Living with a Garmin:

The Waypoints Limitation

Revised April 2017
Urban myth: portable 'leisure' GPS devices have insufficient waypoint memory to be really useful.
One problem is that 'Waypoint' is an umbrella term for several different types of 'point' - a point just being a pair of co-ordinates on the Earth's surface when all's said and done. Any documentation and discussion around this subject is usually insuffiently clear about which type of waypoint is being referred to at any given moment.

In particular, this article discusses three types of waypoint that are commonly uploaded into the GPS 'user' memory as part of routine everyday use. These are:
Routepoint - a point that is a constituent part of a Route. Also sometimes known as a Viapoint - but most people (including Garmin) tend to just refer to these points as 'Waypoints'.
User Waypoint - a point that is information-rich, with lots of added baggage in the form of data fields about that location. Most people just call these 'Waypoints' too.
A Routepoint may, or may not, also be a User Waypoint - and vice versa.
Trackpoint - a low-fat point that is part of a Track. These are generally called, er, Trackpoints.

Note that later Garmin models such as the Oregon, and Etrex 20/30 etc, any model introduced after 2009, just have so much capacity that this page is no longer relevant. You only need to read on if you are using an older model.

It's hard to find the specifications for a Garmin GPS, all in one place, but with a bit of ferreting around you can come up with something like this - this is for a middle-of the range sort of device -
Etrex Legend Cx
Up to 500 Waypoints (and there is also an undocumented limit, only up to 10 of these can be Proximity points)
Up to 50 Routes, of up to 250 waypoints each (off-road or direct routing mode)
In follow road or autorouting mode, a Route is limited to up to 50 waypoints
Up to 10000 Trackpoints
Up to 20 stored Tracks, of up to 500 Trackpoints each.
(NB that these limits have nothing to do with, and are not affected by, the size of any SD memory card that may be fitted. Older Garmins are limited to 2Gb cards, but with firmware updates this limit is removed.)
Up to 255 auto-archived Tracklogs, of up to 10000 Trackpoints each, on the SD memory card (space permitting).

Now I'm going to rewrite that specification using clearer terminology, and then break it down line by line:
Etrex Legend Cx
Up to 500 User Waypoints of which 10 can be Proximity points.
Up to 50 Routes.
A Route can have up to 250 Routepoints in off road mode or 50 Routepoints in follow road.
Up to 10000 Trackpoints for the Active or Recorded Track.
Up to 20 stored Tracks, of up to 500 Trackpoints each. (If saved by the GPS, these Tracks do not include timestamps or elevations)
Up to 255 auto-archived Tracklogs saved as .GPX files, of up to 10000 Trackpoints each, on the SD memory card (space permitting). (These files do include timestamps and elevations)

NB the above is just an example - some units have lower specs:
The Etrex C series can only store 20 Routes.
The Geko 201 is limited to 125 Routepoints per route and 20 Routes, and can only store 10 Tracks.
Some have higher specs:
Most of the more modern units such as the Etrex HC series, can store 1000 User Waypoints.
Later Garmin models just have so much capacity that this page is no longer relevant - such as the Etrex 30, 2000 User Waypoints, 200 stored Tracks of up to 10,000 Trackpoints each. The Tracklog and Routes capacity remains the same as above.

Now to break this spec down - what do these figures really mean?
The User Waypoints Limit (often 500, sometimes 1000) is the 'headline figure' that bothers some people. How can 500 points be enough? Well it's not enough (though 1000 may be) - but User Waypoints are not always the same thing as Routepoints.
It's possible (OK, maybe not easy) to stack a GPS full of Routes without using up a single User Waypoint.
Regarding Proximity points - if more than 10 are loaded, only the first 10 will retain their proximity settings, but the rest will still load as normal User Waypoints.

The Routepoints Limit can now be seen in a more positive light. 50 Routes of 250 points totals 12,500 points - doesn't it? Well unfortunately not. You have to break it down, there is a -
Routes Limit (sometimes 20, sometimes 50) and a -
Routepoints Limit of maybe 125, more usually 250, in any one Route. None of these limits poses any real problem.
In follow road mode all Garmins can only handle 50 points in a route. But this is loads - most people probably only use about 10. And it does work best if these Routepoints are also proper User Waypoints.
There is a (unpublished) limit on Routepoint memory. Trials show that the total number of Routpoints is typically between 2400 and 5000 - it varies from model to model and to be honest unless you have the most basic of units you're most unlikely ever to encounter your limit, whatever it is.
In typical UK laney terrain and using direct routing mode, turn by turn, 100km will require about 100 waypoints, give or take. In remoter country such as mid-Wales or large parts of Europe, you would use far fewer points than this. So you can see that 2400 points is going to take you a very long way indeed!

If you want to explore the limits of your own Garmin GPS - how many points can it store - visit my Garmin Soak Test page, where there are a number of fully-loaded files for download.

