Tag Archives: Garmin

How to modify or make new Waypoint GPX files

GPS exchange format, or GPX, is an open GPS data format, which can be used to describe waypoints, tracks and routes. When you mark a waypoint into your Garmin (or some other brand) GPS device, the information is saved in the form of GPX file. However, typing any significant information into to the GPS in the middle of nowhere can be a major pain in the rear end. GPX files are also the information sharing tool for the Geocaching community. Geocachers usually get their ready made GPX files directly from their official hobby sites, such as geocaching.com, and those sites are doing their job pretty well, but whether you are a geocacher or not, every now and then it would be nice to be able to conveniently add some extra info with the symbol marking your geocache or any waypoint of interest. After years of wondering what the hell can be so significant or interesting that I have bothered to mark it into my GPS with a name “a”, “1”, “abc”, or in the best case, a descriptive word, such as “camp”, I have begun to modify my GPX files at home.

During any random hikes in the forest, I mark any points of interest into my Garmin, using the shortest possible name for each spot, usually a running number. I also type something into the “notes” area, usually a single letter or number (this saves some typing work down the road). Similarly, if I already know which Garmin symbol I want to use instead of the cursed standard flag, choosing it is behind a single click in the field. After returning home, all of the spots still clearly in my mind, I connect my Garmin to my computer, and, in front of a fire place, possibly with a glass of wine, type a proper description for each of the spots with a proper keyboard, and the next time, approaching the symbol on my Garmin device, instead of wondering what the f does this “a” mean, I can read something like “a nice spot for a coffee, not enough fire wood for over nigh camping” or “Aggressive farmer, owns a shotgun. Uses small shots, though.”.

Well, how to do this?

After connecting the GPS device with the computer, open the Garmin folder. In the Garmin folder, there is another folder with the title GPX. Open it, and in there you should see a bunch of files named something like “Waypoint_01-OCT-16.gpx”. Pick the date of your trip, and open the file. At the last couple of lines of text, you should see the name you gave to that particular point of interest in the form of <name>the name you gave</name>. Now you can replace the “the name you gave” with any new name you wish. Similarly, you will see the single letter “note” you typed in the form of <cmt>your note</cmt> (If you did not add any notes to the original waypoint, this <cmt>your note</cmt> does not exist in your gpx file, and you must manually add “<cmt></cmt>“ between “</name>”, and “<sym>” markings in the gpx file). Replace “your note” with a proper description for your point of interest. And, if you wish to change the symbol now, replace the “Flag, Blue” with the symbol of your choice (below this text, you can find some of the symbol names. Finding the rest of them requires some google activity, or some fiddling with your GPS.) Then just click “save as”, and rename your gpx file appropriately.

(If your text editor tries to save your file as xxxxx.txt, change .txt to .gpx)

Then just disconnect your GPS from the computer. Next time you open the map in your GPS, move the cursor on to now properly named symbol, and click it. And now, instead of no, or vague description of the place, you will see the information you just typed to the “your note” section of the GPX file.

That was probably the simplest and easiest way to customize GPX files. However, sometimes it would be nice to be able to prepare GPX files at home in advance, without separately visiting every single point of interest, and unfortunately, the entry level GPS devices, such as Garmin eTrex 10, only let you mark waypoints at your current location. To get around this problem, it is necessary to replace the coordinate values of an existing GPX file with the values pointing to your place of interest. It is possible to get the coordinates from pretty much any map program such as Google maps, Openstreetmaps, or even from decent paper maps, but a common problem with many of these outside sources is that they use different coordinate systems than your GPS device.

Sometime in the future, I may make a video about coordinate conversions, but for now, I’ll only describe a quick and simple way to utilize your own GPS device to get the correct coordinates for your GPX file.

