Best GPS for Hiking and Outdoor Adventures: Our Top 9 Picks

With all the handheld GPS devices out there, how do you choose the right one? In this guide to the best GPS for hiking, we've done the heavy lifting for you, reviewing the top models on the market and providing expert info to help you choose.

Jolanda Lapegna Avatar
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Best Handheld GPS Unit for Hiking, Backpacking, and Other Outdoor Adventures

Looking For the Best GPS for Hiking? 

You’re in the right place! In this guide, we will be covering the following:

    • What are GPS devices?
    • Why you need a GPS
    • Reviews of the best handheld GPS devices
    • Our overall top pick for the best hiking GPS

If you spend a lot of time in the wilds, a trusty GPS device should be one of the first things you pack for your adventures.

Smartphones and GPS watches are useful for basic navigation, of course, but they fall far short of handheld GPS devices in the ruggedness and reliability metrics. They also lack a few key features that could prove life-savers in an emergency.

We’ve rounded up the best GPS for hiking to help you navigate your way to the perfect device for you. We’ve got lots of great options, ranging from premium picks to budget-friendly steals, so read on to find the ideal unit for your needs!

Best GPS Devices by Category

Budget: Garmin eTrex 32x, Garmin eTrex 22x, and Magellan eXplorist 110
Touchscreen: Garmin Montana 700i and Garmin Oregon 700
Two-way messaging: Garmin GPSMAP 66i, Garmin GPSMAP 64sx, and Garmin inReach Explorer+

Editor’s Choice

Garmin GPSMAP 66i

Garmin GPSMAP 66i, GPS Handheld and Satellite Communicator, Featuring TopoActive mapping and inReach Technology

If only the absolute best of the best handheld GPS device will do, treat yourself to the Garmin GPSMAP 66i.

Any product scooping our Editor’s Choice award has to offer a lot of bang for your buck, and the GPSMAP 66i delivers. This unit has all the bells and whistles you need, like interactive SOS and preloaded maps (Garmin TOPO mapping), with some fun extras like cellular connectivity for accurate weather forecasts, geocaching live, and a large sunlight-readable screen.

There’s no question that this is an extra durable and robust device. It has a MIL-STD 810 certificate (which is military-grade testing) and a small compact size that fits into your pocket or pack with ease. If you need something more rugged than your average GPS unit, then this tough little navigator will keep you on track.

The Garmin GPSMAP is expensive but justifies its steep price tag by providing plenty of navigational options, superior reliability, and that all-important two-way messaging function. If you ever find yourself in a bind, this last feature might make the price seem like a bit of a bargain!

Bottom Line: While it might be overkill for casual adventurers, this tough GPS unit makes a worthy companion for any outdoor enthusiast.

At a Glance: Quick Recommendations for Best Hiking GPS

  • Editor’s Choice:  Garmin GPSMAP 66i
    “Tough, accurate, and blessed with two-way satellite messaging capability and top-end navigational features.”
  • Best Value:  Garmin Foretrex 601
    “A great handheld GPS device for anyone who wants premium features without paying through the nose for them.”
  • Best Satellite GPS:  Garmin inReach Explorer+
    “Heavy and bulky, but extremely reliable, affordable, and blessed with premium features like two-way messaging and SOS capability.”
  • Honorable Mention:  Garmin GPSMAP 64sx
    “The best device in the business until superseded by the GPSMAP 66i.”
  • Best Basic:  Garmin eTrex 32x
    “Has a few shortcomings (small screen and limited connectivity), but is fairly priced, has a great battery life, and features a rich feature set.”
  • Best Touch Screen:  Garmin Oregon 700
    “The most user-friendly option on our list.”
  • Best Minimalist:  Garmin inReach Mini
    “Boasts SOS and two-way messaging capabilities and outstanding battery life.”
  • Premium Pick:  Garmin Montana 700i
    “Heavy and one of the most expensive GPS units out there, but also highly accurate, speedy, tough as nails, and blessed with a huge interface.”
  • Bargain Buy:  Magellan eXplorist 110
    “A bit clunky and slow, but a solid entry-level unit nonetheless.”

