements as a track (breadcrumb trail). The track can be used on the one hand to find your way back to the car (trackback) and on the other hand to evaluate the hike later on the PC. In both cases, we are not interested in arriving by car, so delete the memory now. With GPS devices, this is done in the main menu via the menu item “Tracks” and then “Delete”.

Calibrating barometric altimeter and magnetic compass, if available.

Resetting the trip meter in the trip computer. In order to be able to read the kilometers traveled and the time elapsed for this at any time, the counters should be set to zero.


Select hiking route


Hiking tours often consist of several individual routes. Especially on round trips, the GPS would already believe at the start that it had already reached the destination if the start and finish were in a single GPS route. For this reason, there is usually a return route on various websites, or even longer routes for longer tours, which are then meaningfully labeled so that they can be called up in the correct order.

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At the start of the hike, the GPS must be told which route to use. With the emap, you branch from the main menu to the “Routes” menu, select the first hiking route with the cursor keys and press “MENU” again. In this submenu there is now the point “Start navigation”. A long press on the “ESC” key takes you back to the map view.

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Here we go

Enough preparations. Now you can hike!

Many of the commercially available GPS devices show a kind of wind rose for navigation, with a directional arrow in the middle. The compass rose shows the direction in which you are moving, the arrow the direction to the next route waypoint depending on the direction of movement. So if the arrow points straight up (12 o’clock) then I am moving towards the next route waypoint. For example, if the arrow points to 11 a.m., the next point is slightly to the left of my running direction. All you have to do now is follow the arrow.

The following information is also displayed:

The name of the waypoint you are heading towards. This is of particular interest if additional information such as the direction of turn is included in the waypoint name.

The distance to this waypoint.
And often the remaining time to reach this waypoint.

There is no compass rose, but the direction arrow is integrated in the map window at the top left and to the right are the speed, distance to the next route waypoint and the estimated time.

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How is this ad to be read now? There is a small black arrow in the middle of the map window. That is the wanderer. The arrowhead points in the running direction. The map is set so that north is up. (Alternatively, you can also set the running direction = above) The hiker has already passed waypoint G101, that was the starting point and is now moving almost east to waypoint G102RE. The “RE” in the name of the next waypoint is a hint from the route creator and meaningfully means “turn right”. The fact that it will go to the right can already be seen from the further course of the route in the map window.

Now for the data in the upper part of the display. The arrow points straight up (12 p.m.), so the hiker is moving straight towards the G102RE. The waypoint is still 53m away, if the hiker maintains his current speed of 4.2km / h, he will reach it in 1 minute and 42 seconds.
A lot of information that can be read here. What will happen next? A few meters before the route waypoint G102RE is reached, the arrow will turn to the right and show the direction to the next route waypoint G103LI. The distance and time to the next waypoint are also calculated. And as soon as the hiker makes the right turn, the arrow will point to 12 o’clock again, since the direction of the march and the direction to the next waypoint match again.

At the end of the first route, the GPS will then report “arrival at destination”. If there are other partial routes, these are called up like the first via the route menu. If you want to evaluate the recorded track data later, it is best to switch off the GPS at the end of the hike. This will prevent you from continuing to record track data that is not part of the hike.


Possible problems

No directional display at standstill: A GPS device can only determine directions by comparing a measurement with the previous one. For this it is necessary that the two measurements deliver different coordinates. From this, the GPS calculates the speed and direction of a movement. This is not possible at a standstill. The GPS cannot determine the direction of movement and therefore cannot draw an arrow to the next route waypoint. Instead, the cardinal direction is shown in the form of abbreviations such as “NW” or “S”. To get an arrow again to the next waypoint, a movement of a few meters is sufficient. Of course, none of this applies to GPS devices with a magnetic compass. There is also a direction indicator here even when the vehicle is stationary.

Serpentines: If it goes steeply up or down, it does not necessarily make sense to unplug every serpentine loop when planning the route. This unnecessarily costs route waypoints and the hiker has hardly any of it, on the contrary, the GPS would be inclined to want to navigate to the next but one point, since this is closer in a straight line. In the case of tight loops, it makes sense to run the route in the middle as a shortcut between the switchbacks. For hikers: “If my path leads in serpentines and if I move roughly towards the next waypoint despite the loops, then everything is fine.”

