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GPS for dummies (or for people walking solitary caminos)

peregrina2000

Moderator
Staff member
I assume there are other low tech people out there like me who struggle to figure out the basics of technology. After three years walking with my GPS alone on untraveled caminos, I have finally acquired a sense of comfort with my little Garmin Dakota GPS. The first year, on the Olvidado, I hated it and couldn't figure it out, though at one crucial spot near an abandoned coal mine, it set me straight. The second, on the Girona/Catalan, it was hit or miss, sometimes I could figure it out, sometimes I couldn't. This past year, on the Ebro/Castellano-Aragones and San Olav, my GPS and I reached an understanding, and it saved me on numerous occasions. In fact, at one spot on the Castellano-Aragones, it would have been unsafe for me to walk without the GPS-- remote, twisting hills, no people, no arrows, etc. On the San Olav, Reb and I would have spent a lot of time wandering aimlessly.

We are lucky to have some GPS experts on the forum -- Gunnar, newfydog and Dougfitz (and many others I can't remember) displayed endless patience and helpfulness in sharing their wisdom.

But I thought that learning the experience of a dummie might also be of help to some who are struggling with that little machine. So here are the very simple things I have learned about my Garmin Dakota.

-- Get basecamp on your computer and download tracks from wikiloc or your favorite online GPS source. Even I could figure out how to do the download, wikiloc makes it simple.

-- Transfer tracks from your computer to your GPS. That is also fairly simple, there are tabs to "send to device." BUT make sure that you send them to the memory card you have bought and put in the device and not to the device itself. The GPS itself has a limited memory and if you load up your device with all these tracks, you will find that at some point, the device starts "archiving" tracks to get rid of the overload, and then you can't access them. I learned this the hard way on year two. Since all of this is done at home before walking, I always cheat and get help anyway.

USING the GPS.

-- The GPS will do two things at once -- it will both record what you are walking (that track is referred to as the "current track") and it will also allow you to follow the tracks you have downloaded from someone else. Those are all available in the "track manager" section. As a dummie/novice, I am way more interested in following someone else's tracks but have learned how to save my own tracks. Following someone else's tracks is straightforward, but sometimes at the micro level it is hard to figure out which way to go. You will have to play around with zooming out to see the big picture and zooming in to see the detail of the intersection you have come to. If you are in doubt at an intersection, walk in one direction and after a few minutes look at your GPS to see if the black line (that's you) matches up with the recorded track. If not, backtrack and correct.

-- How to record and save your own tracks. These instructions have been burned into my brain, they come directly from Gunnar.
BEFORE WALKING:
1. Turn on GPS and go to Setup
2. Go to Reset
3. Reset Trip data? Sure? YES
(This makes sure that you start off the day with a clean slate, because sometimes after walking I unintentionally had the GPS running and that made it kind of a mess at the beginning)

AFTER WALKING
1. Track Manager
2. Select Current TRack
3. Save Current track (it will automatically save it with the date as the "name" of the track, you can change the name with the alphabet keypad but I find that cumbersome). Press done
4. When asked after saving if it should clear current track, say yes.

And here are a few more things I've learned:

-- Sometimes the tracks mysteriously disappeared -- when I turned on the machine, there were no tracks in "track manager". I learned, I think it was thanks to Doug, that what had happened was that when changing batteries, I had inadvertently moved the memory card so it was no longer making contact. The memory card sits right behind the batteries with a little floppy clip and moves easily. My solution was to always change batteries one at a time, so the card stays put.

-- When your track is being recorded , there will be either a "back arrow" or an "X" on the lower left. If it's a back arrow, it means that you have (probably inadvertently) "way marked" a spot on your track. Just hit the back arrow to clear it. If the X is showing, it means the recording is going along just fine, and the X will take you out of whatever track you are in so that you can consult other tracks. Even when you do this, your GPS keeps recording your track, though. I did this when I was trying to figure out how Alansykes and I had come in differently into some town on the Castellano-Aragones. But you can always get back to the track you want to follow by going to track manager and scrolling down the list of tracks. The GPS seems to put the tracks that are the closest to your current location at the top of the list, so you don't have to look through too many. And every time you open one of the tracks you have downloaded, the GPS will put you at the spot on the track where you are located, so it's easy to flip back and forth.

