Do you like hiking in the mountains, exploring new trails or knowing where you are at all times? If so, you are probably a big fan of GPS units. With all the different options available on the market, sometimes it’s hard to find the best GPS for hiking that suits your preferences and budget. 

It’s a complex piece of technology and reading though the specs can make your head spin. So, how do you know what is the best model for you?

That’s where we come in. One of our goals here at The Adventure Junkies is to make your life easier when it comes to choosing hiking gear. In this article we’ll walk you through what to look for while shopping for a handheld GPS and how to find the one that is right for you.

For more of our top hiking gear recommendations, check out these popular articles: 

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Base Layers | Fleeces | Down Jackets | Rain Jackets

 

 

LEARN HOW TO CHOOSE HIKING GEAR FOR YOUR NEXT ADVENTURE

 

 

QUICK ANSWER – THE BEST GPS FOR HIKING

  1. Garmin Etrex 30
  2. Garmin Oregon 650T
  3. Garmin Gspmap 64St
  4. Garmin Etrex Touch 35T
  5. Garmin Montana 680
  6. Garmin Etrex 20
  7. Garmin Rino 650T

 

 

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HIKING GPS REVIEWS 

GARMIN E-TREX 30

Check out the latest price on:
Amazon | REI

BEST FOR: Hikers Wanting A Small & Light GPS

TOUCHSCREEN: No

BATTERY: 2 AA Batteries

BUILT-IN MEMORY: 3.7 GB

FEATURES:  3-Axis Compass, Barometric Altimeter, Wireless 

PROS: Light, Small, Great Value, Long Battery Life

CONS: Small Screen, Topo Maps Aren’t Preloaded

 

 

 

GARMIN OREGON 650t

Check out the latest price on:
Amazon

BEST FOR: Hikers Who Want A High End GPS

TOUCHSCREEN: Yes

BATTERY: 2 AA or NiMH battery pack

BUILT-IN MEMORY: 4 GB

FEATURES: 3-axis Compass, Accelerometer, Barometric Altimeter, 8MP camera 

PROS: Maps Included, Easy To Read, Waterproof

CONS: Poor Battery Life, Pre-Loaded Topo Maps Are Based On 1:100,000 Scale Maps

 

 

 

GARMIN GPSMAP 64ST

Check out the latest price on:
Amazon | REI

BEST FOR: Backcountry & Remote Hiking

TOUCHSCREEN: No

BATTERY: 2 AA Batteries

BUILT-IN MEMORY: 8 GB

FEATURES: Super Bright LCD Display, Helix Antenna

PROS: Accurate, Fast Tracking, Better Reception, Bright Display

CONS: Large, Heavy, Poor Battery Life 

 

 

 

GARMIN E-TREX TOUCH 35t

Check out the latest price on:
Amazon | REI

BEST FOR: Lightweight Hiking, Geocaching and Cycling

TOUCHSCREEN: Yes

BATTERY: 2 AA Batteries

BUILT-IN MEMORY: 8 GB

FEATURES: 3 Axis Compass, Barometric Altimeter, Preloaded With Either Topo U.S. 100k or Topo Canada Maps

PROS: Compact, Rugged, Light

CONS: Poor Battery Life, Small Screen

 

 

 

GARMIN MONTANA 680

Check out the latest price on:
Amazon

BEST FOR: Hikers Looking For A Big & Tough Device

TOUCHSCREEN: Yes

BATTERY: 3 AA Batteries & Rechargeable Lithium-ion Pack

BUILT-IN MEMORY: 4 GB

FEATURES: Built-in Camera, Wireless Sharing, 3-Axis Compass with Barometric Altimeter

PROS: Glove Friendly Display, Big Screen, Can Mount Anywhere

CONS: Heavy, Bulky and Expensive 

 

 

 

GARMIN ETREX 20X

Check out the latest price on:
Amazon | REI

BEST FOR: Hikers Looking For A Simple & Affordable Device

TOUCHSCREEN: No

BATTERY: 2 AA Batteries

BUILT-IN MEMORY: 3.7 GB

FEATURES: 6 Button Toggle

PROS: Affordable, Excellent Battery Life, Easy To Use, Light

CONS: Small Screen, Less Accurate Than Bigger Units, No Electronic Compass

 

 

 

