GPS navigation for beginners: choice of navigator, maps, programs

Guest post from my friend, hiking. Now is just the marching season, and very soon autumn, a great time for the Crimea, so the information about the navigators may come in handy.

Good day! I am Andrei Lunyachek. I have been involved in tourism for a long time, but the topic of GPS navigation fascinated me only a few months ago. Up to this point, everything connected with the magic word "GPS" seemed to me something scary and incomprehensible. However, I quickly became convinced that there was nothing particularly difficult in this matter, and even wrote a number of articles about navigators and navigation. And in this article I want to talk as simply and easily as possible about navigators and their use in tourism.

In various places of this article I will givelinks to various materials (both mine and others), which very well complement what you read below. These links will be very useful, because in one article it is impossible to fully cover all the necessary points.

From the very beginning I want to clarify that I willtalk exclusively about offline navigation. Situations when we, using a smartphone, we climb into the Internet and dig there in all Google and Yandex maps, I will not consider here. First, the Internet is not everywhere. Not only in the wild, but also in a big city, it is possible that you will not have access to the Internet. Secondly, if we discuss online navigation, then this will be a conversation not about navigators, but about various Internet resources.

And I want to tell you about GPS-navigators - aboutspecial devices that can greatly facilitate our lives and help out in difficult times. The conversation will go primarily about their use in the wild. Firstly, I myself prefer hiking, rather than trips to cities. Secondly, in nature, there is often no one to help you, and in the city you can ask the question “how to get there” to any passer-by. Nevertheless, I will mention the GPS navigation in the city in those places where the article is relevant.

So, what do we need for full navigation? We will need:

  • navigator (or something that performs its functions)
  • maps that can be loaded into it
  • points marking objects of interest

These items are interconnected, but start with somethingneed to. In order to better understand the characteristics of navigators (which will be discussed later), first consider the information that we load into it, that is, let's talk about points and maps. There are also such types of navigation data as routes (these are bundles of waypoints) and tracks (the distance traveled recorded by the navigator). In my opinion, for orientation they are less important than points, so I will not dwell on routes and tracks in detail.

The content of the article

Waypoints and Points of Interest (POIs)

Although these kinds of points from each otherfundamentally do not differ, points of interest (Points Of Interest, or POI) are commonly referred to as points included in a vector map (read below for maps), and Waypoints are points that you can add to the navigator.

Common to waypoints and points of interest isThe fact that you can turn on the so-called navigation to the point. At the same time, an arrow indicating the direction in which this point is located and the distance to this point will be displayed on the navigator screen. You just have to go in the right direction. Even if the path or terrain takes you aside, glancing at the arrow, you will still go where it should be.

Where to get waypoints? It is best to search them on the Internet. There are even entire sites with similar points, for example, the site “Springs of Crimea” (see a list of such sites here). Another, somewhat less accurate way is to mark a point on the map using one of the navigation programs and save it to a file. Points can be stored in files of different formats - GPX, WPT, KML. However, the universal format that navigators and all navigation programs understand is GPX format. If you have points in a different format, then you need to convert them to GPX using any converter program (for example, GPSBabel).

Card types: vector and raster maps

The easiest way to explain what a raster map is. This is just a picture consisting of pixels, similar to the photo that your camera takes. For example, you can take a paper map (or, for example, your pencil drawing on paper) and scan it. Next, using one of the popular programs, we attach this picture to the coordinates (for which we point the points on the picture, whose coordinates are known to us), and then convert it to the format that our navigator understands. That is, any graphic image is relatively easy to turn into a raster map, understandable to the navigator.

Raster topographic map of the Carpathians in the program Locus Map

Raster topographic map of the Carpathians in the program Locus Map

A vector map is not a picture. This is a set of objects (streets, roads, houses, rivers, paths, etc.). And the program installed in the navigator turns this set of objects into a ready-made picture that it displays on the screen. The minus of vector maps is that they are quite difficult (and sometimes impossible) to do yourself. Therefore, usually have to be content with what others have done. And the plus is that, since the vector map consists of separate objects, you can search and navigate through these objects, as well as use the auto-strip route using the roads and paths available on the map. Accordingly, there is often no need to have separate files with some useful points, since many points (in the form of certain objects) are already included in the vector map.

Vector map of Yalta in the program OsmAnd

Vector map of Yalta in the program OsmAnd

Vector maps will be convenient for those whotravels around cities and major highways. And for connoisseurs of wildlife, raster maps will be more useful. The fact is that wildlife is best depicted on topographic maps (and tourist maps based on them). And these cards are only in raster form.

Many maps can be downloaded for free on the Internet. In addition, raster maps are relatively easy to make yourself, which allows the owner of the navigator not to depend on someone else's “mercy”, but to have on the device screen exactly what you want.

Read more about maps in my article: Maps for GPS-navigators: where to get them?

Navigators and other devices used for navigation

What types of devices are commonly used for navigation? The most common are:

  • car navigators
  • tourist navigators
  • smartphones and tablets with GPS receiver

On car navigators usually setOne of several popular programs that work only with certain maps. But for marching navigators have very different requirements. For a hike, you need to be ready to shove anything into the navigator - a satellite image, some rare (possibly old) map, in short, all the best that you can dig on the Internet for a given territory. Something, you may find only in paper form, and you have to scan and link to the coordinates. And so on.

