Got altitude? Even here in the plains, the flatlands, we have altitude issues. Unfortunately, these issues have plagued me with my Garmin Fenix 3HR GPS watch. However, there is a snappy solution to these problems that involved Snapchat and manual calibration of your watch.
In a nutshell, here’s the problem: some GPS watches like my Garmin “lose” the altitude on the run or fall out of calibration with the correct altitude. This causes the watch to “lose” the GPS coordinates, causing wild discrepancies in mile pace and correct distance. Sometimes my Garmin will be off by a few, tens, hundreds or thousands of feet (see pic below for one of the most extreme examples with a 6000′ discrepancy). This has happened to me on many occasions. The end result is scrambling of my Garmin data, meaning either a) the watch doesn’t correctly save the info (so I check with Strava and Runkeeper, my backups-link through Garmin Connect) or b) the watch doesn’t save the run at all due to the invalid data. Sometimes I can interpolate the correct data or import it from Strava and Runkeeper. Other times the run is just simply lost and I can’t recreate it. Except in my imagination and memory.
While Garmin works on the problem (and they are I assure you, I’m added to a group study of runners they are trying to fix this now), I decided to take matters into my own hands using the Snapchat altitude filter. For at least six months, I’ve been working on solving this problem and am finally ready to share my experience with you.
Curiosity made me start comparing the Garmin altitude to the Snapchat altitude for my location. (Swipe right within Snapchat to find the altitude filter which you can select the circular one or the plain numbers either in feet or meters.) I was surprised to learn how often the Garmin altitude was “off” sometimes by more than a hundred feet as shown above. Why does this happen? I don’t know exactly. Some of it has to do with changes in barometric pressure, humidity, rainfall seem to trigger the discrepancies.
So I began to “correct” or manually fix the altitude as follows: Press left center button on Garmin Fenix to show settings, Select settings, then scroll down and select “sensors”, then scroll down to altimeter, select Altimeter. Here you have two options. You can either a) enter current elevation (what I do 90% or more of the time) or b) use GPS to calibrate the altitude. When I select b, I tend to get inaccurate altitude “locked” into the watch, causing more problems. However, when I choose a), I then hop over to Snapchat to “patch” the altimeter correctly.
Usually I just take a photo of my watch showing the Garmin altitude and then swipe to the Snapchat altitude-filtered photo for an easy comparison of any discrepancy, click save within Snapchat to save the discrepancy so we can track it. (*Note: Sometimes on very rare occasions the Garmin altitude is “on” meaning correct and no adjustment is necessary. But if it’s off by a foot or more, I always adjust it. If I don’t, the watch acts up). Once you have the Snapchat altitude, you can manually enter that as I mentioned earlier.
After you manually enter the correct altitude via Snapchat, click OK and save. Usually this fixes the problem. If we are having weird weather I might double check outside with Misty right before we run. If it’s off, I simply manually enter the correct altitude again.
Another thing I highly recommend as regular Garmin maintenance is to regularly clean your Garmin watch backside with a Q-tip and rubbing alcohol. This clears sweat from the sensors. I think the accumulation of sweat past a certain point leads to problems with altitude, GPS, and syncing the watch. That is my experience.
If you have any questions on how to do this or have trouble with it, please feel free to contact me. Hopefully we can reach a point when our Garmin watches will “hold” the altitude in place and be as accurate as the Snapchat altimeter. The advantage of the Snapchat altimeter is I know the altitude to hundredths of a foot or meter. My Garmin just rounds to the nearest foot.
When I make the correction, I usually just round it to the nearest foot when I manually enter the data. If you love metric better, just use meters.
Caution: There might be rare occasions when the Snapchat altitude is off. I’ve only seen this happen maybe once or twice. If you move from one altitude to another, Snapchat takes a short time to reset.
How reliable is this? I’d say it’s worked for me at least 90-95% of the time. At first, it was hit-or-miss as I was figuring out how do this consistently and make the altitude “stick” or stay in place. But if the altitude is locked, it’s very rare for my watch to “drop” or lose a run now. Unless the memory bank is full. Or if I forget to clean the sweat as I indicated earlier.
It’s important to many of us to have accurate data when we run (meaning the GPS and the altitude, having correct mile splits). So this correction is important to do right before running a race. At least check to make sure the altitude is “on”. If it’s off, fix it quickly before it scrambles your Garmin run data. It’s a pretty easy fix and once you fix it a few times, it’s just a minor inconvenience.
Is it a complete solution? No not at the level of a software patch. It is an ad hoc solution to a technological issue. In my humble opinion, it’s the best solution we have for now until Garmin can produce a systemic patch or fix.
Try this and see if it works for you. If it doesn’t, please let me know. I’m hopeful this will be helpful to anyone that is having altitude/GPS issues with their Garmin watch.
Thanks to all who have helped me figure this out and for your patience.
So the next time your Garmin hiccups the altitude or GPS, open Snapchat and fix it. And clean the watch. We can do-it-ourselves. Yes we can! Happy healthy trails my friends! Stay calm and carry on!