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Fenix: Replacing the fenix basemap with a Trail network map

45853 Views 57 Replies 17 Participants Last post by  as4tik
I got so excited about the .img file installation proof-of-concept, I literally ran out to get the fenix at my local shop.
Umm, "Honey, about the credit card bill… remember all those times I saved $20 by changing my own oil?..."

After waiting what feels like a decade for useful ABCHR watch with GPS, now I have two!

I can't yet tell if the fenix & Ambit will be like my children and I'll keep both, or if they be like my other past watches and one of them will be on Craigslist in 6 months. I can tell it's going to come down to two factors

  1. How good is the fenix vs ambit tracks & sensor data in the real world of my hikes and jogs and vacation-wear?
  2. How good is the November Ambit update? I'm excited about that too.
  3. Is one of them better enough at one activity type or usage-model or the other to keep both?
(ok. 3 factors)

Anyway, back to the Trails "map" installation

************ WARNING: Do At Your Own Risk of turning your fenix into a paperweight ********************

  1. I copied the original gmapbmap.img from the fenix/Garmin folder to another folder on my PC for safe keeping.
  2. I used Garmin Map Install
  3. Selected the fenix.
  4. Message: "all my maps won't fit"
  5. So I chose just Washington and Oregon from Northwest Trails
  6. Installed it. Took about 2 minutes.
  7. It placed a second .img file in the Garmin directory of the fenix, called Northwest Trails.img
  8. I deleted the original gmapbmap.img
  9. I renamed the Northwest Trails.img to gmapbmap.img

The original basemap .img file is about 558kB.
The new .img file is 4590kB. (about 1/4th of the fenix capacity) and has essentially every known trail in a 500mile by 300mile 2-state area.

Way way more useful to me than the Garmin Basemap.

This is super helpful to a hiker… so I'll have not just my planned route in the fenix, I'll see all the other intersecting trails, and can identify their names. In the watch. It's that extra bit of back-up and confidence, yep, I've had paper maps blow away, and yep, I've had dead batteries in my handheld. Never at the same time though. :). Plus I can impress my friends with 1-inch 70x70 pixel black&white trail maps. Priceless.

Here are images:
Northwest Trails overview in Basecamp - it has a bajillion trails. Make a donation, it's worth supporting.

Northwest Trails zoom-in in Basecamp. What you'd typically use to map/overlay your Route Waypoints.
Text Map Line Organism

A place I've been: my existing Waypoints from Basecamp are in the fenix along with the NW Trails. (Key point = those are not GPS tracks, those are the network of trails from the .img file… aka the Background Map.

An arbitrary trail crossing seen in the map mode of the fenix. Note the crosshairs.

In the Orange menu you can "Select Pt"

And depending on what your crosshairs are pointing to… you get the underlying information (e.g. could be trail name, or POI details. In this case the Pacific Crest Trail.

(p.s. I like Demo Mode.)

And I did go for an hour run with both the fenix and ambit. Both on 1sec tracks. Verdict = No verdict yet.
  • The HR graphs are identical.
  • Tracks on map are very similar. No wildly phubar points. SportTacks-computed distances are within 0.01miles. Ambit "in-watch"/summary distance is 1% shorter. And the truth is out there somewhere.
  • The elevation graphs match. (baro-based I presume)
    • However the Ascent/Descent in Details seems quite (2x) wrong in the fenix… maybe GPS-based?
  • "In-watch" real-time Paces matched pretty close, by GPS standards: e.g. +/- 10 seconds.
    • Fenix Current Pace is not really instantaneous, it's doing some default smoothing I guess. It lags the Ambit by a few seconds when coming to an abrupt stop. Like the jump stop my basketball coach taught me in high school.
  • Can't review the HR and speed summary in the fenix. Huh?
  • Trending to give a slight nod to the Ambit for Training, for me. But also have no doubt that the fenix + Garmin Connect will be more than fine for the 97%.