--One day for some reason my entire screen turned pink. I had no idea what was going on. I asked a couple of young kids who were playing with phones and they tried to figure it out but to no avail. Finally, I remembered the advice of my tech office at work -- if you can't figure it out, turn off the machine and reboot. And that solved the problem!

I know that many people have strong opinions on the GPS, and I will admit that I had to make a conscious effort to avoid relying on it as my "go to" source. I would only look at it if the arrows were unclear, if there were no arrows, etc. I just didn't want to be that person walking with her head facing down into the GPS. But that takes willpower. Once I hit the Salvador/Primitivo, I put the GPS away and relied only on arrows, since those routes are so well marked and well traveled. But the first day going out of Leon on the Salvador, I felt some mild nervousness when I came to an intersection where the way to go wasn't immediately clear. But after the first few hours, I was "weaned" from the GPS and happily back to self- reliance.

-- To transfer tracks from your GPS back to your computer. It's easy, once you have walked, if you want to look at your tracks on basecamp, just plug the GPS into the computer and open basecamp and then hit on "device"/"receive from device." Then up pops a screen telling you what your options are and you can retrieve the tracks from your GPS to basecamp.

-- To post tracks on wikiloc. That is also easy. I am sure I am doing it in a roundabout way but this works for me so I'm sticking to it. First you have to "export" your files to a download in your documents so that you can then upload your files from your downloads onto the web/wikiloc. For me, that just involves highlighting the file you want to upload to wikiloc, clicking on File/Export/Export Selection and clicking on it. That moves the track to a pdf file in downloads. Once your tracks are in your downloads, go to wikiloc, and click on upload. It will then give you the option of "selecting the file" by browsing, and you find your downloads, and scroll through them till you find the pdf you want. Then wikiloc takes you through a few screens, where you can add pictures, rate the trail, tell whether it's hiking, biking, etc, and a few other things. And then the trail is there for all to see!

-- To get tracks from wikiloc to your GPS or to your computer. There is some way to transfer files directly from wikiloc to the GPS but it requires a "Garmin Communicator" and I have always been unable to figure out how to get it on my computer and then use it. SO, I do it the old fashioned way, transferring them first onto my computer by downloading the trail, then going to basecamp and going File/Import and it will take me to my downloads. I select the track I want to get onto the computer, and click, and it then becomes a track on my computer.

The GPS can do an amazing number of other things -- tell you how fast you're walking, how much elevation gain you've had, how far you are from the next stop, etc etc. But since I'm not a big techie in "real life", that wasn't much of a temptation for me. And I really wanted to keep the GPS as something that would help me out in a pinch, not as my constant companion.

I would never recommend that anyone use a GPS on the Frances, Norte, Portugues, Vdlp, Sanabres, Primitivo, etc. On those caminos, it's overkill, but that's just my opinion.

So, I know this is long-winded but I was just cleaning out my backpack and found all these notes so decided to write it up while it was fresh in my mind. And since next year I will be starting off from the beginning again, maybe these notes will help me remember how to use it! Buen camino, Laurie
 
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Mark Lee

Guest
Good post.
Using a GPS on less traveled and less marked routes is the smart thing to do. I have a little Garmin I mess with on treks through the woods here. Comes in handy and fun just to play with. Still haven't figured it out completely. :D
Anyone who has strong opinions on using GPS on the Camino, anywhere on the Camino, is in denial. If you traveled to the Camino via airline, guess what. That plane navigated with a GPS. So do a considerable amount of long distance vehicles used in public transport.
;)
 

AZgirl

Active Member
Year of past OR future Camino
Frances 2012 , via de la Plata 2014
Madrid/frances Sept/Oct 2017
Next : mozarabe 2021
Thanks for the info. I have been considering one to use for hiking close to where I live, as many trails are not well marked and criss cross alot. (At least that is how they appear to me)

Do you think it would be needed on the Levante?
 

peregrina2000

Moderator
Staff member
Thanks for the info. I have been considering one to use for hiking close to where I live, as many trails are not well marked and criss cross alot. (At least that is how they appear to me)

Do you think it would be needed on the Levante?

