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A Grand Day Out

From qlandkartegt

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Many people think that real trip planning requires big commercial software packages. If it doesn't have a price it can't be good. Well, commercial software surely has it's charm and there are some very nice applications out there. Usually, however, they are Windows only and designed to make you spend money over and over again. I think that as long as you're not a polar explorer or the reincarnation of Indiana Jones, you get by with QLandkarte GT quite well. Many tour planning features have been added to QLandkarte GT over the last few years making it pretty serious tool for the task. Let me show you some of these by taking you on a trip.



Hovering over a waypoint with buddies also highlights the buddies.

We are on a camp site near the small German village of Kallmünz. We had a big BBQ yesterday evening and just got sober during a long breakfast. Probably the best condition for a good walk in the woods practising our famous hobby of geocaching. But as the real nerds that we are we can't go without precise planning involving loads of hi-tech equipment. That is the when we unpack our netbooks and fire up the GSM uplink to get a pocket query.

Pocket queries loaded into QLandkarte GT.

You can load the pocket query, as any other GPX data directly into QLandkarte GT. QLandkarte GT is aware of the special geocaching tags and will even scan the description for additional coordinates and link these as buddy waypoints to the cache. If you hover with the mouse over the waypoint you will get a function wheel. If you can see a star in the right top corner the cache has buddies, move the mouse over the star and the buddies will be displayed.

Waypoint edit dialog.

To get the full cache description you select the edit icon, File:IconEdit16x16.png‎. That will open the edit dialog for the cache waypoint. You will notice that on the main page many fields are disabled for edit. This is a cache and since it's not yours, you are not supposed to edit the data. Select the "More" page and you will get the cache description.


Some of you may be wondered about the map by now. What you see is a very nice, high detail topographic map of scale 1 pixel/meter. The map can be bought from the local authorities. There is a huge variety of free online maps, too. The easiest to enable is the OSM tile map (---OSM---).

There are several alternative TMS or WMS servers. These maps can be loaded via XML file in QLandkarte GT. As creating the XML file is a bit tricky we've collected a few for you. Have a look at the files before you use them. You might want to tweak the path for the local cache.

These two images below are from OpenStreetMaps and Google Maps (the satellite view) tile servers.

It looks like our BBQ was too excessive and Google took the picture in a bad moment so let's have a look at the multi level WMS map from Bayerische Vermessungsverwaltung that gives us a much better view on the orthographic layer (left hand side) and if you zoom out you get the topographic layer (right hand side):

Of course QLandkarte GT can handle vector maps as well. Right now Garmin's vector map format is supported. However support ends when it comes to digital rights management. There is nonetheless a large number of free Garmin maps based on the OSM data. The screenshot below on the left shows the openmtbmap Bavaria. Another nice feature of QLandkarte is its Digital Elevation Model (DEM) support. This allows the application of a relief shade over every map as shown on the map on the right below. See Use SRTM data as Digital Elevation Model (DEM).


Waypoint context menu.
You might have noticed the missing waypoint names on the last screenshots. No worries they are not gone, they are just switched off to allow a better view of the map. To do so you right click on a waypoint entry in the left hand waypoint toolbox. This will give you a context menu. "Show Names" will toggle the waypoint names.

"Edit" and "Copy Position" apply to the current selected waypoint only. All other entries apply to several selected waypoints. A selection can be made by the usual mouse acrobatics in the waypoint list. Or by using the check boxes. A double click on the icon in the map will toggle the checkbox, too.

Ok, why are we doing that anyway? Ah, yes, yes, we wanted to go for a hike with geocaches. I nearly forgot about that... That pocket query has 500 caches. Let's reduce it by selecting the caches we want to find. I do that by double clicking the icons on the map. The final result looks like that:

Now I right click on the left hand list to get the context menu again. The entry "Delete non-selected" is now available. I select it to remove all waypoints that are not on our route. Next I select "Proximity" and set all waypoints to a 100m proximity alert to make my GPSr barf when getting close.

Route or Track?

Waypoints are ordered in the route creation dialog.

While I am playing with the waypoints one of the guys keeps bugging me how long the hike will be. Let's try the routing feature of QLandkarte GT. It's done remotely via Open Route Service which uses the OSM database. To define a route I use the waypoint context menu again and select "Make Route...". A dialogue pops up with all selected waypoints as part of the route. I select the points and use the arrow buttons to bring them into the correct order. On "Ok" it will add a new route to the route tool view. Use the setup tab to select the correct routing mode. Then right click on the entry in the list to get the context menu. Select "Calc. route".

Tadaa! … this gave us a really miserable result. We're going to need a Plan B.

