It only makes sense that you might get lost once or twice when you’re hiking in a new area. When this happens, don’t panic. Instead, come prepared!
The easiest way to navigate while hiking is to bring a portable GPS. GPS, which stands for the Global Positioning System, is an electronic device that uses 24 satellites around the planet to help people discover where they are. It’s essential for anyone who is trying a different trail, going on a long hike, or just has a habit of accidentally getting lost out in the wilderness.
Naturally, not all hiking GPS are made the same, and some will work better than others. This is especially true when there is a huge price difference between models. But how do you know you’re not just wasting money on a silly piece of technology?
We’ve chosen six of the best models currently on the market and looked at their pros, cons, functionality, special features, and overall cost to help you find the best one for you. We’ve also compared the main features and determined who might find each one useful, since everyone is going to have different needs while on the go. If you have any hiking GPS related questions, you can find simple answers at the end of this article.
As a side note, Garmin is perhaps THE leading manufacturer of hiking GPS, so several of the products on this list are made by the same company. However, they all have different features and price points, making them suitable for varying budgets and hiking styles.
Are you ready to avoid getting lost out in the wilderness? Then let’s go survive!
Best Hiking GPS Available Online
The Garmin Foretrex 401 Waterproof Hiking GPS is one of the most popular for the average individual because it’s not too expensive and includes tons of beneficial information. This device not only shows one’s position in the environment but also displays sunrise and sunset times, fishing information, an electronic compass, and a barometric altimeter.
This hiking GPS takes the form of a Velcro wristband that is easy to carry. The battery lasts up to 17 hours while in hiking mode, and will keep track of routes and designated waypoints. The heart rate of the user will also appear, making this great for those with exercise limitations. It only weighs 3 oz. and has an easy to read screen.
- Includes a compass
- Easy to carry
- Long battery life
- Medium price
- Tracks routes
- The computer struggles in single digit temperatures
Why it’s recommended: This GPS is the most bang for the buyer’s buck because it doesn’t cost a ton but still contains a reliable GPS and tons of other useful features.
The Garmin GPSMAP with High-Sensitivity GPS looks like a simple old-school phone but actually possesses quite a few technological capabilities like a sensitive GPS. This GPS is designed to provide a location even in difficult to reach places, helping you figure out where you are even if you’re trapped in the middle of nowhere.
The overall battery life of this hiking GPS is roughly 16 hours and has a water rating of IPX7, making it great for wet climates. The product includes a 3-axis compass with barometric altimeter and will receive Smart notifications if someone has a smart cellphone they would like to use with the GPS.
Like some other GPS, the Garmin GPSMAP will display heart rate and other physical information. A topographical map of the United States is already downloaded and each purchase comes with a 1-year BirdsEye Satellite Imagery subscription.
- The BirdsEye Satellite Imagery subscription
- Decent battery life
- Water resistant
- Color display
- Topographical map
- Somewhat expensive
Why it’s recommended: This GPS is great for individuals who want a GPS that will provide a topographical map and show them their location in real, color space.
The Garmin eTrex10 GPS is one of the least expensive on the market and is simple and easy to use. It’s rugged and handheld, designed to withstand difficult terrain. It uses a traditional button interface and is meant to work well even in the cold, making it great if you’re going on mountain hikes or somewhere to the north.
This GPS is waterproof to IPX7 standards and features a WAAS-enabled GPS receiver with HotFix and GLONASS support for fast positioning and a reliable signal no matter where you decide to go hiking. There is support for paperless geocaching and the battery is supposed to last for 20 hours when in use. You can store waypoints on this system to find the distance between two desired locations, and you can also save a preferred trail.
- Simple to use
- Long battery life
- Works well in the cold
- Reliable signal
- The map is not three dimensional
Why it’s recommended: This is one of the least expensive hiking GPS currently on the market that still functions well, making it great for hikers on a budget who don’t need many extra features.
The Garmin Instinct Rugged Outdoor Watch with GPS is an unusual hiking GPS designed like a watch, making it wearable around the wrist. It includes a reliable and accurate GPS signaling system that works in the most difficult terrain and is constructed to U. S. Military standard 810G for thermal, shock and water resistance.
This GPS lasts for 16 hours when in use, but can stay alive for 40 hours when conserved during battery saver mode. It includes a Tracback feature to keep track of your route and calculate the distance between two waypoints.
