​How to add GPX routes to your Garmin GPS watch

We explain one of Garmin's most useful features
Add GPX maps to your Garmin watch
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Garmin's GPS sports watches offer tonnes of ways to get more from your workouts, but the ability to add and follow GPX routes and courses is a powerful feature that has a heap of benefits, whether you’re running through the city or hiking across the mountains.

Utilizing navigational maps is a relatively easy process and can be done on a range of Garmin devices.

Garmin devices that support GPX uploads:

Not all of those will give you actual maps though, but you can still use the GPS navigation to follow a directional route.

Hikers can use this feature for long, off-the-beaten-track walks, and it's especially reassuring to follow when the path fades away and you're really off piste. It's not just ramblers that can benefit, either.

City runners can also take advantage, mixing up runs made in Strava or Koomot and adding a variety to workouts, without having to pull out Google Maps every five minutes when you've lost your bearings.

The process by which you use routes has changed a fair bit over the last year. With the older process of uploading through Garmin Basecamp now superseded with the Garmin Connect web tool and app. Garmin has also overhauled its GPS navigation features to make it easier to get out that door quicker.

You can also use Garmin’s detailed Trendline data to build a route based on how many of its users have followed the same path. That system also incorporates elevation, so you can see how tough the route is going to be. Building a route using Trendline can be done via the Garmin Connect phone app or via the Garmin Connect website.

Update: This article was updated in July 2020. A previous version showed how to use Garmin Basecamp to upload and manage GPX files.

Quick look: Add GPX routes to your Garmin watch

1. Download the Garmin Connect App and register

2. Download or create a GPX file and store on iCloud/Dropbox/Google Drive.

3. Import the GPX file into Garmin Connect

4. Send the Course to your specific Garmin device and then sync.

5. When starting an activity, select Navigation and then Courses

Garmin Fenix GPX upload

1. Download the Garmin Connect app and register

The Garmin Connect app on your phone will automatically sync courses to your Garmin device via Bluetooth.

You can create new routes using the phone app itself through Courses, as well as import GPX files from third party apps on iPhones and Android phones.

You can also import files from the Garmin Connect web app. The web interface also offers a significantly easier to use system for reviewing and modifying navigational data, as well as editing various features of the GPX course before sending over to your device.

2. Download or create a GPX file

Next, you'll need to get a GPX or TCX file containing your route. If you don't opt for the impressive Garmin Trendline route builder or Courses, our favourite for building runs is Strava – however in April 2020 this became a paid-for feature.

While it's a little complex at first, it's pretty easy to click out a running route, find popular areas frequented by other runners, and, handily, 'flatten' the route to take out any nasty and unexpected hills.

If you're a walker or hiker, maybe try Wander Map or Koomot.

You can also download GPX files from the web. The site wikiloc.com is a great source of routes with GPX downloads, and in the UK you can grab them from gps-routes.co.uk. There are loads of sites out there besides those.

3. Import the GPX/TCX file into Garmin Connect

iPhone save GPX to Garmin Connect

If you're importing GPX or TCX file via the Garmin Connect phone app this will slightly differ depending on whether you're using an iPhone or Android phone.

For iPhone users (see above), you'll need to copy the file to iCloud Drive or Dropbox. Long press the file and choose Share and then you should have the option to Copy to Connect. You may have to expand to see the full list of apps. Your iPhone needs to be running iOS 13 or later to do this. You then can name the route, choose whether it's public or private and then save the route to Connect.

If you have an Android smartphone, locate your course file then select to open it with Connect, choose course type and edit name before saving.

When using Garmin Connect's web tool, navigate to 'Training' and then 'Courses'. This will bring up the course overview screen listing any courses you may have previously uploaded. Here you’ll have the option to create a course or upload a new one.

Garmin web tool

Click on the small 'Import' button and you’ll have the option to drag and drop or browse for a .gpx or .tcx file. Once you’ve selected one, click 'Get started' and it’ll upload that file. Next, select a course type and you’ll be taken to a course overview.

Before you do anything else, give the course a relevant name as searching through unnamed files via the device itself can be tricky. You can also use this screen to review the map itself, view popular routes from Garmin’s Trendline data and toggle the privacy/public status of the route.

Garmin’s Trendline data

4. Send to your Garmin watch

Sync your device and your phone

Once you’ve saved the route it will now be stored in Garmin Connect. You have the option to view it through the website or in the Garmin Connect app.

In Garmin Connect go to More (iOS) or the menu button (Android) and then choose Training > Courses.

In Courses tap to enter the course, and hit the menu button and tap Send to device, to automatically sync it to your device as soon as there’s a connection between your phone and your watch.

5. Select the route via your Garmin device

There are two ways to get to the navigational routes stored on your Garmin device.

Start a new hike/run/cycle activity and then head to the Navigation option in the activities menu before scrolling down to Courses.

Here you should see a list of the available routes that have been synced to the device. Click on those and you’ll have the option to view the map or start the course as an activity.

Garmin courses

The second way is to select a specific activity via the activity menu then select 'Navigation' > 'Courses' in the options menu.

From here you can use that course for the activity, view the map itself (assuming your device has maps), run the course in reverse, plot elevation, use the course for the cool new PacePro feature or view the elevation for that course.