All of the provided routes are navigational routes. Be it a two day or a two month expedition, navigating is a big part of undertaking one of these routes.
The challenge of navigating an overland route is a large part of the allure of the trips we provide. Navigating can slow down the pace of travel as you are constantly ensuring you are on the right path. This isn’t a bad thing as it gives you time to “smell the roses” and also makes you aware of where you are. More experienced navigators get into a rhythm where checking the gps becomes automatic during straight stretches or at regular intervals. Non experienced navigators seem to stop at every intersection to check the gps to ensure they are going the proper direction. Only experience using a gps will allow you to get into the proper rhythm and not have it slow you down too much. For folks on a motorcycle, it is an unnerving thing and perhaps not a safe thing to do. Checking your gps units screen while driving is not a safe practice. Driving a four wheeled vehicle has the same pitfall, taking your eyes off the road to look at a gps screen is not a safe thing to do, luckily for most folks heading out on one of these expeditions you often have a navigator in the passenger seat. We encourage you to practice using your gps prior to setting out on an expedition. Be safe and have fun!
Nothing replaces the paper map is a thought many people have. We don’t disagree and encourage folks to bring along paper maps. When using a gps, it becomes easy to be zoomed in and “just follow the green line” sort of mentality and not even realize where you are. Maps let you see the big picture and see what is around you. Whether you are using technical means to produce the maps or just using a highlighter to trace the intended path onto a road map, you will benefit from having a map with you. Having maps will also be beneficial in the event your gps unit stops working.
We provide digital files for each of the routes. They come in the GPX format. GPX stands for GPS eXchange format and is an open source method of distributing gps data. GPX files can be viewed in several different software applications. Most gps units come with some sort of software and will be able to view GPX files. Google earth is a free download and can be used to view GPX files.
Inside of each GPX file is a collection of files. We have chosen to use track files and waypoints. A waypoint is spot on a map and we use them to indicate fuel locations, beginning or end of a route, a scenic view point or other points of interest along the path. Each of the provided GPX files has no more than 500 data points, this should make them compatible with most gps units.
Two common sources of confusion for many people are the difference between a track and a route. A route file is a series of “data points” and your gps calculates the best way to get from one to the next. This causes issues as not everyone gps unit has the same math or the same “brain” so people may end of taking different paths to get from one data point to the next. Another issue with route files is that if the path is meant to take a trail or road that is not on your map, your gps will guide you around the path based on roads it knows exists on its map. This is not ideal for overland expedition style trips that purposely utilize lesser know roads and trails.
A track file in contrast is a set of data points that are joined together by a line. You load the track file onto your gps unit and the track file shows as a line on the map. Your gps unit will not guide you (aka turn left here), rather you are responsible for following the line (track) on your gps display. This has several advantages for overland expedition use, the biggest being it will make it easier to follow the intended path as you are no longer relying on your gps unit’s “brain” to figure out where you are supposed to go.
So why doesn’t everyone use track files? A good question that has several answers, for folks travelling on roads only, a route file is handy to use as it fins the quickest method from point a too point b and helps you get there with voice commands and prompts of upcoming turns. This is great when you are in a city or on unfamiliar roads. Track files are typically used for situations where roads are not used. Marine navigation, hiking and off road recreation are some of the more common uses for track files.
Will every gps unit be useable? Sadly this is not the case. Only certain gps units are designed to use track files. Most automotive gps units and even some motorcycle specific gps units will only be able to load and view route files. There are several gps units that can be used for track files. There are several others and a quick search on the internet should enable you to find one that suits your needs.
There are several methods people use to “trick” their gps units into using track files. If you are a gps guru and or a technical person you are probably already aware of these methods. Some gps units can be used for “direct routing”. Some can load a clear map on top of the map you see (overlay). This overlay map has the path on it, once loaded on your gps unit you will have a line to follow. There are other methods that some technical folks use but we won’t go into detail on them as it just seems to confuse most people.
Here are a few links that we have found useful
Free Downloadable detailed topo of Canada
GPS units and software
Converting gps files
Making Overlay Maps
Spot Tracking Device
Canada Back Roads Maps (digital and paper format)
Use your brain! We have provided suggested routes, they are just that, suggestions. Weather and the environment, rules and laws affecting access can all change and do change. Don’t just follow the line on your gps or the person in front of you. Look where you’re going and turn around and find an alternate route if the terrain is not suitable or a sign indicates you need a permit and you don’t have one. Common sense is a must. Many of the expedition routes we have suggested bring you into remote and rugged landscapes; you’d wise to keep this in mind at all times. What is challenging area of terrain on a day ride/drive may not be suitable for you if you are a month from home and a few days drive/ride from the nearest form of civilization.