Hiking GPS Device Reviews: Our Top 9 Picks

Garmin GPSMAP 66i

Editor’s Choice

The Garmin GPSMAP 66i is a feature-rich handheld GPS and satellite navigator built for even the gnarliest adventures. In fact, despite being jam-packed with features, its rugged durability might just be its best perk. Drop it, sit on it, send it tumbling downhill, or dip it in water and it will still work. It is, all told, pretty much the Chuck Norris of navigation devices… only smarter.

Thanks to the pre-loaded, top-end Garmin TOPO mapping software, it is possible to map out complex routes even when the Wi-Fi and mobile phone signals become a distant dream. You can also then easily follow your route on the large, 3-inch sunlight-readable color display.

It’s got a rechargeable lithium battery which provides 35 hours of battery life but, with some tweaking of the settings, you can squeeze up to 200 hours out of it. This makes it great for backpacking and a serious contender for the best GPS for thru-hiking.

The 66i also tracks GPS and Galileo satellites simultaneously, which speeds up connection to satellites and improves positioning accuracy.

Other impressive features include interactive SOS to the GEOS 24/7 search and rescue monitoring center, 2-way messaging, accurate weather forecasting, multiple Global Navigation Satellite Systems support, and wireless connectivity via Bluetooth technology and ANT+ technology.

  • PROs

    • Interactive SOS and convenient 2-way messaging
    • Multiple GNSS
    • 8MP camera
    • Tracks both Galileo and GPS satellites
    • High-resolution, 3-inch display screen
    • Waterproof
    • Great battery life
  • CONs

    • Pricey

Bottom-Line: A tough, top-of-the-line unit with two-way satellite messaging, SOS, and weather forecasting – premium features that put it head and shoulders above the best of the rest.

Garmin Foretrex 601

Best Value

The Garmin Foretrex is an ultralight, hands-free unit constructed to military standards. While it’s one of the most affordable options on our list, it offers a lot of powerful features typically only found on far pricier units.

You’ll always know exactly where you’re roaming thanks to 3 satellite systems, a 3-axis accelerometer, a 3-axis compass, and a barometric altimeter. You’ll even enjoy a 2-day runtime in navigation mode.

One of its outstanding features is the ability to wear the Garmin Foretrex as a watch thanks to the included wrist strap. It’s also the only unit on our list that features a night vision mode, which earns it a place amongst the best models out there for overnight trips in the backcountry.

Overall, the Garmin Foretrex offers a lot of value at a reasonable price. It’s a good compromise between affordability and the slightly more precise navigation of some of the pricier models on our list.

  • PROs

    • Affordable
    • Hands-free navigation
    • Night vision feature
    • Multiple GNSS
    • Ultralight
    • Can be worn as a watch
  • CONs

    • Small screen
    • Can’t download maps onto the device

Bottom-Line: With its hands-free navigation and military-grade construction, the Garmin Foretrex is the ideal backcountry companion for hikers who want all the boxes ticked without having to break the bank.

Garmin inReach Explorer+

Best Satellite GPS

Garmin is known for having some of the most dependable products on the market and has always led the way in GPS solutions. If the Foretrex is the ideal low-cost solution, the inReach is the high-end, luxury alternative. This product has all the bells and whistles you could want and more.

First and foremost it has a clear 2.31″ screen, which displays the birdseye satellite imagery in detailed color maps. Although not wearable, this compact device is almost as powerful as most smartphones on the market today.

In addition to the standard electronic compass and barometric altimeter, it incorporates a barometer and accelerometer to track real-time speed and altitude information. It is capable of sending SOS signals with the touch of a button, and can even support two-way text messaging if you have the associated subscription.

Real-time location sharing with other users, water resistance, and the ability to incorporate NOAA weather maps and color satellite imagery make this device one of the most complex on the market. Despite this complexity, however, it’s wonderfully easy to use.