Well, I walked the Levante without one, and I met someone in Santiago who had just finished up who also walked alone without one. The maps in the Association's guidebook are quite good, as are their instructions about walking.

BUT... As a single woman, on a camino where you may not meet any other pilgrims (I met two Frenchmen on day 3 or 4 and we walked into Santiago together -- my experience might have been very different if I were walking alone), I would say that a GPS would not be a bad idea. Especially if you can figure out how to use it before you leave home! For me, as I wrote in my post, the thing that took some effort was to draw a clear line around how I would use the GPS. If your inclination is not to take one, you will probably be able to take one and draw that same line -- using it only when you are in doubt and not using it as a replacement for arrows. I just think that using it as your primary guide means that your head will be looking down most of the time, you will not have to interact with your surroundings, and you will lose a lot of the sense of satisfaction that comes from being more self-reliant.

Glad to hear you become comfortable with the GPS.

In the end, did you change the sim card in your iphone? How did that go?

Yes, I changed the SIM card in the phone, and it worked great. I had a vodaphone plan, called Super Yuser, 15 euros a month for 50 minutes of phone conversation, and 1 (?) GB of data. Since I was walking for more than a month, I had to buy a second round, but all the unused minutes/data carried over. I left Santiago with a lot of unused data, since wifi is so prevalent. But it was occasionally nice to have.

(Though Movistar has much better coverage than Vodaphone, you get free calls from other Super Yuser subscribers and since Annie and I walked together but separately, that was a nice feature to have).

Buen camino, Laurie
 
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Rick of Rick and Peg

Veteran Member
Year of past OR future Camino
Us:Camino Frances, 2015 Me:Catalan/Aragonese, 2019

dougfitz

Veteran Member
Year of past OR future Camino
Spain: Mar 2010, Apr 2014, May/Jun 2016. Norway/Sweden: 2012, 2018. Other: 2011, 2019. CP (tbc)
Forum member @stratophile has a website at http://trekopedia.com which supplies GPS tracks of various walks. The page that handles the full Brieley version of the Camino Frances is at http://trekopedia.com/?page_id=3225
This is an excellent resource. A more complete set of the CF tracks is at http://trekopedia.com/?page_id=469 in the section All Route Options on One Page. I did note that neither the Brierley nor the All Route Communities files covered all the alternatives that Brierley describes. The most obvious omissions are that neither cover the alternative route into Burgos along the river, the Dragonte variant after Villafranca del Bierzo nor the safer descent along the road to the bridge before Portomarin. Otherwise, the Route Communities collection is as complete a set as I have seen recently, and these omissions might be seen as relatively minor given how many variants have been covered.

Note also that these collections are provided in the Google Earth (.kml) file format, and may need translation to use in other desktop applications. For example, Basecamp was able to display the Route Communities collection, but I could not get the Brierley file to load properly.
 
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Rick of Rick and Peg

Veteran Member
Year of past OR future Camino
Us:Camino Frances, 2015 Me:Catalan/Aragonese, 2019
After three years walking with my GPS alone on untraveled caminos, I have finally acquired a sense of comfort with my little Garmin Dakota GPS.

I am currently using a GPS app called OSMand for my Android cell phone (I don't know if it is available for Apple products.) I did not use it for my camino. It uses map data supplied my the Open Street Map project. What I like about it is that it has maps showing trails, a feature that I've found missing from Google Maps. It can also be used offline. You first download the maps for the areas you will be in and then you can shut off WiFi and/or cellular data. It has plugins, including contour data (although this and elevations are in meters only.)

I just downloaded the map for Galicia and found that the camino was in the map, marked partly as trail and partly as road but not labled. (I used coordinates 42.755810,-7.231053 for an old chestnut tree that is on the camino in Ramil, near Triacastela.) There are provisions to have OSMand use GPX files so if you pick one from the web it should show what way to go.

