Navigation off-road


You can see above that I can set a few points on the map and connect them to form a vector. It doesn’t matter where the points are – there is no concept of a road anymore—just a grid system with points/vectors.

This is great for off-roading as you have complete control over what and where you want to be. There is a downside, though – turn by turn navigation you are used to is not reasonably possible – unless you specify the point to be some landmark in which case you will be able to read off the map to “turn left by the large rock”.

So, in summary – accuracy but no actual ability to get turn by turn navigation.


In route mode, which most GPS operate in, we are bound to a specific set of constraints – mainly roads/routes.

GPS knows that we are only allowed to go on roads; they can often cheat. Have you ever driven through a tunnel – I can guarantee that you had no GPS signal, yet your dot was moving to the end of the tunnel?

Why? GPS was able to use other sensors to help detect that you are moving, and it knows which direction you are moving so it can assume where you will end up until it gets the signal back. On poorly designed units, your dot will stop until you leave the tunnel, or on slightly better ones will say that the movement is inaccurate.

GPS also has a lot of extra information available – such as road names, builds, and points of interest (POIs). To get a bit more crafty at navigating you to your destination – “turn left after 7-eleven”.

As you might already realise, they get baffled when you go off-road.

GPS with Track

Ok, so you are like me and think that Gaia navigation is the cause of your grey hair, or you prefer your GPS as you have travelled the world with it and just know it inside and out.

Well, for me, that’s Scenic (unfortunately only available on iOS for now) – however, apparently, Android is coming soon.

So here is an example of getting a GPX file (from Gaia) onto your GPS as a track and not a route.

I have recently gone on a well-organised adventure with Moto Trekking team. It was terrific – but it was also tricky because routes were primarily off-road (as they should!) where regular GPS wasn’t coping.

We had to use Gaia GPS for our navigation. I love Gaia for planning my trips – but it is a terrible navigation app for motorcycling or really anything but walking at a slow pace.

It was clunky and kept getting stuck, which caused many wrong turns and a lot of frustration. MT guys insisted that we use it instead of our GPS units – I thought I would explain why this is and how to make it work on your regular navigation system (if they are capable of it).

Track vs Route

GPS units are made to help us get from A to B through specific means, typically roads, motorways, ferries, etc.

The algorithms are generally optimised to get you there the fastest while obeying whatever parameters you have selected (e.g. avoid tolls, highways or similar).

They are primarily excellent and generally with traffic information etc., they are even better to get you without any issues.

However, they are terrible when you break the “roads” constraint – they get confused and try to find the closest road or track. Try to get a train to drop you off right outside your house scenario.

Imagine you are riding your adventure bike. It has been raining, and you hit a bit of an obstacle. The road is flooded pretty bad. The GPS says that you need to go through it – smart ones will detect that there is an issue and re-route you while using roads (route).

However, you are aware of a track that you can take and cross the river at a low spot and get across without going around (track).

What happens when you give your GPS track?

Your GPS will look at each point and try to fit it into the grid of roads – which is not too bad if it’s just a couple of KM distance. You might get lost but not too severely. Now imagine a 400km track through a bush. Another problem is that different GPS will interpret it very differently as well – so 400km track with 200 people all going a slightly different route. Think of each person getting an IKEA assembly manual in different languages with no pictures!

This is why MT guys insisted on using Gaia – people trying to get their GPS to use off-road tracks on their route driven GPS.

  • Download your GPX file (save it on your phone)
  • Go to your files and file the GPX file.
  • Touch and hold and select “Share.”
  • Select your navigation app (in my case, it is Scenic).
  • Click to “Import” the file.
  • Instead of saving it – find where you can select to keep it as Track.
    • On Scenic you click on “Save thin line as Track” (top left corner)
    • Scenic won’t let me modify the track once it is imported, nor it will e.g. re-route me if I get off the track. It is up to me to stay on it.
    • The good thing about it is that Scenic has all maps downloaded, so even in the middle of nowhere with no internet connectivity, I can find my way around and get to the closest town/road if I get lost.