Fortunately, popular tourist mapsregions to get no problem. But the point is that the camp navigator must be “omnivorous,” that is, allow loading any map (I’ll specify a raster map, because it’s not possible with vector maps). This is very useful if you go not to the Crimea, and in the wilds of Siberia or the Amazon jungle. And even if in the Crimea? Why not add something else to popular tourist cards? For example, satellite images from Google, Yandex or Bing? Or aerial photography from the Second World War? No problems! We download what we need from the Internet and download it to the GPS navigator. The programs that do this are described below.

This kind of "omnivorous" has both tourist navigators, and many programs installed on smartphones and tablets. We will talk about these two types of devices in more detail.

Smartphones and tablets with a GPS receiver

Smartphones and tablets are very popular now. Many of them (with the exception of the cheapest ones) have built-in GPS receivers, which allows them to be used as GPS navigators. To do this, a corresponding program must be installed on a smartphone or tablet. For example, a number of good programs exist for the Android operating system. These programs are either free or inexpensive, about 5-8 dollars.

Lovers of maximum simplicity canadvise the program MapsWithMe. In addition to the "+" and "-" buttons, there are four more buttons. One of them brings up the map download menu, where (if you have internet access) you can select and download a map of the desired region, after which you can use this map offline. The second button will show your location on the map. The third button opens the search window for the names and categories of objects included in this vector map. The fourth button allows you to mark a place on the map and save it in the "Bookmarks". This program is exhausted. Cards in the program are used vector, their own format. They are good enough for the city, but for the wild nature will be rather weak. Other cards (except for "native") can not be loaded into the program.

MapsWithMe program. Vector Map of Moscow Region

MapsWithMe program. Vector Map of Moscow Region

More demanding users of devices onAndroid program is suitable OsmAnd (here is the instruction). It will be useful for both pedestrians and motorists, because using their own vector maps (by the way, they are quite good), it supports automatic routing (either on roads or on paths) and route guidance, including voice prompts. And all this in the absence of the Internet! Add to this the presence in the map of a set of points of POI, the ability to download any raster maps, waypoints, tracks, track recording, etc.

The program OsmAnd. Vector map of Ukraine

The program OsmAnd. Vector map of Ukraine

Another good Android program isLocus Map. Unlike the previous one, it looks more like a traditional tourist navigator and is used mainly with raster maps. Vector maps for it are also available, both free (fairly unpretentious, besides without POI points), and paid (probably, they are good, but I did not download them). Well, you can download any raster maps.

Program Locus Map. Raster tourist map of the Carpathians

Program Locus Map. Raster tourist map of the Carpathians

What are the pros and cons of usingsmartphones and tablets as navigators? Pros: a) if you already have a smartphone with GPS, then you do not need to buy an additional device; b) you can choose a navigation program to your taste, or even use several programs one by one; c) a large user-friendly screen. Minuses: a) smartphones and tablets require more careful handling than tourist navigators, which will be even more accurate and completely waterproof; b) smartphones and tablets are quickly discharged (literally a day in continuous navigation mode), that is, they are not suitable for multi-day hikes (unless you carry a miracle-charging with you or turn on your smartphone only occasionally).

Tourist Navigators

These devices are created specifically for hikingwilderness. They are completely waterproof, which allows them to be used safely in the rain, and they hold the charge for a long time (on good batteries - about a week with active daily use). In addition, widespread finger batteries and finger batteries, which can be taken with you in any quantity, are used for food.

What to look for when choosingtourist navigator? First, find out if it supports loading maps, both vector and raster (the cheapest navigators do not know how). Secondly, whether it allows you to load a sufficient number of points, tracks and routes. Thirdly, what is the memory capacity of it (it must be either a card or a sufficiently capacious internal memory). The screen of the navigator should be color, but its dimensions - at your discretion. The big screen is more convenient, but “eats” the battery more strongly.

And one more important question which we will now consider concerns the manufacturer of the navigator. What company to choose?

Choice of the company: Garmin, Magellan or something else?

The most famous manufacturerTourist Navigators is Garmin. So well-known that many have never heard of any other navigators. And some friends advised me to buy Garmin. This, of course, good navigators. However, I thought, and bought a navigator somewhat less well-known company Magellan. Explain why.

It's all about the cards. If you need vector maps, then buy Garmin. For him to find a vector map is not a problem, and some of them themselves do. Vector maps for Magellan are a rarity, and making them yourself is much more difficult than for Garmins.

But with the raster maps the situation in the Magellan is better. Namely, they need a tourist-hiker. Let's compare.

Garmin has two raster map formats: KMZ and JNX. The KMZ format has a limitation: the total volume of all maps of this format located on the navigator cannot exceed 32 MB, while the cards in total can consist of no more than 100 fragments of 1024x1024 pixels in size. That is, in the case of a five-meter map, we get a piece of about 80x80 km, which is not always enough.

