Getting lost while hiking in unfamiliar terrain can be a scary and dangerous situation. Having a reliable GPS device in your pack provides peace of mind and can be a real lifesaver if you become disoriented or need to call for emergency help.
But not all GPS devices are created equal. For hiking purposes, you need one that is rugged, waterproof, has excellent battery life, detailed topographical maps, and advanced navigation features. After testing and reviewing the latest GPS models specifically designed for the outdoors, I’ve selected my top 5 recommendations to help you choose the perfect hiking companion.
In this blog post, I’ll cover:
- The key factors to consider when selecting a GPS device for hiking adventures
- My picks for the 5 best hiking GPS units available today
- Detailed reviews of each of my top recommendations
- A comparison chart of the key specs and features
- Frequently asked questions about GPS devices for hikers
Let’s start by looking at what you need to keep in mind while shopping for a hiking GPS.
How to Choose the Right GPS Device for Hiking
Not all GPS devices are suited for backcountry adventures. When it comes to selecting a model for hiking, there are certain features and factors you should look for:
Ruggedness and Waterproof Rating – Since you’ll be using it outdoors, it needs to be durable and able to withstand the elements. Look for units with IPX7 waterproof ratings or higher. Impact-resistant cases are also ideal.
Battery Life – For multi-day hikes, you need a long battery life. Look for 20+ hours of continuous use on a single charge. Power management features help conserve battery when not actively navigating.
Preloaded Detailed Maps – Topographical, outdoor recreational, and trail maps are a must. National Geographic TopoActive maps are highly detailed and frequently updated.
Accuracy – More sensitive GPS chipsets like Sony or SirFStar IV pickup satellite signals better under tree cover and in narrow canyons. GLONASS support further enhances accuracy.
Sunlight-Visible Display – The screen needs to be bright enough to see clearly in direct sunlight on the trail. Color screens make maps easier to read.
Weight – The lighter the better when you are backpacking. Look for compact, lightweight devices under 10 oz.
Waypoint Marking – Ability to mark and save important locations like trailheads, campsites, landmarks, etc.
Navigation Features – Precise GPS coordinates, compass, routing, tracking, TracBack, etc. Sight ‘N Go is a handy navigation feature.
Connectivity – Sync routes, share waypoints, and update maps from your phone or computer via Bluetooth or WiFi.
Price – Costs range from $100 to $600. More advanced features come with higher price tags.
Next, let’s look at my top 5 recommended GPS devices that are purpose-built for hiking based on the criteria above.
The 5 Best GPS Devices for Hiking in 2023
1. Garmin eTrex 32x
Overview – My top overall pick for most hikers is the Garmin eTrex 32x. It balances excellent GPS performance, durability, and key features at an affordable price point.
Price – $299.99
- Rugged and lightweight design (9oz) with IPX7 water rating
- High-sensitivity GPS/GLONASS chip
- 4GB internal memory for topographical basemap
- Micro-USB slot for additonal map storage
- Clear 2.6” color display readable in sunlight
- 20 hours battery life with 2 AA batteries
- 250,000 waypoint capacity
- Bluetooth, WiFi, and Geocaching Live compatibility
- Includes worldwide basemap with relief shading
In terms of design, the eTrex 32x retains the rugged, ergonomic form factor Garmin’s eTrex line is known for. The impact-resistant casing and IPX7 waterproof rating can stand up to the elements on the trail. It’s compact and lightweight at only 9 oz, perfect for tossing in your pack.
The high-sensitivity Sony GPS chip provides reliable tracking under tree cover and in deep valleys. Support for GLONASS satellites further enhances positioning accuracy. The preloaded worldwide shaded relief basemap offers enough detail for most recreational hiking uses.
The color 2.6” display remains easy to read under direct sunlight. Battery life is excellent at up to 20 hours of continuous use. I like that it uses AA batteries which are easy to replace on longer trips. Bluetooth and WiFi allows you to pair with your smartphone to share data and sync additional maps.
In use, the eTrex 32x locks onto satellites quickly and tracks movement precisely. The interface is intuitive with all the expected navigation and trip planning features. Marking waypoints and navigating to specific coordinates is simple. For the price, there is no better balance of features, accuracy, and ruggedness. It’s a great choice for all levels of hikers.
2. Garmin Montana 700i
Overview – The Montana 700i is on the high end for hiking GPS devices, but offers more advanced mapping and connectivity not found in cheaper models.
