Using an iPad to transfer GPX files to a GPS receiver

Geocaching is one hobby that really takes advantage of many of the new gadgets we surround ourself with, and smartphone apps have made the cost of entry infinitely cheaper than it was back when you needed a standalone GPS. Standalone GPS receivers are still king of the hill when it comes to accuracy, battery life and durability though, so any serious geocacher needs one eventually. The problem is that the kind of GPS receiver a geocacher uses isn’t Internet connected, so geocache information has to be loaded manually. Here’s how you do it with an iPad, iPhone or iPod touch!

Getting files from an iOS device to a memory card is something that most people think is impossible. In fact, there have been discussions about how to do this exact thing on Geocaching forums where the conclusion has been that you can’t. Wrong. You can, but it will cost you $100. This article will show you how to do it for a rather specific purpose, but if you need to be able to transfer other types of files for other reasons (e.g transfer files to an offline computer), you’ll be able to use the same method.

What you need to do this is a device called the Airstash, which is the thing that costs $100. It’s essentially a battery powered Wifi router with an SD card reader, which allows you to connect any Wifi enabled device to it and browse its content from a web browser, network enabled file manager etc. Its original purpose was to stream media from an SD card, but when they added WebDAV support in a firmware update it suddenly gained the ability to receive file uploads as well, turning it into (as far as I know) the only option out there for transferring any file off the iPad and onto a physical device without using the Internet. The way it works is basically exactly the same as many online file storage services and network enabled hard drives, except that both storage, power and network connection is packed into a palm sized device. I’ll do a full review of this device later.

So, you have you AirStash. You also need a GPS receiver that can read GPX files off microSD cards- meaning most of Garmin’s most recent devices. I don’t know how other brands does it, but Garmin is by far the most popular brand anyways. Furthermore you need a microSD-to-SD adapter (these cost $1 or so and come with most microSD cards) and a file manager app that can handle any file type, unzipping, and WebDAV. I tried a bunch of file managers to find the best one and that turned out to be iFiles, a $4 universal app for all iOS devices. Lastly, you need to make sure that the microSD card has a garmin/GPX folder path, i.e a folder named GPX inside a folder named garmin that’s in the root directory of the card. That’s how most Garmin GPS units read GPX files from microSD cards, anyways, I can’t guarantee it will work on all, and for other brands I can’t help you.

Due to a bug with the AirStash, you currently also need to have an existing file in the GPX directory. This will be fixed later, but just create an empty .txt file or whatever inside the directory

You also need to set up iFiles with WebDAV. Click the + icon in the iFiles dashboard, select WebDav, put airstash.net as the server and GARMIN/GPX (make sure to use capital letters) as the “initial path”. That’s it.

To actually transfer the files, you first need to get your hands on the GPX files. The most obvious way is to use the zipped pocket queries that you get in emails from geocaching.com, but you can also get GPX files one-by-one using the web browser. Assuming you do the email thing, click the attached .zip file and select to “open in” iFiles. In iFiles, select the .zip file and click the blue zipper symbol that appears- it will then be unzipped. Navigate to the unzipped folder and you should see the two GPX files. Make sure you’re connected to the Airstash’ Wifi network and not some other Wifi network. Click “edit”, select both, and hit “upload”. Select your WebDav connection to the  AirStash and click “root”. Wait for it to finish (theres a status bar you can bring up by clicking the icon shaped like two opposite arrows in the lower left of the screen). That’s it.

This might sound complicated but it really isn’t. You create two folders and a random file on a memory card, type in “airstash.net” and “GARMIN/GPX” in a WebDav profile in iFiles and that’s it. The actual job of downloading the files and transferring is actually faster than doing it on a PC and it shouldn’t take as much as a minute to go from a zipped email attachment to a memory card with GPX files loaded. Now you can use your iPad, iPhone or iPod touch to transfer files to your GPS receiver no matter where you are, without the need for a computer.

So to those who think it’s ridiculous to pay $100 for a device that does what the iPad arguably should have been able to do to begin with. No one is disputing that USB on the iPad would be nice. Nor is anyone disputing that $100 for a memory card reader is a bit much. And I’m certainly aware that buying an Android device with a microSD slot would let you do all of this directly, without the need for an Airstash, which is certanly something to consider if you don’t already have a tablet or smartphone and plan on buying one.

However, if you already have an iOS device, this is a $100 accessory that can make you computer independent on your caching trips. Whether it’s worth it is completely up to you.

Liked it? Take a second to support Pocketables on Patreon!

Andreas Ødegård

Andreas Ødegård is more interested in aftermarket (and user created) software and hardware than chasing the latest gadgets and tends to stick with his choice of device for a long time as a result of that. After a five year break from writing, he's back to share this view with the world once again.