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Christopher Bradley  •  Running Gear •  07.02.2022 •  5 min read

Mapping and navigation features on Garmin watches

The aim of this article is to highlight the different navigation capabilities in our current range of Garmin watches. It will also run through how to send routes to your watch, and explore some of the less well known navigation features available from the Forerunner 245 up to the Fenix 6 Pro.

Navigation menu on Garmin watch

Which Garmin watch to buy for navigation

When deciding which GPS watch to buy, it’s helpful to think of it as a long-term investment. Maybe the basics will meet your needs for the next six months, but what are your long term goals? What are you building towards next year or the year after that? If you’re interested in trail running, you might want to think about buying a GPS watch equipped with some navigation features.

These can vary from basic breadcrumb-trail navigation - following a line on a screen to give a rough frame of reference - all the way up to topographical mapping. Topographical (topo) mapping shows geographical features, marked trails, as well as streets and walkways when passing through urban areas. This makes it that much easier to navigate while racing ultra marathons, tackling big munro days, or even embarking on expeditions. If your main running goals involve tearing off into new stretches of wilderness for hours on end, a GPS watch with topo mapping would be really useful.

Both the breadcrumb navigation and the topo mapping are great tools for following GPX routes. Either method can provide useful back-up and reassurance while using a map and compass.

GPS watches with breadcrumb trail functionality: Forerunner 245/245 Music, Forerunner 745, Enduro

GPS watches with topo mapping: Forerunner 945, Fenix 6 Pro Series

How to send routes to your Garmin

Getting routes onto your Garmin is simple. Log into Garmin Connect on your desktop or laptop, scroll down the menu on the left hand-side of your screen, click on “Training”, then “Courses”. Click “Import”, then select a relevant GPX file to upload. Name it something memorable so you’ll be able to find it later.

Importing a GPX file into Garmin Connect

Open the Garmin Connect app on your phone, click on the “More” button to open up the menu, then click on “Training” and then “Courses”. Select the course you imported on your computer to bring up a view of the route on a map. At the top right of the screen is an icon with three dots - click on this and then select “Send to Device”. When you next sync your compatible Garmin watch with the app, the course will be available for you to use.

When you arrive at the start of your planned route, put your watch into the “Trail Run” profile as you normally would, then hold down the middle button on the left, scroll down to “Navigation”, then scroll down to “Courses” and select your desired route. You should now have at least one active screen you can click to that will guide you by breadcrumb trail or topo mapping.

Creating routes on Garmin Connect

If you want to create your own route to follow, you have the functionality on Garmin Connect to do that too.

Open the Garmin Connect app on your phone and navigate to “Courses”, you can select “Create Course” at the top of your screen. Select if it’s a running or trail running route you’re planning. It will then give you the options to select Automatic” (which will ask you what distance and in which direction you want to run and create a route for you) or “Custom” (you will then be able to drop course points onto the map to create your own route).

Creating a route in Garmin Connect

Creating a route on Garmin Connect is generally a lot easier on a desktop or laptop, as you have a larger screen and more precision when it comes to dropping course points on the map.

Navigation features available during an activity

If you’ve gotten lost on a run and have not preloaded a route onto your watch, any Garmin device boasting navigation features is equipped to help you out of a jam - even if you have forgotten to bring your phone with you (although if you’re out on the hills, you really should have your phone with you).

On devices like the 245 and the 745, which only feature breadcrumb-trail navigation, holding down the middle left button during your activity and scrolling to “Navigation” will allow you to select “Back to Start”. While this will simply retrace your steps and won’t necessarily be the most logical way to get back to your car or point of reference, it’s still a useful tool to have.

Runner in car park looking at Garmin watch

Devices with topo mapping have a number of advanced options should you get lost or simply wish to extend your adventure. Again, hold down the middle left button during your activity and select “Navigation”. Scrolling through, you have various options: following a bearing, entering specific coordinates, searching for nearby hospitals, restaurants, and a range of other services and amenities. Most usefully on a day out in the mountains is the “Use Map” option.

“Use Map” allows you to scroll around the topographical map. When you have a location you want to navigate to inside the crosshairs of the cursor, hold down the stop-start button on the top right of the watch and select “Go” and the watch will calculate the route for you. To see the distance and elevation, before hitting “Go”, scroll down to “Review”. For example, say you saw a mountain you hadn’t planned on climbing but couldn’t see a clear or safe path to the summit - the “Use Map” function will help you find the most sensible route and potentially save you from taking a less safe path over more treacherous terrain.

When topographical mapping is being utilised - especially the “Use Map” function on the watch - the screen size of the Fenix 6 Pro really comes into its own, showing the difference compared to the still very capable Forerunner 945.


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