Plan B is to draw a distance polyline. The best way to do this is using a vector map. Check out these screencasts for details on how to plan and edit a tour that explain the process in detail. The final result is 14.5 km tour that looks like this:

The guys are is still not happy. A 14.5 km hike is fine as long as it's flat. What about the hills? I right click the distance polyline in the left hand tool view and select "Make Track" from the menu. A dialog pops up and I select to set a trackpoint every 10m and use local DEM data. If you have no local data attached to the current map you can load the needed data from www.geonames.org. Pressing "Ok" will hide the distance polyline, create a track and switch to the track tool view.

In 14.5 km we will have a total ascend of 325m. I select the track to see the profile on the map canvas. This will then pop up in the lower left hand side of the map view if you've enabled that feature in the system's setup menu. Otherwise you can just select "Edit" from the context menu in the track list.

Prepare the GPSr

The export data dialog.

Finally the guys give in. If you can party hard you can walk hard, too. Everyone is pulling out their GPS devices to load the geocache data. Mine is a Garmin GPSMap62s. The device connects to the netbook via USB cable and is recognised as mass storage device by the operating system. Waypoint, track and route data is exchanged via GPX file with the device. But caution! The device does not like unknown GPX extensions. If you save the data as GPX, QLandkarte GT will add its own extensions. That is why I choose Export geo data from the File menu. This will save a GPX file without unknown extension tags. Another advantage of using export is the dialog that pops up after you selected the target file which allows you to select what data to export.

I've now stored all the geocache waypoints on the device but as I have one of these modern units that can show raster maps as well as vector maps, I want to use the nice raster map that I own for the hike. To do so I select the map to be displayed and zoom to a fitting viewport. Next I choose Select Sub Map(F5) from the map menu. I use the mouse with the left button to select an area on the map which creates a grid over the map to help you count the tiles. want to export the map as a Garmin Custom Map (GCM) which is limited to 100 tiles, 1024x1024 pixels each.

You can remove/add tiles by clicking on them with your mouse. I've done that in the corners of the selection. Also notice that the map I use is a multi level map. It has several maps of different scales as a stack, displaying the map that fits the current zoom level best. However GCM only allows one level. Luckily QLandkarte GT calculates the grid and the selection for the most detailed level.

To convert the selection to a GCM I use the "Export Map" button and get the export dialogue. I setup all parameters and provide the output path and file prefix. For GCM export this is the file name of the resulting KMZ file. After I pressed "Export" QLandkarte will do some magic with GDAL and a tool that comes together with QLandkarte. "--- finish ---" tells you when it's done and I copy the resulting KMZ file to the CustomMaps folder on my device.

Finally! We are done with our studious preparations. Of course we forget to carry enough water and some food. The choice to wear sneakers was brilliant for the camp site, but not for everything else we encountered that day. Anyway, around 5 hours later we reach the camp again. After a cool bath in the near by river, loads of drinking water, some food and a cool beer, we hit the netbook again.

Read data from the GPSr

For my Garmin GPSMap62s retrieving data from the unit is as easy as writing data. I simply have to open the GPX files created by the unit. QLandkarte GT is able to open several GPX files at once, if you select several files in the file dialogue. To do so you select File->Load Geo Data (Ctrl+L). But this works only if the files are in the same folder. If you want to load more data from other folders you can use File->Add Geo Data (ALT+A) to load the files without removing the previous content loaded.

Post-processing Tracks

The most interesting item on the device is the recorded track. Usually the track has a peculiar colour and name when loaded from the device. Thus the first thing I do is to change the colour and the name. I do that by selecting the track. You can right click on the track in the list and select edit, or you click on the small profile graph in the map canvas. Either way, the track edit dialogue will show up.

Next I use the right mouse button on the left hand track list to select "Track Filter..." from the menu as I want to reduce the number of points. On breaks or searching a cache the device records clouds of points. I do not want to see these clouds. They spoil the track statistics. I select the "Distance to previous" filter with 10 meters and an azimuth of 5°. Optionally I could obscure the timestamps if I want to provide the track as anonymous track for download. Another option is to split the track into chunks of limited point count. This is quite useful to upload a large track to older devices with limited track length.

