Portable GPS Handheld Devices – Defining Waypoints, Routes and Tracks

Portable GPS Handheld Devices - Defining Waypoints, Routes and Tracks

Handheld GPS devices are becoming more and more popular for walking and hiking enthusiasts everywhere. With so many models available on the market today offering so many various features, it’s easy to become overwhelmed and confused about what you need, and what some of the features even mean.

Two basic questions that many people about using handheld GPS devices are “what are waypoints?” and “what is the distinction between routes and tracks?”. Here is a simple explanation that should give you a good understanding of these terms.

Waypoints are precise geographic locations defined by longitude and latitude. Waypoints can be recorded by your GPS unit by pressing the waypoint record button. Inexpensive portable GPS models have limited capacity and will keep relatively few waypoints; top models can store hundreds of waypoints, and you can even give them names and manage them within your GPS.

A route is a set of waypoints connected by straight-line that guides you where you want to go. You “tell” your GPS unit that you want to navigate from one waypoint to the next, and your GPS shows you the route by drawing a straight line between waypoints. This means your GPS will not tell you there is a bend ahead in trail; it will just guide you in a straight line to your next trail junction or campsite. (Keep in mind, that for automobile navigation, the term “route” has a slightly different meaning.)

A track is a record, created by your GPS, of where you have been. As you go on your hiking expedition, your GPS device records track points and displays what many people describe as a “breadcrumb trail”. The track represents the road, trail, path, etc. that you followed. Curves are formed with short line segments, so the shape of the trail you have taken is more accurate than the straight-line segments representing a route. Tracks lets you easily go back to your starting point.

Some portable GPS models also let you download your track to your computer to create a record of your trip and print it if you wish. As in the case of waypoints, low-end GPS models offer limited track point storage, while high-end models can store thousands of track points.