It is Sunday and I would like to treat myself to a thick, rather European meal for once. Even though I am in Thailand and there is good Thai food in many places. Somehow bring a little variety into the menu. Well, I already have an idea… a little round of pizza caching 😉
Everyday navigation modern
My Garmin – GPS device has an openstreetmap map for Thailand and is supposed to help me. So I can see how well the area is mapped and what the openstreet-mappers found so interesting.
The smartphone shows you your way and follows you throughout the day
I know, most of you would just take the smartphone and search at tripadvisor if necessary … But I don’t have anything like that. Consciously not. As long as there are no smartphones with free software (like Linux for laptop and PC) that offers nearly the same features as the current apps and meets my requirements for data security/privacy, I will not accept such a pocket bug. Because the services of „Aunt goggel“ are mostly free of charge, but not for nothing. With your convenience, this company (and some others along with it, including the growing danger of governmental abuse) buys your data, your CV, your thoughts, your circle of friends and above all the power to predict and change your future.
Paranoid? So far, unfortunately, everything that has become known about „Big Data“ and its evaluation has shown that the truth is much worse than our imagination might imagine. The big data collectors gog, fakeb, amz and subcontractors with access to the data treasure have the power to change the way masses of people think via their platforms and the results of the search engines – and thus to steer the future. Democracy is in danger! In future elections will be won by those who have the resources to influence groups of voters via social media channels. I think most people are not even remotely aware of the dark sides of digitalization.
Project openstreetmap – a free world map to tinker with
But this only on the periphery. There are also counter-movements (even if they are only partly really understood as „counter-movements“). The open source scene is one of them. Part of this scene are the openstreetmap activists. With openstreetmap (osm) a free world map has been created, in which many hundreds of thousands of people all over the world work together. The database is getting denser and denser – in some cities like Leipzig, where many activists are involved, almost every street tree, every mailbox, every „Schlauch-o-mat“ etc. is mapped and road construction sites are often entered to the day.
Meanwhile there are already special maps based on osm – maps and different offices and research institutions use the map base for their purposes. Unfortunately, there are of course still sparsely populated, rather „technologically distant“ regions on earth for which some data is still missing. However, this is often not so much different with official maps. In the remote mountainous regions of Laos I have reached my limits with osm maps. God knows that the people there have other things to do than to record the mountain paths they are familiar with by GPS tracker.
License expressly permits free use
A big advantage of openstreetmap maps is that anyone can use them freely. You don’t have to fear a reprimand if you show your company or your hostel with an OSM-map on your website. You are allowed to use the maps at any time, provided you mention the source. It is not for nothing that Deutsche Bahn has started to use osm maps to show the surroundings of its major railway stations. Even in the TV crime series „Tatort“ an osm-map was used for the crime scene – much to the delight of the streetmapper scene. And the Tagesschau currently shows the spread of the coronavirus in the world on an osm map. I regularly link places and regions on the osm- website – where you can mark your start and destination with a right click and search for your way as a pedestrian, cyclist or by car.
Furthermore, the density of details allows you to use filters that fit your purposes and to filter out e.g. a hiking map with elevation representations, a cyclist map with road surfaces or repair service facilities or even a car map. And then save them to your GPS device. Or if you have just moved to a town, you can check out the area online and find the nearest ATM or mailbox…
Diversity of participants strengthens the density of detail
It is nice that the creation of the openstreetmap – world map – like wikipedia – is done by the activity of different people. Everyone can participate. This has a positive effect, because everybody sets different priorities for his life. One of them is perhaps a passionate cyclist and collects all the information that is important to him as a cyclist. Another may be in a wheelchair and collect the relevant data, so that a wheelchair map can be created using suitable filters. There are tools like the free open-source program josm (java open streetmap editor), with which you can download the desired small map section, enter your changes and then upload them again. After a few hours – the new raw data must first be „rendered“, i.e. graphically prepared, your additions are entered. A democratically developed map, so to speak.