OSMand can be dowloaded for free but that version will allow only a small number of maps to be download. The paid version will allow many (unlimited?) maps and updates to maps and the app to be downloaded.

For a view of the tree in Ramil see https://www.caminodesantiago.me/community/camino-photos/vegetable-garden.4420/ There are comments there with links that allow you to see a map of Ramil and Flickr photos of the area.
 

Rick of Rick and Peg

Veteran Member
Year of past OR future Camino
Us:Camino Frances, 2015 Me:Catalan/Aragonese, 2019
Note also that these collections are provided in the Google Earth (.kml) file format, and may need translation to use in other desktop applications. For example, Basecamp was able to display the Route Communities collection, but I could not get the Brierley file to load properly.

One of my favorite GPS websites is http://www.gpsvisualizer.com/ which can do many things. One thing it appears it can do (I haven't tried it yet) is conversion of files from one type of GPS data file to another (GPX/KML/text). It can also plot out a track for you to download in various formats (JPG/PNG/SVG).
 
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alansykes

Veteran Member
Year of past OR future Camino
Except the Francés
As someone who is both a dummie and a lover of solitary caminos, forgive me if my questions are especially thick, but ...?

- do you have to use a separate GPS device (?Garmin) or can it be on your smartphone?
- can you use it when not attached to wifi?

I have a basic tablet and an android smart phone (which is a bit "smarter" than its owner). I found I could either record my own tracks or follow somebody else's, but not both at the same time. I also found I could use wikiloc's downloaded maps when offline, which helped me a lot a few times, but they are nothing like as good as Peter Robbins', which I can only seem to see online. I also tried Osmand and its maps seemed little better than wikiloc's.

I'm hoping to go fairly seriously off piste/camino in Extremadura this November and some information about the next pueblo coming up would be reassuring. But we managed before GPS so presumably can still manage without it.
 

Rick of Rick and Peg

Veteran Member
Year of past OR future Camino
Us:Camino Frances, 2015 Me:Catalan/Aragonese, 2019
Ever notice that many Wikipedia pages have coordinate data attached to them. There are plugins for the OSMand regions that will show a symbol for each of these. So you can set OSMand to show Wikipedia sites (and police stations, places of lodging, grocery stores, etc.) and then if you walk by a site marked with the Wikipedia hot-linked symbol you can get information about the place (but maybe in Galician.) You will have to be online to be able to read the full article or to have Google translate it or be able to use the "read in another language" feature of Wikipedia so you may want to view the next day's camino segment with an albergue's WiFi to find out about upcoming points of interest.
 

peregrina2000

Moderator
Staff member
Hi, Alan,
I've been told that you can use your smartphone as a GPS (in fact, I think that's what newfydog does). I just didn't want to risk it this year -- both the thought of not having any battery, and the thought that I would have to learn to use another GPS system made me stick with my Garmin.

I never did figure out how you did what you did with your phone last year, btw, but I did look at your recorded tracks in wikiloc and downloaded some of them.

The GPS device has its own satellite system, so it works without wifi. I found that the rechargeable batteries lasted more than one day and usually less than two days, depending on how long I walked, how confused I was and how often I resorted to it. So I bought two pairs of batteries and a charger.

For me the beauty of wikilocs is that I can find a user who has walked the route I want to walk, communicate with him/her if I have questions, and then feel confident using those tracks. Other sources may have these capabilities as well, but I like being able to make sure that the person whose tracks I'm using has walked and not cycled the route.

You are right that we walked solitary caminos before GPS and survived (I walked Invierno and Lebaniego/Vadiniense in my pre-GPS years, and the year I walked the Invierno there were way fewer arrows), and so I am sure I could survive. Most of the time, having the GPS means I don't have to spend 10-15 minutes hunting around, backtracking, to eventually find the arrow. So in most cases it is eliminating a minor inconvenience. But a few times, this year in particular, it has meant the difference between being totally up a creek without a paddle and knowing which way to go.
 

alansykes

Veteran Member
Year of past OR future Camino
Except the Francés
But a few times, this year in particular, it has meant the difference between being totally up a creek without a paddle and knowing which way to go.

