Map

The idea behind this page is to create a map showing all of my hikes, especially for when I do a lot of long distance hiking in Canada. Up until recently, I really struggled with finding a free solution that can display information associated with each track e.g. the temperature. Google Fusion tables is the answer, but it is only beta (it could disappear altogether and then I’ll be screwed.)

I have currently only uploaded a few small tracks, but the idea works as planned. Upon clicking a track, it will provide a link to my Garmin Connect profile and information associated with that specific track. If you click the point marker, it shows additional information. The problem lies within trying to display this information. For example, the kml/gpx files associated with this Google Fusion table database can be quite messy e.g. if you upload directly from the Garmin Connect website, you will create a huge mess involving a billion markers where you don’t want them. If you neaten up the files with Google Earth, you might spend a lot of time on each tracklog. What I’ve recently discovered is you can link the track to the Garmin Connect website, thereby preventing the need to extract too much information. I’m not 100% sure how I will finalise this because it depends on what I can stomach to copy and paste. I have tried hundreds of programs and there’s nothing that can fully automate the process.

What I’ve found to be easiest is to export a gpx (not kml) file from the Garmin Connect website or Garmin Basecamp (windows program), import that into Google Earth and remove all but one point (equally you could remove all of the points and just leave the track) and the track. If you leave all of the points, it will look a mess on the map. Then under the description or name, set a hyperlink

The activity number is the same number as the file, so if you have a file titled “111.fit”, the garmin connect link would be: https://connect.garmin.com/modern/activity/111.

Target “_blank” is so that when you click the link, it opens a new window in the browser rather than redirects on the same page.

How the data is recorded

I’ve used a Garmin Fenix 3 and a Garmin Fenix 5x to record my data. The Garmin Fenix 5x is probably the best watch available for creating a map of all your hikes, but there are numerous handheld devices that’re suitable, albeit heavier. You can use your phone but it’ll eat into the battery life. The Delorme Inreach has extensive features for recording tracklogs.

If you’re not familiar with OpenStreetMaps, you’re missing out. It’s not only useful for publishing data but it’s a freely available map for handheld GPS devices, for example you can export maps into a Garmin watch. Using OpenStreetMaps and uploading files to your webserver is arguably the prettiest method to show a map but it’s somewhat problematic due to its data usage. It is simple enough to show a few tracklogs and if you go on holiday for a week or two, you could create a page “My Vacation in Hawaii”, and display a map relevant to said holiday.

You can do something similar with Google maps by going to “my maps” and importing a GPX file on each layer. There are severe limitations with this method. You’re limited to 10 layers and if you think you can circumvent this issue by merging multiple GPX files into one and then uploading that on the one layer, you’d be right–up to a point–but there’s a secondary limitation as well–the maximum file size of a GPX file can only be 5MB. You might hike for 14 hours in a day and you’ll go well past the 5MB file size.

This was created using the google “my maps” page, and it’s easy enough to understand the information. My walks here were very short as my dog came with me, so I was able to include a lot without it going over the data limit.

Google Fusion is arguably (there’s a lot you can do to customise it) the ugliest method but it’s technologically amazing. If I was able to automate some of the process, I could change the icons and pimp it out. It’d be real nice if an app existed for the phone so that I could upload files from my watch to a Google Fusion table, but I don’t know the relevant computer languages.

You can have loooooooads of tracklogs (I have no idea what the limitation is but I’ve tried a 140MB KML file with no troubles) and it works more or less in the same way as Google maps does when displayed on the website. The process towards getting said map to display is hugely different and it’s nothing short of a PITA.

I have a couple of gripes… One is that when you export a GPX file from your own Garmin account, it does not honour the safe zone settings. You can circumvent this by creating a second account and befriending yourself but it’s a hassle.

My second complaint is that I can’t simply open a FIT file in basecamp, convert it to a KML file and upload straight to a Google Fusion table as there’ll be lots of points (imagine drawing a line but instead of drawing a line, you touch the pen up and down so it looks like a dotted mess–that is what you get and it looks awful). Nonetheless, this is pretty fabulous stuff :). Google has quite a few amazing products, and they don’t always advertise things that well I think, but I’m glad I’ve found it.

3 thoughts on “Map”

  1. Google Fusion Tables is amazing for larger datasets, and there seems to be a REST API also https://developers.google.com/fusiontables/ for partial automation for coders. With complex/big data Fusion Tables displays the maps much more fluidly than Google My Maps, as the latter tends to bog down and invoke a substantial delay on the first page load with heavier datasets (don’t know what an earth My Maps with its “newer” mapping engine is doing when there is lots of complex data to display, calculating the relations of the POIs or solving the Traveling Salesman Problem before displaying the info on-screen, perhaps?). I have a hunch that the mapping engine in Fusion Tables is the older one and similar to the the “previous” mapping engine of Google My Maps (ca. three or four years ago), since the icons mentioned in the Fusion Tables documentation did contain some of the “original” My Maps icons (from the time before the latest visual upgrade in Google My Maps) and the overall rendering feeling is/was quite similar to the previous version of Google My Maps, too, IIRC.

    However, even with the custom icons enabled and style options tweaked in Fusion Tables, I like to view my map data content on Google My Maps rather than on Fusion Tables – For me, it’s the presentation style, mainly. Also one key difference between these two Google mapping products is the POI details display style: Fusion Tables displays the POI info as a pop-up window and My Maps displays the POI info on a (collapsable) side panel. IMHO this makes My Maps better suited for viewing the content on a small screen (especially when there’s a lot of fields).

    For tracks, one way to circumvent the 5 MB file size limit in My Maps is to filter the track (to make it contain less nodes, gulp) in BaseCamp before exporting.

    To import tracks to Google Fusion Tables from Garmin BaseCamp, I’d suggest a GIS program, such as QGIS, as a stepping stone. Then the workflow would, for instance, be:
    1. BaseCamp: Export a track as a gpx-file.
    2. Import the gpx-file in a GIS program, such as QGIS (usually drag and drop works, too). If asked, which parts of the file are to be imported, track layer contains the path.
    3. Convert the gpx-file (or the selected layer) to kml and export it (if everything goes well, the outputted file will be formatted differently than the BaseCamp kml-version containing at least one element. Also EPSG:4326 is a good choice for CRS). This convert/export/”save as” procedure in some versions might be initiated rather unintuitively simply by right-clicking the track and selecting “Save as…”. The actual conversion/exporting usually doesn’t take much time.
    4. Upload the fresh kml-file to Fusion Tables. (the clear downside of this method is that most of the extra info apart from the coordinate string in the FIT-file will probably be lost.)

    All in all there seems to be at least some manual labor involved, when dealing with maps, tracks and different filetypes.

    1. Thank you! I’ve given it a go. It’s definitely the fastest method, but there’s no pointers at the start and end of the route! That’s a bummer.

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