Shortly before a route waypoint, the arrow points in the wrong direction: What happens? Let us keep in mind that the accuracy of the GPS location is at best 4m (before objections come: yes, it may be 2m with EGNOS), but can be 50m in the forest or in poor reception conditions. This always affects both the hiker and the person who has planned and started this route. Now it can happen – and this case is not so unlikely – that, for example, the next waypoint is 10m too far left of an intersection, but the next but one waypoint is far right. The hiker moves towards the crossroads, he should have to turn right there. But what does the GPS show him? After the next waypoint is not exactly at the crossroads, the arrow turns to the left the closer the hiker gets to the crossroads. If he believed the arrow, he would be inclined to turn left at the crossroads and not to the right. The hiker would only notice his mistake if he had already turned and passed the wrong waypoint. Then the arrow points to 6 o’clock – turn around. How can you recognize and avoid this? It is important to always keep an eye on the distance to the next point. If a point that points me down from the path is very close (a few meters), skepticism is appropriate, it could only be located by the path by mistake (or due to poor reception conditions). And even if a crossroad actually exists in nature as in the example above, a waypoint should first come at the intersection and then it can go left or right, whereby the next point would hardly be expected after 10m. A look at the further route in the map window helps. It is easy for emap users because the navigation arrow and map are integrated on one side. Users of a GPS with wind rose display should occasionally switch to map view. A “right-left note” from the route creator, which is stored in the waypoint name, may also help.

Paths that diverge at a sharp angle: Forks with other branches that are close to each other for many 10 or 100 meters are difficult to find with the navigation arrow on the GPS device. Only after many 100m will it become clear that you have caught the wrong one. Only a hint from the route creator in the form of a direction in the waypoint name helps here. More information is available on the post-hike page.

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More information during navigation

How far to the goal: The classic children’s question: “When are we finally there” can be answered by the GPS, but only up to the end of the route currently selected. To do this, go to the current route while navigating in the route menu. The GPS shows the distance to the destination, but not as the crow flies, but really along the rest of the route and calculates the expected arrival time.

Altimeter: Devices without a barometric altimeter (and this is the rule) constantly calculate the height above sea level using the satellite data. Devices with a barometric altimeter can also display height profiles of the route traveled directly on the device.

Trip computer: As with the bike speedometer, the GPS device shows the speed, the kilometers since the last reset, the time in motion, the time at a standstill and uses this to calculate the average speed during the time in motion and the overall average.

Track recording: During the entire hike, the current position with time and altitude is saved in the GPS device. On the display you can see the track in the form of a fine dot line. The track can be transferred back to the PC.

Navigating off-road with GPS should have worked without any problems. In the third part of the GPS instructions, you will learn how to transfer the track data to a PC after a hike and display it in a satellite image on the Internet using the track viewer.



How can I view the track data?

The third part of the GPS instructions describes step by step how the track data can be transferred back to the PC after a hike and then displayed in the GPS Track Viewer.



  • PC with internet access
  • GPS device with connection cable for PC connection
  • Possibly. an installed software for communication with the GPS device
  • Track data on the GPS

As already mentioned in the GPS instructions, a navigation device from our range and the G7ToWin program by Ron Henderson are described here as examples. The display of track data in the Track Viewer is possible with all device and software combinations that can export GPX format.

Download the track data from the GPS to the PC

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There is track recording data on your GPS device. It does not matter whether you hiked on routes – as described in parts 1 and 2 of these GPS instructions – or the track data were recorded in the car or in the boat. It is also not necessary that you explicitly save the track data on the GPS. (Garmin calls the “Saved Log” in contrast to the “Active Log”, the unsaved and uncompressed track logs.)

First, the track data must be transferred from the GPS device to the PC. With newer GPS devices, this is very easy, since they represent the internal memory as a separate drive when plugged into the USB port of the PC, as drive E: for example. Then the GPX file can simply be copied to the PC. (For newer Garmin devices, the current track recording is here, for example: “E: \ Garmin \ GPX \ Current / Current.gpx” if E: is the mounted GPS device.) For older devices that either cannot write GPX directly or are suitable software must be used to get the tracks onto the PC. This happens for example with G7ToWin. Connect the GPS device to the PC, switch it on and start G7ToWin.


Nothing has to be entered on the GPS device. In G7ToWin you must first define the interface to which the GPS is connected (COM1..8 or USB) under “File” – “Configuration”, if this has not yet been done. Then choose “GPS” – “Download from GPS” – “Tracks”. The track points are transferred and then displayed in G7ToWin.

Although G7ToWin is able to display the individual points of the transferred track recording in text form, a graphical visualization of the track on a map is not possible. Commercial programs such as TTQV, Fugawi or OziExplorer are required for this, or you can use the free GPS Track Viewer online.


Save the track data as a GPX file

A GPX file is required for the Track Viewer. G7ToWin can write this format. Choose “File” – “Save As” and then as the file type “GPX” and a directory and a file name of your choice, say C: \ g7towin \ wanderung.gpx. Then click “Save”.

The track data is thus transferred from the GPS device and saved in a GPX file on the PC. G7ToWin can now be closed.


The GPS Track Viewer is based on the maps provided by the Open Street Maps project and is able to display tracks as well as routes and waypoints on maps. In addition, a height profile is generated from the height data. As a user, you have the option of loading your own GPS data and then zooming in on the details of your hike.