That's exactly what I want and will probably need. Wish they had night classes in "garmin for dummies" round here.

PS. Glad you enjoyed the Soriano as much as I did. It is just wonderful, isn't it?
 

Rick of Rick and Peg

Veteran Member
Year of past OR future Camino
Us:Camino Frances, 2015 Me:Catalan/Aragonese, 2019
As someone who is both a dummie and a lover of solitary caminos, forgive me if my questions are especially thick, but ...?

- do you have to use a separate GPS device (?Garmin) or can it be on your smartphone?

I've used GPS with an Android tablet and with an Android smartphone. I've never used a dedicated GPS device.

- can you use it when not attached to wifi?

Yes. And it does not have to be connected to cellular service either.

I have a basic tablet and an android smart phone (which is a bit "smarter" than its owner). I found I could either record my own tracks or follow somebody else's, but not both at the same time.

I haven't tried this. I'll have to try that out.

I also found I could use wikiloc's downloaded maps when offline, which helped me a lot a few times, but they are nothing like as good as Peter Robbins', which I can only seem to see online. I also tried Osmand and its maps seemed little better than wikiloc's.

Wikiloc supplies the GPS data for the routes/tracks and uses Google Maps and OSM to render the underlying maps.

I'm hoping to go fairly seriously off piste/camino in Extremadura this November and some information about the next pueblo coming up would be reassuring. But we managed before GPS so presumably can still manage without it.

Don't forget your compass. :)
 
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VNwalking

Wandering in big circles
Year of past OR future Camino
Francés ('14/'15)
San Olav/CF ('16)
Baztanés/CF ('17)
Ingles ('18)
Vasco/CF/Invierno ('19)
Great thread, Laurie, thank you and everyone for the useful information. Bookmarked.
I would have spent a lot of time wandering aimlessly.
Like I did. :confused:
I thought I could use my phone as a GPS but for some reason it wouldn't work offline and I was stuck with a couple of grainy screengrabs of Alan Syke's wikiloc track that I'd copied to my phone 'in case.' So out of Santo Domingo de Silos I got way off track and ended up far away from where I thought I was headed.
I played with the settings thinking that was the problem, but to no avail.
So word to the wise: if you intend to use your phone as a GPS try it out offline first to see if it actually works.......
Don't be like me and add almost 10 ks to an already long day!;)
 
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Latecomer

Active Member
Year of past OR future Camino
VDLP (Sept 2015)

CF SJPDP-SdC+
(Sept/Oct 2018)
So word to the wise: if you intend ot use your phone as a GPS try it out offline first to see if it actually works.......
Yes! And make sure that you have downloaded and installed any offline maps (for Spain) and bookmarks/routes (KML, KMZ, etc.) before you leave home. Maps.me (which works great offline) with path information for the VdlP used over 100Mb of storage space.
 

peregrina2000

Moderator
Staff member
That's exactly what I want and will probably need. Wish they had night classes in "garmin for dummies" round here.

PS. Glad you enjoyed the Soriano as much as I did. It is just wonderful, isn't it?

If you decide to buy a Garmin before your next remote jaunt, just remember that you can get both the dummie advice from me and the expert advice from Doug and newfy, so you will have all your bases covered.

And the Soriano was just terrific, I enjoyed it so much. The city of Soria was certainly the big surprise of the entire walk, what a nice little place! Such great scenery, wonderful Romanesque, good food -- what more could you ask for?!
 

Rick of Rick and Peg

Veteran Member
Year of past OR future Camino
Us:Camino Frances, 2015 Me:Catalan/Aragonese, 2019
I have a basic tablet and an android smart phone (which is a bit "smarter" than its owner). I found I could either record my own tracks or follow somebody else's, but not both at the same time.
I tried this today with my Android smartphone and OSMand with the trip recording plugin. I was able to display a 3 mile dog walking route that I had recorded about a week ago. I then hit the GPX button to record the loop with the shortcuts my wife takes. I stopped the recording when finished to save the trip as a gpx file. I then loaded that onto the display and everything was okay.

However, while the trip today was recorded it did not display as I was walking it. I only saw the previous trip displayed showing the previous longer track.
 
