Hiking Tips

What is a GPX File and How to Use One

POSTED ON December 11, 2019 BY Ralph S.


Introduction

GPX or GPS exchange format files are an essential component in the world of GPS and location-based services. They serve as a universal format for storing and sharing GPS data across different platforms and devices, making them a crucial aspect of outdoor activities that rely on mapping and location tracking.

Whether you’re using Google Maps on your phone or a Garmin GPS device, GPX files allow you to transfer and utilize intricate data such as track points and track data seamlessly. This versatility and compatibility of GPX files make them a valuable tool for hikers, cyclists, motorists, and anyone else seeking the easiest way to navigate their surroundings.

With GPX files, users have unprecedented control over their location-based services, allowing them to customize their GPS devices to their specific needs.

In summary, GPX files are the bridge that connects different GPS technologies and empowers users with enhanced capabilities for navigating the world around them.

What is a GPX File?

GPS Tracking

A GPS exchange format file is an XML-based file format specifically designed for the exchange of GPS data between applications and devices. This format was created by TopoGrafix in 2002 as a way to standardize the sharing of GPS data across different platforms and devices.

In simpler terms, a GPX file serves as a common language that allows different GPS devices and applications to communicate with each other. This means that you can easily transfer data between a Garmin GPS device and a smartphone app, for example, without any compatibility issues.

GPX files store information in the form of waypoints, routes, and tracks. Most of the file will consist of latitude and longitude coordinates, time stamps and elevation.

GPX file with a GPS track

The GPX file format also allows for the inclusion of additional information such as track segments, air temperature, and even custom data fields. This makes it a versatile tool for outdoor enthusiasts who want to track and record various data points during their adventures.

Components of a GPX File

GPS Coordinates

A GPX file is made up of different components that work together to store and share GPS data. These components are essential in creating a complete GPS experience and can be easily understood with the following breakdown:

  • Metadata: This component provides information about the GPX file itself, such as its name, description, author, and copyright.
  • Track Points: These are specific data points along a recorded path or track. Each point contains information such as elevation, time stamp, and latitude and longitude information.
  • Track Data: This component is a collection of all the track points in a GPX file and is used to display the entire recorded path on a map or elevation profile.
  • GPX Route: A route in a GPX file is made up of multiple waypoints connected by a dotted-line route icon. This allows users to create a planned path for their journey and follow it using their GPS device.
  • Waypoints: These are specific coordinates or points of interest marked on a map. They can be used to indicate important locations, such as campsites, water sources, or trail junctions.
  • Track Segment: This component is used to break up many GPX tracks into smaller segments. This is useful when recording long journeys with frequent stops or breaks in between.
  • Elevation Profile: Many GPS units and software, such as Garmin Connect, provide an elevation of a recorded track. This allows users to visualize the changes in elevation along their route.
  • Air Temperature: Some devices can record air temperature as a data point in a GPX file. This can be useful for tracking weather patterns during a journey.
  • Custom Data Fields: Users have the option to add custom data fields to their GPX files, such as heart rate or speed, depending on the capabilities of their GPS unit. This allows for even more customization and detail in recording GPS data.

Example:

To illustrate this component, imagine planning a multi-day hiking trip using Garmin Basecamp software. You can use the drawing tools to create a route and add waypoints along the way to mark your campsites for each night.

By understanding these components of a GPX file, you can better utilize your GPS unit and software to create, save, and record accurate tracks for future use.

How to Use a GPX File

A GPS Device

Using a GPX file is relatively straightforward and can be done in various ways, depending on your specific needs.

Here are the four steps involved:

  1. To start, you will need a GPS device or mapping software that supports the GPX file format. Most modern devices and apps have this capability, so it shouldn’t be an issue.
  2. To import a GPX file into a GPS device, connect your device to your computer using a USB cable and transfer the file into the designated folder for GPX files. The steps may vary slightly depending on your device, so be sure to consult the user manual for specific instructions.
  3. For smartphone apps, you can usually import GPX files directly within the app. For example, if you’re using an Android device, you can transfer the GPX file to your phone and use the Silverlight Android app to open and view the file. Similarly, this can be done with the Silverlight iPhone app.
  4. If you want to transfer a GPX file from one device to another, you can do so via email, cloud storage services, or Bluetooth. Simply export the file from the source device and import it into the desired destination device using the appropriate method.

