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GPS Usage Discussion #4094
Back To Discussion List Written: 2013.10.29 by: Robin Tivy

(Typical GPS usage on trips) This is the official discussion of GPS Usage. It will bring you up to date on how myself and others are currently using GPS units on trips. To prepare a trip, I typically download the relevant maps and Bivouac Gpx files onto my phone. That lets me look at trails and peak names while on the trip. I then make a track log while hiking. When done, I upload my track log into a Bivouac trip report.

This discussion now contains what used to be in the gpx blog. It assumes you know about track logs, gpx files, and bivouac waypoints. If not read An Introduction to GPS Data Transfer. It also assumes you are familiar with Bivouac GMap program and GMap Draw and Save.

See GPS Discussion Index


#6454 - 2019.02.28 Robin Tivy - Update GPS Technique
This is an update of how I'm currently using my GPS, based on the last 10 trips I've done. My current GPS is an old Samsung Galaxy S4 smartphone, worth about $250.00 and running an "app" called Backcountry Navigator costing $15.

People with Apple iPhones are using different Apps, since Backcountry Navigator doesn't run on an iPhone. There are still lots of people using Garmin GPS units instead of smart phones. But they typically only download one or two gpx files for specific roads or trails, whereas I use the links on the mountain page to download all trails, roads and peaks within 10 km radius. This makes sense for a smartphone, but not a Garmin GPS because the phones have high resolution displays so you use them as your map.

I run my phone continuously. One battery is sufficient to run track logging and be ready for photos continuously for about 10 hours. On longer trips, I bring spare batteries.

Memory: Because the Galaxy S4 only has 16 GB of internal memory, I need to use a SD card for the maps and photos.

Betsy currently has a new Samsung Galaxy S9, also running Backcountry Navigator. Like most new smart phones, it does not have a removable battery. However one battery lasts much longer. And it has much more memory, (64 GB) so she doesn't have to use the SD card. This is good because lately I've had a few problems getting the phone to recognize my SD card.

For day trips, I typically do the following:

 1. Make sure I've downloaded the background maps. I typically only download the CanMatrix (1:50K). I also often the Open Cycle Map, to see trails not in bivouac.
 2. Download the Bivouac overlay. Go to a nearby mountain and use either Gpx20 or KML Form. This gives me all the roads, trails and mountains within 20 km.
 3. Download 1 or 2 specific trips, if relevant
  For day trips, the latest thing I've been doing is downloading the KML files rather than gpx files. The advantage of the KML is it has all the trail descriptions embedded in it, so I can click on a road or trail while in the field and read the description. To get the KML file, I go to a nearby mountain page and use the KMLForm link.

These days, I always make a track log for my entire trip. I turn on the GPS as soon as I get out of the car, and go into Backcountry Navigator and start "Record a track". When I get back to the car, I turn off the track log. When I get home, I use the track log to make a trip report. I import the gpx file containing my track log into Bivouac. Then I use Bivouac GMap to view the track. I then trace the track using the GMap "Draw and Save" function. This gives me the bivouac waypoints for my trip report.

For multi day trips, I also make continuous track logs. This requires a spare battery every day and a half. A typical multi day trip is Around Big Dog, which has a section titled "Technical Summary" describing how we used the GPS units.

#6264 - 2018.05.25 Robin Tivy - Parsing GPX files into Bivouac Wayponts
As you may know, the normal way to get Bivouac waypoints from your GPS is to make a track log, export it as a gpx file, then upload upload the gpx file to Bivouac. Then display the track on GMap and trace it with GMap "Draw and Save". along the track and label the key points. The tracing typically takes me 15 minutes.

However, rather than trace, you can also simply translate your Gpx file into bivouac waypoints using the two Bivouac Gpx Parser Utilities. You just open the gpx file in a text editor such as notepad, and paste the contents into the parser. There are two parsers on your Author's menu:

  1. Gpx Wp Parser
  2. Gpx Track Parser

The first utility parses a set of individual waypoints, and the second parses a gpx file that contains a track log. I just used both of them for two different projects.

