How to Choose the Best GPS for Hiking

This post may contain affiliate links. Read our Disclosure here

For die-hard hikers, the GPS tracking tool may seem like a bit of overkill.  Why lug around another piece of equipment when you can use maps and natural landmarks? Honestly, because these are fun little gadgets that help ensure a safe hike while providing you with interesting tidbits along the way. 

That’s right, they can save your life in certain circumstances and professionals are recommending every level hiker invest in these pint-sized satellite driven computers.

A Hiking GPS can give you much more location accuracy without draining your phone’s battery, can let you set up waypoints to make sure you are staying on track, and can even function as a two-way radio in case of an emergency. Anyone can get lost or injured on the trail, so what is wrong with a little bit of backup.

So, without further ado, here is some information to mull over before purchasing a hiking GPS.

Top 5 GPS For Hiking

PRODUCTDESCRIPTION 
Garmin inReach Explorer+ 2-Way Satellite Communicator
- Average Battery Life 100 hrs.
- Messaging Capability
- Weather Forecast
- Waterproof
- Weight 7.5 ounces
- Price around $400
Check Price
Garmin inReach Mini 2-Way Satellite Communicator
- Average Battery Life 90 hrs.
- Messaging Capability
- Water-Resistance
- Weight 3.5 ounces
- Price around $350
Check Price
Garmin GPSMAP 66st
- Wireless Communication
- Average Battery Life 16 hours
- Water-Resistance
- Weight 8.1 ounces
- Price around $240
Check Price
Garmin eTrex 20x GPS
- Average Battery Life 25 hours
- Water-Resistance
- Weight 5 ounces
- Price around $90
Check Price
Garmin Oregon 750t GPS
- Wireless Communication
- Camera
- Average Battery Life 16 hours
- Water-Resistance
- Weight 7.4 ounces
- Price around $400
Check Price

Quick Answer: The Best GPS Units


How to Choose The Best GPS For Hiking

Hiking in Greenland- best GPS for hiking

Durability

First and foremost, it is important to evaluate the durability of a hiking GPS. This is where simply waterproof doesn’t cut it.  Out on the trail, you will be exposed to a multitude of elements that will try to penetrate your device like, wind, rain, and dust.  You want to make sure your GPS device is able to withstand these elements by being fully weather-proof.

You will also have to accept the potential of a fall or smashing the GPS against trees and rocks.  That is why looking for a GPS that is also labeled shockproof can be a lifesaver.  You don’t want to take a tumble and go to call for help to find your GPS smashed to a million bits or malfunctioning.

Garmin InReach GPS

Signal Coverage

Signal coverage is one of the main reasons to choose high-quality hiking GPS over standard phone navigation.  Satellite coverage is far more reliable than telecommunication providers in the desolate areas that you need them the most. 

Generally, even in heavy tree cover or rainstorm, you will still be able to access your location as and the topography of the surrounding areas. For the best coverage, you want to look for devices with both GPS and GLONASS support.

GLONASS, meaning Global Navigation Satellite System, and coupled with standard GPS will give you the most accurate location readings regardless of where you are in the world.

To even further up the accuracy ante you may want to look for a WAAS-enabled receiver. This augments the GPS signal through air navigation, which not only increases accuracy but integrity and availability as well.

hiking in Patagonia

Battery Life

A hiking GPS is only as good as it’s battery life. This fluctuates between manufacturers but tends to have a battery life of around 15 hours. You want to be sure that battery life is expected for at least 10 hours.

This is affected by how often you are utilizing the device and how many waypoints you set up. Waypoints are like breadcrumbs guiding you back to where you came from. You can set these up for different time intervals allowing you to track your way back out if you have lost sight of the trail. The more waypoints you set up the quicker the battery will die.

However, some GPS devices will allow for AA batteries to be used in emergency situations and others will be rechargeable with an external battery or solar charger.

hiking trail in Alaska

Planning Software

The best GPS devices should come with some sort of planning software. This will allow you to easily create routes and pre-planned waypoints to make sure you are hitting your goals. You can map the routes online then transfer them into the device when you are ready to hit the trails.