Price – $549.99
- Large 4” glove-friendly touchscreen display
- TOPO Active maps included with 1-year BirdsEye subscription
- Built-in 8MP camera with geotagging
- Garmin Explore app connectivity
- Up to 16 hours battery life
- GLONASS/Gallileo for accuracy under cover
- Barometric altimeter and 3-axis electronic compass
- Advanced tracking, routing and navigation
- Rugged and waterproof
This is one of Garmin’s top-of-the-line outdoor GPS devices. The high-resolution touchscreen display is easy to operate even with gloves on. It uses a dual GPS/GLONASS system for improved accuracy under tree canopy.
The built-in 8MP camera with geotagging is great for documenting your hikes. It has an extensive basemap and one year subscription to detailed TOPO Active topographical maps. You can also purchase and download additional maps if needed.
Syncing wirelessly with the Garmin Explore app provides access to unlimited map options and simplifies route planning. The Montana 700i offers advanced navigation with point-to-point routing, TracBack, and sensor integration with the barometric altimeter and 3-axis electronic compass.
Battery life is ample at 16 hours of continuous use. The device is rugged and waterproof with an IPX7 rating. Overall the Montana 700i is packed with features that serious hikers and backpackers can appreciate if you’re willing to pay more for premium quality.
3. Garmin GPSMAP 66i
Overview – The GPSMAP 66i is a slightly scaled back version of the Montana 700i, offering core essential GPS features in a compact size at a lower price point.
Price – $299.99
- Rugged design with IPX7 water rating
- Easy-to-use 2.6” color display
- 16 hours battery life
- Dual GPS/GLONASS satellite tracking
- Preloaded 100K topo maps with 1-year BirdsEye access
- Built-in sensors: barometer, accelerometer, compass
- Waypoint marking up to 2000 points
- Connectivity: Bluetooth, ANT+, Wi-Fi
- Geocaching compatible
Weighing just 9 oz, the GPSMAP 66i is built for the outdoors with an impact-resistant case and IPX7 waterproof rating. The display remains vivid and readable in sunlight. Battery life is also robust at up to 16 hours.
It utilizes a high-sensitivity Sony chipset with both GPS and GLONASS capability for more precise positioning under tree cover. The internal sensors include a barometric altimeter, 3-axis tilt compensated compass, and accelerometer.
The device comes preloaded with detailed topographic maps, including a one year subscription to BirdsEye Satellite imagery. Marking waypoints and navigating is quick and intuitive with the quad helix antenna.
While it skips some of the advanced features of the Montana 700i, the GPSMAP 66i focuses on the core essentials of navigation, tracking, trip planning, and durability at a budget-friendly price point for most hikers. It packs proven GPS capability into a compact and rugged device.
4. DeLorme inReach Explorer+
Overview – The inReach Explorer+ doubles as a 2-way satellite communicator while also providing GPS navigation, making it ideal for backcountry trips where you want an emergency SOS and messaging device.
Price – $379.95
- GPS navigation with color TOPO maps
- 2-way satellite messaging via Iridium network
- Integrated SOS function alerts emergency response
- Tracking and route sharing via web portal
- Bluetooth connectivity to mobile devices
- Rugged, weatherproof design
- Rechargeable battery lasts up to 100 hours
This is the only device on my list that offers emergency satellite messaging capabilities along with its GPS functionality. Using the Iridium global satellite network, the inReach Explorer+ allows 2-way text messaging via satellite when you are outside of cell range.
The integrated SOS button can call for S&R if you have an emergency. It also lets friends and family track your location in near real-time as you hike via the web portal. Satellite weather and calendar functions can come in handy on longer trips.
As a GPS device, it provides accurate navigation with onboard TOPO maps and compass heading. You can download additional maps and sync waypoints with your phone wirelessly. The battery is rechargeable and lasts up to 100 hours between charges.
Overall the inReach Explorer+ provides security and peace of mind for backcountry trips in addition to solid GPS performance for navigation – making it worth the higher price.
5. Magellan Triton 500
Overview – The Triton 500 offers touchscreen convenience at an affordable price point for beginner and intermediate hikers who want something user-friendly.
Price – $199.99
- Large 4” glove-friendly touchscreen
- Simple menu-driven interface
- 12 hour battery life from 2 AA batteries
- Integrated 3-axis tilt compensated compass
- Barometric altimeter and accelerometer
- 1.7 GB internal storage for maps
- Waterproof and rugged casing
- Works with many map systems/suppliers
- Waypoint marking capability
This 7.6 oz handheld GPS device uses an intuitive touchscreen interface for easy navigating and menu access, even while wearing gloves. The extra-large 4” display makes map reading a breeze while hiking.
