Which GPS is Best for Hiking? We Reviewed 5 to Find Out

  • Last Updated On: October 15, 2019
  • / Hiking Gear
  • / By Andrew

Our guide to the best hiking GPS of 2019 will keep you on course and ensure you get back to the trailhead safe and sound.

Getting lost in the wilderness can be dangerous and terrifying, but it’s also something that can be avoided.

While you shouldn’t rely solely on electronics, using GPS is extremely useful, especially if you plan on hiking alone for the first time.

In A Hurry? Here's my favorite hiking gps...

Garmin Foretrex 401

Garmin Foretrex 401 Hiking GPS Watch

My very first Garmin was the Forerunner 201 almost two decades and the Foretrex 401 takes me back to those days! I really like the rugged old school military styling with no nonsense features that allow me to easily track my hike and make sure I find my way back home!


Product

Features

Our Rating

Price

Garmin Fenix 5S Sapphire GPS Watch

Garmin Fenix 5S Sapphire GPS Watch

- GPS & GLONASS satellite reception
- Battery life up to 14 hrs in GPS mode (rechargeable)
- 3 axis compass w/gyro & barometric altimeter

on Amazon

Garmin Foretrex 401 Hiking GPS Watch

Garmin Foretrex 401 Waterproof Hiking GPS Watch

- High sensitivity GPS receiver
- Battery life up to 17 hrs in GPS mode (uses 2 AAA batteries)
- Electronic compass & barometric altimeter
- Tracks route and waypoints

on Amazon

Garmin GPSMAP 64st Handheld GPS

Garmin GPSMAP 64st Handheld GPS

- GPS & GLONASS satellite reception
- Battery life up to 16 hrs (uses 2 AA batteries or optional rechargeable kit)
- 3 axis compass & barometric altimeter

- Preloaded TOPO maps

on Amazon

Garmin eTrex 30x Handheld GPS

Garmin eTrex 30x Handheld GPS

- GPS & GLONASS satellite reception
- Battery life up to 25 hrs (uses 2 AA batteries)
- 3 axis compass & barometric altimeter

- Preloaded basemap w/internal storage for more maps

on Amazon

Garmin Oregon 650t Handheld GPS

Garmin Oregon 650t Handheld GPS

- GPS & GLONASS satellite reception
- Battery life up to 16 hrs (uses 2 AA batteries or rechargeable kit)
- 3 axis compass, accelerometer & barometric altimeter

- Preloaded TOPO maps
- 8mp Digital Camera

on Amazon


Garmin Hiking GPS Reviews

1. Garmin Fenix 5S Sapphire

If you’re looking for something lightweight and functional, you can’t beat the Garmin Fenix 5S Sapphire.

The Fenix 5S boasts the smallest diameter face of the Fenix lineup, measuring just 42mm, and serves as a combined fitness and backcountry tool.

Functional features include a 3-axis compass, gyroscope, and barometric altimeter — in addition to built-in GPS and GLONASS navigation sensors.

This do-it-all GPS watch includes wrist-based heart rate monitoring.

A bonus feature? The Fenix 5S includes high-strength, highly scratch resistant glass — ideal for rough backcountry expeditions.

There are tons of advanced tools coveted by hardcore fitness enthusiasts, including pre-loaded activity profiles of different sports and sophisticated training features.

The Sapphire edition offers Wi-Fi connectivity to allow you to receive notifications and connect with the online Garmin community.

The QuickFit watch band offers plenty of sizes, including those targeted to people with smaller-sized wrists.

Read what other users have to say...

Features

  • 1.1 Inch Screen
  • GPS & GLONASS Satellite Reception
  • 3-Axis Compass
  • Barometric Altimeter
  • Scratch-resistant Sapphire screen
  • NO TOPO MAPS

2. Garmin Foretrex 401

As opposed to the Garmin Fenix 5S, which serves as a comprehensive fitness and GPS device, the Garmin Foretrex 401 is equivalent to a hand-held GPS device that straps onto your wrist.

This product is geared less towards fitness and focused more on backcountry navigation.

​The operational system is easy to operate with one hand, featuring five buttons that guide you through its functions.

The high contrast screen is complimented by a bright LED backlight for use in low light.