The trip-planning software should also give you important facts about the hike including things like distance and elevation gains. Just another way to skillfully plan your trip.

Features

This is where hiking GPS’s get fun.  Each brand has its own unique features that add to the GPS benefit and the enjoyment you can get out of the device. Just note that extended features mean a higher price tag so choose what you would like included wisely.

Electronic Compass And Barometric Altimeter

The electronic compass is a great added feature that helps you stay on course whether you have a satellite signal or not. Most models come with a 3-axis compass which means it doesn’t have to be held level in order to give you an accurate reading.

A fantastic upgrade from the handheld compasses of yore. This feature also allows you to track changes in barometric pressure and pinpoint the precise altitude of your location.  Knowing your barometric pressure can help you predict any rapidly changing weather patterns that may be coming your way.

Memory

A hiking GPS device’s internal memory determines how much data can be compiled on the device.  This includes waypoints, maps, and other data files. The higher-end GPS’ tends to hover around 4GB of internal storage and come with an external SD card for additional storage. 

Some of your more basic options have around 500MB of internal storage.

Preloaded Maps

This feature is generally included in most hiking GPS devices and is a great way to keep you on course.  You can download pre-planned maps by connecting your GPS to your computer and going through the pre-loaded map programs designed by the maker of your GPS.

This also means that you can stow away your favorite hikes and have them at a moment’s whim for use in the future.

GPS in Greenland

Communication & Messaging 

Other hiking GPS devices offer a two-way radio feature.  This allows you to communicate with nearby friends in your hiking group and even identify where they are on the trail.  The two-way radio feature also enables NOAA weather-radio forecasts and can be especially useful for search-and-rescue teams.

Even without the two-way radio feature however, companies have found great ways to keep you in communication on the trail.  One such as the Garmin InReach Explorer+ gives you global satellite messaging coverage.

You can text anyone in your contact groups from anywhere in the world.  It’s dedicated SOS function automatically triggers a notification to the 24/7 search and rescue monitoring center allowing you to call for immediate help in an emergency.

Camera

Thanks right many GPS units now take photos. Why carry a camera when your GPS unit can take as good photos and it also geo-tag on the map so you can see where you snapped it. 

This is a great feature when you want to mark a hidden trail or showcase something you crossed paths with.

Wireless Sharing

Are you someone who want’s to share where your hiking or camping in real-time? If so the wireless sharing feature is for you. You can simply share your hiking path to Facebook or Twitter live.

We loved this feature while we hiked across Greenland on the ACT, a world’s Top 100 Travel Adventure. It allowed our followers to see our progress every day, where we were camping and everything in-between with half-hour updates.


hiking in Greenland

Our Best GPS Recommendations

Even equipped with all the necessary buying information it can still be difficult to know where to begin. So, here are some great jumping-off points for the best GPS’ in their respective price classes.

How to choose the best GPS for hiking

Garmin Montana 680T 

Garmin has long led the market for all GPS devices, so it makes sense that they make the top of the list and the Montana 680t is the most luxurious of all.  With a 4” dual-orientation, glove-friendly touchscreen display and 8 megapixels autofocus camera makes it feel more like a smartphone than a rugged GPS.

However, its high-sensitivity, WAAS-enabled GPS receiver with GLONASS support makes it the most accurate locator you can find. This is the perfect hiking GPS for those looking to find the remotest parts of our world.

