Waypoints, Routes, and a little about Tracks

What is a waypoint? According to Garmin it is the following

Waypoints are locations or landmarks worth recording and storing in your GPS. These are locations you may later want to return to. They may be check points on a route or significant ground features. (e.g., camp, the truck, a fork in a trail, or a favorite fishing spot). Waypoints may be defined and stored in the unit manually, by taking coordinates for the waypoint from a map or other reference. This can be done before ever leaving home. Or more usually, waypoints may be entered directly by taking a reading with the unit at the location itself, giving it a name, and then saving the point.

BULL-DUNG !!!! or mostly so.

What it really is, is a stored Latitude and Longitude in your GPS. Simply put, it is a set numbers… period! Like the coordinates to my house. 43.108761 , -75.275004

If I stored those numbers in my GPS, then I just stored a waypoint.

(Note: My GPS doesn't have to know what country I live, what city I live is, what street I live on, or what my house number is. Those 2 numbers are enough to tell me where I am on the whole planet)

Waypoints are all those things Garmin says they can be, but your GPS don't care, it only stores one set of numbers fundamentally.

OK, so we decided that a waypoint is a set of coordinates, a latitude and longitude stored in your GPS. Why is this important? Because it is a string of waypoints strung together that makes a ROUTE to your destination. What did I just say?


ROUTE - A route is a series of waypoints strung together to get you to your  destination.

As you all know, when you go somewhere, you take a series of turns to get there. It is rarely a straight line to your destination. So, when you want to go somewhere, you pick out the important turns you want to make, make waypoints out of them, and string them together in the route function of your GPS. You are now ready to get in your car and drive to where you are going. If you create a route, you just harnessed the biggest power of the GPS, the rest of the features of a GPS are just cream on top.

OK, I know you have questions. How do you get the latitude and longitude of the turns you want to make? One of the answer is to use www.bing.com/maps

If you put an address in, and click on "get map" you will see the longitude and the latitude right there on the page.

You can copy and paste it, or, just write it down on a piece of paper so you can enter it into your GPS later.


What is even BETTER and perhaps more important is that you can put intersections of streets and roads into www.bing.com/maps and it will return the LATITUDE and LONGITUDE of the intersection.
example: York St & court St., Gardner,  MA


What is also good about www.bing.com/maps is that if you don't know what city or town the intersection is in you can leave that field blank as long as you know the state it is in. www.bing.com/maps will return a series of towns with those intersections. All you have to do is click on each one until you find the one you are looking for.

If you have followed me so far, you have mastered the biggest part of using your GPS. The rest will be easier.

Now is the time to say a little about TRACKS, but only a little. We now know what a route is.. right? It is a series of waypoints strung together to give you a route. A TRACK is sort of similar to a route,  except it makes a track of WHERE YOU BEEN.

Lets say you wake up on beautiful winters day in a place you never been before. There is a 6 inch fresh coat of new fallen snow. You decide to go out and explore. Everywhere you go you leave your footprints in the new snow, so, you walk around. When it is time to go back, you are not worried, because all you have to do is follow your footprints and you end safely where you started. Well, that is what the TRACKING feature of a GPS does. With the tracking feature turned on in your GPS it creates a log file of latitude and longitude coordinates of where you been. When it is time to return, you turn on the "trackback" feature of your GPS and you end up where you started.

I find the "trackback" feature of the GPS extremely liberating. When I go somewhere like a new campground and want to go out exploring the countryside and see the sites and etc. I don't have to worry about remembering where I been or what turns I make. I can just wander aimlessly, and when I want to go back to the campground, I just turn on the trackback feature and it  returns me exactly, turn by turn, over the same route, to the campground.

NEXT LESSON - Your GPS, Software, Links

 back to LESSON 1

 on to LESSON 3