Recently I overheard someone wondering, after seeing another person using a map to get around a national park, how is it possibleto use paper maps nowadays in order to navigate? If we take a look around and sum up the number of gadgets that intertwine with our lives, the question makes more sense. On the other hand, classical maps are much easier to use for the simple fact that they offer you a complete image of the area, instead of the small display that navigation devices use. And it won’t be an isolated incident when you’ll stumble upon the fact you can’t figure out where you are because you didn’t see the bigger picture. An there’s also the fact that low lighting of the screen/display or the total absence of it if it hasn’t got a power source may also prevent you from properly using the virtual map.
Discussing about electronic navigation devices, the technologial development that should have made life easier was set back by the players’ decision of this segment to usea their very own navigation systems, and, even more annoying, their own file extensions.
Therefore, we’ll talk in this article only about the most common-used navigation systems: Garmin GPS, Google Earth and bikemap.net. You’re most likely to come upon Garmin’s gdb files, the American company’s proprietary extension, or the kml and kmz employed by Google Earth. As for allmost-do-it-all extensions, the gpx one plays this role and can be used on most navigation devices. Also, the gpx, or GPS Exchange Format, doesn’t require purchasing any licence.
Still, this last format may not prove very useful if the track or the GPS coordinates we want to open are in a language/code that the GPS can’t read. So, say hello to GPSBabel, a wonder-tool that turns any gps file format into any gps file format you like, and that is free to use thanks to the contributors that made its development possible.
Using GPSBabel, we convert any gps file into a gpx format, which we can subsequently upload on our GPS device or mobile phone. In Garmin’s case, the transfer implies a simple procedure, being done via USB or even wireless. The same goes for smartphones, plus the option to download it from you e-mail and save it in the specific folder.
Last, but not least, there is bikemap.net, another very popular tool designed for navigation. After drawing your route, you can export it in a gpx or a kml file, which allows you to either use it with a GPS device or with Google Earth.