Over the last few years, we touring riders have become accustomed to using satellite navigation tracks (for brevity, the term “tracks” will be used to include “routes”). RoadRUNNER, for example, provides these useful digital assets for all travel and tour articles.
Garmin has cemented the GPS Exchange Format, better known as GPX, as the ubiquitous file format for overland navigation. Virtually the entire motorcycle navigation segment, from devices to apps, supports GPX. Garmin’s ecosystem includes its numerous navigation devices and the Basecamp software, which is a free download for computers running on Windows or MacOS operating systems. After the installation, Basecamp requires either plugging in a Garmin device that has pre-installed maps or purchasing Garmin maps online.
This “closed garden” approach could work for a rider fully invested in Garmin products, but it does lock you to just one vendor. Today, many riders choose to navigate with mobile applications, such as Drive Mode Dashboard 2, Locus Map, or Gaia GPS. Others still have navigation devices from vendors such as TomTom.
On top of the costs, Basecamp has a complex and archaic user interface with a steep learning curve. It also only runs as a native application that requires installation on desktop computers. In 2023, the world has moved on to web browser-based applications on desktops, mobile phones, or tablets, often with touch screens or stylus pens.
The experience with Basecamp can feel limited, inefficient, and frustrating. How can we view and edit GPX tracks without relying on Basecamp? Are there alternative, free, and easier-to-use tools?
Track Editor Requirements
Before diving into a solution, it’s worth reviewing typical tasks we want to perform when planning a track. When evaluating a tool, we can check this list to see if it is worth considering.
Some of the common functionalities are:
• Opening (or importing) tracks from GPX files and viewing them on a digital map
• Switching views between road maps and topographic maps (“topo maps”), which are important for adventure trips that contain off-road or dirt sections
• Drawing tracks on the map using a mouse, stylus pen, or finger
• Adding, editing, moving, or removing waypoints
• Reversing track direction
• Search capabilities to look up street addresses and points of interest (POIs)
• Splitting a track into two parts for removing unnecessary sections
• Merging tracks together to turn several recorded tracks into one unified track or a multi-track file (an advanced GPX feature)
• Exporting a track to GPX file for use in a navigation device or app
GPX.studio is a free online open-source tool for viewing and editing GPX tracks. It’s a relatively new player in the field, being only two years old. There are no ads or limitations, no account registration is required, and data is stored locally instead of a cloud server, which helps protect your privacy. The user interface is easy and quick to learn and use, with a flat menu and minimalist design for simplicity.
The underlying maps utilize the community-driven OpenStreetMap project and provide different base maps, such as street, topo, and satellite maps, as well as layers for POIs and trails that show on top of the maps.
Multiple tracks can be viewed simultaneously, with a useful distance and elevation chart on the bottom. Dropping a POI, such as a restaurant we want to stop at for lunch, onto the map is straightforward. You can rename POIs and assign them different icons that would later show up in the navigation device.
Editing points and routing paths can be done in two modes. In the Routing mode, waypoints will follow roads and stick to them, similarly to how Google Maps works. The Off-road mode enables you to draw tracks anywhere on the map, regardless of the underlying roads. This is a useful feature for adventure touring, which mixes road and off-road segments. One of my favorite features is the cropping tool that allows you to remove waypoints using a bounding rectangle. When cleaning up recorded tracks, the cropping tool saves a lot of time.
One possible downside to GPX.studio is that it requires a steady network connection. However, this may not be a real issue because we generally plan tracks at home or a hotel with a reliable Wi-Fi connection, or there is some data coverage with the vast cellular network coverage available today.
Another nice touch is a street-level imagery feature that uses Google Street View or Mapillary to allow the user to better design tracks by viewing the actual world at any given point. There is another tool—the Waypoint Reducer—that retains only a subset of the original track’s waypoints, which helps shorten lengthy tracks.
GPX.studio has a growing community with developers contributing their free time to enhance the software. The website is free to use but does accept donations, because running the backend servers has operational costs for the project owners.
For most track design purposes, GPX.studio can do anything that Basecamp can do, but for free and without relying on Garmin maps or devices. No installation is needed and there are no catches. It’s a great tool that gets the job done following the KISS (Keep It Simple, Stupid) design paradigm, and provides a slick web interface that is quick to learn and easy to use.