However, there are limits. In the accuracy as well as in the „officiality“ of the representations. Hans-Wilhelm Hurt has written a good and not uncritical post in German at radrouting.de (GPS for bicycle friends) in 2018. He is a trained cartographer and quite OSM-friendly, but he also sees the partial weaknesses of the project. If you are technically not able to create suitable Garmin maps, you can buy them from him.
openstreetmap also on smartphone – Apps
Of course, there are several apps that use osm maps. Osmand is a project that I recently got to know about. Or, already older, maps.me With both you can download osm – maps for your target region and use them offline. This is important for regions where you can’t be constantly on the road in some wifi network. As far as I know, the osmand – app costs 9€ in the goggel play shop, in the free app store f-droid it is for free.
Use of openstreetmap – data on GPS – devices
But also different GPS – devices are „osm – suitable“. Not every one from the beginning. Some manufacturers want to earn money not only from the device, but also from the sale of compatible maps. On the Internet you can find information whether certain devices are „osm-ready“. I have been using a Garmin eTrex for several years. These are usable for osm- cards from eTrex 20 and higher. However, the map data must be converted into the Garmin-typical format. There are different web pages for this purpose. Either you can download the map for your target area directly or sometimes you can select an area and let it be calculated „fresh“.
The maps for Garmin devices are then called gmapsupp.img. Usually you will get a .zip-folder containing the map files. After unzipping you should rename the file immediately, e.g. to cyclemap_wales_201912.img or something like that. Then you know what is stored in the file. It makes sense to indicate the download date, because you can see how old the map information is. Save the map file on the Garmin (micro-)SD card, activate it in the menu as your regional map and off you go! You can have more than one map activated, but it makes sense to deactivate regions you are not currently in.
In general, you should make sure that the map offers are regularly updated – this way you will benefit from the latest information. Some computer-savvy hikers or cyclists also create specially filtered maps for their target groups. Otherwise, the general maps are usable, as they contain all relevant data. It then depends on whether your GPS device can further filter the map data for your purposes. (E.g. suppress motorways for cyclists, avoid gravel roads, etc.) ) Garmin even sells prepared osm maps as a cheaper alternative to its own map sets. (With the restrictive remark that these are non-verified map data from the Openstreetmap – project and Garmin does not guarantee the accuracy of the maps)
Sources for OSM maps – a few examples
Here are some links to websites where OSM maps can be downloaded for different regions and purposes. These are prepared for Garmin GPS devices in gmapsupp.img format (unless otherwise specified). For other GPS devices, there are probably similar offers, but I’m not familiar with them, just search for them yourself e.g. at ecosia.org
- Freizeitkarte-osm.de offers leisure time maps for European countries updated every 2 months according to own information
- opentopomap offers the topographically prepared OSM maps with weekly updates every Thursday.
- At alternativaslibres.de you can find the OSM base maps for almost everywhere in the world (restrictions are explained), usually updated daily
- My most frequent source, since it is very variable and comprehensive, is the Dutch site http://garmin.openstreetmap.nl/
- The OSM wiki entry should not be missing. Although not quite up-to-date, the table contains some sources for special maps (mountain bike, cyclists, hiking etc.)
- For the compatibility of openSEAmap charts on Garmin, Lowrance, Simrad and B&G devices here the info from openseamap
GPS devices – robust technology for outdoor use
Another advantage of the GPS – device compared to the smartphone is that they are very robust. The Garmin e-Trex is definitely waterproof and shockproof. It can also be fed with maps from the osm branch openseamap and then serves as a sea navigation system and sea chart display. (The map links for land based navigation Cap Verde and Tobago in my travel story „Under sail across the Atlantic“ refer to the openseamap – maps)
The disadvantage is – but this is no different with the smartphone – that satellite navigation eats up quite a lot of energy and therefore the batteries do not last very long. This is something to keep in mind if you are out and about somewhere far out in the world. But when hiking or sailing or other activities far away from civilization I would use the good old paper hiking map anyway… at least as a backup. At sea, the updated paper nautical chart is mandatory as a means of navigation. Electronic nautical charts may be used, but only in comparison with the nautical chart.
And the e-Trex devices have the advantage that they use normal AA batteries, which can be bought almost everywhere in the world.
