A Guide to Understanding, Downloading, and Following Our Routes

An important and growing part of BIKEPACKING.com is the routes resource, covering rides of different styles and lengths, drawn from all around the globe. Each route post is accompanied by a GPX track to load into your GPS. These can be downloaded directly from the site, or via the ‘Ride With GPS’ embedded map. To make this process easier, here’s how to go about it, as well as a few potential pitfalls to watch out for and some advice on navigation apps…

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First things first. While we take a certain pride in curating and maintaining our Bikepacking Routes section – both developing our own multi-day rides and drawing from the wealth of our contributors’ experience and knowledge – we ultimately consider this key part of the site to be developed for the bikepacking community and motivated by their needs. As such, we welcome all feedback and updates on an ongoing basis; after all, each route is a living entity that will undoubtedly change over time! If anyone discovers aspects of a route that can be improved upon, let us know. And if you scout a better way to navigate a particular section, please share this information so we can continue to evolve the rides we post, and make BIKEPACKING.com the best resource we can.

UNDERSTANDING OUR RATING SYSTEM

Before digging into the details of downloading and using our GPX files, this is a reminder to note the stats and ratings at the top of each route. While we are in the process of updating the difficulty ratings across many routes (on some you’ll note a new ‘Difficulty’ description within the text to help expand on the rating), the number itself is left up to the discretion of the route contributor/designer/author. If you have questions regarding this, be sure to read the comments section, or post a comment of your own. Also, note the ‘% Unpaved’ refers to the percentage of total unsurfaced road or trail on the entirety of the route. Likewise, ‘% Singletrack’ refers to the percentage of singletrack trail on the entire route. The ‘% Rideable’ refers to the amount of the route that can be cycled, as opposed to hike-a-biked. This is approximated by time, and can vary according to your skill level.

LOOKING FOR THE GPX FILE?

Although we aim to attach an accompanying GPX file to each route we publish, technical complications sometimes make this hard to do – we’re currently working a system that will iron out these kinks. In the meantime, if for any reason the ‘Download GPX’ button isn’t showing under the map, you may need to access the file from Ride With GPS website. To do this, click on ‘View Full Route’ in the top left corner of the map tab. This will link you through to the main Ride with GPS page, from where you can download the track in the format you require – see below for details.

Routes Guide Map

UNDERSTANDING AND USING ‘RIDE WITH GPS’

We are currently embedding Ride With GPS maps into our routes; toggle through the mapping layers to see the route set against satellite imagery and various OSM basemaps. We recommend ‘OSM Cycle’ for planning, but display most with ESRI too for visual clarity.

Each route can be downloaded in the format of your choice using the ‘Export’ tab in the top right column, ticking the ‘Include POIs as Waypoints’ box (see the Check, Check and Triple Check paragraph for a caveat). When routes are updated, we will be adding a date to the latest version, so you can make sure you have the most up to date file. You can download gpx files for free, without signing up to RWGPS, though the website’s free membership allows you to curate your own route collection, bookmarking them for future reference.

bikepacking route guide

This said, be aware RWGPS’s free service has limited functionality – see here for details on the various plans and what are offered. For instance, you’ll need to subscribe to the basic package ($6 a month) in order to download the useful Points of Interest as waypoints. We’ve also noticed that some devices strip embedded information from within the waypoints, so before you head out, check these can accessed from your downloaded file, including POI ‘names’ and ‘descriptions’. If they’re not all there, you’ll need to input them manually. We are working on embedding these details into our downloadable GPX files that we attach directly to the route page.

Bikepacking Guide RWGPS

GETTING FRIENDLY WITH YOUR GPS UNIT

It goes without saying… but we’re going to say it anyway! Make sure you fully understand your GPS unit or smartphone app before, especially if it’s new, heading into the backcountry! Not all devices are intuitive, so be comfortable with all their intricacies first, such as access to files and mapping, as well as device orientation when in use. Choose the right basemap to download into your GPS (GPS File Depot is a good place to start) and/or research the best OSM or topo layers for your app.

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  • bikepacking navigation smartphone

BACKUPS, CHARGING, & SAFETY

While we always encourage carrying paper map backups of the routes you ride, reliable printed maps aren’t always available for the regions we cover. If you’re using a handlebar mounted GPS, it’s highly advised that you carry both spare batteries and a backup GPS unit or a smartphone if travelling alone.

If you’re using a smartphone to navigate, load the file into at least two different apps, in case you have any issues with your primary source of navigation. And make sure you have a backup cache battery, ideally in addition to a way of charging your device on the trail, whether it be a solar panel or dynamo driven.