  • PROs

    • Communication
    • Waterproof
    • Additional features
    • Detailed maps and information
    • Easy-to-use button interface
    • Variety of basemap options
  • CONs

    • Cost
    • Battery life
    • Additional subscription needed for some features

Bottom-Line: If you are looking for a handheld GPS device with a boatload of functionality, you can’t go far wrong with the inReach Explorer+.

Garmin GPSMAP 64sx

Honorable Mention

If you’re looking for an ultra-reliable unit with fantastic reception, consider the Garmin GPSMAP 64sx.

Thanks to its quad-helix antenna and multi-GNSS support, the 64sx is one of the most accurate devices out there, even more so than the winner of our review and its successor, the GPSMAP 66i.

On top of its superb reliability, this handheld GPS is insanely easy and intuitive to use. The large buttons make navigation a cinch, even with gloves on, and the menu is completely customizable. While not everyone will be fans of the buttons, this is one of the easiest units to use on our list, along with the Garmin InReach Mini.

There is, however, one small drawback. The Garmin GPSMAP 64sx has a limited battery life of just 16 hours, so you’ll want to pack extra batteries for longer trips.

  • PROs

    • Fantastic reception
    • Great accuracy
    • Smart connectivity (via BlueTooth)
    • Multiple GNSS-support
    • Water-resistant
    • Easy to use with gloves
  • CONs

    • Shorter battery life

Bottom-Line: Reliable, easy-to-use, affordable, and one of the most accurate devices out there.

Garmin eTrex 32x

Best Basic

If you’re looking for an affordable, easy-to-use device, look no further than the eTrex 32x. The eTrex 32x is much more basic than the rest of the items on this list but still comes with preloaded TOPO maps, GLONASS support, and much more, all of which make it impressive for the price.

It features a 2.2″ touch screen which shows your maps and data in perfect color and with 25 hours of battery life, it’s good for a weekend adventure, or longer if you pack extra AA batteries.

A cheaper version of the eTrex 32x is available in the eTrex 22x, which was released at the same time as the 32x to replace the hugely popular eTrex 20. The 32x differs from the 22x and its predecessors by offering the ability to add custom maps, a barometric altimeter, compass, and ANT+ compatibility (which allows monitoring devices to trade data).

With a device in this price range, you lose a lot of features as compared to top-end models, such as SOS and two-way messaging, and the smaller screen may prove a sticking point if your eyesight isn’t the best.

We’d recommend the 32x to anyone who wants more features and functionality than rudimentary models like the old eTrex 10 or the eTrex 22x without the added expense of higher-end models like the Garmin Montana.

If you are happy to do without custom maps and a compass, then we recommend you save yourself some cash and opt for the eTrex 22x.

  • PROs

    • Battery Life
    • Price
    • Appearance
    • Different Satellite Options
    • Size
  • CONs

    • Limited memory capacity
    • Poor resolution quality
    • Smallish screen
    • No touchscreen capabilities

Bottom-Line: A great option if you’re looking for above-average functionality without shelling out for top-end features.

Garmin Oregon 700

Best Touch Screen

If you’re looking for a device that looks and feels like a smartphone, try the Garmin Oregon 700.

The Oregon 700 is, simply put, a more compact and cheaper version of the Montana 700i. Like the Montana, the Oregon 700 has a touchscreen display that can be used in landscape or portrait mode. Both offer accurate location data courtesy of GLONASS and GPS tracking and have 3-axis compasses and barometric sensors.

The main differences are that the Oregon has a smaller, less detailed screen (3”) and, with an active satellite subscription, allows two-way messaging and lets you send an interactive SOS to the GEOS 24/7 monitoring center if sh*t hits the fan.

That said, if you pair your Garmin Oregon with a smartphone, you’ll receive smart notifications like calls, texts, emails, and weather forecasts as long as you’re within signal range.

Despite having a bucket-load of fancy features, the Oregon 700 is easy to use. Reception is smooth and fast, and you can store over 10,000 waypoints. It also lets you create and track multiple profiles for all your favorite outdoor activities like hiking, cycling, and fishing.

All told, the Garmin Oregon makes a fine choice for both casual adventurers and seasoned hikers. For a reasonable price, you get a smartphone-like unit with self-orientation. Only the Garmin GPSMAP 66i offers similar value.