Oh, and one more thing:
No fenix Automatic mode switching between Altimeter ("Variable") and Barometer ("Fixed")? If true that'll be a bummer.
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Nice thread!
I am still with doubts about Ambit or Fenix, and your answers to the three questions can help a lot.
This map issue is one point in favor of the Fenix, same way as possibility to handle gpx files and be able to manage it as a hard drive without any associated program. From what I red, it fits also better to smail wrist like mine
I find th Ambit looking better, but that's very personal, and I am afraid that the Suunto will have many more features upgrades than the Fenix, if we beleive on past behaviour of both brands, and this is what really keeps me doubting.
Any additional thoughts on this comparison will be very much appreciated

Hi. Thanks.
There are many ways to slice/dice a recommendation. From the 20,000 meter viewpoint, they both seem great.
Here's my attempt at helping with a decision...

Reasons to have/buy...
You want a simpler in-watch "menu experience"
You want ~every conceivable GPS/HR/Nav menu item and option in the watch, and you want it now.
You have $900
You want to see what Sunnto delivers in Sept/Nov, and promises for 2013.
You are willing to pay $100 premium - IMHO for the higher-touch post-sales support
Basecamp Route Planning and Review: You don't mind paying for Garmin maps and/or installing the free/donation-request maps.
You have a credit card and no self control
You want to see the 'final' verdicts on track quality, distance accuracy, ABC sensor data accuracy for both watches
You don't mind being tethered to an online PC for synching and Profile creation
You think Clouds should be where the rain is kept, not your data.
You are just a runner
You want the Training and Review features in the watch (HR/Speed/RecovTime)
You are mostly interested in Hiking/Climbing/Geocaching
You are just a biker
You'd rather have Recovery & Training Effect vs. Flashlight & Sight 'N Go
You'd rather have MOB and Anchor drag than Automatic Alti-Baro option and

You want your watch battery to last 1 year, not matter what.
You like the Suunto 'aesthetic' (looks, screen sharpness, and simpler menu system)
You are already in the Garmin world for maps, Basecamp, Garmin Connect, and you want the commonality between the fenix and your handheld.
You are a hiker happy with an ABC and a map.
Foot pod (Nov), FusedspeedVibration, Tempe, Bluetooth future, 1000 waypoints, Infinite Alarms

You like Suunto, and don't like GarminYou like Garmin, and don't like Suunto.
You like Suunto and Garmin
You don't like Suunto and don't like Garmin

So, maybe in short:
  • Ambit: a bit simpler + leans toward training
  • fenix: menu-palooza + as many features as a hiker's handheld with a 1-inch screen
  • Accuracy, bugs, data quality: needs a month or two for a real verdict

And loads of folks will just need to try them on and see how they feel. The watches aren't monstrous, but they aren't small.
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Very cool! Nice loading of the maps, I think that is great. Do you notice any speed issues with the fenix? I notice when placing a very large Ambit track on to the fenix that it takes a while to load it up, but seems to work fine. Does loading the large base map show any slowness at various places? Does the pan and zoom of the map seem usable?
Well, I did my first run as-bought. I got the Saving Track message which took a minute+, it seemed. Kinda of surprised me. I have GPS/FIT selected so maybe that adds time.
Since I put the Trail map on next, I don't really have much before/after comparison to make.
I do get the 'pending' icon (circle arrows) for a split-second pretty often - upon Orange button press. No idea if that's normal.

Pan/Zoom usable? Sure, it works... but the trails/tracks are just a pile of squiggles on top of more squiggles... so adding Trails is not for the general user, like a nice color topo map with an overlay is. In the woods, the basemap would present a nice clean (empty) background so you can see just your GPS tracks.

-edit -> After unplugging from the PC, the fenix 1st displays a screen saying "Loading Tracks, Waypoints, Routes" (or similar)... that can take several moments to a minute-ish. then it displays "Loading Maps". With my 5MB Trails loaded, that splash screen takes about 1-2 seconds.
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Guilty re: the fun part.

But I'll stick to my 'mod' since a background of every known hiking trail squiggle within 200 miles of my house is less useless to me than the pre-installed Garmin basemap.
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great job or_watching. This is really useful! I can hardly wait to use something like that.

Regarding my quest for a tail run watch that can follow a track and alert me if I go off track, how does the fenix go?