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As for apps, we recommend Gaia GPS as your primary means of smartphone navigation. At $10 a year, it’s a well priced and reliable app. Although there are other good programs available, we’re pointing our readers towards Gaia as we’ve had excellent, longterm experience, particularly with iPhones. As for Android users, AlpineQuest GPS ($10 single purchase) comes highly recommended.

Whatever app you choose, just make sure you’re familiar with it! As a general note, programs like Gaia GPS and others also allow users to download the relevant maps for their ride that can be accessed offline. We’d suggest also downloading a buffer map of the surrounding area, in case you stray off your route.

We also highly recommend downloading a copy of the route into Ride With GPS’ own app (even if you don’t download the relevant maps), as this will allow you to access POIs and all their details, along with profiles, distances, and stats that can be seen on our embedded maps.

Additionally, we recommend supplementing a specialist navigation app like Gaia with a free, easy to learn one like Maps.me as a backup. Maps.me is a useful way of seeing major road arteries around the route; these can serve as bailout option in a technical or medical emergency.

If traveling solo, we’d always advise forwarding a track of your intended route to a friend or relative, and considering the likes of SPOT Tracker too.

CHECK, CHECK and TRIPLE CHECK!

Before heading into the backcountry, make sure the complete GPX file has transferred to your unit. Some Garmin units struggle with the longer routes that are published on this site, so you may need to chop these into shorter portions and reduce its amount of points, using a program like Ride With GPS, Garmin Basecamp, or Topofusion. We’ve never had this issue with the Gaia GPS app. To confirm the file or files have been uploaded into your GPS as expected, check that the distance tallies with the info on the site, with the start and end points that you’re expecting. And zoom in to make sure all the details are there and you have a relatively ‘smooth’ route, devoid of long straight lines.

If you subscribe to RWGPS’s Basic package, you can chop up longer routes into more Garmin-friendly portions – and keep those all-important Waypoints/POIs – by highlighting the relevant section of the route, clicking on the ‘Trim Ends’ function with the Edit command (below the map), and Saving as New with an updated name/number.

guide downloading bikepacking routes

READING THE FINE PRINT

Make sure you read the complete route post – including each of the tabs below the map (or icons on mobile view). These include ‘Must Know’, which covers details such as when to go, the type of bike we recommend, permits, and other important information. Check tabs for Camping and Food/H20 too. And don’t miss the Trail Notes tab, which often contains additional details we can’t fit into a GPX file, or even detailed itineraries. Lastly, the images we post will offer a feel the variety of terrain to be expected.

SPOTTED A CORRECTION? ROOM FOR IMPROVEMENTS? TELL US!

Changes happen! Mistakes are made! If you spot anything that looks to have gone awry on one of our routes, please note down the details and pass them on in the comment field of the relevant post. Similarly, if you have an improvement to offer, please share them with us. To help locate the exact area in question, an app like Gaia GPS allows you to quickly label a waypoint and export it via an email. We will likely build a form for route changes, but in the meantime we can be contacted on Facebook, make sure to lead your message with ‘Route Change’, along with the name of the route. If you don’t use Facebook, leave a comment on the particular route for which you have a recommended change.

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  • Harley Raylor

    How do you recommend checking to ensure the complete gpx file has downloaded/transferred to your gps device? I open it and see the overall map image of the route on the device. Is there more I can do? Thanks.

  • Cass Gilbert

    I’d suggest checking the length of the imported file compared to the one on the site, in terms of miles/kilometres. And I’d suggest zooming to make sure all the details are there. I’ve seen glitches where units ‘straight line’ between points.

  • Mike Gurnham

    Thanks Cass! I’ll stop sending you all the questions I have that are answered here! I’ve been talking with you through my Thief Bikepacking instagram account. Getting all the gpx files in order for Colombia and Ecuador, pretty stoked.

  • Cass Gilbert

    Good to hear the post might pre-empt a few queries! Let me know if there’s anything else on your mind with regard to TEMBR! That file is particularly long and detailed, so will likely need some chopping up. It should load into Gaia GPS just fine though.

  • Idle Prentice

    RWGPS is a dream to use. I couldn’t ask for better. Garmin, however, is an eternal nightmare, at least for me. I don’t know how many articles I’ve read that can be summed up as “How to put GPX tracks onto your Garmin unit in only 35 steps that won’t work!!” Garmin has worn me out. I’m tempted to get an InReach but I fear that it’s no better than my others.