GARMIN RINO 650t

Check out the latest price on:
Amazon

BEST FOR: Backcountry Hikers Who Want GPS & Radio

TOUCHSCREEN: No

BATTERY: 1 Lithium ion batteries, 2 AA Batteries

BUILT-IN MEMORY: 4.5 Gb

FEATURES: 5w GMRS/FRS radio, Antenna, 3-axis electronic compass, barometric altimeter

PROS: Streamlines GPS & Radio, Can Communicate With Other Hikers In Your Group

CONS: Bulky, Heavy, Not Possible To Charge Batteries Separate From Device

 

 

 


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COMPARISON TABLE – THE BEST GPS FOR HIKING

PICTURE
GPS
WEIGHT
BATTERY LIFE
SCREEN SIZE
PRICE
RATING
PICTURE
GPS
WEIGHT
BATTERY LIFE
SCREEN SIZE
PRICE
RATING
GARMIN ETREX 30
4.8 oz
25 h
2.2 in
$
4.2
GARMIN OREGON 650t
7.4 oz
16 h
3.0 in
$$$
3.9
GARMIN GPSMAP 64st
8.11 oz
16 h
2.6 in
$$
4.2
GARMIN ETREX TOUCH 35t
5.6 oz
16 h
2.6 in
$$
4.6
GARMIN MONTANA680
10.2 oz
16-25 h
4.0 in
$$$
4.0
GARMIN ETREX 20X
5 oz
25 h
2.2 in
$
4.0
GARMIN RINO 650t
11.3 oz
14-18 h
2.6 in
$$$
3.5

 

 

 

HOW TO CHOOSE THE BEST GPS FOR HIKING

BUTTONS OR TOUCHSCREEN?

Touchscreens operate faster because you don’t need to scroll through options. The downside is they use more battery battery than buttoned models, can freeze up in cold conditions, and don’t work as well with thick gloves.

Buttoned models last longer, work in all temperatures, can be used with thick gloves and are more reliable. The downside is they are slower to respond than touchscreen units and it takes longer to type in waypoints.

 

WEIGHT 

As with any piece of gear you use for hiking, being lightweight is paramount. There are many compact models out there but if screen size is an issue for you, you might need to go for a larger one.

 

DISPLAY

Screen size is important for being able to clearly read the map. For touchscreen models, it is easier to use them with a large screen. The obvious downside to a bigger screen is these models weigh more and are bulky.

 

BATTERY LIFE

You don’t want to be out in the mountains and find out your GPS just died after a few hours of hiking. A minimum of 15 hours of battery life is recommended.

It’s a big plus if the device can take rechargeable AA or AAA batteries, because you can carry a spare set with you. Some models come with a dual battery system, which gives you the option of using the rechargeable lithium-ion pack or traditional AA batteries.

 

BUILT-IN MEMORY

GPS units store data internally and/or on a microSD card. This memory is used to store map data, waypoints, routes and, in some models, even audio, pictures and video. More memory lets receivers hold more data.

 

CONSTRUCTION

Due to the nasty weather you can encounter while in the outdoors, the handheld GPS units should be waterproof, shockproof and robust.

 

 

 

ADVANCED FEATURES TO CONSIDER

WIRELESS SHARING

Wirelessly share your waypoints, tracks, routes and geocaches with other compatible GPS users without using cumbersome cords or cables.

 

BUILT-IN CAMERA

Some models come with a built in camera to capture locations and memories. Your photos will also be “geo-tagged” so you can see where on the map you snapped the shot.

 

TWO-WAY RADIO

Some devices have integrated Family Radio Service (FRS) radios for up to 2 miles of range and General Mobile Radio Service (GMRS) radios with a range of up to 14 miles (in ideal conditions), plus they get the latest forecast from the NOAA 7-channel weather radio.

 

 

 

HANDHELD GPS UNITS VS SMARTPHONES & GPS WATCHES

The handheld GPS units have several advantages compared to smartphones. They are waterproof, more robust and durable, and can be used with rechargeable AA or AAA batteries (which allows you to bring an extra set with you).

Also, the navigation is a lot easier in a handheld unit than in a GPS watch. The main reason is the screen’s size and resolution. Current GPS watches cannot simply show a good quality map suitable for hard-to-navigate terrain.

 

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