Also on the FR 305 I guess you can see a graph with the altimetry of the recorded (or loaded, not sure) track. Can the fenix represent that also?
Well, I haven't done a trail run or even a real hike yet. But here's an armchair assessment.
1. You can get your planned route and your track to show on the screen. (a Trail map background as I describe above is not Standard)

2. There are several useful Nav menu items. This picture shows Distance to next waypoint, Distance "off course" (232 ft), and direction "to course" (23degrees_right).
(look at gaijin's menu spreadsheet for the full list)

3. There are "Nav Arrival" Alerts (Vibration/tone) called "Tracks" "Routes" Waypoints" which I haven't used yet.
4. You can see a graph of your Elevation profile vs Time or Distance. Some of the elevation/ascent data seems whacked out right now by several reports... not sure about the in-watch graph.

For sure this watch's intent is to meet your trail runner needs. As for raw feature/menu list, I'm pretty sure it specs out the best on paper. But at $400, and with a few apparent hiccups right now, everyone has their own threshold if it actually does. And you might want to look closely at fredx's ultra run trail for some real-world 60-sec GPS-interval track performance.
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OK, where's the embarrassed smiley?

Not covering the sensor holes.
Just two little pieces there to keep the Ambit's buttons from 'scratching' this new $400 contraption when I had them side by side on my wrist while running the first day.
Kinda forgotten it's still there.

I didn't really think it'd do much... but I have this thing about tape.
Haha, nice or_watching. Never underestimate other forum members speculating minds!

I experimented with the OpenStreetMap maps on the fenix this morning. There is a web site where you can grab tiles in .img format, with each tile being about 5M. If they are renamed they seem to be used, but all I am presently seeing is river detail. I'm not sure if this is because I am using the sailing profile or because the OSM maps aren't showing roads on the device (or for some other reason I haven't figured out yet.)
(this comment isn't about installing OSM maps on the fenix itself, but is a tidbit about the maps generally in BaseCamp when used for route planning for the fenix.)
I have Routeable OSM street maps maps in Basecamp. When a route is created in Basecamp and transferred to the fenix the waypoint names created by BC/OSM are the street/intersection.
Those waypoint names then show up on the fenix route.

Kind of basic stuff, but thought I'd show it in action.

And here's examples of the waypoint names in BC when a Topo map is used to create the route.
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Reading through gpstracklog I saw someone else installed some maps on the fenix.
That motivated me some more.

I dug around in my basement and found my Oct 1999 version 3.0 of Garmin MapSource Topo maps - 3 CDs with the whole US. Since it's back from the era of handhelds with the same memory as the fenix, I thought they might fit well.
Poster Action figure Fictional character Games
Dvd Orange Wheel Technology Electronic device

And I decided also try the free/donation Garmin-compatible "Northwest Topo" maps. These are what I have installed in my 60CSX. I did this as a separate install, not in addition to the Garmin topos.


  • Both installed just fine on the fenix using either MapInstall or Mapsource. And yes, I used Windows7 and I didn't have to find my old copy of Windows 95.
  • I installed just a couple tiles of each and, just like in the old days, after the turn of the century, if you install just what you need for a hike, walk/outing, you can get a decent size area into the 20MB memory
  • Garmin Topos - I put in ~1MB of tiles, easily dozens of square miles. More than enough for days of hiking.
  • Northwest Topos - I put in 14MB of tiles, maybe 150miles x 30miles.
  • (+): Roads show up, Road names/numbers show up, topo lines show up, there is some amount of auto-adjustment of detail level with Zooming
  • (-): Couldn't point ot a topo line and get the value, topo line values didn't show, gets cluttered quickly if you have your own POIs/WPs,Geocatches etc.
  • (-): map redraw was definitely sluggish while Pan'ing. e.g. a few seconds delay.
  • I felt the overall the Northwest Topos gave a slightly better topo experience.
  • I haven't figured out how to get the Trails and the Topo to install at the same time
  • No brainer that I'll still want my color handheld.
  • But, gee, this sure is fun, and any of it beats the original basemap.

