Best hiking GPS

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GPS satellites complete roughly two orbits of the planet every day and are positioned at a height of between 12,000 and 13,000 miles from the surface of the planet.

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Which hiking GPS is best?

Many of us are familiar with the advantages that Global Positioning Satellites or GPS has to offer when it comes to successfully navigating while driving, sharing your location with others and finding local areas of interest. However, handheld GPS units are also frequently used by hikers and others who enjoy the outdoors to plot out excursions, reliably locate their start and end points and much more. With a rugged and dependable unit like the GPS Garmin eTrex 10 Worldwide Handheld GPS Navigator safely stowed in your backpack, you can rest assured that your journey will not lead you too far down a potentially dangerous path.

What to know before you buy a hiking GPS

GPS and GLONASS

While you likely have heard of GPS before, you may not know that it was originally developed by the United States military and still remains under their purview to this day. However, you might be less familiar with GLONASS or the Global Navigation Satellite System which is a similar satellite navigation system used by Russia and is second only to the GPS system.

Though GPS is widely regarded as the superior option when it comes to keeping track of your global location, GLONASS does offer several advantages. For example, GLONASS has a greater ability to track your location at higher altitudes due to its satellites possessing a higher orbit than GPS. Furthermore, having an additional two dozen satellites at your disposal means that your hiking GPS will be able to make connections significantly faster than units which can only access a single satellite network. Since the selected models of hiking GPS have access to both GLONASS and GPS, you can enjoy the best of both worlds wherever your excursions end up taking you.

Able to determine your location regardless of the physical terrain you travel

Given that you are likely interested in purchasing a hiking GPS to keep track of your comings and goings as you safely enjoy the wonders of nature, the last thing you want is a useless brick that can’t accurately track your location. Unfortunately, some less reliable models of GPS can experience difficulties when you are traveling through extremely rugged terrain such as deep valleys and areas with considerable overhead cover.

As such, all of the select models of hiking GPS have been specifically chosen for their ability to ensure that you know precisely where you are to within 25 to 30 feet. Furthermore, hiking GPS units can also be used to keep track of important locations for other outdoor activities such as launch points for kayaking, allowing you to orient yourself in a variety of different locales. Other popular uses of hiking GPS units include paperless geocaching, which is a form of treasure hunting popular with lovers of the outdoors and users of GPS alike. 

What to look for in a quality hiking GPS

Local and global base maps

Whether you are looking for a hiking GPS unit that will help you navigate the Appalachian Trail, backpacking across the planet or just help keep you from being lost at a state park, it helps to know the lay of the land. Fortunately for you, all of the selected models have been chosen for their impressive array of navigation features including extensive base maps, Topo Active maps, known hiking and cycling trails, roads, routes and much more.

In addition to being able to track your progress on established trails or forging your own path through the wilderness, hiking GPS units are also capable of distinguishing between man made features including waterways, streets, buildings and even international boundaries. Depending on how volatile the geo-political situation may be in the area you plan on hiking, being absolutely sure of which side of a particular border you are on can be extremely vital.

Create and track start and end points, waypoints and more

Having the freedom to explore all that the natural world has to offer is one of the primary appeals of hiking, but ending up lost and potentially at risk of exposure, injury and even death is hardly the ideal outcome to your trip. Thankfully, a hiking GPS unit offers several very useful and important functions, including setting the start and end points of your journey, storing waypoints during the course of your hike and determining the starting and finishing elevations of your trip.

Furthermore, you can also use some models of hiking GPS to take photos in situ which are automatically geotagged. Not only can you enjoy some incredible nature photography, you can rest assured that you can find your way back to its location whenever you want.

Technology

While having the ability to determine your location to within 30 or so feet is incredibly useful while engaged in a nature hike, you should ensure that your hiking GPS unit is prepared for any inclement weather, accidental drops, splashes and other unforeseen circumstances. One way to do so effectively is making sure that the hiking GPS unit you purchase offers sufficient IPX-rated protection to protect against damage from the elements. 

