My digital GPS software tool box

Recently, I read Bike Mechanic, a very good book I recommend for anyone interested like me into fixing/maintaining a road bike and learning about the life of the big team mechanics on the job. One thing I enjoyed was the tools recommendation. This line particularly caught my attention : Cheap tools do cheap jobs.
While the author is fully right for when it comes to bike tools and tools in general, it doesn’t apply when it comes to software. In this post, I will illustrate this idea by listing the different software I use on a regular basis to perform everything I need when it comes to creating/modifying GPS files.

My digital GPS software Toolbox

Several months ago, I explained why and how I use GPS technologies. In this same post, I mentioned that for each adventure, I always try my best to use a GPS track generated on the actual trail as creating a manual track can lead to navigation errors when out in the field. Once I have finished establishing the route for any adventure/hike/run, I usually look for any existing activity for which the route is the same or similar enough to be reused. Typically, I rarely find the exact same route and in this case, I need to do some post-processing work in order to have my final route, composed of either several merged routes or past routes merged with manual sections. To do such work, I need tools and use different software to visualize/edit any given GPS track.

In a future post, I will show which platforms I use to find such routes but in this post, I aim to list the tools I use to transform multiple tracks into my final route, briefly describe them and explain what I mainly use them for.

Google Earth

It’s possible that you might not know some of the other software below. However, I am sure everyone knows Google Earth ! When I first discovered Google Earth (about 10+ years ago), though I didn’t have a GPS device, I loved that I was able to travel virtually. I call that the “couch explorer“. Since I acquired my GPS watch, I now use it to look at my previous tracks but also future tracks or just to “explore” any area. It helps me get familiar with a new area before even driving to it.

What I use it for : In the screenshot below, you can see an example of my use of Google Earth. In this case, I display all the trails I have ran/hikes/biked so far in the Rocky Mountain National Park and some of my future ones. While this screenshot displays my track on a satellite view, I have shown last year how to display other types of maps (see my article here).

My “coverage” of RMNP as of January 2017

Last but not least, Google Earth Pro is now free (since January 2015)! Download it here, use your email address and the key GEPFREE to sign in.


GPSVisualizer is an online tool that offers multiple possibilities when working with GPS tracks. Not only it can convert many different formats into gpx format, it also has numerous options such as changing the speed unit, reverse a track, merge tracks…etc.

What I use it for : I use the conversion tool mainly to add an accurate elevation data. GPSVisualizer has several elevation data available (see image below).

Adding accurate elevation data to a GPS track

Another feature I am fond of is the possibility to create a GPX track from a GoogleMaps route. Yes, one can create an itinerary in Google Maps, paste its URL address and a gpx track will be generated and ready to download and transfer onto your GPS device!

Converting a Google Maps itinerary into a gpx file

 


As mentioned above, though I mainly use the gpx format, it happens that I encounter other/weird file formats. GPSBabel supporting a multitude of supported formats (file format capabilities list), the day where I haven’t been able to convert a GPS track into gpx format hasn’t arrived yet.

What I use it for : Convert any GPS track into a gpx file when I find myself with odd GPS formats in hands.

GPSBabel

 

CalTopo

When it comes to create manually a route, I use Caltopo. This website has all the tools to create and modify GPS tracks : Import/Export, track modification (splitting, extending…) and multiple map layers to only name a few possibilities.

A GPS track loaded onto CalTopo

What I use it for : The main reason I use CalTopo is for the “auto routing” feature. Have you ever had to create manually a track and found yourself clicking 1 million times in order to draw a 5 mile route ? The “auto routing” tool eliminates all that. Instead, your cursor will automatically pick up an existing trail and draw the different turns between 2 points (see illustration below)

 

GpsPrune is an on-premises software that will allow editing GPS track(s) such as : delete points, range of points, concatenate/append multiple tracks, visualize exactly each recorded GPS point…

A GPS track loaded in GpsPrune

What I use it for : As GpsPrune displays each recorded GPS point (see image below), it allows me to quickly fix a track when erroneous points have been recorded. Also, I use it to easily split/merge/concatenate tracks .

Splitting a track at a specific point

 

Summary

You know now all about the different softwares I use to work with GPS files. You can find below a table that gives a quick access to each of those software along with useful information for each of them.

NameDescriptionPlatform(s)License
Google EarthGeobrowser that accesses satellite and aerial imagery, ocean bathymetry, and other geographic data over the internet to represent the Earth as a three-dimensional globeWindows, Mac, LinuxFree
GPS VisualizerOnline utility that creates maps and profiles from geographic dataOnlineFree (GPL)
GPSBabelDoftware to transfer routes, tracks, and waypoint data to and from consumer GPS units, and to convert between over a hundred types of GPS data formatsWindows, MacFree
CalTopoPowerful trip planning tools and high quality mapsOnlineFree & Subscription
GpsPruneApplication for viewing, editing and converting coordinate data from GPS systemsWindows, Mac, LinuxFree (GPL)
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