Garmin Mapsource 3.0 Topo --> get on to ebay and Craigslist and finds your copy today!
A suburban area, and zoomed into a street-level with an Active route
Watch Analog watch Watch accessory Fashion accessory Strap
Watch Watch accessory Analog watch Dive computer Metal
Analog watch Watch Watch accessory Fashion accessory Strap

Panning around to a random area - these are the maps existing icons for a hiking trail. Not my POIs.
Watch Analog watch Watch accessory Fashion accessory

An area with lakes, and zoomed out to an area of many unidentifiable squggles.
Watch Analog watch Watch accessory Strap Fashion accessory
Analog watch Watch Watch accessory Fashion accessory Strap

Working with a specific hill, zooming in, and view map info on a feature.
Watch Analog watch Watch accessory Fashion accessory Strap
Watch Analog watch Watch accessory Strap Fashion accessory
Watch Dive computer Technology Measuring instrument

Northwest Topos --> Get the maps and make your donation today!
I went to beautiful Mt Jefferson (in Demo mode, not for real), since it is pointy with lots of topo interest
  • The fenix doesn't seem to to allow detail adjustment. So it's as-drawn
  • Basecamp does have detail adjustment.

Starting at the peak and zooming out. Not that blue is glacier, and that does show on the fenix
Map Ecoregion Line Land lot Parallel
Watch Watch accessory Strap Analog watch Fashion accessory

Map Ecoregion World Atlas
Audio equipment

Map Ecoregion Line Atlas World
Watch Watch accessory Strap Analog watch Fashion accessory

Happy trails!
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Nice. How long did it take to render those last two screens with all the detail?
Hmm, not sure exactly how long. I'd guess most of the time when I was panning it was a 1-2 seconds to fully redraw a screen. That's what it felt like, but I didn't count it out. Maybe some were more and some were less.
Responsiveness to the Pan command buttons was fine - the stuff shifted promptly, but then left a blank area which then fills in after the delay.

Practically speaking with such a small screen and no color, to see your icon and your breadcrumb, you'll want to be a zoom with only a few contour lines to see what's going on. But also while you are moving, only a small increment of the screen will need to be newly drawn... I need to check this out more in the field... so far it's been an armchair demo exercise.

Where I'm at on this is right now:

  • I still really like having just the Trail network as the basic uncluttered background. Very practical. I'm lucky to be in a multi-state region (Alaska, Oregon, Washington, Idaho, BC) so comprehensively covered.
  • I don't think I'll use the Topos too often, because of the responsiveness and clutter factor.
  • Streets are also in the topos, and perhaps there might be a rare occasion where that's handy on the wrist, but not often I suspect.
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I just realized that in the garmindevice.xml file there are three datatypes named BaseMaps, PreProgrammedMaps and SupplementaryMaps, each one with its corresponding name with the .img extension. I tried to load both the basemap and another one named gmapsupp and it works fine, although I don't know if the gmapbmap.img file is considered, as I only see the gmapsupp.
Does anyone know if both can be seen or what is the creterion used by Fenix to show one or the other?
does anyone know what is the PreProgrammedMaps thing?
can anyone tell me how can I see on the PC how the gmapbmap looks like? i tried to upload it to mapsource without success, and I have never seen it in the Fenix screen (it might be because I live in Spain and bought the Fenix in the US)
thanks in advance
I have installed from two different mapsets using MapInstall in one loading: Northwest Topos, and Northwest Trails. (I don't know if the specifics matter though).
This put two .img files on the fenix, named after the original mapsets.
I had already deleted the original gmapbmap.img to make space.

I renamed the two new .img file to gmapbmap.img and gmapsupp.img.

that seemed to work well in that it now shows both the topo information and the trail information superimposed.

You can always see what the original basemap (or any map) by using GPS:DemoMode and zooming way out and panning around.

There is a file on the fenix called gmaptz.img. I don't know what it is, and I haven't intentionally modified it.

That's about all I know... I've just tried these few things.
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This file keeps the Time Zone Map.
That makes sense. Thanks.
I visited > GPS Maps

Downloaded his trail maps now and used BaseCamp to select Washington State. Now I have all of the hiking trails in my area in my watch and it took up I think 3Meg.

Heck I noticed I could even search for POI's and it brings up some in my area.
Awesome. IMO for any hiker in our area with a fenix, this is THE way to go. Super duper uber practical. Can you tell I'm a fan too?
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