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What is a Waypoint?


A question I’ve been hearing frequently of late is “what is a waypoint”? A waypoint can represent different things in different contexts, but the overall answer is that a waypoint is any single specific location. Your home is a waypoint, the Starbucks down the road is a waypoint, a given set of geographic coordinates is a waypoint, and that big boulder along the trail on your way to your favorite hunting spot can be a waypoint. Let’s take a look at the different ways you might see the terminology used in the context of product specifications.

Handheld GPS Waypoints

Map PinWhen talking about handheld GPS devices, a waypoint is typically a set of coordinates. For example a Geocache is located by knowing its exact coordinates, and thus you would store the coordinates as a waypoint on your GPS.

If you are out walking a trail you might want to mark a specific intersection on a trail so you can later view it on a map. When you save that location you are marking a waypoint of that location. You might want to record a “breadcrumb” track of your walk, and if so each point that is recorded could be thought of as a waypoint, but might be better referred to as a trackpoint.

So when evaluating specifications on a handheld device, the number of waypoints listed represents the number of “saved locations” you can have marked at any one time. Note that this is different from the number of points you might be able to store in a tracklog.

Auto GPS (PNDs) Waypoints

In an auto device waypoints are typically the number of “favorites” you can store in the memory. You might want to save your parent’s address in your GPS as a waypoint. By doing so you can quickly recall the location by name and insert it into your route rather than typing in the full address each time. You can also create waypoints based on businesses you frequently travel to.

Many GPS devices have a limit of how many waypoints you can store at once, somewhere between 50 and 500. Note that even though there is often a limit in how many waypoints you can store, the manufacturer often will allow custom POI files to be added to the device, stored separately from the “favorites”. So if you want to add 10,000 of the closest Starbucks locations to your device, you can often do that through custom POI databases rather than using up your 50-500 available favorites.

When building a route, some devices offer “multi-destination” routing, also sometimes known as multi-segment routing. “Waypoints Per Route” or “via points” refers to how many waypoints (a favorite, an address, a store, an intersection, etc) can be added into one single route. Some devices might only allow one waypoint per route, many will allow one point between your current location and your destination. More advanced devices will allow 50 or sometimes more waypoints to be built into one individual route.

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