  • PROs

    • Smartphone-like touchscreen
    • Sunlight readable
    • Multiple GNSS
    • ABC sensors
  • CONs

    • Pricey
    • Low battery life

Bottom-Line: A powerful, reliable, and extremely easy-to-use device with touchscreen capability.

Garmin inReach Mini

Best Minimalist

Small and compact, the Garmin inReach Mini is a lightweight GPS device designed to help you both navigate safely and maintain off-the-grid contact.

Despite its small size (about the palm of your hand), this little handheld unit packs some powerful features. With the help of the iridium satellite network, you’ll get 100% pole-to-pole coverage with no gaps.

In practical terms, that means if you ever hike out of cell phone coverage you’ll still be able to send messages, contact emergency services, and get active weather forecasts. Another neat feature is the ability to track and share your journey online, so your family and friends can stay up to date on where you’re roaming.

The Mini also has an impressive 90-hour battery life at 10-minute tracking and a 24-day battery life at 30-minute tracking. That’s the highest on our list, so it’s a solid choice for longer trips and thru-hikes.

The downsides? Well, the small, black-and-white interface and button controls mean the Mini isn’t ideal for navigation, so is best paired with a cell phone. While this is perfectly okay, many buyers may object to the necessity of carrying a second device and, potentially, a charger to keep that device’s limited battery life topped up too.

  • PROs

    • Lightweight
    • Long battery life
    • Easy-to-use
    • Location sharing
    • Rechargeable battery
  • CONs

    • Small display
    • Additional subscription needed for some features
    • Small interface means it’s best used in combination with a cell phone

Bottom-Line: A compact, affordable handheld unit with GPS and satellite messaging.

Garmin Montana 700i

Premium Pick

The Garmin Montana is a beefy handheld GPS device about the size of a thick smartphone. Thanks to its XL size, this GPS features an unparalleled 5-inch diagonal touch screen with impressive resolution.

Despite this large, seemingly fragile screen, the Garmin Montana is insanely tough. It boasts a rugged, military-grade construction and its IPX7 rating means that it’s fully waterproof to boot.

Thanks to one of the most powerful antennas of any device we reviewed, the Montana is one of the most reliable units out there. You’ll also find many TopoActive maps preloaded into the device and a 3-axis compass and barometric altimeter sensor for accurate navigation.

All this power comes at a cost, however. The Garmin Montana is the heaviest and bulkiest GPS device on our list, so it’s not the best choice for minimalist, weight-conscious hikers or backpackers. But if you don’t mind carrying the extra ounces, few other handheld GPS devices offer such exceptional satellite reception, fast processing, and precise sensors.

  • PROs

    • Multiple GNSS
    • Large display and impressive resolution
    • QWERTY keyboard
    • Interactive SOS
    • Huge internal memory
  • CONs

    • Pricey
    • Heavy

Bottom-Line: Heavy and pricey, but the most user-friendly device on the market by far. Like a virtually indestructible smartphone with fully-fledged GPS capabilities.

Magellan eXplorist 110

Bargain Buy

Looking for an affordable device that still gets the job done? If so, the Magellan eXplorist is well worth considering.

The eXplorist 110 is an entry-level unit designed with just the essentials in mind. If you only hit the trail occasionally, this could be the right choice for you.

The Magellan is a small unit that’s intuitive and easy to use. Its small size makes it easy to fit into your pocket or throw in your bag.

Despite its affordable price, the 110 offers several handy features, including the ability to mark waypoints, a sunlight-readable screen, and a detailed road network with maps for over 200 countries.

Overall, a great entry-level option for occasional hikers.

  • PROs

    • Price
    • Lightweight
    • Waterproof
    • Color screen
    • Good battery life
  • CONs

    • Small screen
    • Can be slow

Bottom-Line: An affordable, entry-level unit with decent battery life for its size.

