Best Hiking GPS 2022 | Handheld GPS devices

When heading into the backcountry, knowing where you are is key. Although printed maps should be in every hiker’s bag, a hiking GPS has the added benefit of telling you where you are, even when the fog rolls in.

The expert: Over the past five years, Colleen Sintchcombe has trekked through desert canyons, along glacial rivers and scaled the tallest mountain in the contiguous United States. In 2017, she spent three months hiking 1,000 miles along the Pacific Crest and Oregon Coast trails. In most of these scenarios, she turned to GPS-enabled apps and personal locator beacons to keep her safe and on the right route.

Types of hiking GPS

Whether you want extra safety on popular trails or are planning an off-trail excursion, there are a few GPS tools you should consider. Handheld GPS devices use one or more satellite services to map your location, while feature-rich emergency beacons have multiple satellite networks for maximum accuracy during search and rescue. In particularly difficult conditions, such as mountaineering expeditions or long backcountry trips, a standalone GPS device with long battery life can guide you out of a bad spot. One with a rescue option can literally save lives.

GPS meets texting: stay connected with the best satellite communicators

On the smaller side, many smart watches now also include sophisticated GPS maps. Day hikers and trail runners who might otherwise do without navigation tools can carry these ultralight options on their arms. A flick of the wrist will let you know you’re still on the right track.

Perhaps the most convenient and economical option are apps that use your smartphone’s built-in GPS. Although the phone’s GPS is not perfect, it is generally able to measure in about 16 feet (or 5 meters) from your exact location, competing with entry-level hiking GPS devices. But relying on the same device you use for photos, texts, music and other entertainment can make battery life a challenge. Still, the apps work surprisingly well when you download maps for offline use, and they don’t take up extra space in your backpack.

Keep in mind that GPS devices are not step-by-step wilderness instructions. The advantage of GPS is that it tells you exactly where you are (with a margin of error) on a topographic map. If you’re following a trail, the GPS works like a map – you can reference it when you come to a fork in the trail and need to know which way to go, and if it’s following you, you can follow your exact route on the trail. issue. But if you’re heading for an overgrown or backcountry trip, you’ll need to download or create a route on this map before you go. Even then, the best plotted GPS route should be combined with the reality of your surroundings. Just because your GPS says you’re heading south doesn’t mean the path will necessarily be safe.

How we rated

For each device, I evaluated its battery life, the accuracy of its maps, and the size of its display screen. After all, you must see the card to use it. We also kept in mind the device’s weight, ease of use, and whether it had other useful features for hikers, like the ability to summon search and rescue. In addition to my own experience using hiking GPS devices and apps, I considered first-person testing from other review sites and user reviews for each of the GPS models. here.

Best Handheld GPS

Garmin GPSMAP 66si

Key specs

  • Battery life: 35 hours (200 in power saving mode)
  • Weight: 8.5 ounces
  • Display size: 3 in.
  • Waterproof index: IPX7

The Garmin GPSMAP 66si is a durable powerhouse of a portable GPS with a large screen that makes reading maps easy. Large buttons make it functional even when wearing gloves or facing the rain. But it’s the bonus features that really set it apart, including the ability to send messages and request emergency services, even if you’ll need a subscription (from $14.95 per month) to access it.

  • Big screen
  • Impressive battery life

Best Value Handheld GPS

Garmin inReach Mini

Key specs

  • Battery life: 50 hours
  • Weight: 3.5 ounces
  • Display size: 0.9 x 0.9 in
  • Waterproof index: IPX7

The inReach Mini is primarily a personal locator beacon, but its GPS capabilities are worth checking out. That’s especially true if gear weight matters to you — this model weighs just 3.5 ounces. Pair the inReach Mini with your phone to access basic maps and automatically track your location at regular intervals to keep loved ones back home informed. The downside is that you will need a monthly subscription to use the device, including the GPS functions.