Features:

  • 100,000 preloaded U.S. topographical maps
  • Dual battery system
  • 8GB internal storage
  • 8-megapixel camera
  • MicroSD card slot
  • Track Manager (actively tracks your hike with TracBack function that retraces your steps back to the origin point)
  • Touchscreen display
  • 1-year subscription to BirdsEye Satellite Imagery
  • Cost around $500

Display Size: 2 x 3.5 in | Touchscreen: Yes, dual-orientation

The Good:
  • Superb reception
  • Large, dual-orientation display
  • Best for sat imagery
  • 8 Megapixel camera
  • Wireless communication
  • Electric compass
The Bad:
  • Heavy
  • Large
  • Spendy

Check Garmin Montana 680T prices on Amazon

Check Garmin Montana 680T prices on Garmin


How to choose the best GPS for hiking

Garmin GPSMAP 64st

Yep, it is another Garmin! What can we say, they are the best. The Garmin GPSMAP 64st rivals it’s more expensive competitors with their enormous number of added features. It has one of the longest battery lives lasting up to 16 hours and a ton of storage with 4GB of internal memory and a slot for a MicroSD card. 

Its large 2.6” color display makes it easy to read in any light and the GPS/GLONASS receiver makes it one of the most reliable GPS’ in heavy tree coverage or deep canyons.

Features:

  • Dual battery system (AA batteries or rechargeable NiMH battery pack)
  • ANT+ sensors (heart rate monitor, temperature, and speed)
  • Smartphone compatibility with wireless uploading
  • GPS & GLONASS receiver
  • Geocaching feature with 250,000 pre-loaded caches
  • BaseCamp trip-planning software
  • 3-axis compass with barometric altimeter
  • 1-year subscription to BirdsEye Satellite Imagery
  • Cost around $240.00

Display Size: 1.43 x 2.15 in | Touchscreen: No

The Good:
  • Fantastic reception in thick coverage
  • Affordable
  • Large buttons
  • Wireless data sharing
  • Notifications from your smartphone
 
The Bad:
  • Limited base map
  • On the large side
  • Non-rechargeable batteries

Check Garmin GSPMAP 64st prices on Amazon

Check Garmin GSPMAP 64st prices on Garmin


 

How to choose the best GPS for hiking

Garmin eTrex 10

If you are just starting out or just want to keep it simple with a basic reliable hiking GPS, the Garmin eTrex 10 is the right choice.  This durable reasonably priced device has a battery life of up to 25 hours and utilizes the same GPS and GLONASS satellites as its more expensive competitors. 

You won’t find any fancy communication features or vivid topography maps, but you will get from point A to point B. It has enough memory to hold up to 50 routes, 10,000 waypoints and 200 saved tracks, which is more than other comparably priced options.

Features:

  • 2” monochrome display
  • Dual battery system
  • Preloaded worldwide base map
  • Water-resistant
  • WAAS-enabled GPS receiver
  • Paperless geocaching support
  • Cost around $90

Display Size: 1.4 x 1.7 in | Touchscreen: No

The Good:
  • Inexpensive
  • Lightweight
  • Easy to use
  • Great screen quality
  • Longest battery life
  • Reliable push buttons
The Bad: 
  • No electronic compass
  • Basemap is very limited
  • Small screen
  • Very little memory

Check Garmin eTrex 10 prices on Amazon

Check Garmin eTrex 10 price on Garmin


How to choose the best GPS for hiking

Garmin Oregon 750

The Garmin Oregon 750 GPS unit is ready for whatever adventure you throw at it. Whether you’re hiking, hunting climbing, biking, kayaking, trail running or whatever it is, this rugged handheld GPS unit is ready for the adventure. 

The Garmin Oregon 750 is one of the easiest to use GPS units out on the market. The expended wireless capabilities make it easier than ever to update software, receive notifications, geocache and share your location date easily with LiveTrack.

Capture the adventure locations and memories with the 8-megapixel digital camera. With every snap of a photo, it’s automatically geotagged and simply upload to share your favorite photos with friends via Garmin Adventures.