Features of Hiking GPS Devices

Although it is hard to beat a traditional compass and map, GPS units will do the majority of the heavy lifting for you. A map can tell you where to go, and a skilled outdoorsman can make their way to any destination with just a compass, but a GPS hiking device can help you avoid problems along the way and make your trip a much more comfortable and enjoyable one.

A handheld GPS unit has some pretty standard features that you’ll find on every model, or at least the vast majority of them. These include things like an electronic compass, base maps, barometer/altimeter, and waypoint manager. 

These units are handheld and lightweight, vital when backpacking or hiking long distances. Additionally, many of them can act strictly as a digital compass or work with traditional maps, allowing you to navigate however you choose. 

If you haven’t previously considered purchasing a GPS device, the benefits are hard to ignore. They will improve your ability to navigate and make your journey significantly smoother by virtue of knowing routes before you have to take them. 

A handheld GPS device sitting on top of a map
You can still use a GPS unit with a paper map if that is your preference.

These devices can also alleviate any worry or fear by offering options for retracing steps or communicating location information to rescue teams if needed. Hopefully, these functions will never be necessary for the majority of users, but the additional safety is comforting to have just in case.

Many of them will also display elevation and other pertinent data, helping you to pinpoint your exact location, and will also allow you to track useful data during your hike. You can assess how high you’ve climbed, or see the gradient of an upcoming section of trail to help decide if you want to scale it or simply pass around it.

While heavier than a GPS watch, the large interface is an undeniable boon, no matter how good your eyesight is.

How to Choose the Best Hiking GPS Device

There are many things to consider when choosing from the plethora of GPS devices on the market. Some of these options are vital to performance, and some come down to personal preference.

GPS Satellite Connection 

Connecting to GPS or GLONASS satellites is the primary way these devices will determine location, and, by extension, guide you to your destination. If these products don’t connect properly, they aren’t a good option for use in the wilderness.

Hiker using a GPS unit
Without a good satellite connection, your GPS device is as useful as a chocolate teapot!

For this reason, GPS position accuracy is the first and most important consideration in choosing a handheld navigator.

Battery Life 

Different handheld devices use different battery types – either replaceable or rechargeable. Neither is necessarily better but will be dependent on your circumstances. If you are going to be relying on your device for an extended period of time (when thru-hiking, for example) without being able to charge it, then the battery life of the product becomes crucially important.

If on the other hand, you will only be using it intermittently or for short periods, then the battery life will fall down the pecking order (somewhat – we’d always advise having a little extra juice in case you get lost and/or are out for longer than expected).

The top performer in this metric is the inReach Explorer Mini, which can last for up to 24 days in power-save GPS mode.

Handheld GPS in front of tent
If multi-day camping or thru-hiking then battery life is a crucial consideration.

Durability 

In this age when more and more adventurers are relying on GPS-enabled smartphones, smart devices, and apps that allow you to navigate in areas without cell service, the thing that makes handheld GPS units a worthwhile investment is their ability to withstand the elements and serious use and abuse.

All of the best handheld GPS units are designed to get wet and dirty and survive rough treatment, but some are more trail-ready than others. The way to determine this when buying is to look for the IP (ingress protection) rating. In short, this tells you how waterproof the device is. Most units on our list have an IP7 rating, so can be submerged in 3ft of water for up to 30 minutes.

The most durable model on our list is the Garmin Montana 700, which meets military standards for heat, shock, vibration, and water.

Handheld GPS device held in front of hills
Devices made for the great outdoors need to be able to deal with a little rough and tumble!

Size and Weight 

Everyone knows that outdoor adventures are minimalist undertakings. When you can only bring the things you can physically carry, it is crucial to make sure everything fits into a small space and doesn’t add more weight than they’re worth.

All of the products on our list are handheld, but their size and weight vary significantly. 

If you’re of a minimalist persuasion, we recommend the Garmin inReach Mini, which weighs next to nothing and can fit into a shirt pocket. If you’re happy to carry a little extra weight and bulk in return for better graphics and a larger screen, then we recommend more feature-rich handheld devices like the Garmin Montana 700i or Garmin GPSMAP 66i.

