What are GPX Files?
Put simply, if you have a smartphone you won’t get lost on a walk – even if you’ve never been there before.
All I say below is based on what I do. I’m not paid by ViewRanger (I wish!), I’m not paid by Ordnance Survey (I really, really wish!) nor do I get any freebies from anyone (sadly…). It is honest advice from someone who’s searched out the best tools for them and is telling you about them.
What is a GPX file?
A GPX file is essentially a list of numbers that equate to points on a map. A smartphone app such as ViewRanger will guide you from one to the next.
What will you need to use GPX files?
You’ll need an Apple iPhone, Android phone, Blackberry, Kindle Fire HDX or Symbian phone (or a proper dedicated GPS device – but you’ll already know everything I’m saying here if you have one of those, I’m sure!).
You’ll also need the ViewRanger app. The trial version is free and you’ll have free access to OpenStreetMaps mapping, which is decent and improving.
OpenStreetMaps? But I want Ordnance Survey Maps!
No worries, I want OS maps too so that’s what I use. You do need to pay for them but they’re not that expensive and ViewRanger’s clever credit-based pay-per-square system means you need only download (and pay for) what you need.
How do I make a route?
I use the OS Getamap website. It has OS maps for the whole UK at 1:25000 and you can create routes by clicking your mouse to create waypoints. Once you’re done, you can export the route as a GPX file.
The Getamap website has a few little glitches which you’ll get to know and love – for example, if you switch to aerial view then back to maps, make sure you click your route again before creating your next point or you’ll have to start again – and you don’t know it’s gone wrong until you try to use the file – but on the whole it’s the best tool for the job in my opinion.
Alternatively, you can make the route directly on the ViewRanger website, but if you want to use OS maps it does require you to have bought the area you’re viewing first.
How do I get routes onto my phone?
You upload the GPX file to your routes in ViewRanger, save it, then synchronise using the ViewRanger app on your phone. It’s quite painless.
How do I follow a route?
You tap the route shown on the map then tap ‘Follow Route’. Honestly, it’s not scary. If you go off route, ViewRanger will start beeping, vibrating and shouting at you to let you know. If you’ve wandered off route deliberately, you can tell it to be quiet for a bit.
What else should I know?
Techies and geeks like me will also like the stats ViewRanger gives you such as distance walked and average speed. It will also tell you when sunset is as well as the distance to and estimated time of arrival to your next waypoint or the end of your route. Handy information if you’re dawdling and should be getting a move on.
You can even download maps from the OS equivalents in many other countries so if you fancy getting out to the middle of nowhere in a country you’ve never been in before, it can be done (though watch out for bears, crocodiles and stuff).
I hope that this is useful information and you see why every walk on the site has a GPX file attached to it. It saves paper, is easier to follow and, more importantly, it’s much harder to walk miles in the wrong direction!