With the ability to transfer GPX files seamlessly between devices and platforms, users have unparalleled control over their GPS data and can make accurate navigation decisions based on their specific needs.

How to Create a GPX File

GPS File

Creating a GPX file is a simple process that can be done using various devices or mobile apps. The following steps will guide you on how to create a GPX file using popular options:

Using GPS Devices

  • Turn on your GPS device and access the main menu.
  • Look for the option to “Create New Track” or “Start Recording.”
  • Use a drawing tool to create your desired path, adding waypoints along the way by pressing a button on the device, usually labeled “Mark” or “Waypoint.”
  • To add a waypoint, press the designated button whenever you want to mark a specific location.
  • Once you have completed your track and added all desired waypoints, save the track by selecting “Stop Recording” or “End Track.”
  • Select the option to save the file in GPX format, and choose a name for your file.
  • Connect your GPS device to your computer using a USB cable, and transfer the GPX file into a designated folder on your computer.
  • Your GPX file is now ready to be used, shared, or uploaded to a mapping software for further customization.

Using Mobile Apps

  • Download a GPS app that supports GPX file creation, such as the Silverlight app for Android or iOS.
  • Start recording an activity; waypoints can be added via the photo button on the bottom right by simply taking a picture.
  • Once you finish your activity, it will show up as an activity card in your profile. You can export it as a GPX file or make further changes by editing.
  • To add a waypoint, tap on the map and long-press anywhere on your recorded line to add another waypoint.
  • You can also add images, a title, and a description of the activity as well as each waypoint, and assign categories to waypoints.
  • Once completed, you can export the file by long-pressing on the activity card and selecting “Export GPX.”
  • Your GPX file is now ready to be used, shared, or uploaded to a mapping software for further customization.
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  • Share your experience as posts on your profile or in groups.
  • Create gear lists with weight and cost.
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How to Open and View GPX Files

Garmin Quest

GPX files can be opened and viewed on various platforms and applications, making them a versatile format for GPS data.

They can be easily imported and exported between different platforms without losing any data. Some popular GPS devices that support GPX files include Garmin and Trimble, while mapping software like Google Maps and Google Earth can also open and view GPX files.

These files are also compatible with various mobile apps on both Android and iOS platforms, making it easy for users to create, view, and share their GPS data. Users can convert GPX files into other formats, like KML files (Keyhole Markup Language), which is used by Google Earth.

Here’s how to do it:

On GPS Devices

  • Turn on your device and access the main menu.
  • Look for the option to “Open File” or “View GPX.”
  • Navigate to the folder where your GPX file is stored and select it.
  • The device will then display the “GPX” route on its map interface, allowing you to view and follow it.

On Mapping Software

  • Download mapping software that supports GPX files, such as Garmin BaseCamp (free cross-platform software for Windows and Mac), Google Maps, or Google Earth Pro (paid version removes ads).
  • Open the software and access the “Import” or “Open File” option.
  • Navigate to the location of your GPX file and select it.
  • The software will then display the “GPX” route on its map interface, allowing you to view and customize it as desired.

On Mobile Apps

  • Download a GPS app that supports GPX files, such as the Silverlight app for Android or iOS.
  • Open the app, click on your profile under “Saved,” and click the “Import GPX” button at the bottom.
  • Navigate to the location of your GPX file and select it.
  • The Silverlight app will then display a preview and allow you to add ratings, a title, description, and photos.
  • After it is saved as a route, you can add it to your map for navigation.

Online Services

  • There are various free online services that allow you to view and customize GPX files, such as GPS Visualizer.
  • Simply upload your GPX file to the chosen service, and it will display the route on a map interface for viewing and customization.
  • You can also download the modified GPX file back onto your computer or device for further use.

Editing and Enhancing GPX Files

The Garmin Quest GPS

Editing and enhancing GPX files can be done using various tools and software, depending on the user’s needs and preferences. Some popular options include Garmin Connect, GPS units, Google Earth, and mapping software.

Using these tools, users can add or modify waypoints, tracks, and routes in their GPX files. For example, to add a waypoint to your GPX file on Garmin Connect, simply double click on the map where you want to add the waypoint and select “Save” to add it to your file. You can also modify existing waypoints by clicking on them and selecting “Edit.”

