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 recommendations, check out Backcountry Navigation.

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Quick Answer - The Best GPS for Hiking

  1. Garmin eTrex 30x
  2. Garmin Oregon 650t
  3. Garmin GPSMAP 64s
  4. Garmin eTrex Touch 35t
  5. Garmin Montana 680
  6. Garmin eTrex 20x
  7. Garmin Rino 650t

Comparison Table - Best GPS for Hiking

PictureNameWeightBattery LifeScreen SizePriceRating
Garmin eTrex 30x4.8 oz25 h2.2 in$4.2
Garmin Oregon 650t7.4 oz16 h3.0 in$$$3.9
Garmin GPSMAP 64s8.11 oz16 h2.6 in$$4.2
Garmin eTrex Touch 35t5.6 oz16 h2.6 in$$4.6
Garmin Montana 68010.2 oz16-25 h4.0 in$$$4.0
Garmin eTrex 20x5 oz25 h2.2 in$4.0
Garmin Rino 650t11.3 oz14-18 h2.6 in$$$3.5
PictureNameWeightBattery LifeScreen SizePriceRating

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Reviews - The Best Hiking GPS

Garmin eTrex 30x

Specs
  • Battery Life: 25 h
  • Screen Size: 2.2 in
  • Weight: 4.8 oz
Features
  • 3-Axis Compass
  • Barometric Altimeter
  • Wireless

BEST FOR HIKERS WANTING A SMALL & LIGHT GPS

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

CONS: Small Screen, Topo Maps Aren’t Preloaded

Garmin Oregon 650t

Specs
  • Battery Life: 16 h
  • Screen Size: 3.0 in
  • Weight: 7.4 oz
Features
  • 3-axis Compass
  • Accelerometer
  • Barometric Altimeter
  • 8MP camera 

BEST FOR HIKERS WHO WANT A HIGH END GPS

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 64s

Specs
  • Battery Life: 16 h
  • Screen Size: 2.6 in
  • Weight: 8.11 oz
Features
  • Super Bright LCD Display
  • Helix Antenna

BEST FOR BACKCOUNTRY & REMOTE HIKING

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

CONS: Large, Heavy, Poor Battery Life

Garmin eTrex Touch 35t

Specs
  • Battery Life: 16 h
  • Screen Size: 2.6 in
  • Weight: 5.6 oz
Features
  • 3 Axis Compass
  • Barometric Altimeter
  • Preloaded With Either Topo U.S. 100k or Topo Canada Maps

BEST FOR LIGHTWEIGHT HIKING, GEOCACHING AND CYCLING

PROS: Compact, Rugged, Light

CONS: Poor Battery Life, Small Screen

Garmin Montana 680

Specs
  • Battery Life: 16-25 h
  • Screen Size: 4.0 in
  • Weight: 10.2 oz
Features
  • Built-in Camera
  • Wireless Sharing
  • 3-Axis Compass with Barometric Altimeter

BEST FOR HIKERS LOOKING FOR A BIG & TOUGH DEVICE

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

CONS: Heavy, Bulky and Expensive

Garmin eTrex 20x

Specs
  • Battery Life: 25 h
  • Screen Size: 2.2 in
  • Weight: 5 oz
Features
  • 6 Button Toggle

BEST FOR HIKERS LOOKING FOR A SIMPLE & AFFORDABLE DEVICE

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

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

Garmin Rino 650t

Specs
  • Battery Life: 14-18 h
  • Screen Size: 2.6 in
  • Weight: 11.3 oz
Features
  • 5w GMRS/FRS radio
  • Antenna
  • 3-axis electronic compass
  • Barometric altimeter

BEST FOR BACKCOUNTRY HIKERS WHO WANT GPS & RADIO

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

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

 

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 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.

 

READ MORE

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

Backcountry Navigation – FAQ | Hiking Headlamps

Backpacks for Hiking | Lightweight Hiking Backpacks

Day Hiking Backpacks | Hiking Poles

The 10 Places to Buy Hiking Gear Online

24 Responses

    • Antonio Cala

      Thanks Steph!
      Glad you found it useful. Sometimes it’s hard to find what you really need and not what everyone is trying to sell you. I hope you have a better idea on which model suits you best.

  1. George

    Hi,
    Good post! I’ll probably go for the e-trek 30 thanks to you. Hey, have you hiked Newfoundland and Labrador? Any tips? Thanks!

    • Antonio Cala

      It’s a great GPS and the model I use most of the time.

