Using and Sharing GPS Data: Active vs. Saved Tracks

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I received an email the other day from an avid hiker who had been using his GPS to record his routes only to discover that the data seemed to be unusable. When I first bought my unit I went out and did a couple of hikes and found myself facing the same frustration. The problem is that there is a difference between active tracks and saved tracks that are created when using the Garmin products.

Below is the screen that is used to manage tracks with Garmin models that are capable of uploading and downloading data.

I tried a couple of things to fix the situation. When I would start a hike I would hit the clear button and clear the log and then save the first track when I finished the hike. I would then clear the log before the second. The saved track still appeared on the screen and I thought the problem was fixed. After completing the second hike I would then save the track again. I then tried downloading the data and found that the active tracks were missing for all but the last hike.

The problem is that when you go out and do a hike and save the track, you save only the latitude and longitude for each of the points that make up the track. What the saved tracks are missing is the date time stamps associated with the track. This additional information, depending on what you want to do with the track, may be the most valuable information. The active track can be uploaded to many sites to allow you to show your route and obtain very accurate information about the maximum elevation, total climb through sites like MotionBased. It seems that the handheld does not permit the storing of more than one active track.

If you save a track and clear the track log you lose the active track for that hike. If you do not clear the track log between hikes they will be commingled into one file. Good luck trying to separate them manually. If you are in this situation, where you have several hikes combined in your active track, there is one solution that I have found but it should only be used as a last resort that may save your sanity. It is not something you should rely on because it does not always work.

Sign up for a free account with MotionBased and upload your active track. When you do this do not check the box to “Allow Time Conficts” and MotionBased will show your separate tracks. Problem, MotionBased does not upload waypoints so if you like to Geotag photos or save waypoints these will not be included in your track. If you want to include your waypoints in your tracks you can download an individual track to your computer in GPX from MotionBased and upload it to Everytrail and then manually input the waypoints to create a track with the waypoints included which can be shared with others.

The only real answer to all of this frustration is to save your data on your computer after each hike. I clear the track log before starting a hike. When I complete a hike that requires that you to return on the same route that you hike on (not a loop), I save the hike when I reach the mountain top but I do not clear the track log. You will then see a saved track on your screen but the active track is not cleared. It is this saved track (one direction) that I upload to hikealberta because it is only the lattitude and longitude for each point on the track that needs to downloaded to follow the track. The active track I upload to MotionBased to get the details such as the total climb or elevation profile. This data includes both directions of travel.

One final tip, on the “Saved Trips” screen, there is a “Set Up” tab. In this window you can set the record interval. Leave it on “Normal” which records a point something like every 20 seconds. If you increase the record interval your data will not be accepted by MotionBased because of the size of the file that will be generated.

Using the data card

With a Garmin "X" series handheld like you have, set the tracklog to save to the microSD card. The full active track will be saved from that point to the card with no limit in size (Until the card is full). They are saved within GPX files that are labelled by date. Using this method, every track will be saved for every trip that you do.