Navigation using GPS apps and GPX files

Frequently Asked Questions about navigation, maps, apps and how to use our GPX files

Table of Contents

Why would I want to use a GPX file?

Following a track in a GPX file makes finding your way easier

Understanding the jargon:

  • A GPX file shares geographical information about routes, tracks and waypoints in a specific format. GPX files can be used on most GPS enabled devices including smartphones and watches. 
  • route is used to navigate from a place to your destination. Routes are good if you want to get somewhere quickly, but how you get there is not that important. If you go off the route, then your app may re-route you along a different path to your destination.
  • track is a detailed sequence of data points collected in the field, a breadcrumb trail showing the way. Tracks are best if you want to follow a very specific path. We use tracks not routes in our GPX files. If you go off the track, you will need to find your own way back. 
  • A waypoint is a specific place, like a campground or a waterfall.

Where do I download the GPX files?

  • For access to book resources, select the book you purchased, for example Best Walks of NSW Mid-North Coast. The GPX files are listed in the same order as the book, click the button to download the file for your chosen walk. 
  • GPX files are also available for download for other trails on our website.

How do I use the GPX files?

To use the GPX files, you will need an app on your GPS enabled smartphone

The simplest process is to download the GPX files directly onto the smartphone you will be using, then load them into the app. 

Otherwise, if downloading the files on your computer, store them in a cloud folder so you can also access the files from your device, or email them as attachments to yourself so you can open the email attachment on your phone. 

Finally, you need to upload the GPX file into your app, ready to use.

We can’t possibly describe how to use GPX files on all apps and devices, this video with instructions applies to GaiaGPS (our recommended app) on an iPhone. You may be able to adapt this to other apps. 

Once the GPX track is available in your app, check the track and waypoints are showing on your map as expected. 

Now is a good time to make sure you fully understand how to use your app, before you head out to explore (there are tutorial videos on the GaiaGPS website). 

Don’t forget to download offline maps for the area before you leave home, as many of our walks and 4WD treks are remote with no mobile coverage. And share your route with your emergency contact and your expected return time.  

What GPS device and app do you recommend?

We recommend GaiaGPS for use on a GPS-enabled smartphone, computer or tablet. GaiaGPS also supports Android Auto and Apple CarPlay.

For offline use, you will need to subscribe to GaiaGPS Premium version. The Premium version also includes the NSW state government topographic maps, and other useful map layers. 

For a more detailed discussion on our reasons for using GaiaGPS, see these articles:

We also carry a Garmin InReach Mini for safety when we go exploring in our 4WD or on foot. This device supports GPX files, however we rarely use it for navigation.

Why can’t I just use Google Maps?

Google Maps are great for driving about town, and usually reliable to get to the start of a trail. 

But Google Maps are not as useful for navigating on a remote hiking trail or 4WD adventure tour.  

  • Google Maps are not designed for outdoor activities like hiking, and the information presented on the map is limited. 
  • We’ve found Google Maps has inaccurate and missing information for trails and tracks in remote areas. The walking directions are often wrong and sometimes dangerous. 
  • You can’t import a GPX file into Google Maps. 

I have the GPX file, do I still need a map?

A GPX file is not a map. It is a collection of data points describing a track or route.

You can follow the GPX track, much like Hansel and Gretel followed their dropped breadcrumbs when they were abandoned in the dark forest. Except of course, things can go wrong – the breadcrumb track didn’t work out too well for Hansel and Gretel.

Having another plan, like a paper map and a compass, is always a good idea. 

Apps that display GPX tracks come with various map layers, including topographic maps, open source maps, and satellite imagery.  As many of our routes are in remote places with no mobile coverage, it is important to use an app that allows you to download the maps for use offline

 Our books also contain a print map. 

I have the GPX file, why do I need your guide book?

A GPX might show you where to go, but it doesn’t tell you why you should go there, or what you might find when you get there. 

In our guide books, we share stories about the history of the place, the geology, flora and fauna. We include details of campgrounds, picnic areas, alternative routes, and many photos. The guide book also describes the standard of the route – is it easy or hard?  

We find GPX tracks invaluable when exploring, which is why we make our GPX files freely available for your use too. 

We hope you’ll support our work and buy our books. Use the discount code YVONNE15 for purchases direct from our publisher. 

Can I just follow the GPX track on my phone app?

A GPX track is an aid, but you should still keep your wits about you as you navigate.

Look up from your phone and and enjoy the countryside!  If you are unsure about directions, your app can help you figure out where you are, and suggest where you should be heading.

But even with a GPX track and app, you will need some basic map reading skills.  The topic of how to read a map is too big for this post. We recommend the free booklet Map Reading guide: How to Use Topographic Maps Edition 4. Geoscience Australia, Canberra and the Lotsafreshair series of posts How to navigate with with a map and compass or her book.


  • While phones have excellent GPS abilities, recorded tracks and your phones determination of your current location can still be out by 10 metres. Tree cover, ravines, buildings and satellite positions all impact the accuracy of a GPS location and track. 
  • Sometimes maps are wrong. New roads may have been built, buildings demolished, or there may be a rare mapping error. 
  • Also, conditions may have changed from when tracks were originally recorded. A path may have closed, perhaps a bridge has been washed out or a treefall might block progress.

So always look around you at the land itself, stop and think about your navigation decisions.  

Remember to charge you phone before you leave, and always take a backup paper map.

Links to GaiaGPS are affiliate links, I earn a small commission at no cost to you. This does not affect my recommendation of this app that I use extensively. Thank you for your support of this website.

About our guidebooks

Buy online with our discount code YVONNE15

Best Walks on the NSW Mid-North Coast has 40 walks from Port Macquarie to the Coffs Coast and Clarence Valley.

Go exploring with 4WD Treks of Northeast NSW on the coast, mountains and forests.

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