  1. Waypoint Parser
     Cut and paste the complete gpx file containing a series of waypoints. Eg: On Betsy's 2 week Edziza trip, she marked a hundred or so wayponts, some with descriptions using the Backcountry Navigator GPS app on her Samsung phone. When she got back, we exported them all, and parsed it into a set of Bivouac waypoints.

  2. Track Parser
     When using the track parser, I first of all thinned the wayponts using the GPS Track Editor described in my previous blog entry. I had originally collected the points every 20m and I thinned it to 50m.

#6261 - 2018.05.22 Robin Tivy - I found a good Gpx Track Editor
(gpx track editor) I finally found a good visual Gps track editor program. It is called GPS Track Editor (although I would call it GPX Track Editor. Many times I forget to turn off my track logging on my GPS when I finish a hike. So when I finally save my file, it contains a big section of track going down the highway. What I want is a simple program that displays such a track log on a map so I can chop off the part I don't want.

I just fixed up a gpx file from my Saint Benedict trip. I split the gpx file using the program and saved the part I want with a new filename. I then can upload that new gpx file into my trip report as a "raw gpx" file.

I wrote some instructions for you on how to use the program. Such instructions are in the "External Resources" section of Bivouac. Here is a link: As you may know, "External Resources" is part of the Bivouac website that gives instructions on how to use certain programs in conjunction with the Bivouac website. You can look at all the other "External Resources" by clicking the Bivouac "Index" link, then search for "External Resources".

#6234 - 2018.04.05 Robin Tivy - Use of Gpx files on California trip
We used the Bivouac gpx overlay files extensively on my recent California road trip. I learned a few things on that trip. Mastering your GPS seems to take numerous trips, and each time you learn something new. Some of the techniques are general GPS tricks, and others specific to gpx overlays. I'm assuming you are generally familiar with the basic concept of downloading background maps and also gpx overlays into a smart phone GPS App.

Both Betsy and I had Samsung Galaxy S4 phones on the trip. These are android phones. The two GPS apps we most heavily used were Backcountry Navigator (BCN), and OSMAnd. "OSMAnd" stands for "Open Street Map - Android). Both apps allow you to see your position on topo maps while you are offline, either driving or in the backcountry. OSMAnd is a vector format data, and BCN is a raster format. Vector is much more compact, but lacks the color and artwork of the scanned raster maps. With Osmand, we could download the entire state of California, Oregon, Washington and British Columbia. This was our main navigation tool when driving. There is both a free version of OSMAnd and a paid version. I was just running the free version, but Betsy paid $12 for the "Pro" version. The pro version has faint contour lines, and allows more than 7 countries or states. She had already used up her free choices in Europe.

With BCN, it is only practical to download the maps for specific trip areas such as 50 km radius. The maps I cached were the CalTopo maps, identical to Bivouac GMap. The contour lines on these maps are much easier to see than the faint lines on OSMAnd Pro. For most areas, I also downloaded the "Open Cycle Map" tiles, so I could see the trails and small roads. (Don't confuse these tiles with the OSMAnd application itself, which I also had. The reason for OSMAnd tiles in BCN was so I could see the OSM trail data while flip back and forth between the two sets of tiles.

I downloaded the tiles for 50 km radius around each area we intended to hike. This tended to be done via Wi-Fi at coffee shops or people's houses, since we never really knew in advance where we were going to hike.

I soon discovered that when downloading, it pays to download in several smaller pieces. I found the ideal size to be 5000 tiles which is 52 Megabytes. It gives you an estimate before you start the download, and if the estimate was some huge number, I would just cancel and respecify a smaller area.

This was also the first trip I used separate Backcountry Navigator "Trip Databases" for each hike. These allowed me to load a separate little gpx overlay from Bivouac for each hike. It also allowed me to have small manageable gpx overlays for each hike. For example, to prepare for the ski tour we did near Bend, Oregon, I created a separate Trip Database. Then I browsed the Bivouac website on my phone and looked up "Bend". Then I used the GpxForm link and selected all the mountains, roads and so on within 50 km radius.