Call up the GPS Track Viewer. Then click on “Select” (or “Search”, depending on the browser), select your saved GPX file in the subsequent file selection dialog and click “Open”.

A little patience is required during upload and processing, especially with larger files. Watch the small rotating compass on the right below the map window. It will disappear as soon as the file is completely processed. The GPS Track Viewer automatically centers your track in the map window and sets the zoom level so that the entire track is visible.

With the “+” and “-” symbols and the slider in between, you can zoom in and out on the map. The arrow symbols above move the map in the corresponding direction. The mouse can also be used directly for this purpose. The entire map can be moved in the map window by holding down the left mouse button. Finally, there are switching options between different cards at the top right. If you would like to enlarge the entire map window, you will find a small point of attack for the mouse at the bottom right, which can be used to drag the map window to any size. You can also use the mouse to move the right and bottom margins individually.

How can I publish map views of my tracks on the internet?

This describes how you can use the GPS track display to provide map windows for your own tours on the Internet.

In the previous part of the GPS instructions, you learned how to display your GPS files, i.e. your planned routes, your track recordings and your saved waypoints, in the map window of the GPS Track Viewer. You had the corresponding GPX file on your local hard drive, so you could not share this visualization with other Internet users. However, if you want to publish your GPS data on the Internet, you have to put the corresponding GPX file freely accessible on the web. GpsWandern.de then offers you several options for how you can visualize your data. You will find an overview of all options in a separate comparison overview.

At this point, the GPS track display (this is what it looks like) is discussed in more detail. It is the easiest way to call up a page with a map window and elevation profile.

Use case: GPS track display

How do you proceed? As already mentioned, the GPX file must be freely accessible on the Internet, for example on your own web space. So first you upload the GPX file (via FTP) to the desired location and note the URL (in our example it is: “http://testsite.com/example.gpx”)

Then call up the GPX Track Viewer, which we had already got to know in the previous part of the GPS instructions. The Track Viewer can not only visualize local GPX files, but also supports the generation of the HTML code for calling up a track display.

In the Track Viewer, use the lower input line this time and enter the URL to your GPX file there (complete with “http: // www … .gpx”). Clicking on “Get WEB file” then loads the GPX file and displays its content in the map window and in an elevation profile. You will also receive three code fragments, which we now want to take a closer look at.

In the first place, you will receive a simple link that you can enter, for example, in an email or in a forum post. In the simplest case, copy the link for a test into the address line of your browser.

The second code fragment represents the same link, but now embedded in HTML code ( tag). You can insert this code directly into the HTML code of your own website.

We ignore the third code fragment here. This is about the TrackViewer API, for which there is independent, very extensive documentation.

Use cases

In short, you will receive a link (in blank form or embedded in HTML) that you can copy and include in your own website. When the visitor of your website clicks on it, they will see the GPS track display with the visualization of their GPX file. Your own website is only a use case, you can also use the link to the track display in

  • Social networks (facebook, Google+),
  • Twitter,
  • Blogs,
  • Link lists (list of my mountain bike tours …),
  • Entries in discussion forums,
  • Wikis,
  • Social bookmarking entries (Mister Wong, Del.icio.us, …),
  • Newsgroup postings,
  • Emails,
  • and in the favorites of your own browser

What can the Track Viewer display?

Track viewer and track display (the version of the track viewer that receives the file to be displayed via link) can only process GPX files (.gpx). No .trk, .kmz, .kml, .html, .txt, .gdb or .ovl (conversion programs for this can be found on the Internet). Routes, tracks and waypoints are shown, whereby the display does not differentiate between tracks and routes. The waypoints are clickable and then display the name of the waypoint, its height and the contents of the two fields “cmt” and “desc” in a window. Waypoints, tracks and routes can occur together in a GPX file.

For tracks and routes, the track display generates a height diagram and determines various information, such as tour length, highest and lowest point of the tour, ascent and descent meters, all of which are listed to the right of the height profile. The track display evaluates color information in the GPX files and displays the track lines and the contour line in the height profile in the respective color. If the GPX file contains no color information, the track display uses its own color scheme.

Speed ​​considerations

The content of the GPX file must be transmitted on the Internet for display in the track display. Likewise the map or satellite image segments and the height diagram. Of course, fast internet access wins. The processing of the individual waypoints, track and route points takes place via JavaScript in the browser on the local PC. Especially with extensive track data (] 1000 points) it can take several seconds of processing time. Published track files should not get too far out of hand here. (For example, set the track recording on the GPS device to “Auto” and do not generate a track point every second.)

In the case of track recordings, it is strongly recommended to reduce the number of points before publication on the Internet. If the number of points is pressed well below 500, this saves the viewer of the track display an enormous amount of waiting time. The GPS online route planner GORP for short offers a simple yet brilliant point reduction with high quality. Load the track there once, “Edit” – “Reduce points” and save the result again. On this occasion you can give the track a nice name (with “Edit” – “Properties”).


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