Garmin Forerunner 310xt

Using a Garmin Forerunner 310xt for Mapping and Navigating a Cycle Tour

The Garmin Forerunner 310xt is something of a gem for navigation. The sparsely detailed line drawings it creates provide you with the bare minimum of navigational information to get you from one point to another via a chosen route. I’m intentionally refraining from using the word ‘map’ when talking about the Garmin’s display as that’s too grand a word.

I know that introduction didn’t sound too favourable but bear with me, the Garmin 310xt is still an incredible GPS device. Admittedly the breadcrumb style line routes that it draws may only be adequate, but look at it another way and you’ll see that they’re just good enough! Couple this adequate display information with a 20 hour battery life and a waterproof chassis weighing only 72g and you have a really neat little sidekick for travelling.

Another huge bonus for the Garmin Forerunner 310xt is its really fast charging via USB.  Despite lasting 20 hours, the battery is so small is charges really fast – even from a small solar charger. That’s why I was able to use my Garmin to navigate all the way from England to Luxembourg using only this watch.

Garmin Route Planning Map
Garmin Route Planning Map

Here is a test route I rode whilst filming the Garmin Forerunner 310xt on my bike. The route I loaded onto the the GPS device and what I actually rode differed, but you can see what it really looks like when you leave the course and take a wrong turn.

And below is the actual video, with the Garmin Forerunner 310xt showing me my planned route. The Garmin is strapped to a wooden pole in front of my handle bars, the camera is on the handlebars themselves.

Create Route Garmin Connect
Creating a Route With Garmin Connect

Perhaps the biggest limitation to the Garmin is you have to use the Garmin Connect website to make routes; you can’t use the Garmin itself. Garmin Connect, despite having seen major improvements still crashes and has internal errors every so often. Worse yet, some roads you can see on the Google Maps overlay are not available to put into your route.

Most notably some roads in the Swiss / Italian Alps were not available on the Garmin Connect site. This can be really frustrating; if the Garmin Connect site can’t see a road, it assumes you are going off road and sends the little red lined route in a straight line to the next click it recognises- even though you can see the road in the Google Maps overlay. Maddening!

Another limitation is the internal memory. The amount of space reserved for mapping, rather than activity and biometric recording used to be really tight, no more than a  few hundred miles. However, new firmware has expanded this capacity greatly and I’ve recently downloaded routes to the device that are over 660 miles without difficulty.

As for quirks the Garmin 310xt has only a few left after firmware updates – one notable example in mapping and navigation is that the line (your route) in front of the arrow (you) does not load before you are on top of it, so you can’t see where to go next. Luckily, an easy solution is available; the problem resolves itself if you change the scale of the  map, you can zoom in and out using the right hand side arrow keys. Some levels of scale are less prone to the slow loading route problem than others. So it’s pretty easy to find a reliable one and stick to it.

All in all, despite some minor limitations and query behaviours the Garmin Forerunner 310xt has just the right amount of features to function as a long distance navigational aid. Or if you’re ultralight touring, a lightweight all in one solution – including compass and cycle computer metrics. Since this particular device was released in 2009 you should also be able to pick it up for a really good price.

I got mine from Wiggle’s Online Cycle Shop.

2 thoughts on “Using a Garmin Forerunner 310xt for Mapping and Navigating a Cycle Tour”

  1. Have you found anyway to upload new Courses to the watch from a smartphone? I haven’t found anything other than syncing activities with a phone via ANT+. None of the reviewers seem to really be using the navigation feature so they either gloss over it or don’t mention it at all.

    My S4 Active is already ANT+ compatible so if I could store Courses on it and transfer them as needed that’d be great.

    1. Hi Larry. Unfortunately I read that to even try those new features would require a new version of bluetooth. My Galaxy Nexus just doesn’t cut it. I think anything later than the Google Nexus 5 may allow some extra Garmin features but I’m not sure what exactly. I will be trying it out soon though as when I go back the UK in a few weeks I might get a new phone or borrow one to see if I can send tracks over.

      It would be a really superb feature for the Garmins if they could receive track data from phones! I guess the only alternative would be the smallest, Windows and USB compliant device you can find – probably a Windows tablet device.

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