In order to see GPX compatible coordinates on the map, turn on your GPS, and click “Setup”. Then scroll down, and click “Position format”, and choose hddd.dddddo (my default was UTM UPS). Now open the map in your GPS, move the arrow to the spot you wish to mark, and read the coordinates from the screen (if you need the elevation of the spot, zoom in, place the arrow on to the nearest contour line, and read the elevation). Next, open a random GPX file (I have one named “template.gpx”), and replace the (lat=”XX.XXXXXX”, lon=”YY.YYYYYY”, and <ele>ZZZ.ZZZZZZ</ele>) with your new latitude, longitude, and elevation values. As you may notice at this point, the default values of Garmin’s waypoint GPX files have six decimals, and you only got five decimals from the screen of your GPS. Don’t worry about that at all; The accuracy of your GPS device with five decimal coordinate values is about 1 meter (3 to 4 ft), which, for a civilian in any imaginable situation, is quite enough. (the default 6 decimal system probably has something to do with Garmin’s preparation for the future.) Now that you have the correct coordinates, do the renaming, redescription, resymboling, and save the brand new file to your GPX-archive folder, from where you can copy it to your GPS at your convenience.

GPX files are small (about 1 kb), and therefore, easy to store and transfer. I store my personal GPX files in the hard drive of my computer, and when ever changing the maps in my GPS, I also replace the old GPX files with the corresponding new ones. In addition, when ever in need of changing information with the friends, who are, for example, going to hike alone in my home grounds, it is extremely quick and easy just to e-mail them all of the necessary gpx files from the area, and after a minute or two of work, they have all of the nice secret camp sites, fresh water sources, and such, in their own GPS devices.

Some useful Garmin Waypoint Symbol Names:

  • Anchor
  • Drinking Water
  • Bike Trail
  • Fishing Area
  • Boat Ramp
  • Forest
  • Bridge
  • Gas Station
  • Campground
  • Information
  • Car
  • Lodging
  • Crossing
  • Medical Facility
  • Dam
  • Parking
  • Danger Area
  • Restricted Area
  • Pharmacy
  • Restroom
  • Picnic Area
  • Scenic Area
  • Pin, Blue
  • Skull and Crossbones
  • Police Station
  • Summit
  • Radio Beacon
  • Swimming Area
  • Residence
  • Trail Head
  • Telephone

OpenStreetMaps for Garmin eTrex 10

In my previous post I explained how to install topographic maps into Garmin eTrex 10 GPS navigator.

Unfortunately, it seems like detailed topographic maps are not available everywhere, for free anyway.

Therefore, I felt obligated to present an alternative way to get Garmin eTrex 10 compatible maps.

The first, an probably the best place to start looking for maps are the openstreetmap.org pages.

Openstreetmaps (I call them OS-maps from now on) are somewhat motoring oriented, and they do not tell you much about the terrain, but most of the roads, trails, waterways, and such are marked pretty well. The coverage varies from place to place, and one has to be aware of that, but, as I have mentioned before, any map is better than the original Garmin World Wide Base Map.

A good thing about the limited details of the OS-maps is that one can easily fit a map covering thousands of square kilometers (or miles) into 8 MB storage space of eTrex 10.

Well then, how to start?

First, go to the openstreetmap.org page. Pan, zoom, and study the map. (The level of details on the map will be the same on your Garmin eTrex 10). When you have found the area you are interested in, click the “Export” button on top of the screen. Now, if your map area is small enough (openstreetmaps lets you download about 35X35 km (22X22 miles) maps), just click the blue and white “export” button to download the map. If your map is too large, click “Manually select a different area”, and resize your area till the blue and white “export” button appears.

If you are looking for larger maps to download, scroll down a little bit, and click “Planet OSM”. From Planet OSM, you can find several downloading options, but for eTrex 10 maps, I recommend clicking “BBBike.org”. From the BBBike.org, you can download premade maps, or choose your own by clicking “select your own region”. From there, you can pan and zoom to your favorite area, and select the size and shape of your map. Wonderful thing about the BBBike.org, is that when you are selecting your map area, you can see the size of the package at the left side of the window (remember the max limit of 8 MB for eTrex 10. The size of the map decreases a little bit during the further processing, but don’t try to download any GB size maps).

Once you have selected the map area, choose the file format. (I have used “OSM XML 7z (xz)”).

Then BBBike.org wants your e-mail address (I have not had any junk mail or any other trouble after giving my address.), and after couple of minutes, you will receive an e-mail with links to download your new map. Then extract the zip file, and you are ready for the next step.

