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Understanding Tracklogs and Using Them Effectively

written by: Debasis Das•edited by: Rhonda Callow•updated: 2/24/2010

If you have been using GPS units for some time, it is likely that you have heard of the term tracklog. If you are unsure as to what they are and how to use them, here is a guide to understanding tracklogs.

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    Introduction

    Almost since the inception of commercial GPS units, there has been the existence and use of tracklogs. All it really needs is a timer function or clock and memory. A GPS unit does have a clock anyway. memory may not have been standard in early days of GPS but there is plenty available in recent units. Memory does not cost much these days. Some of the earliest commercial GPS units were designed for wilderness explorers, adventurers and the like. The memory function was needed mainly so that they could track their location over time. This could be done manually by the person carrying the GPS unit. (S)he would then stop at intervals and mark his/her location. He/she could then use the recorded information to back-track. This in essence is the classic concept of a tracklog. Keeping track of where you are going so that in times of need you can back-track. This need not be for safety/emergency either. Most hikers, and wilderness explorers are often just curious to know the exact path that they have followed. Additionally, knowing a path or route can allow you to share it with others, who in turn may choose to follow the same path or route. When the GPS unit lets you log your track, that's a tracklog. GPS units today have this process automated. It records your position at given intervals and you have a tracklog of whatever path you used!

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    Understanding tracklogs

    In practice, most commercial units these days come with the ability to maintain tracklogs. They let you record additional information such as speed, altitude, etc. Naturally, the time and date at which a particular point was recorded is included as part of the tracklog. Tracklogs may vary in specific format from one manufacturer to another, but the information carried is pretty much the same, and so with a small amount of time spent during conversion the same tracklog can be used across different devices. Most commercial units today will also support the ability to load saved tracklogs. However, it is always good to confirm that with your manufacturer. Similarly, don’t forget to consult your GPS unit's user manual or web support to figure out how to: (1) enable the tracklog function. It may be on by default; (2) save the tracklog and change format if necessary; and (3) load a saved tracklog.

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    Capabilities and using a tracklog

    Using a tracklog depends largely on the ability to load the tracklog on to a given GPS unit. Tracklogs can also be used externally on your computer to visualize routes, map waypoints, etc. Besides the ability to backtrack, a tracklog can be put to other uses. Once you have traveled a certain route, you can use your tracklog the next time you intend to travel the same way. The tracklog may contain some additional information than the navigation software provides you with, such as a curve in the road, and this can help you do a better job of negotiating the same path the second time. In case you do not have a navigation function in your GPS unit, the tracklog will serve as navigation the second time you follow a route. Similarly, you can get tracklogs from friends and others and use that as your guide to get to a specific location. This is really like a way of giving directions that's more elegant than scrawling them out by hand on a paper napkin! Outside of the GPS unit, the tracklogs can be used for analysis, comparison, etc. Tracklogs can be used to visualize a route on a map and then mark out specific waypoints or points of interest. All in all, tracklogs are a method of tracking where you (and others) have been and what use you can put them to is largely up to you.