If you are unfamiliar with the term, IPX stands for Ingress Protection with the “X” signifying the level of protection between one and eight. For example, a hiking GPS unit which has been awarded with an IPX7 standard means that your device is certified to withstand being immersed at a depth of one meter for a period of 30 minutes without being damaged. Furthermore, it is also protected from high pressure jets of water from every angle, making it impossible for wind-borne water to successfully make ingress.

How much you can expect to spend on a hiking GPS

Depending on the desired features as well as any budgetary considerations, a quality hiking GPS unit can cost $97-$455 and sometimes more.

Best hiking GPS FAQ

Do you need to have access to the internet to be able to use a hiking GPS unit?

A. Not at all. Your hiking GPS unit comes with its own GPS receiver which allows you to receive a signal directly from the GPS satellites in orbit. While some units and GPS functions in smartphones use a feature known as Assisted GPS or A-GPS that uses internet and cell signals to boost tracking, a standalone GPS unit requires neither to properly function.

Do you really need to buy a hiking GPS when you can just use your phone?

A. While your phone might be able to perform a wider range of functions, hiking GPS units offer several advantages such as a much greater battery life, the ability to be plugged into vehicle electrical adaptors and use replaceable batteries for power. Furthermore, dedicated GPS units are much more affordable than smartphones and can be easily gifted, traded or borrowed for general use.

What’s the best hiking GPS to buy?

Top hiking GPS

GPS Garmin eTrex 10 Worldwide Handheld GPS Navigator

GPS Garmin eTrex 10 Worldwide Handheld GPS Navigator

What you need to know: A rugged and reliable hiking GPS. it works well anyplace in the world.

What you’ll love: This unit includes a WAAS-enabled GPS receiver with support, GLONASS and Hotfix to allow for reliable signals and speed positioning as well as a preloaded worldwide basemap, 2.2-inch monochrome display, IPX7 standards for protection and waterproofing, Garmin spine mounting accessories, paperless geocaching. It can also estimate time and distance between points, store waypoints along a track and track changes in elevation along the entire length of your hike.

What you should consider: Users have reported issues with the screen being too small and the text being difficult to read.

Where to buy: Sold by Amazon

Top hiking GPS for the money

Garmin eTrex 22x, Rugged Handheld GPS Navigator

Garmin eTrex 22x, Rugged Handheld GPS Navigator

What you need to know: This is an excellent hiking GPS unit for the cyclist or hiker who prefers to hit the trail.

What you’ll love: This unit offers a 2.2-inch sunlight-readable color display as well as support for GLONASS and GPS satellite systems for the best possible coverage, comes preloaded with Topo Active maps complete routable trails and roads for hiking and cycling, micro SD card slot, 8 GB of internal memory for map downloads and up to 25 hours of operation on a pair of AA batteries.

What you should consider: Users have complained about a lack of user-friendly interface as well as it only having maps for North America.

Where to buy: Sold by Dick’s Sporting Goods

Worth checking out

Garmin Montana 680t, Touchscreen Hiking Handheld GPS/GLONASS

Garmin Montana 680t, Touchscreen Hiking Handheld GPS/GLONASS

What you need to know: A hiking GPS unit with a larger screen, it has a digital camera for geocaching applications.

What you’ll love: This unit comes with an 8 megapixel digital camera for quality images and improved resolution which are geotagged with coordinates automatically, can easily organize and navigate through trails and waypoints, aWAAS-enabled GPS receiver, Hotfix satellite prediction and GLONASS support, a one-year Birdseye Satellite Imagery subscription and a four inch touchscreen display.

What you should consider: Users have reported the 680t is essentially a touched-up 650t with primarily cosmetic improvements.

Where to buy: Sold by Amazon

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Daniel Martin writes for BestReviews. BestReviews has helped millions of consumers simplify their purchasing decisions, saving them time and money.

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