  • Ultralight
  • Also serves as a personal locator beacon
  • Affordable for a laptop

Ideal for navigating trails and roads

Garmin Montana 700i

Key specs

  • Battery life: 18 hours to 7 days
  • Weight: 14.5 ounces
  • Display size: 5 in.
  • Waterproof index: IPX7

For hikers who get to trailheads on tough forest roads, this rugged GPS works just as well in the car as it does in the backcountry. Pretty much all the bells and whistles you could want in a GPS are here: 3-axis compass, barometric altimeter, SOS option via inReach (subscription required) and a full QWERTY touchscreen keyboard for texting (again, subscription required).

  • Big screen
  • Military-grade construction

Impressively accurate GPS watch

Garmin Fenix ​​6 Pro



Key specs

  • Battery life: 36 hours in GPS mode
  • Weight: 2.9 ounces
  • Display size: 1.3 in.
  • Waterproof index: 100 meters

Want to navigate a trail, track your heart rate, and pay for your post-hike burger all on the same device? You can do that with the Garmin Fenix ​​6 Pro. With support for multiple global navigation systems (GPS, GLONASS, and Galileo), this watch manages to be impressively accurate with a long-lasting battery to boot. But the number of features offered by this watch can make it a slow study for new users who just want to get on the trail.

  • Feature-rich
  • Impressive battery life in GPS mode
  • Heavy
  • Expensive
  • Complicated to learn

Lightweight GPS Watch

Garmin Forerunner 945



Key specs

  • Battery life: 36 hours in GPS mode
  • Weight: 1.8oz
  • Display size: 1.2 in.
  • Waterproof index: 50 meters

The Forerunner 945 offers many of the same benefits as the Fenix ​​6 Pro at a lower price: multi-network satellite connection, tracking for multiple sports, and conveniences like Garmin Pay. The differences between the two aren’t related to GPS functionality, but rather things like screen size, storage space, and waterproof depths, where the Fenix ​​6 Pro performs better. but aren’t likely to make a big difference for most hikers. .

  • Lighter but still excellent GPS compared to the Fenix ​​6 Pro

Best Value GPS Watch

Coros Apex 46mm

Key specs

  • Battery life: 35 hours (up to 100 in UltraMax power saving mode)
  • Weight: 2oz
  • Display size: 1.2 in.
  • Waterproof index: 100 meters

Like other sports watches, the Coros Apex has your standard activity-specific features and specialized sensors that monitor metrics like heart rate. But Coros is much cheaper than the two Garmin watches, even though its battery life is similar. The biggest downside is that the Coros maps just aren’t as nice and detailed as Garmin’s topography navigation, although as a newcomer they seem to be making steady improvements.

  • Good price
  • Good autonomy
  • Mapping and navigation features are only okay

GPS watch with large screen

Suunto 9 Peak

Key specs

  • Battery life: 25 hours in GPS mode
  • Weight: 1.8oz
  • Display size: 1.6 in.
  • Waterproof index: 100 meters

Competing against Garmin watches, the Suunto 9 Peak does a great job and even exceeds this competitor’s standards by relying on additional GPS satellite systems (QZSS and Beidou) for improved accuracy. For hikers and runners who like to have pristine Strava route lines, Suunto’s widely acclaimed ‘Snap to Route’ feature keeps your GPS track perfectly mapped on the planned route.

  • Solid tracking and good price compared to Garmin
  • App isn’t as sophisticated as Garmin

Phone app for backcountry explorers


For avid hikers or people planning off-road excursions, it’s hard to beat Gaia’s extensive topographic maps and tracking capabilities, which you can access from your phone. Gaia has several free features, but a subscription ($39.99 per year) will allow you to download maps for offline use, which is really useful. You will also be able to see your average speed, movement speed, elevation details and an arrow indicating if you are heading in the right direction.

  • Excellent topographic maps can be downloaded for a large area, allowing you to see beyond your immediate hike
  • Not particularly intuitive for finding your next hike

Easy to find new trails

All trails

Popular with day hikers looking for their next adventure, AllTrails is a great entry-level navigation tool. You’ll need cell service to use the free version or upgrade to Pro ($29.99 per year) to download offline maps. For short day hikes or users who want to share their hikes, AllTrails’ basic GPS functions and topographic maps are enough to get by on well-marked paths.

  • Excellent discovery tool and social platform to share hikes
  • Relies on crowdsourcing, which may result in inaccurate or missing track data

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