Blue Hills Innovations

Off-Road Travel

Hit the woods or water!

When I leave the car and plane far behind me, and trek into the great outdoors, I usually bring my GPS unit with me. Keep in mind, that the GPS is in no way meant to be a substitute for a map and compass, and these tools should always be a part of your outdoor gear, particularly if trekking in unfamiliar territory.


As with road maps, there are several software packages that can be used with topographic maps for travel. In fact, most of these packages will allow you to scan in any map, and as long as you can register three points on the map with known latitude & longitude, the software can use triangulation to index, or calibrate the map. Some these packages include Fugawi, Ozi-Explorer, and DeLorme 3D TopoQuads. This tutorial uses Fugawi, so the descriptions here will refer to Fugawi, however, most software packages will have similar capabilities.

Create Waypoints First

Once youíve decided on an area to trek into, the first step of your journey is actually on the computer. Open up your calibrated map, displaying the area youíve decided upon for your journey. Studying the terrain on the map, get a mental idea of the route you would like to take. In Fugawi, you need to create waypoints first, in order to create a route. The easiest way to create waypoints in Fugawi, is to go to the pull-down menu for "Waypoints", select "Options", display the "Prefs" tab, and place a check in the "Auto Waypoints" box under "Map Behaviour".

This allows you to place the cursor over any point on the map and click, and a waypoint will be displayed on the map at that location, with a number designation beginning with "001". Obviously, subsequent waypoints created will have consecutive numbers. You can change these numbers to alpha-numeric names, but you may want to create your route prior to changing to names. To change the waypoint numbers to text/numeric names, use the pull-down menu for "Waypoints" again, and select "List". Highlight a number by clicking on it, and rename it, up to 6 characters. When youíve created all the waypoints needed along the path for your route, save them in a separate file by choosing the pull-down menu for "Waypoints", selecting "Save", and entering a name for the waypoint list youíve created.

Create a Route from your Waypoints

Once youíve selected waypoints along your planned route, you can create the actual route by selecting the pull-down menu "Route", and selecting "List". From this screen, choose "New" and you will be prompted for a name for your new route. You can then create your route by selecting waypoints with the cursor, and clicking on the "Add" button to include them in your route.

The waypoints can be selected in any order, and sometimes itís easier to leave them in the number format until the route is created rather than renaming them, as the waypoints stay in the order they were created, rather than assuming an alpha-numeric order based on their new names. Once your waypoints have been added in order of your desired route, click on the "Save" button, and enter a filename for your route. Take notice of the folder your route has been saved in.

Upload your Waypoints to your GPS

When I go out into the field, I generally donít take a computer with me, so at this point, I need to upload my waypoints and route from the computer to my GPS. Typically, the GPS canít accept a route unless it has the waypoints included in the route first, so the first step is to upload the waypoints used to create the route. In order to do this, you will need a data connection between the computer and the GPS, and the interface must be set up between them. Typically, the manufacturer specific interface for your GPS unit will be used for the upload/download of information. To do this, use the pull-down menu for "Settings", select "Program", and select the tab for "GPS". In this case, I am using the Garmin settings for upload and download. Your GPS unitís interface will also need to be set up for upload and download, rather than NMEA. Once your interface setup and connection are complete, in Fugawi, select the pull-down menu for "Waypoints", select "List", and click on "Upload". This will upload your waypoints into your GPS unit.

Upload your Route to your GPS

Now that you have your waypoints for your route uploaded into your GPS unit, you can upload your route. Select the pull-down menu for "Route", verify the correct route to upload, and select the "Upload" button. Your route will be uploaded to your GPS.

Take Off!

At this point youíre ready for the field. When you get to your starting point, turn on your GPS and activate the route you created. I also like to activate the "Record" in the "Track Log" setup of my GPS, to record a track of the path I actually take. Your GPS should direct you to the waypoints along the route, and guide you on your trek. In most cases, there will be natural obstacles along the way that will take you off your route, but you should be able to follow the general direction of the route you created. Since this is more about the use of GPS in conjunction with a computer than the use of the GPS itself, I suggest you consult the user manual for your GPS for operating instructions.

Where did you go today?

When I return from a trip to the field, itís always interesting to compare the actual track to the route I created with the intention to follow. If your GPS unit was set up to record a track log, you should be able to upload that track log to your software. To do this, once again you need a data connection between the computer and the GPS, and the interface must be set up between them. Once this is complete, in Fugawi, select the pull-down menu for "Track", and select "Download from GPS".

Your track will be transferred from you GPS to your computer at this point. To see your track, select the pull-down menu for track, and click on "Show". There should be a check mark immediately to the left of "Show" on the pull-down menu at this point, and the track should be displayed on the map as a series of blue dots. To connect the dots in your track, select the pull-down menu for "Track" and select "Options", and put a check mark in the "Draw Lines" box of the "WP&Track" tab. At this point, you can display your route and track on the screen at the same time, and compare the two of them.

Waypoints Only

Another use of the GPS and computer combination in the field, is simply to mark waypoints with your GPS as you trek in the field, and upload them to the computer after your return, so that you can return to those points at a later date, or create a route for future treks from the waypoints you collected.