Another way to enhance GPX files is by adding additional information like photos or descriptions. Many mapping software and apps, like the Silverlight app, allow users to attach photos or notes to specific waypoints or tracks in their GPX files, making them more detailed and personalized. For example, on Google Earth, users can click on a single point along their GPX route and add a photo or description by selecting the “Add Placemark” option.

When editing and enhancing GPX files on your computer, you can also import and export them into different formats, like KML (Keyhole Markup Language), which is used by Google Earth. This allows for more customization and integration with other mapping software.

It’s important to note that when editing GPX files, the accuracy and speed of your GPS unit or mobile app can affect the quality of your data. It’s always recommended to check for any discrepancies or errors in your file before saving and sharing it with others.

GPX File Troubleshooting

GPX File

While GPX files are generally a reliable and easy-to-use format for GPS data, there can be some troubleshooting issues that users may encounter. Here are some common problems and how to resolve them:

  • Incorrect GPS Data: This can happen if your GPS device or app experiences a loss of satellite connection or interference from buildings or trees. It can result in straight lines being drawn instead of following the actual path. To avoid this, make sure to have a clear view of the sky when recording your GPX track and confirm the accuracy of your GPS coordinates before saving.
  • Missing Waypoints: If you notice that some waypoints are missing from your GPX file, it could be due to a poor satellite connection or a low battery on your GPS device. To ensure all waypoints are recorded, make sure to have a strong satellite connection and enough battery life before starting your trip.
  • Incorrect Coordinates: Sometimes, GPX files can have incorrect coordinates due to technical errors or human errors. This can result in inaccurate paths and directions. To prevent this, double check the accuracy of your coordinates and use reliable GPS devices or apps when recording geographic data.
  • Difficulty Importing/Exporting: Some users may encounter difficulties when trying to import or export GPX files. This can be due to compatibility issues with different software or devices. In this case, try converting your GPX file into a different format, such as KML, and see if it is compatible with the software or device you are using.
  • Corrupted File: If your GPX file becomes corrupted during the recording process, it may not be able to open or display properly. This can happen due to technical errors or issues with the GPS device. To avoid this, make sure your device and software are up-to-date, and always create backups of your GPX files.
  • Difficulty Creating GPX Files: Some users may have difficulty creating their own GPX files from scratch. In this case, it is helpful to use online services or apps, such as Garmin Connect or the Silverlight app, that offer user-friendly interfaces for creating GPX routes. Some paid versions also offer more advanced features and tools for creating GPX files and managing GPS data.
  • Inaccurate Stage Points: Stage points are points along a track where the user can stop, take a break, or change direction. Sometimes, these stage points may appear to be in the wrong location on a GPX track. This can happen due to technical errors or incorrect GPS coordinates. To fix this issue, you may need to manually adjust the stage points on your GPX file using mapping software or apps.
  • Difficulty Deleting Waypoints: If you are having trouble deleting waypoints from your GPX file, it could be due to issues with the software or device you are using. Try closing and reopening the file, or use a different software or app to delete waypoints.
  • Issues with GPS Units: Some users may experience difficulties when using older GPS units with newer GPX files. This is because older units may not support newer features and geographic data formats in GPX files. To avoid this issue, make sure your GPS unit is compatible with the GPX file you are using, or consider upgrading to a newer device.
  • Limited Features on Mobile Apps: While mobile apps can be convenient for creating and modifying GPX files on the go, they may not offer as many features and tools as desktop mapping software. This can limit the customization and accuracy of your GPX files. If possible, try to use desktop software for more detailed and precise GPX file editing.

Conclusion

In conclusion, GPX files are an essential tool for any outdoor enthusiast or anyone who relies on GPS technology for navigation. They serve as a universal format for storing and sharing GPS data, allowing different devices and apps to communicate with each other seamlessly.

With GPX files, users have the power to customize their GPS experience and make the most out of their adventures.


RALPH S.

Ralph S. is the founder of Silverlight, an avid hiker and trail runner he enjoys spending time outdoors, riding his motorcycle and swimming at the beach when he's not busy replying to customers or developing new Silverlight gear.

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