Unlike KMZ, the JNX format map can beany size and consist of five layers. When you create a map, you only need to specify which map should be shown on which layer, since Garmin Navigator does not understand this. And the main disadvantage of the JNX format is that its free use is blocked by the manufacturer. The company Garmin created it so that the owners of navigators for a certain fee downloaded satellite images from the company's website. Therefore, for free use of the JNX format, it is necessary to “conjure” with the navigator firmware.

Unlike the Garmins, raster maps of Magellan(RMP format) have no restrictions. They can be of any size and consist of any number of layers. You can load a set of maps into the navigator (as long as it fits in its memory), and he himself will figure out which card to show when. The navigator will dock the maps, overlay them on each other and do everything so that you can see on the screen the most appropriate map at the moment.

Therefore, I liked the Magellans more than the Garmins, especially since they are in no way inferior to the other parameters.

My navigator is Magellan eXplorist GC. On the screen - topographic map of Kharkiv region

My navigator is Magellan eXplorist GC. On the screen - topographic map of Kharkiv region

As for the tourist navigators of otherI don’t recommend buying them at all. For one simple reason: you probably will not find maps for them. Or you will not find a program that can make maps for these navigators.

Programs installed on the computer

For full use of the navigator you needhave some programs on the computer. They will help prepare for the upcoming campaign, and after it is completed, process the received navigation data.

The most important programs can be considered thosewhich are produced by manufacturers for their navigators. For Garmin, this is BaseCamp, for Magellan, Vantage Point. With their help, you can import and export data from the navigator to the computer and back. In addition, these programs support the basic functions of working with maps, points, tracks and routes, allowing you to process data on your computer.

If their capabilities seem to you a little, thenYou need to install more "serious" programs that have more functions for processing navigation data. The most popular navigation-mapping program is OziExplorer. Its disadvantage is that it is paid, but there is a plus - on the Internet you can find a lot of useful information on working with this program. If you do not want to pay, use the less popular, but free program OkMap, which has approximately the same functions.

It is very convenient to work with online maps.SAS Planet program. Using it, you can quickly switch between a variety of different online maps: Google, Yandex, satellite imagery, topographic maps, etc. Thanks to this, you can quickly view the position of a point or track on several maps. The variety of map sources is its main advantage. The program allows you to save the necessary pieces of online maps to your computer, and also supports the basic functions of working with points and tracks.

In order to make the cards you needformat, extremely convenient program Mobile Atlas Creator. It allows you to download the necessary sections of various online maps and convert them to the required formats: RMP for Magellan, KMZ for Garmin, a number of formats for Android and iPhone, as well as a format for OziExplorer. Working with the program is very simple: you select the desired online source from its menu, select the desired area on the map with the mouse, mark the desired zoom levels with the birds (which allows you to create multi-layered maps), select the desired format and get your map ready for loading into the navigator.

The interface of the program Mobile Atlas Creator

The interface of the program Mobile Atlas Creator

Since navigation data may occurin different formats, you may need a converter program. Although a number of conversion functions are built into some of the programs already reviewed, I would advise you to install the small but useful GPSBabel program. It can do a lot: convert data from one format to another, trim and glue tracks, turn points, tracks and routes into each other. The program supports all major formats: GPX universal format, Google Earth program formats (KML and KMZ), OziExplorer program formats (WPT, PLT and RTE) and a number of less popular formats.

How to quickly master the work with the navigator?

Consider the necessary actions beginner example. Suppose you want to wander with the navigator in the Mountain Crimea. Then you need to take the following steps:

  • buy a navigator
  • figure out how to use it
  • Download the necessary maps from the Internet (in our case, the Crimea) and download them to the navigator.

Independent production of cards, we postpone for later. For a beginner, it's better to start using ready-made cards.

Let's say you bought a Magellan navigator. Then you have a direct route to the site of Dmitry Kalinin (also known as Paganel). We read the instructions for the navigator Magellan eXplorist 310 written by Dmitry. Then we read the instructions for the program Vantage Point and install it on the computer. We download maps prepared by Dmitry for Magellan navigators and load them into the navigator. Everything! You can go to the Crimea!

If you have a smartphone or tablet onAndroid, then install on it the program OsmAnd or Locus Map. Unfortunately, nobody wrote quality instructions to these programs, but you can find a couple of articles of average lousy on the Internet. You can download maps for these programs (both in Crimea and other regions) on this page.

As for Garmin Navigators, I'm with them.especially not encountered. But since they are very popular, you can easily find on the Internet a lot of information on the use of these navigators. And you need maps for Garminov you can find on one of these resources.

Next step after you masteredNavigator and successfully used the downloaded maps - learn how to make maps yourself. And here you will be helped by a simple Mobile Atlas Creator program. We read a short manual on it. And after that, if there is a desire and a need, you can master more complex ways of creating maps, including the use of other programs.

This is my overview of everything related toGPS navigation can be considered complete. For more information, please read my articles on maps and navigation. In these articles, I describe not only navigators, but also provide links for downloading various topographic maps.

In addition, you can ask questions directly in the comments to this article, and I will try to answer them according to my knowledge and capabilities.

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