One problem described recently is how to get useful track and waypoint information out of Garmin's rather closed world. The other direction can be equally tricky, by which I mean how to get tracks and waypoints onto the device to use for display and navigation. This blog post describes how to get GPX files onto your Garmin fēnix 3, and hopefully it works for other devices as well.
One way to get courses (how Garmin calls them) onto the device is via Garmin Connect, but the general limitations of that service are well-known, you can only use courses created in Connect, and the Course builder has no import feature. Something that is much more practical and useful such as Strava's Route builder thus cannot be used, at least not by staying strictly within Garmin's closed world. Also, on more and more sites well-meaning people post GPX files for whatever geographical activities they are describing, and being able to import these so that they display on wearable devices and can be used for navigation is very useful. The example GPX file with waypoints shown on the watch display here is just one example for the kind of data use that these devices can do, and should be able to do, even outside of vendor-specific walled gardens.
On my old Garmin Edge 800 importing files was a manual but open affair, before Garmin closed it down. Luckily, the new fēnix 3 still supports the same basic process, which allows you to easily upload any GPX file to the watch. What you lose is the convenience of doing it through Garmin tools such as Garmin Connect or Garmin Connect Mobile, but what you gain is the ability to use any data you like, and not just the one that is managed by Garmin.
The process is very simple, but it does require the cable connection (which is a shame, but you need it for charging your device before going on a long adventure anyway):
- Connect your device and wait until it shows up as a mounted device on your computer. On my Mac, it shows up as a "Garmin" drive.
- Navigate to that device, and open the top folder. Within that folder, there will be a "New Files" folder. It seems that sometimes this folder is hidden. If it is, search the Web for how to display hidden folders in the way that best suits your needs.
- The "New Files" folder should be empty. You can now drag any GPX files in here (including those containing waypoints, like my example file) that you want to use on your device.
- Unmount the device by ejecting the "Garmin" drive, and wait until the device has been properly ejected.
The device should now read the files and turn them into internal courses (and they will have disappeared from the "New Files" folder the next time you connect the device). On the fēnix 3, you can now go to "Settings", "Navigation", and "Courses", and should see all uploaded courses listed there. For each course, you now have a variety of options, including showing a "Map" (to verify that everything is there), and to "Do Course". If you decide to do the course, the fēnix 3 will ask you to start an activity and you can then follow the map and use it for guidance.
For detailed information on how to use all course navigation features, please refer to the manual, and also make sure that you have the navigation pages set up in the way you find them most useful. There are plenty of options, but personally, I am content to just see the map, and get off course warnings when I start getting off the course track.
This is how managing and using courses can become much more useful and open with the fēnix 3. It is sad that getting out of Garmin's closed world often is such a struggle, but at the very least it can be done somehow.
I have tried the same method with the 920XT, but sadly it does not seem to work. Everything looks the same, but the device seems to not read the uploaded files from the "New Files" folder. Any pointers to how to make this work with a 920XT would be greatly appreciated!
PS: After a bit more experimentation it seems that the 920XT only accepts FIT files, whereas the fēnix 3 also reads GPX (the open standard for GPS tracks). That's too bad, because (a) it means that the 920XT only supports a closed file format, and (b) there doesn't seem to be a way to get waypoints (which can be easily included in GPX files and extremely useful for navigation) onto it. C'mon Garmin, open up!