Understanding tracks vs. tracking logs using the Garmin eTrex Vista HCx

Started by azleader, November 07, 2009, 05:05:35 AM

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Newbie question of the day:
Can someone explain the difference between tracks and the tracking log using Garmin GPSs and help me to create individual hike tracks?

Here is my issue...
I want to go to a trailhead, start a track and give it a name and then close the track at the end of the hike. Later I want to map the track of the hike on Google Earth and on topo maps for printing.

My problem: I don't know how.

I think my lack of understanding is related to the fact I don't understand tracks and tracking logs, how to use them and where they are stored. (I'd like to store everything on the SD card)

What I do know:
I can go on a hike and when I return assign a track name using the track function of the unit.

I know that the tracking log is stored at the root directory of the SD card and contains date/time stamped data and that there is one tracking log file automatically created every day. I use that file to Geoencode photographs taken during hikes.

I know that the tracking log does not appear to store the named track because when I open it in MapSource the named track is not listed but a series of logs of unknown nature does appear. I suspect that a new log is created each time the unit is turned on and off, but do not know that for sure.

I know I can see my named track on the GPS unit itself and that I can download it directly from the unit into MapSource through the USB cable and see the named track along with all the other tracks from the unit in Mapsource and that they are all combined.

I know I can convert the tracks to .kml and map them in Google Earth. I haven't tried doing topo map prints yet, but think that would be no problem.

What I can't do:
Separate my named hike from all the other track information

Are tracks different from the tracking log? If so, what is the difference? (I think tracks don't hold date/time stamp data but don't know what other differences there might be)

Can you save a named track to the SD card and, if so, how?

How can you separate a particular hike from all the other track information that is collected when the unit is on and store it separately from that for later use?

I don't know how to tell the GPS I am at the start or finish of a hike.

Any clarifications of concepts that help me understand how to extract and save individual hikes would be greatly appreciated.


I've got a 60CSX, but I believe the rules are similar:

The number of tracks saved to memory are limited as to number of points per track and data saved.  Tracks stored to the card are not limited as to size or number of tracks.  I rarely store tracks to memory, but I recall losing elevation data and a significant amount of detail when I did.

To get the tracks from your GPSr to the computer either remove the card and put it in a card reader, or put the GPSr into mass storage mode.  It will get a drive letter and behave just like a card reader.

A tracklog saved to the card is named with a date stamp. ( 20090101.gpx was saved on January first of 09. ) One log will be recorded per 24 hours. If you turn your unit off and on the log will contain separate tracks which you can view in the tracks tab in MapSource.

You can separate hikes either by turning the unit on and off, or by editing the track in MapSource.  Track editing tools are the buttons starting with a pencil and ending with a line and scissors.

You can also rename the tracks in MapSource  by double clicking an individual track in the track log.


The track log written to the card is differant than the track log used by the gps. Here's how I make individual "tracks"

I clear the track log at the beginning of the hike or trail. You can do all of this on the track page. Then save your log as usual. You can also save tracks to the disk, but you can't name them and use them in the future and have it show up on the track page as a saved track.

I save waypoints throughout the hike, it is useful both in using the track again, and when looking at your hike on a sattilite image.

After you are done with your hike (or anytime in between) you can "save" it and give it a name. It will usually default name it with the date - you go ahead and change that.

The vista can save 20 of those. You can use any gps program to export and save the tracks, enabling you to save more than 20 and just load the ones you want.

In order to "follow" them you have to go to the "track" page, select the one you have saved, and check "show on map" box.

You can also make a "map" by going to and tell it to use your saved file of tracks. I use windows snip it to make a .jpg of the screen. I get something that looks like this:

Those long straight lines are from where I tried to turn the track log on and off so I wouldn't have several backtrack lines. It didn't work so I don't do it that way anymore. The waypoints help me when I am going from one spot to another and don't want to follow one of my gps trails. I select one of my waypoints and "goto" it.