Features:

  • 3 in touch-screen
  • Built-in 8 megapixel digital camera
  • Preloaded with 100k Topo Maps
  • Includes 1-year BirdsEye Satellite subscription
  • High-sensitivity GPS and Glonass satellite reception
  • 3-axis electronic compass
  • Multi-activity menu
  • Active Weather support
  • Wirelessly share your LiveTrack
  • Includes Geocaching Live
  • Water-resistant
  • 8 GB internal memory with microSD card slot
  • Dual Battery System (2 AA batteries or NiMH rechargeable)
  • Cost around $400

Display Size: 1.5 x 2.5 in | Touchscreen: Yes, dual-orientation

The Good:
  • Fast and easy to use
  • Great reception
  • Activity-specific profiles
  • Bright, smartphone-like display
  • Friends/fam can LiveTrack you
  • Smartphone and weather notifications
  • 10,000 waypoints
The Bad:
  • Carabiner mount blocks the cable
  • Active Weather uses smartphone data
  • Devours alkaline batteries
  • Not great in the cold or with gloves
  • Spendy

Check Garmin Oregon 750 prices on Amazon

Check Garmin Oregon 750 prices on Garmin 


How to choose the best GPS for hiking

Garmin inReach Mini 2-Way Satellite Communicator

The Garmin inReach Explorer+ is the smallest GPS handheld out on the market but do not let its size fool you. It’s made for maintaining off-the-grid contact in the palm of your hand. It includes features typically found in high-end mapping GPS units like pre-loaded topo maps, pressure altimeter, compass, 2-way messaging and quick touch SOS.

This unit is very small but it’s well-built and extremely durable to be strapped to the outside of your backpack or climbing gear. Hiking off-the-grid does not mean you can’t be reached, it connects for messaging via the 100% global Iridium satellite network. So you do not have to worry about being within the range of a cell tower or encountering spotty coverage.

Features:

  • Small, rugged, lightweight satellite communicator
  • Two-way text (Send or receive messages)
  • 24/7 SOS
  • Trigger SOS touch
  • Downloadable Maps
  • inRech weather forecast service
  • 90-hour battery life
  • Cost around $350

Display Size: 0.9″ x 0.9″ (23 x 23 mm) | Touchscreen: Yes

The Good:

  • The lightest standalone two-way messaging device on the market
  • Durable and well-manufactured
  • Easy to use and intuitive user interface with a classic four-button interface
  • Outstanding UI experience when paired to a smartphone 
  • Social media integration via MapShare, Facebook, and Twitter (We use this all the time)
  • Very reliable and reasonably fast satellite communications using the Iridium network
  • Way cheaper communications than a satellite phone

The Bad: 

  • Limited screen size and resolution eliminates mapping as a feature when used as a standalone device
  • The virtual keyboard is slow and difficult to use if the device isn’t paired with a mobile app on a smartphone
  • Service plans and contracts are confusing

Check Garmin inReach Mini prices on Amazon

Check Garmin inReach Mini prices on Garmin 


How to choose the best GPS for hiking

Garmin inReach Explorer+ 2-Way Satellite Communicator

Year after year the Garmin inReach Explore+ is the top go-to GPS unit for hikers. With impressively reliable reception anywhere, SOS features, satellite text messaging and navigation vs GPS. We have used our inReach all over the world from the backcountry of Patagonia to hiking across Greenland.

It’s a basic GPS unit but it outshines others with it’s messaging and SOS services. It’s so easy to share your tracks and locating live on social media. We also love the ability to pre-load maps and waypoints of routes, that have helped us for planning long-distance hiking trips over complex terrain like in Greenland on the ACT.

This unit has fewer navigation features compared to Garmin’s Montana 680 or even the Garmin Oregon 750 but it works well for simple navigation and tracking. The one-touch emergency personal locator beacon is great for those traveling deep into the backcountry

Features:

  • Rugged
  • Two-way text messaging
  • Trigger SOS
  • 24/7 search and rescue
  • Live track and share your location on Facebook or Twitter
  • Topo maps, digital compass, barometric altimeter and accelerometer
  • Cost around $400

Display Size: 1.4 x 1.9 in | Touchscreen: Nope

The Good:
  • Excellent reception
  • Versatility, good at a variety of adventure
  • Long battery life
  • Helpful notifications via a smartphone connection
The Bad: 
  • Limited navigation interface and features
  • Expensive
  • Must have a service plan for messaging
  • Typing is cumbersome

Check Garmin inReach Explorer+ prices on Amazon

Check Garmin inReach Explorer+ prices on Garmin 


Trekking in Kyrgyzstan- best GPS for hiking

Handheld GPS Units Vs Smartphones

So, you have downloaded the newest GPS tracking app for your smartphone, and you can’t wait to use it. In today’s world so may hikers just feel a smartphone is the way to go but can a smartphone really be reliable in the backcountry while hiking? No, it can not.