- Up to military standards
- Long battery life
- Accurate GPS signaling system
- Available in seven colors
- Can be worn on the wrist
- The GPS is pretty basic
Why it’s recommended: This hiking GPS comes in watch form and includes a ton of fitness features, making it great for people who hike as exercise and worry about losing their equipment while outdoors.
The Te-Rich Handheld GPS GLONASS is perhaps the most traditional hiking GPS currently on the market, and one of the least expensive. Instead of using a modern map display, this GPS displays coordinates, slope, and other topographical information to use alongside a map, making it essential for individuals who prefer traditional navigation and want to improve their skills while on the go.
This GPS has a large, easy to read screen and uses a traditional button interface so it works well in colder weather. The battery life is as high as 32 hours even when used constantly, making it wonderful on long trips through difficult terrain.
- Easy to use
- Displays topographical information
- Works well with a map
- Long battery life
- Does not include a map display
Why it’s recommended: This is one of the cheapest handheld hiking GPS trackers and includes a ton of information, making it great to use with a map. This is best for people who prefer traditional navigation and don’t want to waste battery on extra features.
The Magellan eXplorist 200 Water Resistant Hiking GPS is one of the most durable devices on the market and is meant for heavy duty hikers. This product is rubber armored and water-resistant, making it great for rough terrain where drops and accidents are likely to happen. This durability is extended to impact-resistance.
This hiking GPS is small and lightweight, and is also extremely inexpensive. It is handheld and stores up to 500 different points and hiking routes. It does display a map, although the map is two-dimensional and appears in grayscale, which might be difficult for some to read.
The screen is large and features a traditional button interface, making it ideal for cold weather environments. It works in single digit temperatures, making it one of the only hiking GPS to do so.
- Rubber armored
- Flat, grayscale map is difficult to understand for beginners
Why it’s recommended: This hiking GPS can store up to 500 different points and multiple hiking routes, making it great for individuals who hike often and don’t want to keep resetting their routes on each outing.
Key Considerations When Choosing a Hiking GPS
There are a couple of features that differentiate hiking GPS from one another. The most important are the size of the screen, your interface preference, and the presence of more technological features.
The size of the screen is significant. Not only will the screen be easier to read if it’s larger, but it will also increase the weight of the device because of all of the tech that sits behind the screen. Depending on how much equipment you like to bring with you while hiking, the extra weight of the GPS can be a drawback to some individuals who want to travel as light as possible.
However, a screen that is easy to read is better than one that you have to squint to read, so keep that in mind. Likewise, if you struggle to understand three-dimensional space on a screen, consider getting a color screen with a topographical map for easy use.
Interface preference refers to how you control the device. Touch screens are becoming more common, but most hiking GPS still use the traditional button format. While a touch screen seems might high tech and can keep a screen large, remember that these screens will not work well in cold weather. After all, have you noticed that you can’t get your phone to work in the dead of winter with your fingers? Buttons will almost always work, but they will take precious screen space, so pick your poison.
The advanced features of a Hiking GPS refers to how many scientific tools are included in the design of the GPS. Some examples are barometers and altimeters, compasses, preloaded maps, topography, two way radios, digital cameras, and geocaching features.
Not everyone is going to need an advanced feature, but they can make hiking in new places simpler and easier, especially if you’re in a region where you need to worry about altitude or might get lost in a strange area. These features are also perfect for someone going on a long trip, since altitude and topography can affect the trip and how well equipment like portable camping stoves work.
People who go hiking for more scientific reasons, such as studying the wildlife or environment, might also prefer a GPS with some scientific tools.
So, figure out what your needs are before spending extra money on a GPS with extra features. You might not need them and could end up wasting funds better spent on other pieces of equipment.
Although it sounds dramatic, choosing a reliable hiking GPS can be the difference between life and death. One of the leading causes of injuries and deaths among hikers is losing the trail and becoming lost in the wilderness. Sometimes people walk off literal mountains because they’re unable to see the cliff right in front of them.
So, when picking a hiking GPS, you need to choose one that you’ll actually use. If you want something high tech, there are tons of options available. However, you can also keep things simple. The main features to look for are a simple interface, reliable battery life, and a screen that you can see and read easily. Ask to test a product in the store before buying, or read reviews and look at the device in action before making a decision.
We hope this guide and its product reviews have been beneficial. Choosing the right hiking equipment can be difficult and everyone has different preferences, so we tried to include products with a range of prices and features to help you find the right one. Even if you choose something else, we’re glad to have been of service!