Functional features include a built-in electronic compass and barometric altimeter and the device allows for the sharing of waypoints, tracks, and routes with other Garmin GPS units using the ANT wireless communication function.

The device lets you store up to 500 waypoints and 10,000 trackpoints.

For its modest price and the ability to just snap it on to your wrist and go, the Foretrex 401 holds it own amongst more expensive watches and handheld GPS devices.

Make sure to read what other hikers think about it...

Features

  • 1.7 Inch Screen
  • High-Sensitivity Waterproof GPS Receiver
  • Electronic Compass
  • Barometric Altimeter
  • 17 Hour Avg. Battery Life Using 2 AAA batteries
  • TrackBack navigation feature

3. Garmin GPSMAP 64st

This is a rugged handheld device featuring physical buttons as opposed to a touchscreen for easy use, especially in inclement weather.

The 2.6 inch color screen is easy to read on bright days and the receiver is equipped with a quad helix antenna for superior reception.

​GPSMAP 64st features a 3-axis electronic compass with barometric altimeter, wireless connectivity and preloaded TOPO U.S. 100K maps.

A bonus? The device includes a 1-year Birds Eye Satellite Imagery subscription.

You have the ability to share your waypoints, tracks, and routes with other compatible devices and it also has the capacity to sync with heart rate monitors, a camera, and accessory sensors.

You can easily plan your next hike and feel confident with the Garmin GPSMAP 64st in hand, assured you won’t be led astray.

Read what other users have to say...

Features

  • 2.6 Inch Screen
  • GPS & GLONASS Satellite Reception
  • 3-Axis Compass
  • Barometric Altimeter
  • 16 Hour Avg. Battery Life Using 2 AA batteries
  • Includes TOPO US 100K Maps

4. Garmin eTrex 30x

The Garmin eTrex 30x is a powerful touch screen handheld device offering plenty of features without being too complicated to use.

The eTrex series comprise the first-ever consumer-grade devices that can track both GPS and GLONASS satellites at the same time.

​​An improved resolution and an enhanced memory are a few upgrades from the older version.

The 30x standout feature is the product’s 3-axis compass and barometric altimeter.

The eTrex allows you to go anywhere, boasting an assortment of mounts for use on bicycles, ATVs, boats and cars — allowing you to choose your own adventure.

Make sure to read what other hikers think about it...

Features

  • 2.2 Inch Screen
  • WAAS GPS Receiver
  • 3-Axis Compass
  • Barometric Altimeter
  • 25 Hour Avg. Battery Life Using 2 AA batteries
  • BaseCamp software to view and organize maps

5. Garmin Oregon 650t

If you’re looking for a high-tech device with plenty of bells and whistles, the Oregon 650t has got you covered.

There are preloaded TOPO U.S. 100K maps and a 3-axis compass with accelerometer and barometric altimeter sensors.

If you prefer to alternate between battery sources, this device can be powered with either two AA batteries or an included rechargeable internal NiMH pack.

A standout feature? This GPS device doubles as a decent quality camera, featuring an 8 megapixel autofocus digital zoom camera.

In addition, each photo is geotagged, allowing you to return to the exact spot where the photo was taken.

You can even share them with friends through Garmin Adventures.

If you like functionality, versatility, and taking photos, the Garmin Oregon 650t might be exactly what you’re looking for.

Read what other users have to say...

Features

  • 3 Inch Screen
  • GPS & GLONASS Satellite Reception
  • 3-Axis Compass & Barometric Altimeter
  • Includes 8mp Camera
  • 16 Hour Avg. Battery Life Using 2 AA batteries
  • Includes TOPO US 100K Maps

Hiking GPS Buyer's Guide

A GPS Tracker vs. Map & Compass

This is a common consideration when you’re deciding whether or not to purchase a GPS device.

While there is no substitute for having a map and compass, GPS units are great to use with a map in order to find locations using latitude and longitude.

GPS provides valuable amounts of information that you cannot necessarily see with your own eyes, including potential hazards and when visibility is limited.

What Are Different Types of GPS Units?

While there are tons of different GPS on the market including those made for cars, aviation, and boats, we’re going to focus on those primarily used for hiking.

There are two main types:

GPS Watches and Altimeters: These are common among hikers, backpackers, and trail runners.

