Garmin Etrex 20, Shapefiles, and GPX

GIS. I often find it’s a hodge podge of crazy ideas, equipment, file formats, and a lot of searching on the internet for answers. Sometimes you have to combine 5 answers into one “process” to come to a conclusion.

I work with foresters. It’s been interesting to say the least. It’s been challenging because they speak a language I don’t understand at times and I speak complete and utter gibberish when I go into GIS mode.

Over the last few years, Tri State Forestry, Inc., has been slowly replacing equipment and we’ve slowly been getting smarter about GIS. The old Garmin Etrex Vista units are dying and are being replaced by Garmin 60csx GPSMap units. The other day we branched out and bought (pictured above) a Garmin Etrex 20 GPS unit. This was interesting for two reasons:

  1. It receives Glonass satellites
  2. It doesn’t seem to want to work with DNR Garmin

DNR Garmin (soon to be DNR GPS) has been a lifesaver. Over the last bit of working with ArcGIS, the foresters, and DNR Garmin we’ve developed some workflows that are a bit clunky at times but they work. I un-boxed this wonderful new GPS unit and it became clear and for one reason or another this process of loading some of their forestry plots wasn’t going to work. That lead me to actually start looking at the format of GPX files and the format as produced by DNR Garmin. What I came up with is “I’m not a developer and I just want this to work”.

The process that now doesn’t work has me creating data in ArcGIS, importing that shapefile into DNR Garmin, and uploading waypoints into the Garmin Units. When you search for converting shapefiles to gpx you get a hodgepodge of answers from “I sorta use GPS Babel” to DNR Garmin to “I wrote some custom code” to one crazy process of going to KML as a middle ground and working from there.The one big problem I kept banging my head against was copying the gpx file to the GPS Unit. The Etrex 20 actually acts as a big USB drive. All the owners manuals are actually stored on the unit. I kept copying gpx files created in DNR Garmin and they just didn’t work. The GPS Unit couldn’t see the file or didn’t understand it.

My new favorite piece of software is QGIS. I’m really becoming a huge fan. I ended up opening my shapefile in QGIS and starting playing around. In that playing around I did several things but the last thing I tried was to create a new GPX layer (using the GPS Tools Plugin) and copying and pasting those points into that new layer (in the waypoints section).

Once I saved I copied that gpx file into the gpx directory on the Etrex 20.

There were my points. About an hour of digging and OpenSource GIS to the rescue.

Of course this was the first success. I have no doubt there is some sort of ArcGIS code/toolbar/toolbox that might work. DNR GPS will be released shortly and I’m pretty sure that will work.

For me the best part of this exercise was leveraging QGIS and finally eliminating the last 10 year old Etrex Vista. I hope this post helps someone who is stuck on the same thing. I’ve skipped around a bit in the explanation but the idea works. So go forth and load GPS data