Man using GPS for hiking in the mountains

Best Hiking GPS in 2018

Handheld Global Positioning Systems (GPS) have been a standard in hiking and outdoor recreation for years. With the accessibility of GPS tracking in everything from watches to phones these days, is a separate GPS still worth it? That depends on your needs. For backcountry and multi-day trips, standalone devices are still the most effective way to navigate by satellite. Handheld GPS units are designed to be rugged and reliable. They are more durable and have better battery life than most cell phones. Using a dedicated GPS unit will allow you to keep your phone charged and out of harms way while you hike. Whether you are looking to purchase your first GPS or plan to upgrade an old favourite, there are many new developments in GPS software and design that are well worth a second look.

This quick overview of the best hiking GPS gives you a basic idea of which systems are leading the way in digital navigation, with more detailed info on each GPS later in the article. And if you want to understand what to look for in a great GPS for hiking and backpacking then read on.

ProductInternal MemoryBattery LifeTouchscreen or buttonsWeightCost
Garmin eTrex 30x3.7 GB25 hoursButtons142g$
Garmin Oregon 650t

3.5 GB16 hoursTouchscreen210g$$$
Garmin GPSMAP 64s4 GB16 hoursButtons230g$$
Garmin eTrex Touch 35t8 GB16 hoursTouchscreen159g$$$
Garmin Montana 600t3 GB16 hoursTouchscreen289g$$$$$
Garmin Foretrex 401/17 hoursButtons87.3g$
DeLorme InReach Explorer/100 hoursButtons190g$$$

What to look for in the best hiking GPS

As with any bit of outdoor gear, it’s important to understand what you require in a hiking GPS before you narrow down your search. Here are some things to consider:

How long will you be on the trail?

The main issue with trip length is the battery life of your GPS device. While any standard GPS unit will use less power while navigating than a smartphone, not all GPS units carry the same battery power. Rechargeable devices are perfect for day trips. The ability to charge the GPS each evening will save you money in the long run because you will not need to keep replacing batteries. Standard batteries are ideal for longer trips because you can pack extras without needing a power source for a fresh charge. For an all-purpose unit, look for something with both a rechargeable pack and external battery option.

How much space or weight are you willing to give to the GPS unit?

In most hiking products, smaller and lighter is better. For the most part, choosing a small and lightweight GPS device is the best option. If you have extra space or are willing to put up with a bit more weight, a larger screen can be a nice feature. You may appreciate the ability to easily read the display even if the device itself is not the smallest on the market.

Using the best hiking GPS in the forest

What sort of information are you expecting the GPS device to provide?

If you are looking for basic navigation and maps specific to your trip, you may need to be willing to upload maps at home. Units designed for individual trips are limited in memory space and tend to cost less than those with enough storage to keep all maps and waypoints saved on the GPS itself. If you need a GPS that can communicate wirelessly with other devices, be sure to check the specifications before buying. Some GPS units even come with cameras or two-way radios. Each of these features comes at a cost in price or size, but for some hikers, they are absolutely invaluable options.

Where will you be taking your GPS?

Do you need something waterproof? Will a water-resistant device do? How accurate do you need your maps and positioning to be in the true wilderness? The places you plan to go with your GPS will dictate what sorts of durability or accuracy you should look for in your next outdoor GPS.

Do you need a touchscreen unit?

The most basic GPS devices use simple buttons that are durable and easy to operate while wearing thick gloves. However, many users find touchscreen GPS devices more intuitive and easier to use. Picking the style that fits your adventuring needs will help you narrow down the choices as you shop.

The best hiking GPS in 2018

With these questions answered, you are ready to go shopping! Here are 7 great choices for your best hiking GPS:
Garmin eTrex 30x GPS for hiking

Garmin eTrex 30x

Battery life: 25hrs
Weight: 142g
Memory: 3.7GB
Touchscreen/buttons: Buttons

The Garmin eTrex 30x is a great GPS system if you are looking for an all-purpose GPS for long trips because it is so light and durable. The 2.2-inch display is readable even in sunlight, and the buttons are sturdy and easy to use. The eTrex30x comes preloaded with a world base map and can accurately pinpoint your location and altitude thanks to the addition of a barometric altimeter. The device comes with 3.7GB of internal memory plus an SD slot for the option to add more. And with up to 25 hours of battery life, this unit lasts the longest between charges of any GPS on our list.