The Triton 500 offers 12 hours of battery life from just 2 AA batteries. It has an integrated compass, altimeter, and accelerometer to supplement GPS tracking. You can load up to 1.7 GB of external maps – it’s compatible with map systems from various providers.
While the GPS chipset may not be as advanced as pricier models, it provides adequate accuracy for most recreational hiking uses. The touchscreen system makes the Triton 500 one of the most user-friendly hiking GPS devices. At under $200, it delivers good value for the price.
It lacks some advanced navigation tools, wireless connectivity, and ruggedness of higher end models. But the Triton 500 hits the sweet spot for beginners or anyone who prioritizes an intuitive interface and touchscreen convenience.
GPS Device Comparison Table
Here is a summary comparison of the key specs for my top 5 hiking GPS picks:
|Device||Price||Weight||Water Rating||Battery Life||Display Size||Maps||GLONASS||Waypoints||Bluetooth||Touchscreen|
|Garmin eTrex 32x||$299||9oz||IPX7||20 hrs||2.6”||Basemap||Yes||250,000||Yes||No|
|Garmin Montana 700i||$549||9.2oz||IPX7||16 hrs||4”||TOPO + BirdsEye||Yes||2000||Yes||Yes|
|Garmin GPSMAP 66i||$299||9oz||IPX7||16 hrs||2.6”||Basemap + BirdsEye||Yes||2000||Yes||No|
|DeLorme inReach Explorer+||$379||7.5oz||IPX7||100 hrs||2.2”||TOPO||Yes||Unlimited||Yes||No|
|Magellan Triton 500||$199||7.6oz||IP67||12 hrs||4”||Compatible||No||500||No||Yes|
Frequently Asked Questions About Hiking GPS Devices
Here I’ll address some common questions about GPS units designed for hiking and backpacking:
What should I look for in a GPS device for hiking?
Key factors are ruggedness, waterproofing, long battery life, sensitivity under tree cover, detailed maps, lightweight design, navigation/routing functions, and waypoint marking capability.
Do I really need a GPS device just for hiking?
For casual day hikes on well-marked trails, your smartphone GPS can probably suffice. But for longer backcountry trips, off-trail exploration, mountaineering, etc. a dedicated GPS unit designed for hiking has advantages.
How accurate are GPS devices for hiking?
With newer dual satellite systems like GPS/GLONASS, accuracy under tree cover can be within 10-16 feet. Barometric altimeters also improve elevation data.
How long does the battery last on hiking GPS devices?
Premium models boast 16-20+ hours of continuous use. You can further extend battery life by turning off automatic routing, reducing backlight, and using battery save mode.
Can I load my own maps onto a GPS device?
Many support additonal maps from various suppliers. Some include subscriptions to map databases for free downloading. Most have USB ports for map transfers.
What features are most important for hiking GPS units?
Durability, satellite accuracy, long battery, detailed maps, navigation tools, lightweight, waypoint marking, wireless connectivity are key hiking features.
What extra accessories will I need for my hiking GPS?
At minimum you just need batteries. Helpful extras are protective cases, lanyards, external battery packs, bike/auto mounts, extra maps on memory cards.
How do I use and save waypoints on a GPS device?
Press the mark key at any location. Enter a name/symbol for the waypoint. To navigate to a saved waypoint, select from your list and choose “Go To”.
Can I use a GPS smartwatch instead of a dedicated device?
GPS watches work well for runs/hikes on known routes, but lack mapping capabilities and battery life needed for full backcountry use.
How much do hiking GPS devices cost?
They range from $100 for basic models up to $600 for high-end. $200-$400 gets a solid mid-range unit with all essential features.
The Takeaway: Invest in a GPS Created for the Trails
A dedicated GPS device designed specifically for hiking can give you confidence and peace of mind when heading into the backcountry. Key factors like durability, long battery life, sensitivity under canopy, and detailed topographic maps make a huge difference.
My top overall pick is the Garmin eTrex 32x which balances price and features nicely. But any of my top 5 recommended GPS devices will serve you well on the trail. Take time to practice using the device and loading maps before your trip. Then relax knowing you have a reliable navigator in your pack guiding you every step of the way.
With a quality GPS device made for hiking, you can focus on the beautiful surroundings instead of worrying about where you are. Let technology guide you on the way, so you can fully experience the journey.