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Jeff Crawley

Veteran Member
Year of past OR future Camino
2018
As someone who is both a dummie and a lover of solitary caminos, forgive me if my questions are especially thick, but ...?

- do you have to use a separate GPS device (?Garmin) or can it be on your smartphone?
- can you use it when not attached to wifi?

I have a basic tablet and an android smart phone (which is a bit "smarter" than its owner). I found I could either record my own tracks or follow somebody else's, but not both at the same time. I also found I could use wikiloc's downloaded maps when offline, which helped me a lot a few times, but they are nothing like as good as Peter Robbins', which I can only seem to see online. I also tried Osmand and its maps seemed little better than wikiloc's.

I'm hoping to go fairly seriously off piste/camino in Extremadura this November and some information about the next pueblo coming up would be reassuring. But we managed before GPS so presumably can still manage without it.

You CAN use your smartphone as a GPS receiver but at the cost of battery life. Phones aren't designed to run as GPSes for hours on end - it will also get quite hot. Dedicated GPSes are designed for the purpose so the battery life is longer. My Garmin eTrex 30 will run for a good 25 hours on cheapo batteries from the local car parts store and for as long as 43 hours on ultra life lithium ones from Maplin (just like Tandy or Radio Shack).
Of course you don't NEED to run it all the time unless you want to record your track. For my up coming trip I've downloaded waypoints for all the night-time stops (and verified the actual site using Google Street View - some of the co-ordinates were way off) these will be loaded onto Maps.Me on my phone. We'll plod the well marked route of the CF and I'll switch on when we get to the destination town so it can lead me to the door (and my bed).
Of course if you DO save your track you can then view it on the very beautiful IGN maps and then zoom in and impress your friends with how much of a bad-ass hiker you are . . . . "you REALLY walked through those mountains? OMG!"
And if you zoom in REALLY, REALLY close you can see little cockle shells . . .

Screenshot_IGN app.jpg Screenshot_OCebriero.jpg
 
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Jeff Crawley

Veteran Member
Year of past OR future Camino
2018
That's exactly what I want and will probably need. Wish they had night classes in "garmin for dummies" round here.

PS. Glad you enjoyed the Soriano as much as I did. It is just wonderful, isn't it?
Alan - have you tried your local Ramblers Association? The group I belong to holds regular map reading and gps classes to encourage members to become walk leaders.
 

HeidiL

Veteran Member
Year of past OR future Camino
Francés (2004-), Portugués, Madrid, 4/5 Plata, 1/8 Levante, 1/8 Lana, Augusta, hospitalera Grado.
I've used my phone GPS a couple of times when the path split without a yellow arrow in sight.

I've used it a lot more in cities to find specific addresses, plus to find supermarkets, which always seem to be hiding from me. I've set up a list of Points of Interest in my TomTom Application that includes museums, hotels, vineyards, bus stops and supermarkets. This seems to fill most of my needs, on or off the Camino...
 

michael

Member
Re use of GPS.
I have been told but do not know how to that you can use your phone in airplane mode with cached maps. Exactly how this works I dont know or even if it is working in GPS mode or just a displayed map.
How do you guys keep your GPS running? On my bike I have a dynamo charging a storage battery which then charges the batteries overnight. Given the battery life you must be either getting through a stack of batteries or have some method of charging.
Remind me again why you need GPS. I thought just following the yellow arrows was all you needed to do. Isn't getting 'lost' just part of of the journey?
 
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KinkyOne

Veteran Member
Year of past OR future Camino
I'am not perfect, but I'm always myself!!!
My android smartphone worked fine as a GPS recorder in airplane mode (Wikiloc, Endomondo). I just couldn't see preloaded GPS tracks in same app that was recording my current track. But I don't see that as a problem. Using first one for recording and the second one for checking when in doubt.
 

tony young

Ulysses ... mostly lost
Year of past OR future Camino
september 2016;
.... has anyone used the Wise Pilgrim Guide app. ... has a a basic gps, elevation profiler, and town by town accomodation lists ... includes on line booking ...... and was cheap ...
 

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