GPX, used by MTBGuru, is a great and open standard format for GPS data – not all GPS manufacturers make it easy to download your data in this format though, so we thought a brief GPS download survival guide was on its place. If the software that came with your unit doesn’t support saving in GPX, this post is for you – and even if it does you may discover some interesting new tools here.
If you don’t feel like reading the whole post, one word: GPSBabel – Robert Lipe’s tool runs on about every OS, is free and totally awesome, use it and donate to support the project.
GPSBabel can be used to read, write and convert GPS data in an entire range of formats that are in existence. It can directly interface Garmin and Magellan units using the USB or serial port on your computer. It also understands TomTom and Suunto file formats. And so on and on, check here for a list of supported formats.
It’s a console mode tool but has nice graphical front-ends in both Windows and Mac OS X. Below is a screenshot of the front-end for OS X called GPSBabel+, written by Karl Smith (and can be downloaded here). I use it to download data from my Garmin Edge straight into GPX files on my Mac iBook.
GPSBabel+ (for OS X)
Hook up the GPS to the USB port, set up the input and output options as shown in the screenshot, and press ‘Save File’, and you get all data on your unit in a GPX file.
The GUI front-end on Windows works similarly.
Another very cool software tool on Mac OS X is LoadMyTracks (screenshot below), which is available as a free beta version. It simply does what its name says, and you can save into GPX or Google Earth’s KML format. Besides Garmin and Magellan, also TomTom devices can be hooked up directly.
LoadMyTracks (for OS X)
On Windows, a very nice and free program is Sporttracks – you can use it to download data directly from GPS and save into GPX.
A good web application to convert GPS data is GPSVisualizer. It uses GPSBabel as its conversion engine.
Undoubtedly, there are many other software tools and programs out there that can do the job – I focused here on a few free or inexpensive tools that I think work very well. If you know of other and/or better tools, feel free to mention it in the comments.
Let me wrap up by saying that I’m a bit bummed about what Garmin is doing in this area: MapSource on one hand (that comes a.o. with the Etrex series of GPS units) allows you to export your data into GPX without any trouble but in Training Center (that comes with the Edge and Forerunner series) it’s a real headache to get your data out. Granted, .hst and .crs are open xml formats, containing additional information such as heart rate etc, and with some effort it’s not too hard to convert these, but why make us go through the trouble?