What could be better than going out and enjoying the great outdoors?
Hiking is one of the most natural ways to get back to nature and keep yourself fit and healthy.
And, if you have a really good GPS to hand you can go absolutely anywhere you like without fear of getting lost. You can go for days if you want to (if you have the right equipment).
And that’s what it comes down to - preparing well and ensuring that you have everything that you might possibly need. And if there’s one thing you need to get right when you’re hiking it’s the GPS unit. It’s so much more convenient than a map, and it takes all of the guesswork out of the equation. A GPS will tell you exactly where you are even when you have no idea where you are.
We’ve been looking at some of the best selling handheld GPS units that are out on the market today, and we’ve handpicked our top 5 favorites to show you. We’ve got our reviews on those coming up very shortly.
And after that we’ve also got a handy buying guide for you which goes through everything you might want to think about before you buy.
Top 5 Best Handheld Hiking GPS
OUR TOP PICK
We just love this GPS - it’s got so much going for it.
What we love the most though has to be the quad helix antenna which makes it a high sensitivity GPS and GLONASS receiver. This way, you get a better than normal GPS signal with it, plus you also get a GLONASS signal too.
For those who don’t already know, GLONASS is another satellite tracking system, separate to GPS but very similar, which helps you to better track your position in more challenging environments than GPS alone. Even if you were in a highly wooded area, you should still get a signal.
But that’s not all - you get a staggering 100,000 topographic US maps, PLUS a full years subscription for BirdsEye Satellite Imagery, which as the name suggests, provides full color birds eye views of the area. And they’re photo realistic too!
The screen is great, it’s 2.6 inches big, is in full color, and, more importantly, can be read in direct sunlight.
This particular unit also has bluetooth and ANT+ connectivity so you can get various smart notifications on it when paired up with compatible devices. Saves having to pull out your smartphone from your backpack every time you want to check for messages.
If you want to download more maps, you can. As well as the unit’s 8 GB of storage, there’s also a MicroSD card slot for more maps.
It has a great battery life, coming in at a total of 16 hours. So depending on the time of year of your hike, you can use it from dawn right through to dusk. And better yet, when the batteries need replacing, simply slide in some AAs.
It’s also great for teaching youngsters about orienteering, because in addition to the GPS functionality, it also has the full ABC of hiking gadgets (more on that in our buying guide).
And if you really want to spice up your hiking adventures you could go geocaching (that’s outdoor treasure hunting) because there are 250,000 preloaded caches on the device.
It’s water resistance rating is also very good, coming in at IPX7, so getting caught in a rain shower isn’t going to be a problem.
High sensitivity GPS receiver
BirdsEye Satellite Imagery
Full ABC of outdoor gadgets
16 hour battery life
Some customers reported teething problems when they first started with it, like finding the specific map they were looking for
What we love about this baby is the price. Because if you only go hiking now and again, there’s no call to spend too many hours wages on a GPS device.
But despite the bargain price, there’s no compromise with its performance - you still get great Garmin quality.
Better yet, it comes preloaded with loads of TopoActive maps, which are simply topographic maps but they’re preloaded with loads of points of interest, such as trails, natural features, car parks and historical sites etc.
The screen is easy to read, it’s in full color and is high resolution.
We also love that it has GLONASS tracking as well as GPS, because, as we talked about earlier, it provides your location even in more challenging scenarios.
It’s battery life is really impressive, coming in at 25 hours. And they’re super easy to replace, because they just take AAs.
We also like that it supports BirdsEye Satellite Imagery, which you might want to think about subscribing too. It’s really good.
There’s a handy MicroSD slot if you ever wanted to download and use even more maps. And it’s water resistant. What more could you want!
Excellent battery life
Great value for money
Supports BirdsEye Satellite Imagery
Screen could be bigger
This is the perfect GPS for going off grid into the wilderness. Not only can you be assured of your specific location, but should an emergency occur, you can trigger an interactive SOS to the 24/7 search and rescue monitoring center.
How reassuring is that? And all without needing a phone signal. And you can send text messages too.
We also love how you can take your pick of what maps you want to add to it. Rather than have with the internal memory filled up with loads of maps you’re never going to use. You can download what maps you want via the Earthmate app, which is free. You can also find color aerial imagery on it too.
The maps show up in full color and you can do tracking and location sharing. There’s also plenty of cloud storage you can access for your trip planning.
It comes complete with the full ABC of navigation sensors (more on that in our buying guide).
It has a decent water resistance rating coming in at IPX7, so a bit of rain isn’t going to be a problem.
You can buy it with a backpack tether, which could be handy.
