GPS for Hiking & Backpacking
It is not safe for the hiker to enter the wilderness without a hiking GPS, some of them use it as an excellent supplement for maps and compass. Some of them also get their first GPS to practice geo-coaching as their hobby. Geo-coaching is a sport where the people hide treasures and search them with the help of GPS.
Handheld GPS tracking system has come a long way in terms of functionality and the new models are highly compact and much affordable. These are a must for hikers and backpackers to let others know of their location, at times of uncertainty. They are of much use while navigating off-trail or when following a pre-chartered route in hiking with excellent accuracy. GPS is indispensable navigation equipment and our guide that follows will tell you why.
Best GPS for Hiking & Backpacking
Quick Answer: The 5 Best GPS for Hiking & Backpacking – 
- Garmin Foretrex 401 Waterproof Hiking GPS
- Garmin GPSMAP 64st, GPS and GLONASS Receiver
- Garmin eTrex 30x, Handheld GPS Navigator
- TomTom VIA 1525SE 5 Inch GPS Navigation Device
- Unlocked IsatPhone 2.1 Satellite Phone – Voice, SMS, GPS Tracking
Best GPS for Hiking & Backpacking Reviews
This is one of the best GPS systems for hiking and backpacking trips. It features a high sensitivity GPS receiver with HorFix for enhanced performance and reception. It performs pretty well in heavy tree cover and deep canyons as well.
This GPS system keeps tracks of routes, tracks and waypoints. It also keeps in mind the heart rate of the user. The GPS gets its power from two standard AAA batteries. It retraces the path of the user on the easy to read LCD display.
The display resolution of the GPS is 100×64 pixels and the battery life of the GPS is about 17 hours in GPS mode. It supports dual position readout so that the users are able to view their current location in multiple formats. Users have to hold the compass level while navigating so as to ensure maximum accuracy.
The unit features trip computer, sunrise and sunset times, electronic compass, hunting, and fishing information and barometric altimeter.
The Garmin 100K high sensitivity GPS features a sunlight-readable 2.6 inches’ color display. The display size of the GPS system is 1.43 x 2.15 inches. Its battery life is about 16 hours and the water rating of the device is IPX7. It features an expanding internal memory of 8GB.
The display resolution of the GPS is 160×240 pixels. GPS features high-speed USB and NMEA 0183 compatible. Its dual battery system makes use of two traditional AA-size batteries. The device also features an optional rechargeable NiMH battery pack that can charge when it is inside the device.
The weight of the device is about 8.1 ounce or 230 grams with batteries. Users can receive smart notifications and pair them with optional ANT+ sensors. It also features a heart rate monitor, a Tempe temperature control sensor, etc.
It works wirelessly and it is possible to upload data to Garmin connect and view the details on the smartphone. Users can also share activities as they happen with Live Track. The system also features a three-axis compass with a barometric altimeter.
The GPS features an upgraded display and features a 2.2” 65k color sunlight-readable display. It offers the best resolution of 240×320 pixels. The physical dimension of the GPS system is 2.1″ x 4.0″ x 1.3″. It loads maps and has an excellent internal memory of 3.7 GB.
Its micro SD card slot lets the users load a variety of maps including hunt view, blue chart g2, city navigator NT and Birdseye satellite imagery. The preloaded base map of the GPS system includes a worldwide base map with shaded relief.
The built-in sensors of the GPS device add a built-in 3 axis tilt compensating electronic compass and a barometric altimeter. It also tracks changes in pressure to pinpoint the precise altitude and users can also use it to plot the barometric pressure over time.
With the help of this wireless system, it is possible to wirelessly share the tracks, waypoints, routes, and geocaches with other devices that are compatible with the GPS system. It connects wirelessly with compatible Garmin devices that include VIRB and accessory sensors.
This is the Best GPS for hiking which takes the unknown out of the travels. It is possible to find the best route with the help of the search menu or touch a point on the map so as to get ready to drive. It is possible to arrive at the destination faster with the help of free lifetime maps on all the models.
Hikers can also get live traffic updates with this GPS system. The VIA offers the most advance lane guidance, that also helps the user to prepare for the next directional move by highlighting the correct driving lane.
Available in a 4.3”, 5” or 6” touchscreen and it makes navigation safe and stress-free. The system offers lifetime traffic updates so as to steer clear of traffic. Hikers also get lifetime map updates of the US. Hikers can download the free map updates with the help of the latest road changes for the life of the device.
There are free software updates that connect with the computer so as to get free software updates including new improvements and features. The GPS offers new lane guidance to known which lane to take at key junctions on the GPS.
This best GPS for backpacking features a global coverage with no roaming charges. It is possible to make and receive voice calls, SMS and track the position with GPS from anywhere on the globe without paying any roaming charges.
The Isat phone 2 satellite phone handset features a Lithium-ion battery with international AC wall charger with international plugs, car DC charger, holster with a belt clip, USB cable, and satellite phone store SIM card.
The satellite phone is shock, dust and water-resistant. This GPS phone renders the best shock resistance rating and has an ingress rating of IP65. It can withstand dirt, dust, and jets of water from every direction.
The phone has a humidity tolerance of 0 to 95%. The operational temperature ranges from -20 to +55C. Its innovative display technology provides the best daytime visibility.
How to choose the best GPS for hiking and backpacking?
For those who are new to the world of exploration of the backcountry, there can be a number of obvious considerations. Let us discuss the most important of us to be kept in mind while choosing the best hiking GPS system.