Lost Coast Area
  Before we left Vancouver, I used Bivouac GMap to find all the relevant campsites in Northwestern California along the roads we might use. They appear on the google maps if you zoom in far enough. Once I had them in Bivouac, I could upload a gpx file from Bivouac to my phone with 200 km radius, which showed all the campgrounds and key roads. This really saved us the night we were retreating from King Peak (Saddle mountain). It was getting dark, and we didn't know what route we were going to take on the backroads, or where the campsites were located. So I pulled out my phone, and zoomed way out, and all the choices were clearly visible. This validated all the effort I had been putting into these gpx overlays for the past year.

I also discovered the usefulness of displaying the "town" names, since this was the means of discussing it with others. Every little junction down there has a "town" name, even though many of the towns are only 1 house.

Driving to Donner Pass: Throughout the drive we used the altimeter feature of OSMAnd. This is an option you can turn on, such that the elevation shows up continuously in the upper left corner. It can sometimes be out by up to 200 feet. We had both phones going simultaneously.

Mount Tumalo: (Near Bend, Oregon)
 While in a motel in Bend, I downloaded all the background tiles and also gpx files for our excursion to Tumalo. First I downloaded the 1:24K map for a 25 km radius around Mount Bachelor and Tumalo. I then did the same for OSMAnd tiles. I put all the background maps into the main tile cache. I suppose I could have used a separate map package so I could delete the whole package when I got home. (See Standard GPS for discussion of this).

All the background maps are in the same map cache. On this trip, we were not on any trail, and thus used backcountry navigator to plan our route so as to avoid the cliffs.

We found that the OSMAnd contours were useless because you couldn't see them, but could clearly see the contours on the USGS 1:24K maps in Backcountry Navigator.

#6223 - 2018.02.22 Robin Tivy - New Discussion about Custom Gpx Files
Today, I created a separate discussion specifically about creating custom Gpx Files. What I mean by "custom gpx files" are files that you create or edit using a text editor. I wanted to keep this discussion separate from the current more general Gpx Blog. Here is a link to the new discussion Custom Gpx Files. If you are interested in that, then subscribe to it as well.

#6206 - 2018.02.17 Robin Tivy - New Raw Gpx Database
Today I added a new feature whereby you can upload raw gpx files onto bivouac to share with other members. One use of this feature might be to make lightweight trip reports. Or just to share some gpx file with others. Right now the gpx files are not indexed, there is just one big list and you can view or download ones you find interesting. It will also handle kml and kmz files, so you can create projects in Google earth and upload them. The main link to the database is on the home page with the title Gpx.

I would really like to hear from anybody who uses this feature, because I'm still trying to decide how it should work. I want to keep it simple. The primary motivation is to simplify the Waypoint Working Files, not to create a parallel set of trip reports. I don't want people to forget that they can also download gpx files for any trip report, trail or road. at present these raw gpx files are not indexed by location. You find them by looking through the list, with the newest files first. They do not show up in What's new.

Please read my help document titled 'Gpx Database' which describes the whole system.

#6204 - 2018.02.16 Zoran Vasic - GPX Raw files
I was hoping I would get more Raw GPX files and expected that when I joined Bivouac. This files can be very valuable to load to GPS unit and ski, hike or bike.

It is easy for people who have GPS unit already and have file on computer saved. I recently uploaded my Gpx RAW file and started working on trip post but gave up. it is time consuming and i am busy at work.

I wish posts can be made with small blurb, few pictures and Raw GPX to share.

In addition, is it possible to filter trips WITH Gpx Raw Files using search engine on Bivouac?

I found one:

The Secret Trails of Mount Seymour from my dear friend Klaus.

#1819 - 2016.01.23 Robin Tivy - Using Phone based GPS Apps with Bivouac overlays
Here's an entry to bring this Blog up to date. Since last February, I have switched from using my Garmin Oregon GPS to using various GPS Map Apps on a Samsung Galaxy S4 phone. One battery lasts about a day and a half with continuous track logging on. So I bought 2 extra batteries, and so I can do longer backcountry trips, which is what I did last summer on three trips such as Dogtooth Range near Golden. These GPS apps cost between $10 and $20. I find the software easier to work than the Garmin software, partially because of the power of the Android operating system. And my experience has been that the reception is just as good or better than the Garmin Oregon. Perhaps the Garmin 62s with an antenna might be better, but you can't be sure. The only advantages of the Garmin I can think of is that you can sometimes see the screen in brighter light, and it is probably more robust.