Decision support in case of too many options
The navigation system is cool especially when there are a lot of routes. In Tuscany I didn’t have a GPS device yet, only a rather bad Italian „hiking map“. I failed on my hike from Sienna to Florence because I entered many paths which turned out to be the access to another of the scattered wine estates after 500 m. With the Navi I would have noticed after 10 m at the latest that this branch was the wrong one.
But also otherwise it is practical. Especially in the confusing places in India or Southeast Asia I mark a waypoint in front of my accommodation after my arrival, just to find back easier. With the non-existent or unreadable street name signs (who can read something like Thai or Malayalam?) this helps me a lot.
Basic function – Where am I?
A GPS – device helps you even if there are no more paths. Of course, then the „routing“, which calculates the fastest or, depending on the default settings, the shortest or safest way via roads and paths, is no longer possible. But the GPS still shows you where you are, if necessary with the map basis underneath. Depending on the relief and obstacles, you can create an (out) way by setting waypoints for individual sections and running on them. This is also possible at sea – waypoints that are approached stage by stage.
Or, if I’m travelling in a foreign country by bus or train, I always check where I am and how far it is to the finish.
Useful additional information
The travel computer shows me not only speed, altitude and other „technical data“ but also the time until sunset. This is important for sailing or especially for winter hiking, to be able to estimate when it will be dark and how much distance can be covered.
So, what was that about pizza?
I go to „Destination input„. There are different sub-items like „all POI“ (points of interest), sights, food and drink, means of transport
So I have already discovered many a treasure along the way by looking at the POI’s of the nearer surroundings. E.g. another cave near Tham Lot in the north of Thailand, which has been abandoned in the meantime.
Then there are usually subitems like „food and drink“ then „all“, „American“, „Asian“, „barbecue“, „fast food“ etc. It depends a little bit on the classification the mappers have made. Pizza should be classified under… „Italian,“ right? Unfortunately, this is the wrong place. But a few fields further on there is „Pizzeria“ – hit! About 880 meters on foot – I can just manage that.
And wonderful – there is really pizza from the wood oven! In the middle of Thailand, in New Sukothai! The tables are full – a lot of Chinese families have gathered here for the „Chinese New Year’s Day“. But there is still enough space for me and this pizza tastes quite Italian 🙂 That’s what I often do when I’m in a foreign city – just pizza – cashing.
Some current models…
The entry level model is the eTrex 25 Touch*. In the meantime, all Garmin GPS devices have been equipped with a touch-screen, which makes operation much easier. Apart from that, not much has changed, at least for the simplest device of the series. The construction is proven robust, the case is waterproof, and two AA batteries (or rechargeable batteries) are still used. The endurance is indicated with up to 16 hours. A new feature is that a bicycle handlebar mount is included in the basic equipment, just like an already installed base map „topoAktiv“ for Europe or depending on the place of purchase. The internal memory of 8GB can be extended with a microSD card.
Geocaching – Fans will love it: Externally almost identical, but with some additional features in detail, the eTrex touch 35* comes along. In particular, there are 250,000 pre-installed GeoCaches and the possibility of coupling with the smartphone. The latter can stay protected in the backpack in wet weather, because the messages are displayed on the eTrex 35. Same weight as the eTrex 25 touch 159 grams with batteries.
One league higher plays the Garmin Oregon 700*. The connection with the smartphone is further developed – it is wifi and bluetooth capable. This makes it possible to easily reload additional geocaches on the road. In addition, e-mail and sms messages as well as the alarm set on the smartphone can be transmitted. Also the weather radar can be displayed, so that you are informed about the weather situation of your surroundings while you are on the road. To strengthen the basic function the antenna performance has been improved again. Additionally available is a Ni-MH rechargeable battery pack with 2x2000mAh*.
High-end for professionals – the Garmin GPSMAP 66i*. In addition to the excellent GPS functions, it also offers two-way communication via the global Iridium network and an emergency call function that can be used to trigger an alarm in the GEOS emergency centre. All this is independent of land-based communication channels such as mobile phone networks or similar. This makes it an indispensable companion on excursions far away from the nearest civilisation. The battery life can be extended up to one week by energy saving modes.
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Source product photos: Manufacturer/ Dealer