- Battery use GPS systems
- Type and size of the GPS
- Electronic compass
- Wireless capability
- Radio capability
- Glonass Vs GPS
Battery use GPS Systems:
The handheld hiking GPS units use some kind of lithium-ion batteries. The majority of the GPS devices use replaceable batteries as there are limited venues to recharge the GPS unit in the venue. Most of the hiking GPS units make use of simple AA batteries. Rechargeable AA batteries in GPS are ideal for short trips or while hiking around the local park. This will help in saving money on the batteries as well. Hikers can also use disposable batteries on long backpacking trips when there is no option of recharging.
It is important to keep the GPS warm when the temperature drops. Cold batteries will die faster than warm batteries. Look for an inside pocket on the jacket so as to keep the GPS warm.
Type and size of the GPS:
There are two main types of GPS namely, touch screen and large screen GPS. Touch screen GPS units have large screens and there is no need to make room for physical buttons on the unit. Touch screens can, however, be more difficult to use in cold weather, rain and even while wearing gloves. For those looking for a wearable GPS watch, the batteries may not last long. Larger screen GPS has two major drawbacks, they consume batteries much faster and the entire unit will be heavier and larger than small-screen units.
A majority of the GPS tracking systems come with a simple and poor quality base map. More manufacturers include quality topographic maps as standard fare on the hiking GPS units. There is a major difference between topographic maps versus marine maps and street maps. Look for a GPS device that has all these types of maps installed to not get strangled in the wild. The unit should have high-quality top maps pre-installed for hoking.
Almost all of the GPS units make use of equations to calculate the position and movement of the user. While standing still, the GPS has no clue about learning the orientation of the user with the world around them. Units that lack a standalone electronic compass are not capable of generating a heading while standing still.
For accurate navigation and orientation, or to find a way back to the base camp, it is important to make sure that the GPS receiver features an electronic compass, that allows the unit to calculate and display the position. Having a 3 axis compass is a must-have feature, that allows the user to hold the GPS in any orientation while getting an accurate bearing.
The hiker has to hold the GPS perfectly flat like a piece of paper to get a 2 axis compass to work properly.
Many of the new GPS devices feature Wi-Fi connection or at least a wireless device to device communication. If the hiker’s friend holds a compatible device, it is possible to easily and quickly transfer routes, waypoints and POI’s wirelessly. While traveling with a partner, it is wise to consider using a wireless GPS unit. Some units have Wi-Fi and even Bluetooth for efficient data transfer.
Some GPS features a capability to act as two-way radios or short distance phones. With the compatible device, it is possible to use a set of GPS units to establish two-way communications, which is also critical in situations such as search and rescue or emergency services. It is also good to find devices that come standard with the ability to access NOAA weather radio broadcasts.
Glonass Vs GPS:
There are tons of satellites that spin around the Earth, helping us to navigate all the time. Americans first get access to GPS which is the United States version of navigation satellites. Russians will get access to the Glonass satellites, which is the Russian navigation satellite system. Almost all of the GPS units rely on the Glonass and GPS connections to navigate.
FAQs for Handheld GPS Units
What is a mapping GPS?
Before few years all the GPS units have only blank screens. There were only waypoints that one could use to navigate to, but in between everything was only blank. Eventually, handheld GPS units got more powerful and more detailed. LCD screens, colored screens, and other inventions took over and paved the way for mapping GPS. The mapping best GPS for backpacking has the ability to overlay maps behind the paths, objectives, and waypoints. It is possible to get aerial maps, traffic maps and topographic maps in modern-day GPS units.
Should I pay for maps?
Previously, users have to pay fees to buy maps for their GPS units. Every year newer maps came out and the users have to pay again. It is now possible to buy handheld units with preloaded maps, preferably topographic maps. But technically, the maps are free and are preloaded as well. But users may have to still pay for more maps, for maps of different areas and countries. It may be possible to use software to create routes and to upload on the GPS.
Should I use rechargeable batteries?
Some of the best GPS for hiking make use of an internal rechargeable battery for hiking. Rechargeable batteries that one can swap out are a great idea. While one is hiking or backpacking, it is not possible to recharge an internal battery. One could bring a big battery pack that they are clunky and less efficient than simply swapping out AA batteries.
Buyer’s guide in choosing the best hiking and backpacking GPS
- Construction and case
- Battery life
Construction and Case:
A handheld GPS device features a robust design and is of materials that render an excellent shock and abrasion resistance. Also, a GPS device should be water-resistant so that it only can use it safely in rainy weather. All of the devices that we have listed here render excellent durability and qualify for the best IPX7 water resistance rating. This means the device can withstand exposure to water for up to one meter for up to 30 minutes.
The battery life of a handheld device should be at least 10 hours so that there is no need to change the batteries very often. A solar charger is an excellent gadget for recharging the GPS device on long backpacking trips.
For an excellent map overview, it is important that the GPS device is equipped with a two-inch display and features excellent resolution. Many modern GPS devices have touch screen capabilities that are not perfect for hiking in cold weather or at high altitudes as they can get hard to use with gloves on. Touchscreens allow the user to operate the device easier and faster.
Hiking and backpacking require a lightweight feat that allows the user to hike easier and faster. All of the GPS devices that have been listed in our review are predominantly lightweight.
It is highly advantageous if the GPS device comes with planning software. The software helps in creating routes and waypoints easily and renders advanced information about the routes, the distance, and ascent to the user.
Thus, there are a number of options available in the market today for the best GPS for hiking. The challenge is to identify one’s needs and choose a GPS device that meets their standards. Most of the GPS receivers offer more power and features and users have to be careful in upgrading to the expensive unit without any necessity. Most of the units are accurate, reliable and feature robust features at the lowest price possible.