I to have been fighting this issue. Have 60CSX and just figured out it will hold only a max of 20 tracks, this seems to be the case regardless of the track data. I wish to do something similar to what you have looked to do. My conclusions:
Save numerous files with up to 20 tracks tracks each, say for a given area. Each file would in turn need to be loaded back into GPS when you need it. These are individual tracks residing in a saved file. use SAVE AS feature to do this.  "Tracks cannot be saved to SD card. None of this is clear or even stated in my manual.
The other option I'm working on is using track logs. Example, ride my ATV over a given area (if you go over the same ground more than once turn GPS off or track log  doubles) while recording the route on the gps as I move. This data becomes the daily log (amended each time you turn GPS on and off) and can be saved to the SD card if you wish. (on 60csx at least) These logs can be downloaded to mapsource, altered, renamed, saved as different file types. There seems to be no limit as to the number of logs that my unit will hold, limited only by the space available on the SD card. Logs can then be uploaded to the GPS as needed. Log size does not seem to have any restrictions as to size. Tracks, waypoints, routes, logs are separate from maps and are shown on them if you have other maps selected/loaded
Hope this is of some help as I am far from an expert on this stuff and just learning the 60CSX
Good luck.


Forgot to mention, I used the tracklog feature of writing to the card just this past week when we went to the mountains. I did not bother to clear the gps tracklog, thinking I could just save whatever I wanted to in sections but telling it "no" I do not want to save the entire log. Usually this works just fine, but since I did not clear the log for 3 states, I could not zoom in to just save the last 3 miles of my track, to pick a beginning or end point. I probably could have spent more time on it but it seemed to be too much trouble. I kept losing the entire track when it would zoom closer, even when I tried to move the map.

I used the track logs written onto the card to record my entire trip, but cleared and saved individual ones, in this case the only one I saved and named was the maxpatch one because I know I will be going back there.

eta: My trip spanned several states, and was mostly driving. If I was trying to record an atv trip, it would be more functional to use those tracks saved to the card.

It's not mutually exclusive though, you can do both. and you can save as many tracks as you want as long as you export and save the files. I prefer "easy gps" as oposed to mapsource, which randomlly becomes inaccessible.


Thank you all for your input. It really helps to clarify things for me.

As I will explain, I think I'll take seldom_sn's suggestion for handling "tracks", which is really treating a "tracking log" segment as a "track". I like that better because it records more data than a standard "track" does and it stores it on the SD card. The ones I will use are the ones titled "Active Log 01" etc. Then I will later rename the log segment to the hike title I want after saving it on computer.

I just need to be sure to upload the active log to computer before it gets recycled in the normal course of events.

If I understand correctly then what I should do to record a hike is make sure I turn off and then turn on my GPS at the beginning of a hike, clear track history and then remember to turn off and turn on my GPS at the end of the hike. That will make sure I create a tracking log segment for my hike. Then later after I upload the logs into Mapsource I will simply go through the log segments individually to identify hikes.

As it stands now, if I save a track under a track name it remains permanent in the unit but for reasons I don't understand is not written as such to the SD card and it strips the date/time stamp, leg time and leg speed.

But I did find I could upload the named tract stored only in the unit and save it off as it's own separate track file that I could export to Google Earth.

Hope I got it figured out now. :)


You don't need to worry about the active log.  It will be saved to the card as "YearMonthDay.gpx",  20090101.gpx in my example. I don't think you need to re-set the trip computer either, although its really nice to re-set at the start of a hike so you know how far, how fast etc.

Regarding the messy Crooked River tracks in you other post.  You can clean those spurious tracks up in MapSource.


Quote from: azleader on November 07, 2009, 09:22:57 AM

As it stands now, if I save a track under a track name it remains permanent in the unit but for reasons I don't understand is not written as such to the SD card and it strips the date/time stamp, leg time and leg speed.

Sorry I missed this until highlighted above.  If the tracks aren't saved to the card, you need to set up your unit to do that.  With the 60CSX its Menu|Menu|Tracks|Setup|Data Card Setup| Log Tracks to Card (a check box).  I think its a similar process for your unit.  Once you've set up the system, everything saves automatically.  You don't have to save anything unless you want a saved track you can see on your GPSR.


I find some tracks on the gps are pretty helpful. I have deerstands where there is not an obvious path to them, it helps me use the same path to my stands till I get used to them. It also helps others find my stand.


This is a good thread... glad to know I'm not the only one :)

I'll try this myself, but in case one of you knows for sure: will doing this (using the raw track data) maintain the timestamps that I lose when I save tracks and then copy them to mapsource?