Garmin Settings for Mixed-Terrain Riding

Used in creative ways, your Garmin can really set you free and fundamentally change the way you ride.

People very often ask us how we find all these fantastic trails; the Garmin is one of the best tools for the job.

Here are some of our recommendations for optimal Garmin GPS settings for mixed terrain riding – rides where there are turns every 50 feet.

Every Garmin model is different so some of this information will require modification for your specific model.  These details are for the Garmin 810 but the guidelines hold true for nearly every Garmin model.

Most Important

Before heading out to the trails check these on your Garmin:

  • Is the battery fully charged?  If not, get it going; it charges very fast so even ten minutes of charging will go a long way on the road and trail.
  • Is the route really loaded?  Don’t trust the desktop computer; check the Garmin unit directly.
  • Are Open Street Maps loaded?  These are really valuable for mixed terrain riding.  Don’t use Garmin maps for trail riding.

Maximizing Battery Life

If you’re not paying attention your Garmin unit could only last 4-hours or even less.  Check these setting to help maximize the battery.  You can easily get 8+ hours of battery life by doing these simple modifications:

  • Have the back-light as low as you can stand.  This is by far the number one function to extend battery life.  I always have mine set to the lowest possible setting and it's plenty visible.  Modify this setting during the ride – based on the amount of sunlight – in order to extend the battery life even farther.  Some Garmin units have an auto-adjust that works well.
  • Turn off the heart rate monitor.
  • Turn off everything you're not using:  ANT, Bluetooth, etc.
  • For rides of 8 hours or more, carry a backup battery and the correct USB cable.  I also carry reusable zip ties so I can connect the battery to the handlebar securely.  I usually have some kind of feedbag that the battery can fit in, too, but not always.
  • Cold weather kills the battery.  Not much you can do about this other than carry a backup battery in your pocket - to keep it warm - and use it when you have to.  Keeping the battery in a bar bag help extend its life, too.

Optimizing Your Garmin For Mixed-Terrain Riding

We create a profile called "Mixed-Terrain" or "Overland" that has most of this ready to go.  We also have a "Road" profile that's quite different than what we do for mixed-terrain riding.

Fundamentally, we use our Garmin as a map rather than a cue sheet.  Therefore, the following works best:

  • Set the map view to 200 feet or 120 feet.  This provides a good balance of seeing the turn that’s about to happen and seeing ahead on the route.
    • 200 feet is great for true mixed-terrain.  It's close enough 'in' that you can see tight turns on the trails, and it's far enough 'out' that you can see turns ahead on the road at 20 mph.
    • 120 feet is great for heavy-duty trail riding.  If you're mostly on trails you won't miss any turns when your Garmin is set to 120 feet.  Road turns come up awfully fast, though.
    • Sometimes we'll switch back and forth but this is surprisingly disorienting for us.  When you've settled in on 200 feet you get used to when the turn is coming up; switching to 120 make the next turn a bit more confusing.
  • Set the map screen as your ‘home’ screen while riding, not on the cue sheet screen.  The map is really all you want to be looking at throughout the ride.  Cue sheets don’t work for trail riding.  The map screen allows for two data fields so if you really want to track any data 100% of the time, you can set two fields up on this screen – speed and distance to completion are popular data fields.
  • Check these settings:
    • Recalculation: Off
    • Lock on Road: No
    • Turn of the "turn by turn" setting.  This can get in the way of watching the trail.  The white arrow stays on the screen after the turn; sometimes in mixed-terrain you'll have turns on turns on turns, so this function, while helpful on the road, becomes a liability on the trail.
    • Turn off cues.  Again, these get in the way on the trail.  Cues can be helpful on road rides but they are not accurate enough for trail riding.
    • While in the Navigation screen:  Click Orientation: Track Up
  • Set the backlight 'on' because you’ll be turning every 50 feet, you don’t want the backlight to shutoff.  Unless your ride is shorter than two hours, set the backlight at the lowest setting you can tolerate; at a fairly low setting you can get towards 10-hours of battery life.

Keep the Garmin from trying to send you back to the start of the ride:

  1. Click the Tool icon, bottom right-hand corner of screen
  2. Activity Profiles
  3. Click the Profile that you're using for the ride
  4. Click Enable - to be sure this is the one you're using for the ride
  5. Click Navigation
  6. Click Routing

Additional Recommendations

  • Turn the alert sounds off.  Because there are usually hundreds of turns on mixed-terrain, the sound will tend to get very annoying very fast.  We prefer to hear the crickets and frogs rather than our Garmins.
  • Turn down the speed for auto pause.  In dirt sometimes you are likely to roll slower uphill than the auto pause will expect.  On most Garmin models the screen will alert you of auto pause and restart – and will lock on that text.  This can be really irritating.  We recommend 1 mile per hour or no auto-pause at all.

Night Riding

Not much is different in setup between day and night other than:

  • One of the many reasons to ride at night is that you can have your Garmin back-light setting as low as it can go and it's still very easy to see at night.
  • Navigating is more challenging at night because the terrain comes at you faster.  This trains you to plan better.  Keep a closer eye on your Garmin; look ahead on the screen to find the next turn.  Once you've settled on a resolution - like 200 feet - don't change it.

There are as many ways to set up your GPS device as there are ways to traverse a rock garden.  What settings do you tailor for your mixed-terrain riding?

Finding The Right Trails

Garmin Says:  "Continue to Alley."  Now that's my kind of ride!

People very often ask us how we find all these fantastic trails.  How we map the hundreds of local trail sectors is complicated and time consuming.  One of the many tools of the trade is a Garmin 705 or higher.  It really is one of the best tools for the job.  We also use a pen and paper, paper maps, mapping software, and a few other disparate tools.

Used in creative ways, your Garmin can really set you free and fundamentally change the way you ride.  It definitely has changed the way we ride, route, explore, and enjoy.  Garmins get a lot of flack for lots of good reasons, but we wouldn't trade ours in for anything.  Some people seem to suggest that riders become slaves to their Garmins.  I suppose that could be true.  But, what's true for Overland Base Camp is that it really is a tool for accelerating freedom.  We get to ride and share more trails faster and in a more fun way than we otherwise could.

Do your electronics set you free or tie you down?  Which of yours do what for your riding enjoyment?