Find the latest price on:
Amazon | REI | Backcountry


Garmin Oregon 650t Hiking GPS

Garmin Oregon 650t

Battery life: 16hrs
Weight: 210g
Memory: 3.5GB
Touchscreen/buttons: Touchscreen

For a more deluxe option, take a closer look at the Garmin Oregon 650t. The Oregon 650t is one of the pricier GPS units on our list. The price is justified, however, by multiple unique features including an 8-megapixel camera and 3-inch touchscreen display. Topographical maps come standard on the 650t as does 3.5GB of storage. One feature that sets this model apart is the option to create and customize multiple profiles based on activity or location. The 16-hour battery is nothing special, but it does come with both a rechargeable battery pack and the option to use standard AA batteries.

Find the latest price on:
Amazon


Garmin GPSMAP 64s with Worldwide hiking GPS

Garmin GPSMAP 64s

Battery life: 16hrs
Weight: 230g
Memory: 4GB
Touchscreen/buttons: Buttons

The GPSMAP 64s from Garmin offers more connectivity options than most handheld GPS units. It is Base Camp compatible and can connect to other Garmin devices via Bluetooth. It comes with a choice of either US or Canadian topographical maps, and you can also select to upgrade to a model with a camera, at the cost of a lower battery life (16 hours). In this situation, it may be wise to invest in lithium batteries (which have a much longer life) or limit most trips to what can be accomplished in a single day. The 2.6″ color display is one of the sharpest on the market.

Find the latest price on:
Amazon | REI


Garmin etrex Touch 35t hiking GPS

Garmin eTrex Touch 35t

Battery life: 16hrs
Weight: 159g
Memory: 8GB
Touchscreen/buttons: Touchscreen

The Garmin eTrex Touch 35t has many of the same features as the other deluxe Garmin models on this list. The 2.6-inch touch screen has clear, color detail. The customizable profiles allow you to personalize settings for different activities, bikes, or locations. US and Canadian topographical maps are available in addition to the standard word base map. The eTrex Touch 35t is water resistant enough to use without fear in the rain and can pinpoint your location and direction while you stand completely still. The device can use more batteries than some of the other GPS units on this list because of the touchscreen color display. The batteries are easy to change on the go, however, making this a great option for long trips off the beaten path.

Find the latest price on:
Amazon | REI


Garmin Montana 600 Waterproof Hiking GPS

Garmin Montana 600t

Battery life: 16hrs
Weight: 289g
Memory: 3GB
Touchscreen/buttons: Touchscreen

If you need an outdoor GPS that can stand up to more than a little rain, the Garmin Montana 600 Waterproof Hiking GPS might be perfect for you. The 4-inch, sunlight-readable display is designed to work oriented either direction and with or without gloves. The size and overall versatility of the display make this a favorite of boaters, bikers, and off-roaders alike. The unit is a bit large for carrying on a hike, and it comes with no preloaded maps (although you can upload standard or custom maps to the unit). When size and readability matter most, especially around water, the Montana 600 is a great GPS option.

Find the latest price on:
Amazon


Garmin Foretrex 401 Waterproof Hiking GPS

Garmin Foretrex 401

Battery life: 17hrs
Weight: 87.3g
Memory: /
Touchscreen/buttons: Buttons

The Garmin Foretrex 401 is the smallest and least expensive option on our list. If you want something that is unobtrusive but gets the job done, this might be the device for you. The Foretrex 401 uses AAA batteries and is extremely small and lightweight. It includes a compass, sunrise/sunset times and a barometric altimeter standard. A heart rate monitor is sold separately if you’d rather ditch your fitness monitor altogether when out on the trail. The Foretrex 401 is worn on a wrist strap, making it ideal for activities where you will need to view the GPS while both hands are occupied.

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Amazon


DeLorme InReach Explorer hiking GPS

DeLorme InReach Explorer

Battery life: 100hrs
Weight: 190g
Memory: /
Touchscreen/buttons: Buttons

The DeLorme InReach Explorer is something completely different. In addition to GPS and navigation capabilities, the InReach Explorer can send short text messages to a phone or email address or contact the 24/7 search and response monitoring center in case of emergency. There is an additional fee (payable monthly or yearly) for these services. When paired with the inReach app on a smartphone or tablet, the Explorer can use unlimited topographical and NOAA maps. If you are already planning on carrying both a GPS and a smartphone, this could be a great option. The InReach app can be used in airplane mode, letting you save battery life on your phone and access the unlimited maps at the same time.

Find the latest price on:
Amazon


Garmin is the gold standard in handheld hiking GPS for good reason. With the exception of the notably unique InReach Explorer from DeLorme, most other models fall short of the features and durability of a Garmin. Even within the line of Garmin GPS, however, there is a wide range of prices and features. Whether you are looking for the deluxe Oregon 650t or the miniature Foretrex 401, there is a GPS unit perfect for your navigation needs.

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