Now, you should have a xxxxxxx.OSM file in your computer. To convert the OSM file to Garmin accepted IMG file, there are several free programs available. My favorite is the mkgmap, which can be found from mkgmap.org.uk or from LINUX repositories. As a Linux user, I have installed two programs, “mkgmap”, which is the converter program itself, and “mkgmapgui”, which is a graphical user interface for the mkgmap.

To operate the mkgmap on Linux, type “mkgmapgui” to the terminal window, and click “enter”.

In an appearing, self-explanatory window, select your newly downloaded OSM file, give it a random number (this is probably for some more complicated map projects, but for some reason, the program asks for a number), and click “Convert”. Next, the program asks you for the saving location and the name for your new IMG file. Give them, click “Save”, and in few seconds you have your map in Garmin compatible IMG format.

The only remaining thing to do is to load your new map into your Garmin eTrex 10, as instructed here.

How to install topographic maps into Garmin Etrex 10

According to the manufacturer, Garmin eTrex 10 has a pre-installed world wide base map in it, and if you need more detailed maps, you should buy one of the more expensive Garmin models.

Yes, Garmin eTrex 10 has a world wide base map in it, and by using it you can easily find features such as continents and oceans, and, if you are seriously lost, the map shows you even smaller land marks, such as the Great lakes, New York city, and LA. “God damn it, I was sure I was approaching either the New york city or LA, but from my trusty Garmin map, I was able to see that the town in front of me was Chicago. Thank you Garmin!!”
Unfortunately, for most of the people who use hand held GPS devices, the knowledge whether the hill in front of them belongs to the Himalayans or to the Andes is not quite enough. Therefore, they have to buy an expensive GPS thingy and loads of maps to it.
Wrong! Although, the Garmin Etrex 10 does not have a slot for external memory cards, or any commercially available maps for it, it has some internal memory space for its own operational purposes, and for the storage of its useless world wide base map.
By replacing the original base map file with your own map file, you can load very, very detailed topographic maps to your Garmin eTrex 10.

First you need to find a map file covering the area of your interest. The requirements for the file are a) .img file format for Garmin devices, and b) size no larger than 8 MB (8MB is the available space after deleting the base map).

The internet is full of sources for right size .img map files, some areas covered better than the others. If you cannot find ready made files for your area, the net is also full of instructions how to chop and convert practically any kind of map files to the .img format.
I may, one day in the future, address the chopping and converting process, but in this entry, I’m only describing how to replace the base map with an existing .img file.

When you have downloaded the .img file, connect your Garmin eTrex 10 to your computer.
After a little while (eTrex is saving the track logs and such) you shall see either a Garmin logo on your screen, or a pop up window asking what to do. Either double click the Garmin logo or click the part that says: “view folders or files”.
In the following window, double click the Garmin folder.
In the next window, among the other files and folders, there is one named “gmapbmap.img” (that is the world wide base map file). If you want to save the base map, copy it first somewhere to your computer. Then right click the gmapbmap.img, and choose Delete.
Next, drag your own .img map file to the Garmin folder. (It may take couple of minutes to copy the file into your Garmin).
When the copying is done, right click your file in the Garmin folder, and choose Rename.
Rename your file to gmapbmap (this way your Garmin device is cheated to believe that the new file is a real Garmin map file.)

An optional way to install maps into your Garmin is to use Garmin’s own MapInstall program (freely available from garmin.com). The program recognizes your Garmin device and available maps in your computer. Then you can choose the map you want to be installed and let the program do the rest. However, you still need to rename the installed file before you can use it.

After these few simple clicks, your Garmin eTrex 10 should be ready for some serious navigation.
A limiting factor in a “maps for Garmin eTrex 10” project is the limited size of storage in the device, which requires computer access when ever you move to a new area. However, a very detailed 8 MB map covers about 1152 square kilometres (24X48) or 450 square miles (15X30), which, in most of the cases, is quite enough for an average hiker.

Well then, if these maps are so great, and easy to install, why don’t Garmin sell these maps to the consumers?

The answer is obvious: if these maps were readily available for an entry level <100 €/$ device, no one would buy those 200-300 €/$ thingies.