Anyway, once we started using GPS Map apps, I got hooked on having all the Bivouac roads, trails and peaks on my GPS when in the backcountry. So I made a simple "one click" Gpx download link on every mountain page, so I could easily load all the roads and trails for a 20 km radius onto my phone. (or onto a Garmin). With the phone based GPS app, you can do the whole transfer right on the phone. First, use your phone's browser to go to a nearby mountain. Click the gpx20 link. Now start up your GPS App and import the gpx file directly from the download folder on the phone.

I've instructed a number of my friends on how to work their phone based GPS apps, and this led to many improvements to the documentation posted on Bivouac. In particular, see An Introduction to GPS Data Transfer, which I wrote and rewrote so many times as I observed people reading it and figuring out their GPS.

Once I got hooked on having all the peaks, trails and roads at my fingertips on my GPS map, I began to wish for having the same color coding of the trails and roads on the GPS map that you see in Bivouac GMap. In fact, I'm now thinking that the GPS mapping programs can be transformed into little map based guidebook apps" where you can look up road and peak information right in the field. The information will be in the .gpx or .kml file and accessible when you are in the backcountry. So I'm working out a strategy for this.

The three main GPS Mapping Apps that I have had experience with are:

 Backcountry Navigator
 Gaia GPS

All three are documented in Standard GPS Operations

#1729 - 2013.10.29 Robin Tivy - Backroads GPS maps version 4.0 - Problem reading contours in parks
I just installed the newest version of Backroads GPS Maps, which is version 4.0. With version 3.0, I reported the problem of not being able to see the contour lines within parks, due to the green shading within parks. I was disappointed to note that with version 4.0, I still can't see the contour lines well enough to use those maps within parks. Version 4.0 is slightly improved because you can now see at least the 100m contours but not the 20m contours. If I tilt the GPS unit at just the right angle, and have my glasses on, I can see faint 20m contours, but this is not practical in the field. So within parks, I usually use the regular Garmin Topo Canada mapset. However, the Garmin maps don't show as many roads and trails as the Mussio Backroads GPS map.

The contours are perfectly readable outside of parks. The problem within parks would be solved by not trying to shade parks with the dark green color. This problem exists when using the maps on both the GPS units I tested: the oregon 450T and the Garmin Montana 650.

For a full description of the GPS map product, see Backroads GPS Maps.

#1728 - 2013.10.29 Robin Tivy - Battery Life on Samsung Galaxy S4 while Track Logging
Betsy recently ran the track log for a whole day (7 hours) on the Galaxy S4 using Backcountry Navigator, and the battery gauge showed the battery to be less than half depleted. So I'd say that the Galaxy S4 can run about the same amount of time as the Garmin Oregon 450 T using Sanyo Eneloop batteries.

If you were doing a longer trip, you need spare batteries. A spare batteries for the Samsung is advertised on the Samsung website to be $40 plus $5 or $10 dollars for shipping. It is 2600 mAh. Or you can buy them at battery stores. For example, they are available at Vancouver Battery on Broadway in Vancouver for $60 (I think). The Sanyo Eneloop batteries are available at various battery stores for 25.00 for 4 batteries. I've used my now for a year and they are better than other batteries I've had.

#1727 - 2013.10.29 Robin Tivy - GPS Reception - Samsung Galaxy versus Garmin Oregon 450
I have often wondered how good the reception is with some of these smart phone GPS units, as compared to a "real" GPS unit such as my Garmin Oregon 450T. Last weekend, both Betsy and I were running track logs on our devices: she was using a Samsung Galaxy S4 phone and running Backcountry Navigator, and I was using my Garmin 450. After the trip, I noticed that there was one stretch in dense trees where my Oregon did not have enough reception to accurately record the track, whereas the Galaxy had a perfect track log. We compared the track logs with the route of the trail published on GMap Hybrid view. In the past few months, I've taken lots of track logs, but this is the first time I've seen the GPS fail to track my route. The forest must be unusually dense.