Suunto offers several GPS watches such as Suunto 9, Spartan and Ambit which all support navigation, meaning that the watch can show your current location in relation to a pre-determined breadcrumb route. To create a route, you need to use some kind of route planning software on your PC or mobile device. Until a couple of weeks ago this was very simple as you could simply create routes in Suunto’s Movescount web app and import them directly to your watch via a USB cable. However, Suunto discontinued Movescount and route planning is no longer possible that way. Their alternative to Movescount, the Suunto app, is only available for mobile devices (iOS and Android) and planning routes on a small screen is indeed not optimal, especially when it comes to activities such as mountaineering or hiking, where you need a good overview of the area.
I’ve been very frustrated by Suunto’s decision and thus I decided to find an alternative to the Suunto App which would allow me to easily create routes for my Suunto 9 watch on my PC. As I’m often creating hiking and mountaineering routes, I focused on finding a route planning software that has good topographic maps, shows me information about ascent/descent and can follow paths between the created waypoints. I also wanted the software to be free of charge and capable of easily exporting the planned routes in a GPX format because these files can be imported to Suunto watches.
For the last couple of weeks, I’ve been testing various types of route planning software and below are the three winners. But let’s start with the basics and explain how a third-party route planning software can be utilized for creating routes and how to import these routes to a Suunto watch. While I did only test this with Suunto 9 watch, it should work with any GPS watch from Suunto. Let me know in the comments below, if you have a different experience with one of the other Suunto GPS watches.
Table of Contents:
- The Basics
- Gaia GPS Route Planner
- AllTrails Route Planner
- Outdoor Active Route Planner
- Other route planning software
A route is simply a file with GPS data and there are many platforms which allow you to create and export routes. Therefore, you are not limited to the Suunto app when it comes to creating routes. You can create routes in your preferred software, export them as GPX files and import them to your Suunto watch. However, you will need the Suunto app to import routes; there is unfortunately no way around this at the time. Once you have the ready GPX file on your computer, you should transfer it to your smartphone via a USB cable or some kind of file sharing app such as Google Drive. Then you simply open this GPX file with the Suunto app, which will on its own figure out that you are importing a new route. To add the route to your watch you should tap on “Add to watch” in the route view in the Suunto app. While this might sound a bit complicated, it’s actually pretty easy once you get ahold of the concept.
The whole procedure is as follows:
- Create a route with third-party route planner
- Export the route as GPX file from the third-party route planner
- Transfer the GPX file to your smartphone
- Open the GPX file with Suunto App
- Save the route in Suunto App
- Tap on “Add to watch” in Suunto App
Now, let’s check out which third-party software I found the most useful for planning routes.
Gaia GPS Route Planner
The Gaia GPS route planner is the clear winner of all route planning software I tested because it offers a lot and can be used free of charge. It should be noted that many paid route planners don’t have as many features as the free version of Gaia GPS! It has numerous map overlays such as country-specific topographic overlays, air quality overlay and much more. I find the Gaia Topo overlay sufficient for most hikes, although when it comes to via ferrata trails I did notice that some paths are missing. Nevertheless, I found them on the OpenStreetMap overlay and thus I don’t consider this a big issue. Switching between the different layers and the satellite view is also fast and easy. The software excels at following paths between waypoints and shows information about distance, ascent, descent, maximum elevation and minimum elevation. Another great thing about the Gaia GPS, is that you can easily export the planned route as a GPX file or share it with your friends via a link. The interface is a bit cluttered and requires some time to get used to it. Nevertheless, Gaia GPS has quickly become my favorite web app for planning routes.
AllTrails Route Planner
I also found the AllTrails route planner extremely useful. The AllTrails Topo overlay is slightly better than Gaia GPS Topo overlay (i.e. it has more paths), but ultimately Gaia GPS does offer a bigger selection of overlays. I haven’t encountered any issues planning routes in AllTrails. The route planner nicely follows paths between waypoints and there have not been any bugs. It also provides information about distance and ascent while you are planning the route. However, there is no information about descent, maximum elevation and minimum elevation. I do, however, really like the distance markers feature which shows a label on the route for each kilometer or mile. You can easily export your planned route as a GPX file and share it with your friends.
Outdoor Active Route Planner
Outdoor Active also offers a very good route planner. Nevertheless, in the free version you can only choose between two different OpenStreetMap overlays. I really missed the satellite view as I often use it to investigate the terrain. However, the Outdoor Active has some very neat features such as avalanche info, and other user notices through which different users can add information about various dangers on a given trail. The route planner did in rare cases have trouble following paths between waypoints but apart from that, I was satisfied with it. When you are planning a route it also displays information about ascent, descent, maximum elevation and minimum elevation. Exporting routes is simple and it also allows you to share them with your friends.
Other route planning software
Besides Gaia GPS, AllTrails and Outdoor Active I also tested the following route planners: Komoot, Wandermap, Plot a Route, OS Maps and Sports Tracker.
The Komoot route planner positively surprised me, and I must say I found it the best of all route planners I tested. However, Kamoot doesn’t allow you to export routes unless you purchase the license (see pricing). Therefore, it can’t be used for importing routes to Suunto watches for free and as mentioned earlier, I was explicitly searching for free software. Otherwise, Komoot is an amazing route planner. It gives you time estimates for routes, shows terrain information (gravel, rocky etc.) and even technical difficulty of the path which is extremely useful for mountaineering. I thoroughly tested this feature and was positively surprised over the accuracy. So, if you don’t mind spending 30 € for a good route planner, you should indeed go with Komoot.
Other route planners didn’t really impress me. Sports Tracker is good because it uses the same infrastructure as Suunto App and thus the routes get automatically synced to the Suunto App. You don’t have to first transfer them to your smartphone. Note that this only works if you log into the Sports Tracker with your Suunto App credentials. Nevertheless, Sports Tracker doesn’t support topographic maps and there is no satellite view. So, for mountaineering and hiking it’s pretty useless. It does, however, come in handy for planning routes for running, cycling etc.
I must say that I’m surprised that there are so few good options of route planning software on the web. Nevertheless, Gaia GPS, AllTrails, Outdoor Active and Kamoot all have very good route planners which are suitable for all types of activities. I’ll stick with Gaia GPS, but if you have some extra money to spend and are searching for something that can handle mountain routes well, I do recommend going for Komoot. Hopefully Suunto will make a web app soon so we’ll be able to plan routes without the whole export/import procedure.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on this topic. Share them in the comments section below.