The 10000 Trackpoints refers to the maximum number of points the GPS can record while you are travelling. This is called the Active Log. The factory setting is much lower than this but you can raise it to the max in the Setup Map menu. At default settings, it would take more than 24 hours continuous cycling to get to this limit. On reaching the limit the track either wraps or truncates - a menu choice - wrap is the better option.
So store your daily tracks (some models can do this automatically) and then clear the 'Active' memory daily.

The Tracks Limit (sometimes 10, more often 20) is the number of tracks you can upload to the GPS, or save from within the GPS menus, combined. So with a limit of 20 you could upload 5 and save 15 more. The Active Log is not included in this total. Nor are any tracks that have been stored onto the SD memory card. This is just the limit in 'user' memory.
The Trackpoints Limit is 500, in any one stored track (not including the Active Log, or tracks on the SD card). This is actually quite restricting - at default settings, 500 Trackpoints only represents about 30km of cycling. If you upload a track that is more than 500 points long, it just gets truncated. If you save a day's cycling, within the GPS - the 3000 or so points in your Active Log get downsampled to 500 (and also the timestamps and elevations are stripped out) - the track is all there but much rougher than you might have hoped.
The solution is to set your GPS to auto-save to memory card. These saved Tracklogs do retain their timestamps and elevations, and can be up to 10000 points. There is a limit of 255 Tracklogs stored in this way. Note that the GPS cannot make any use of these stored Tracks - it can write them, but it can't read them!

Putting all this into perspective - a GPS loaded with a major project might look like this:
Lands End-John O'Groats, laney 1600km 17-day route:
38 user waypoints   basically one for each overnight, one for each midday stop
18 routes, totalling 1254 points   basically one a day
16 stored tracks, totalling 6753 points   basically one a day
and all this squeezed into a Legend C, an oldish model with no data card and limited memory by current standards.
This was a group ride, so the Routes and Tracks were just two alternative navigation methods - some people used one, some the other.

To put it bluntly -
All that is needed for Routes is Routepoints (especially if you are working in 'direct' or 'off road' mode), and
all that is needed for Tracks is Trackpoints.
User Waypoints are the better choice for Routes used in 'follow road' mode.

If you construct a on-road Route by 'joining the dots' using the Route Tool, in either Mapsource or Memory Map (and maybe other programs, I don't know) the points laid down are Routepoints. They are not User Waypoints unless one happens to coincide with a User Waypoint that has already been laid down.
In other software, the Route Tool may generate Routepoints that are also User Waypoints, I don't know.

See my other articles linked below, for more information on how to beat the Waypoints and Trackpoints Limits.

Francis Cooke

Footnote: for further info please see my Definition of Terms eg Route, Track etc

Some basic stuff:
Living with a Garmin: Etrex Basic Setup
Definition of Terms eg Route, Track etc
Living with a Garmin: Battery Runtime and Etrex Jitter
Living with a Garmin: The Waypoints Limitation
Living with a Garmin: The Follow Road Trap
Living with a Garmin: The Circular Routes Problem
Living with a Garmin: Declutter the Page Sequence
Living with a Garmin: Living with Mapsource Maps
Living with a Garmin: Waypoint Naming (for direct-style routes)
Living with a Garmin: Colour your Tracks and Routes
Living with a Garmin: Create a Route on the GPS
Top 5 GPS Tips (pdf) reprint of Arrivee article published Feb 2007
Some GPS FAQs web version of Arrivee article published Nov 2008
NEW - Garmin Etrex 20/30 essays:
Etrex 30 review reprint of Arrivee article published Jan 2012
Etrex 20 & 30, Basic Setup
Taming the Etrex 20/30: Restore the 'Page' key.
Living with a Garmin: Show on Map (Tracks)
Dakota 20 review reprint of Arrivee article published Feb 2010
Living with a Garmin: Waypoint Naming and the Dakota 20 / Etrex 30
More Garmin essays - not-so-basic:
Garmin Etrex C Menu Map (pdf, July 2008)
Living with a Garmin: Full Reset
Living with a Garmin: Track, Route or Autoroute
Living with a Garmin: Three Ways to Beat the Waypoint Limit
Living with a Garmin: Three Ways to Beat the Trackpoint Limit
Living with a Garmin: Less is More
Living with a Garmin: Add Contours to your GPS Maps
Living with a Garmin: Struggling with GPX  &...  More GPX
Living with a Garmin: Screens you don't see every day
Living with a Garmin: Downgrade your Mapsource
Living with a Garmin: Put an OSM Map on your Garmin
Living with a Garmin: GPS Soak Test files to test your GPS waypoint capacity
OpenStreetMap and Mapsource Add OSM to your Mapsource collection
A Google Maps Workflow Create, Edit, Save, Share and Export a route