User Interface

This is more about personal preference but is nevertheless vital in determining what you want in your product. Some of these devices are incredibly simplistic with a basic digital screen, excellent for a lower-priced product, but you may want something more dynamic.

Many devices use colored and/or illuminated screens to give you the best depiction of the terrain possible. Additionally, some of these products use a touch screen as opposed to soft keys, which is another matter of personal preference. Either way, you’ll need to find what you are most comfortable with.

GPS device with soft keys in front of hilly landscape
Many GPS units now have colored screens and will use either soft keys or touchscreens.

Also important is how easy the user interface is to use. Is that waypoint setting you are looking for buried about 24 clicks deep within the menu structure? Or does the display let you see the barometric altimeter readings simultaneously with the unit’s electronic compass? Getting to the most relevant navigation features for you is just as important as the screen resolution and size

Altimeter, Barometer, and Compass

These are typically standard on handheld units, but the level of detail and power they have varies drastically. 

A barometric altimeter measures vertical height above sea level alerting you to how far up a mountain or down a valley you have traveled. A barometer measures the air pressure, which is important for gauging the weather and which also helps with measuring altitude as well. 

A compass is a device that uses magnetic fields to find North. Each of these tools is incorporated into the majority of GPS units. Still, some will give you more detailed information, and some will even offer a more dynamic extrapolation of that data (such as current weather conditions and forecasts).

A traditional compass and GPS unit
Beyond acting as a compass modern GPS devices hold a bevy of additional information.

Advanced Features

Though not necessarily vital for the casual adventurer, there are some incredible features available in some modern handheld devices. 

Most impressive are those related to communication. Many products can act as radio transmitters or even a messaging interface so you can keep in contact even when outside of cellular range. This is especially useful for relaying location information to keep your nearest and dearest updated or in the event of an emergency.

Additionally, some of the best hiking GPS units have incorporated video capabilities, both for communication and recording purposes. 

Two hikers looking at a GPS unit
In case of emergency, a GPS unit with a radio transmitter or messaging interface can be a life-saver.

Frequently Asked Questions

What does ‘GPS’ stand for?

Global Positioning System.


How does GPS work?

GPS units work by using information relayed to satellites to determine any given location. By triangulating the position of a device against multiple satellites, you can figure out exactly where someone is positioned on the face of the Earth.

The unit will transmit a GPS signal to multiple satellites, and depending on the time needed to reach each satellite, they can determine how far away the individual is from each of them. From there, the satellites will coordinate and determine where that person is on Earth.


Can a GPS replace your topographic maps and compass?

No, a GPS should never be seen as a replacement for a map and compass. First of all, a GPS unit is an electronic device that can malfunction or run out of battery. While you can and should use your device for basic, quick navigation, you should also always carry a map and compass in case your device, for any reason, can’t be used.


Best GPS Device for Hiking: The Verdict

A GPS can quite literally be a lifesaver when you’re out in the wilderness – at the very least, it’s a hugely handy tool that can seriously simplify navigation. 

If you’re looking for the best GPS for hiking in terms of outright capability, we recommend the Garmin GPSMAP 66i, which can’t be beaten for user-friendliness, accuracy, and features. 

If you’re looking for something a little more budget-friendly, then you can’t go wrong with the Garmin eTrex 32x or eTrex 22x, both of which offer more than enough in the way of performance for the needs of your average hiker.

If you have any questions, feel free to give us a shout in the comments below, and don’t forget to share this article with your family and friends. Happy hiking!

Last update on 2022-12-03 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

Jolanda Lapegna Avatar

Jolanda is a full-time writer and life-long outdoor enthusiast. Growing up on a small island off the Eastern Canadian coast, she spent most of her childhood hiking, swimming and fishing in the Atlantic ocean.

After a short stint in the corporate world, Jolanda quit her day job to write full-time and check out what lies beyond the Canadian shores. Ever since, she’s been hiking, biking and kayaking her way across 11 European countries and counting.

Jolanda currently lives in the beautiful, Tuscan countryside. When she isn’t hanging out in the woods or at the beach, you’ll catch her foraging for mushrooms and truffles with her truffle-dog, Red.

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