- Can trigger an SOS signal
- Full ABC of orienteering
- Download only what you need
- Premium product at a premium price
This is a great GPS for those who like to do a bit of geocaching on their hike - it comes preloaded with a staggering 250,000 worldwide geocaches! So much fun. If you’re not into it already you should totally check it out.
But if that’s not your thing, it’s a great GPS for hiking anyways. It features both GPS and GLONASS signalling, thanks to it’s high sensitivity receiver. So wherever you’ve taken your Montana 680, you will always know where you are.
It’s screen is huge, coming in at 4 inches. It’s a full color touchscreen which is also glove friendly. Plus it’s sunlight readable.
We also love that it comes with a full year subscription to Birdseye Satellite Imagery, so you’ll be able to see loads of photo realistic birds eye views of the surrounding area as you hike.
But that’s not all - it also features an 8 megapixel camera, which again is great for geotagging, and saves having to carry a separate camera around with you.
What makes it so good for hiking though is the Track Manager. You can record your hike and easily navigate through your various waypoints.
It comes complete with the full ABC of navigation sensors (more on that in our buying guide).
The battery life is really good too. It will last up to 16 hours with the lithium battery, or up to 22 hours if you replace it with 2 AA batteries.
Preloaded with 250,000 geocaches
Birdseye Satellite Imagery
Full ABC of navigation sensors
8 megapixel camera
Navigate through waypoints
Premium product at a premium price
If you’re looking for a bargain, you need look no further - this one’s a steal.
This GPS is one of those “does what it says on the tin” types. It simply finds your location, and shows it on map. No fancy or complicated or expensive frills. Just shows you where you are, all on a monochrome, easy to read screen.
Yet it does come with some other nice features worth noting. It supports geocaching, and it covers GLONASS signalling as well as your standard GPS.
It’s also water resistant to IPX7, so can handle a spot of rain, and the battery will last up to a very nice 20 hours, on just two AA batteries.
You can also record your hike, storing waypoints as you go, and look back on how well you did.
Long battery life
Best Handheld Hiking GPS Buying Guide
Without further ado, here’s a little info and guidance for you which we think should help you be clearer on what sort of handheld GPS device to get for your hiking trip.
Even if you’ve never shopped for a handheld GPS unit until now, you’ll probably have heard of the top brand Garmin. Garmin have been in the business for many years, and have set the standard. There are few other companies that can compete with them at their level.
Their range is very extensive, which is probably one of the reasons why their GPS units still continue to dominate the best seller lists with retailers. Even if you only looked into Garmin GPS units alone, you would still have an enormous range to choose from.
Plus, with Garmin, you can get some great apps, like Garmin Explore and Garmin Connect.
All of the GPS units on our top 5 picks will give you a great signal that can easily be picked up by the Global Positioning Satellite system. But if you go for a GPS unit with a high sensitivity antenna, you will get a signal even if you happen to be in a highly wooded area.
Or alternatively, you could invest in a device that picks GLONASS as well as the GPS navigation system, which is much better than GPS alone.
Unless you’re doing your hiking on a particularly cloudy day, then you’re going to need a GPS unit with a display that you can read in direct sunlight, which means it has to have an anti-glare display. A powerful backlight may come in handy here as well.
As for whether to go for a full color display or for a monochrome display, we’ll let you decide that one for yourself. Many people assume color maps are better, but actually both color and monochrome displays can work quite well when it comes to topographic maps. 3D topographic maps are best though.
When you’re lost somewhere, the last thing you want is to look at the GPS unit, only to find that it’s run out of battery. If you expect to be going on a particularly long hike, then you should opt for a unit with battery life that’s up to the job.
You should also think about whether you can charge it on the go, by way of a power bank, or whether you can easily get replaceable batteries. And you should ensure that the device has had a full charge before you leave for your trip.
Most hikers tend to check the weather before they decide to go on a hiking trip. However a little drizzle of rain is not going to put off everybody. And anyways, it can be quite hard to predict the weather with any degree of real accuracy.
So, to that end, it’s worth looking for a GPS that can handle a bit of rain if you get caught out in a rain shower. Check the GPS unit’s IP rating for water resistance. For hiking you’ll want it to have an IP rating of say IP57 or higher.
Depending on how far and deep into the wilderness you want to go, you might want to consider a GPS unit with SOS signalling.
A, B, C
For those who don’t know, the ABC of hiking equipment stands for:
- Altimeter - tells you your ascension and descent speeds in hilly areas
- Barometer - measures pressure in atmosphere to forecast weather
- Compass - for old school navigation
You don’t necessarily need all of these in your GPS, but many hikers draw comfort from having this extra bit of tech.