      I haven’t hiked in Newfoundland & Labrador myself, but I’ve only heard good things about it. Will definitely have to check it out one day!

  2. Robert Carlson

    The Dakota 20 seems to be a great one. Quite affordable. I’ll get it for the hike to Grand Canyon next month. Thank you, Antonio.

    • Antonio Cala

      You’re welcome Robert.
      Yes, the Dakota20 is such a great value. Small, touch screen, nice features and not too expensive.

      Let us know your impressions with the GPS once you come back from the Grand Canyon. I would love to hear your thoughts.

  3. Andy

    Only Garmin units in the list. Are Garmins really that much better than the other brands?

    • Amanda Zeisset

      In our experience, for the price you pay and what you get out of the device, the Garmin units can’t be beat. We don’t have any relationship or motive to only include Garmin models, it’s our opinion based on our experience testing different models.

  4. James Harvey

    I’m interested in upgrading my Garmin 60CSX, and am considering the Montana 680. Is this model due to be updated anytime soon. I hate buying a device and then find out a new model is coming out a month after I made a purchase .

  5. Brooke McAvoy

    Do you have any tips or information as to where I could buy a really good two way radio? I think this would be a great thing to have when my family and I go on camping trips. We have had problems before when we were in places without cell phone service. Thank you for all of your helpful suggestions, I’ll be looking into these!

    • Amanda Zeisset

      Hi Brooke, I’m not sure about where to buy a two way radio. Amazon has a big selection, maybe it’s a good place to start browsing. Sorry I’m not more helpful! Good luck on your search 🙂

  6. Danny

    G’day, i have had my eye on the gpsmap 64s which is pretty much like the 64st. it says 16 hrs typical, what would you say the battery life will be pushing?? im going to be using nimh batteries. you said the battery life is poor, how poor is poor?

    • Amanda Zeisset

      Hey Danny, it really depends on how many days you plan on going. Poor is in comparison with other models that have 25 hours of life. If you are going on a week long backpacking trip you’ll need to conserve the battery more than some of the other models. I hope with is helpful. Let me know if you have any other questions.

  7. Derek Hudson

    I’m looking for a GPS for geocaching with the kids. Which unit do you recommend?

    • Amanda Zeisset

      Hi Derek,

      All of the devices listed here can be used for geocaching. I would take a closer look at the specs & features of each unit to decide what one is best for you. I personally don’t have any experience geocaching but can imagine display size might be an important factor.

  8. Charles Chandler

    Which do you think is a better unit for backpacking
    GARMIN E-TREX TOUCH 35t
    or
    GARMIN E-TREX 30?

    • Amanda Zeisset

      Hi Charles, here’s some key differences that might help you make the decision…

      E-TREX Touch 35 t: Slightly bigger display, 16 hr battery life, preloaded topo maps, more built in memory (8GB), Touch screen

      E-TREX 30: 25 hr battery life, less memory (3.7 GB), no preloaded maps, no touch screen.

      It really depends what kind of backpacking you are planning to do. For long trips the extra 9 hours of battery of life could be useful.

      I hope this helps.

  9. Jan

    Hi, I have a question.
    I need some small gps with big battery time, but I want to have oportunity to send the workout to mobile phone afterwards. What gps would you recommend? As I understand this cannot be done with Etrex 30x, which would be otherwise ideal. Can this be done with Etrex Touch 35?
    Also, do you know what are garmin plans for future? If they plan to do something like Etrex 30 with bluetooth, I would wait.

    • Amanda Zeisset

      Hey Jan, I don’t have any insights for Garmin’s plans for the future. What kind of workout are you planning to do? You might want to look into a GPS watch instead.

  10. zulia

    I guess, Garmin eTrex Touch 35t will be great choice. What your thinking about it? I am thinking to buy one gps.

    • Amanda Zeisset

      Hey Zulia, it really depends on how you are going to use it. There’s no one “best GPS” for all situation. If you let me know what your plans are I’ll do my best to point you in the right direction.

  11. Maria

    I’m looking at purchasing a GPS for an upcoming trip to South-east Asia. Do you have any recommendations on which one would work best I was considering the Garmin eTrex 30x, or maps to purchase along side it. I see Garmin sells “City Navigator” maps, but we also want to use it while on hikes in the area.

  12. eli

    Well reviewed. Specially specification part is great. With this i will able to identify which features i need and which not. Garmin eTrex Touch 35t so far better looking for me.

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