They’re ideal if you want something lighter than a handheld device but still equipped with basic GPS.

They don’t offer the same functionality and high tech features as hand-held devices but definitely have their place in the hiking realm.

Handheld GPS Devices: These are functional hand-held computers that can provide essential information about your surroundings and an exact read on your location. 

They track routes, mark waypoints, and pull up altitude profiles.

GPS Basics: Navigation Expert Advice

GPS Device Features

Barometer altimeter: Provides for altitude data and gives accurate elevation readings.

Electronic compass: Can serve as a supplement to your handheld compass, allowing you to orient yourself.

Wireless data transfer: This serves as a method of communication between GPS devices and provides for extensive data sharing capacity.

Preloaded maps: Depending on the GPS device, many offer full-fledged topography maps. All units are equipped with a standard base map. You can upload specific areas as needed.

Basic tools: GPS devices offer a plethora of basic tools including a calculator, alarm clock, calendar, camera, and stopwatch.

Memory and waypoint storage: This feature allows you to store data. If you need extra storage, you can utilize a microSD card.

Two-way radio: Some GPS devices provide for radio communication between units, which can be helpful if you’ve gotten separated from your group or in the event of an injury or emergency.

Touchscreen vs. Buttons

This is one of the first decisions to make when picking out a handheld GPS device.

While both offer plenty of functionality, many people prefer the simplicity of button-operated devices while others covet the sleek interface of touchscreen units.

It’s really a matter of personal preference.

Touchscreen units are more expensive than button-operated devices, but they’re often easier to use, and quicker to navigate.

The disadvantages of touch screens?

They can use up more battery, freeze in cold conditions, and are hard to operate while wearing gloves.

The disadvantages of button devices?

They can be cumbersome, slow, and bulky.

Charging Types

There are both disposable battery and rechargeable battery options on the market.

AA batteries are sort of the industry standard for GPS devices, but Garmin and other companies have turned to rechargeable battery packs as an ideal alternative.

If you’re already bringing along a portable solar panel or charging pack for your phone and other devices, a rechargeable GPS unit might be the way to go.

GPS Receiver Types: GLONASS and WAAS

GPS devices are not limited to compatibility with GPS satellites.

Garmin has taken the lead here in connecting to Russia’s GLONASS satellite system, which provides for enhanced performance in deep canyons or under heavy cover.

Some Garmin devices also have a WAAS-enabled receiver (Wide Angle Augmentation System) which compensates for errors in traditional GPS tracking.

GPS Device Maps

Although manufacturers offer preloaded maps onto devices, you also have the option of purchasing overlays and other kinds of maps to better suit your needs.

It is possible to download maps and satellite imagery for free and then integrate it into your GPS unit.

You need to consider the kind of expeditions you will be taking in order to determine which extra maps, if any, are necessary.

Garmin's Market Domination

Garmin is a leading multinational technology company based out of Kansas.

The company specializes in GPS technology development and plays a pivotal role in this facet of the outdoor industry.

They consistently produce top-of-the-line GPS handheld devices, watches, and satellite communicators that dominate the market.

All of our picks on this list are Garmin products — not because we’re biased, but simply because they outperform their competitors.

Garmin offers a variety of products spanning different price ranges — so there is sure to be something for everyone.

Conclusion

Whether you enjoy hiking well-marked trails or bushwhacking through the wilderness, GPS trackers definitely have their place in the outdoor industry.

Garmin has gone beyond navigation and equipped its devices with tons of accessories that can make for a fun and memorable experience in the backcountry.

Have you ever tried geocaching? It’s a popular activity that’s catching on — centered around finding hidden objects using GPS navigation.

You can really spice up your hike this way — so if you’re feeling adventurous or even just nervous about hiking, give it a try.

Best Hiking GPS Devices - HelloTrail

If simply being out in nature soothes your soul, bring a GPS device on your hike for increased peace of mind. Use this guide to get you started.


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About the Author Andrew

Andrew's love for the outdoors began at an early age growing up in the midwest farmland and taking family vacations out west. Being a dreamer with his head in the clouds most moments make the mountains the perfect location for him. He hasn't met a false summit he doesn't like yet! Click here to learn more about Andrew's outdoorsy background...

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