  • Cass Gilbert

    I’ve had mixed experiences with various Garmins. Certainly, the older models haven’t been very intuitive to use, in terms of the operating system, especially compared to a smartphone. I think the new ones are getting better! Incidentally, Garmin bough InReach and this new collaboration would be top of my list if I was after a do-it-all backcountry GPS; great battery life, rechargeable via USB etc…
    http://www.bikepacking.com/news/garmin-inreach-devices/

  • mebaru

    The main downside of RWGPS app for me – it doesn’t have offline satellite map. In my experience it is must-have layer for any wilderness travel and very useful as a reference. Gaya app is good, if you have iPhone – Android version is buggy and outdated. BikeMap app is not bad. The best Android app for me so far is AlpineQuest.

  • Cass Gilbert

    Have you used the most recent Gaia GPS on Android? I found it much improved over recent versions. Anyway, what App you choose is largely down to personal choice – I know lots of people have their diehard favourites. The important thing is to have one you like and know how to use! Do check out our guide, as it covers a lot of other options – http://www.bikepacking.com/plan/smartphone-as-a-gps/ – and feel free to post any thoughts there.
    Our suggestion for RWGPS as an app is mainly to access waypoints that we post on our maps, mileage markers, and stats, rather than as a primary navigation source. If I’m following a pre existing route rather than exploring somewhere new, I don’t tend to download satellite imagery, though I do like to have a few different base layers to pick and choose from.

  • mebaru

    Thanks Cass, I have read that awesome guide several times, as well as others here because I am huge fan of this website and you guys. In regards to Gaia GPS – I tried it around 4-5 months ago, will check it again though I prefer AlpineQuest app now, for similar features.
    I understand that everyone has his own scenarios, adopted to places they live or travel to. I live in Eastern Europe. Amount and quality of available maps, especially digital ones, is lacking compared to US maps, for example. For this reason, Gaia GPS premium features are useless here for local route building. OSM isn’t very detailed either, usually lose to Google maps in detail. Most of the time, I have to rely on satellite maps to plan my backcountry routes, and rides often involve a lot of exploring anyway. I was disappointing to find that RWGPS app doesn’t provide offline satellite layer (probably because Google doesn’t allow to save their maps in apss for offline use now). I still prefer RWGPS website for route building.

  • Cass Gilbert

    Yes, good point. Some apps cover certain areas better than others. The new Gaia (premium version, $30 per year) now includes National Geographic maps too, which is probably more relevant to some than others.
    (as an aside, have you come across this app? I used it in Mongolia – Android only. Could be fun/interesting for Eastern Europe –
    https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.atlogis.sovietmaps.free&hl=en)

    Re RWGPS. I agree, it’s an awesome program for route planning, though I do find it’s really easy to accidentally reroute a section of a ride without realising. And when there’s a slow internet connection, it’s super slow to save and at times. But it’s a fantastic resource (worth the cost, IMO), and the best we’ve come across for sharing routes on this site.

  • Mike Gurnham

    Thanks Cass. I’ve been at this a couple hours and still working away. I split it into sections of 200km and even some of those were too big, my eTrex would only show a part of it, sometimes not even half. Is there really that much detail? Its seems a bit crazy to me. Even a route I created on Ride With GPS for Colombia didn’t show in its entirety. Does RWGPS usually do that?

    As well, when I split the route, the new routes didn’t have any POIs. Somehow those are on my eTrex, and I am not going to mess with that, but do you know if its possible to split the route and keep all those POIs you put in there? Good thing I’ve got a week to figure this out!

  • Cass Gilbert

    RWGPS has a tonne of great support videos – have a dig around. I’m sure it’s possible, but I expect you need the paid subscription to keep POIs and their details. I’ll have a look too when I get a chance.

    I believe routes that have been loaded into RWGPS – after having been ridden – create more complications with some Garmins than those planned on the site.

  • Mike Gurnham

    Here is what I have done and it seems that it may work, and maybe others can provide some insight as to whether this is right or wrong, or considering Garmin, just the least worst option. Before I attempted all of this I did in fact purchase the basic subscription for RWGPS.

    1. I exported the entire TEMBR Dirt track, which was far too big and didn’t even show up on my Garmin. I tried to re-upload that .gpx file to RWGPS, and it only showed the POIs as waypoints; no track. Maybe this is a glitch but possibly a stroke of luck, because the track-less .gpx file with waypoints is now on my Garmin eTrex 20x. So the Garmin is showing all of your painstakingly inputted POIs.