After I applied the filter there will be greyed out entries in the track point list. To enable some of them again I can select them and choose "Hide/Show Selection" from the right button context menu. If I want to restore all of them I check "show all hidden track points" and press "Apply". If I want to remove them permanently (bad idea!) I check "remove hidden track points" and "Apply". I only recommend the later, if you have some bogus points right at the start and end of the track. Now I am done with the track. The result looks like:

If you hoover with the mouse over the small profile plot, track point information will be shown along with the corresponding point on the track. Of course this works vice versa, too. A red line shows the position of the point within the profile plot. The track point information will show you the timestamp, the time from start and to the end, the distance from start and to the end. And the current elevation. If you click on the profile the edit dialogue together with the large profile plots will open. If you have DEM data attached to the current map, the plot will show a second, red line with the elevation from the DEM data. Waypoints close to the track are displayed, too.

Update (20th Sep. 2011): With release V 1.2.4 you can see the stages of a track in an additional tab. Stages are defined by waypoints nearby. The table will tell you the distance, time, ascend and descend between waypoints as well as for the total up to the specified point.

The Database

To use the database of QLandkarte GT you have to enable it in the setup. There is a nice Wiki article about the database [1] in general. In this story I want to show how it can be used for a real project. I will start with a completely new database to make things more simple. When I speak of the context menu I mean the menu that pops up if right click on an item. The complete database is operated by that menu. Let's start: First I create two group folders (blue) by right clicking the "Database" entry selecting "New". The one is named "Geocaching" and the other one is named "Events 2011". On each of those two group folders I use the context menu to add a green project folder named "Kallmünz". On "Events 2011 -> Kallmünz" I add another folder. This time it's an orange one with the name "Raw Data". The final result looks like this:

In the workspace tree I see the waypoints and tracks of our trip. I use the context menu on "Workspace" and "Add to database" to write the items into the database. A dialogue will show me all possible folders. I choose the "Events 2011 -> Kallmünz" folder. All items in the workspace tree will get the database symbol file:iconGeoDB16x16.png to mark they are part of the database, now. And all items are listed and checked in the database tree. If you un-check the "Kallmünz" folder everything is removed from the workspace. Let's check the folder again.

Next I want to add all the geocaching related data to the "Kallmünz" folder below "Geocaching". I select (use SHIFT or CTRL key together with the left mouse button) all waypoints and tracks that are part of our little cache tour. I skip an additional track (Orientierungslauf) from the previous day. In the context menu I choose "Copy". From the list of target folders I choose "Geocaching -> Kallmünz" populating this folder with the selected items. Keep in mind that in this case "copy" does not mean duplicating the data. It's just a second reference to one and the same data object. Thus if you change the item it will be changed for all references.

I always like to keep a copy of the unfiltered tracks in the "Raw Data" folder. However if I just copy the track into that folder every change would affect the reference in "Raw Data", too. Bad! I have to create a real copy. I can do that by selecting the track in the workspace tree and choose "Check-out as copy" from the context menu. The database icon will disappear and I have a new independent track. I remove the hidden track points (see [2]) and add the track to the "Raw Data" folder. Later, when my friends send me their tracks, I will add these to "Raw Data", too. Now I have the refined data in the project folder and all original data for later comparison in the "Raw Data" folder.

The Diary

As I am getting into the age where you forget things after a while, I have to write down these things. In other words: If I want to remember the details of this fantastic day I have to write a diary. In QLandkarte GT I can link a diary with a project folder by selecting "Add diary" from the folder's context menu. Big portions of the diary will be created automatically. It will list all waypoints and tracks in a table. One column keeps the usual information about the item and the other the comment attached to the item. On "Save" the comments will be copied to the item data in the database. If you edit a waypoint's comment in the diary and save the diary, you can see the very same comment opening the waypoint's edit dialogue. All content that is not really linked to a waypoint or track goes into the section above the tables.

For artistic purposes you can apply the usual text formatting stuff. But keep in mind that if the data is sent to a device or stored in a GPX all that fancy stuff is stripped and just the raw text is exported. An export as QLB is possible too, but all links to the items and the project folder are lost. But it will be visible on other QLandkarte GT installations. A better way to share your diary is to print it into a PDF.


While I am busy with the bureaucratic aftermath of the trip the sun hit the hills. Temperatures cool down and I feel my sunburn. Ah, yes, we forgot to carry sun lotion, too. The other guys already heated up the BBQ again, and had another round of beer. I close QLandkarte GT, with the good feeling that the current workspace is preserved for the next time and join them.

Legal disclaimer

All map data shown is from one of: Bayerische Vermessungsverwaltung, Openstreetmap, Openmtbmap, Google Maps.

The location Kallmünz is real. All the caches are real. I really walked on that tour. Everything else is pure fiction.

Never do a hike badly prepared. In the story it is just a running gag.

Excessively drinking alcohol damages your brain.

Everything you do with QLandkarte GT is at your own risk. Do not use it for life threatening situations.

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