Smartphones rely on a cheap GPS device that triangulation between cell-towers to diel in your hiking location. Do you want to rely on having cellphone reception, probably not? Many of the best hikes around the world are in the mountains, deserts, and backcountry locations that just do not have reliable cell support, and your smartphone will not cut it.

There are situations where your smartphone GPS app like Gaia, Avenza or Top Maps will work to find your location quickly on established trails before beginning your hiking adventure.

That’s if you do not forget to download the maps before leaving cell or wifi reception. But no matter how you cut it a smartphone GPS app works best when your hiking in a region where cell signal is available.

The Best Hiking Apps

Below are the top hiking apps we use that will help you explore safer and smarter. 

  • Gaia GPS Hiking Maps, Hike App
  • Avenza
  • PeakFinder AR
  • Map My Hike GPS Hiking
  • AllTrails
  • ViewRanger
  • Star Walk
  • Weather Live
  • OS MapFinder
  • Hiking Project
  • Relive: Your Outdoor 3D Videos
  • Peak Finder
  • Animated Knots by Grog
  • iNaturalist

Not finding what you are looking for? Check out our favorite places to go shopping for travel gear.

  • Shop Columbia – The industry leader in outdoor apparel and products; You can find anything from great jackets, gloves, hats, shirts and travel pants.
  • Shop REI – They offer some of the best outdoor gear around. We love REI since they have a year Love it or hate it no questions guarantee.
  • Shop Moosejaw – Has a huge selection of outdoor gear at killer prices.
Epic Hiking Trips
PeruPatagonia Hike Mt. Everest Hike
Peru HikePatagonia HikeEverest Hike
Trekking the Inca Trail
5 days
Cusco to Cusco
Trip Type: Small Group
10 - 12 People
Award Winning Inca Trail Program
Hike Patagonia in Depth
14 days
Buenos Aires to Buenos Aires
Trip Type: Small Group
10 - 12 People
100% Local Ripple Score
Everest Base Camp Trek
15 days
Kathmandu to Kathmandu
Trip Type: Small Group
10 - 12 People
100% Local Ripple Score
Check PriceCheck PriceCheck Price

More on Travel Gear:

Did you enjoy this story? Share it!



TRAVEL PLANNING RESOURCES

Looking to get started on your trip planning process? Let us help!


Travel Gear & Packing: Check out our packing lists and travel gear guide to ensure you're bringing the right items on your trip.

Book Your Flight: Ready to fly? Check out our tips for finding cheap flights.

Find A Car Rental:We use Discover Cars to compare car prices, find deals and book rentals.

Book Your Hotel: Compare prices and book with our custom-built hotel search engine. You should also check out our tips for finding cheap accommodation.

Find Vacation Rentals: Search vacation rentals & apartments on VRBO for the best prices and options.

Protect Your Trip:Don’t forget your travel insurance! Protect your investment and yourself. Read Is Travel Insurance Worth It?

If you need more help planning your trip, be sure to check out our Step by Step Trip Planning Guide where we break down our process for getting the trip planning process right every single time.


About David Stock

I have always been an outdoorsman so becoming an adventure traveler was just the next natural step. I love nature, I love to get off the beaten path and I like to explore. I enjoy scuba diving and cars. And yes, Lina and I have a naked dog.



Divergent Travelers is an Amazon Associate and we earn from qualifying purchases at no extra cost to you. We're also a member of other affiliate programs. For more info please read our disclosure page

Leave a Comment