    2. I chopped the full route into what I thought would be manageable sections. I started at 500 km, loaded it onto Garmin, too big. Tried 200 km and some of those smaller routes worked while others didn’t. I figured some just have more data than others. I think from km 200-400 it only showed about 63 km on the Garmin. So I kept my seven newly created 200km routes, exported them but chose to reduce to 500 points. I think my brand new Garmin eTrex 20x may still be considered an “old” device by RWGPS standards. Anyway, this seemed to work: 200 km sections reduced to 500 points. I didn’t want to reduce the whole route to 500 points, that probably would have lost far too much detail. But each 200 km section lost maybe 8-10 km of total distance which can be attributed to the less precise track, ie angled turns instead of being nicely rounded.

    3. As a comparison, I exported the last 171 km of the route into two files: one was reduced to 500 points, one was not. Both loaded onto the eTrex in their entirety. The reduced file shows 162.6 km while the other file shows the full 171 km. I zoomed in nice and close on the Garmin, picked a road with tons of switchbacks (I have some Open Street Maps loaded onto the Garmin which seem to show good detail), and as far as I can see, the only difference is that the reduced file doesn’t exactly follow the road. Its not a nice smooth, curved track, its got straight lines and angles but overall it should still be totally adequate for navigating.

    So I think for an eTrex you need to reduce to 500 points, but still chop it into smaller sections. I could easily reduce the whole route to 500 points but that would probably just show a straight line from north to south! If you didn’t want to reduce the file, you would have to do a whole lot of trial and error to find the correct length for each section. Like I said, one of the 200 km sections I created only loaded 63 on my Garmin so if you chopped the whole TEMBR into 63k sections, well that would take a while.

    There is also a very good possibility I am incorrect and am using the eTrex in totally the wrong way. Last time I used it was for the Baja Divide and Nick was nice enough to do all this work for us.

    I think like you said it matters how the route was created, and obviously the device you are using. I downloaded Dean and Dang’s Oh Boyaca route and it loaded into the eTrex no problem. I have created my own Colombian route that picks up where theirs left off and continues to Bogota, about 650km, and has no POIs at all, and will not load into the eTrex unless I reduce the route.

    Finally, all of these routes loaded into Gaia without any difficulty.

  • Cass Gilbert

    I’m glad you found a workaround! Thanks for taking to time to post your discoveries.

    It makes sense to chop longer routes in several smaller sections, and export these to 500 points, to make sure not too much detail is lost.

    Gaia or similar serves as a great backup, in case anything goes awry!

    I’ll look into ways of keeping POIs when longer routes are chopped up into sections.

  • Hi Cass, do you have a field experience on using just a smart phone e.g. plus sized iPhones on week long routes?
    I experienced that GPS apps consumes too much battery and was wondering if an Anker Powerport Solar together with 2-3 power banks will suffice to power the smart phone in order to make it through routes like the Tres Cordilleras or the Peru Divide? Thanks man!

  • p.s. I find it way better to use apps like RWGPS and Maps.Me than those Garmin units in terms of usability. Only downside right now is battery.

  • I find Garmin very useful in combination with Google Earth or Google Maps when you ride in an area where information is very limited. You can just explore from the air and find access togreat places, alternative routes that are not in the maps, etc. I learnt everything I had to learn through YouTube. I always carry with me a pendrive with a backup of maps, routes and a portable version of MapSource and the drives for connecting it to any computer that you can borrow in case of emergency.

  • Cass Gilbert

    I agree, Garmins are great devices in the backcountry and teaming them with Google Earth is a great way of exploring. They’ve just never been as very user friendly as smartphones. This guide is more about downloading and following our routes, rather than using a gps for unchartered navigation. As I’ve found – along with others – Garmins don’t always play nicely with Ride With GPS, which means that often you’ll need to chop up the file and reduce its points, rather than simply load in a complete gpx, as you would with a navigation app.

    Note that Ride With GPS has a satellite layer too, which I often use for route planning.

  • Pedro Blasco

    I will check it out. Thanks!

  • Cass Gilbert

    I dug around and this is the best solution I came up with – as added to the post above – for chopping up a longer route into multiple sections, while still keepin POIs.

    “If you subscribe to RWGPS’s Basic package, you can chop up longer routes into more Garmin-friendly portions – and keep those all-important Waypoints/POIs – by highlighting the relevant section of the route, clicking on the ‘Trim Ends’ function with the Edit command (below the map), and Saving as New with an updated name/number.”

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