BergeSeen-Trail Tracks over the Dachstein – How to Record GPS Over Night

As I mentioned, on my way across the Dachstein, I gladly had the route navigation active the whole time. It made it a lot easier to follow the trails well.

Between the Suunto 9 on my left wrist and the Spartan Ultra on my right, the actual path was really easy to follow: It was pretty much exactly between the two tracks I was shown; I looked to be a little too far on the right of the track on the S9, a little off towards the left on the Spartan Ultra.

On the tracks recorded, it becomes obvious just how different Suunto 9, Spartan Ultra and Ambit 3 Peak recorded, though. For various reasons…

Obvious(?) Difference: Different GPS Settings

Of course, GPS tracks should be recorded a bit differently when the S9 and Spartan Ultra ran in “Best” GPS, the Ambit 3 Peak only in “Good” GPS.

In the last part of the trail, I also had to switch the Spartan Ultra into “Good” GPS because the battery was drawn down quite far. Even so, it did not record until the very end.

Looking at the GPS tracks, it does not look like these different settings had quite such a great influence, however.

Visibility of GPS Satellites

The tracks are always somewhat similar, and they are always different.

The bigger influence on them, in normal use (and with these settings), is what direction the watch is pointing. This influences how well it can “see” to how many satellites and what effect that has.

Add in different algorithms that may be at work interpreting what is an actual GPS signal and what an error, and it’s no wonder there are differences.

In the mountains, where GPS signals reach the watches after rock faces reflected them (just as in cities like Florence with houses close by each other or in city centers full of skyscrapers), and with trails running in tight curves, GPS tracks recorded by different devices differ quite a bit.

The Problem of the Sleeping Break

It was on purpose, actually, that I just paused the watches during my bivy time. I wanted to know how they would handle it.

Ambit 3 Peak, on Pause

On the Ambit 3 Peak, the result of my pausing it – but only a while after (and again before) I had actually stopped (and re-started) moving – was what some people refer to as a “GPS flower.”

Ambit 3 Peak "GPS Flower": Track points erroneously recorded while stopped
Ambit 3 Peak “GPS Flower”: Track points erroneously recorded while stopped

For the battery, the pause seemed not to have made much of a difference.

Still, it would have been better to either record separate tracks (stop one recording when settling down for the night, then start a new one the next morning). Or alternatively, to change into another sport mode without GPS use, then pause, then change back to hiking mode.

Suunto Spartan Ultra

With the Spartan Ultra, such a clear stop to the GPS would definitely have been better.

Battery consumption during the pause of the sports mode/recording was still high enough that the battery got low. Afterwards, I switched to “good” GPS, and the battery still didn’t last long enough to finish recording the entire hike.

Suunto 9

The Suunto 9 Baro was a very different story, showing how much Suunto worked to extend its battery.

Best practice for multi-day or overnight recording would still have been to record separate tracks or at least switch to a non-GPS “sports” mode for the rest/pause time.

Still, the Suunto 9 didn’t have issues with the paused recording. Even at the end of the tour, there was still no warning about the battery. And this watch would alert its user when the battery is down to “only” 20%, and it would suggest switching into another battery/GPS mode, then.

Data Comparisons

Looking at the data recorded by the different devices shows how some of it is quite alright (e.g. the differences in altitude recording) whereas other things are problematic – and mainly, because of differences in how long the devices were paused…

Comparison Data from Suunto 9, Suunto Spartan Ultra, Ambit 3 Peak
Comparison Data from Suunto 9, Suunto Spartan Ultra, Ambit 3 Peak

The 30 minutes of difference (where I hadn’t paused the Ambit 3 Peak) alone may make for some of the difference in recorded distance. Add in that different algorithms should/might have been in play, determining what counted as covered distance and what as GPS error… and it’s still odd that the distance I covered while the Ambit 3 Peak was erroneously not recording GPS did not shorten the total quite a bit…

GPS track missing from Ambit 3 Peak recording
GPS track missing from Ambit 3 Peak recording

I thought I had made a mistake there. Paused the Ambit and forgot to re-start it.

That was not it, though, as the altitude recording continued quite alright. Somehow, yes, the Ambit 3 Peak that many people think is still unbeatable messed up there!

Reason: Unknown. No idea.

Altitude Recordings

Altitude profile (before the bivy break)
Altitude profile (before the bivy break)

The altitude profiles recorded show that there are always some difference between devices. One has to accept that. They are easy to accept as they were not the greatest, though.

Altitude profile (after the bivy break)

Altitude profile (after the bivy break)

As the altitude profile from the descent after the bivy break shows, the recordings went quite alright. There is the second pause (where altitude here remains constant), when I paused the watches to go in search of my RX100. And the rest of the recording, where the Ambit 3 Peak failed to record the GPS track.

Final Thoughts…

All in all, it’s the usual conclusion:

We are all not perfect, neither is our technology. One can usually, in general, rely on it somewhat. And one certainly gets nice reminders and hints for training and experiences from the tech.

Ultimately, it’s all about the safe tours and satisfying experiences, not perfect data recording.

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