The 10 Best Hiking GPS Systems of 2019 (My Personal Favorites)

According to this hiking article on MNN, there are over $4 million dollars spent each year searching for thousands of hikers who have gotten themselves astray in the wilderness.

Most of the time, this bill is covered by the taxpayers but depending on where you’re lost, you may receive a hefty ($500+) bill for the search and rescue (SAR) teams that were deployed at your distress.

Why do so many hikers, hunters, runners, and campers get lost? How can you ensure your hiking trip doesn’t turn out to cost you several hundred dollars and a long walk/ride of shame? What is the one indispensable item you can buy that hasn’t been replaced by the smartphone?

Best Hiking GPS Systems Side by Side

A rugged and dependable hiking GPS! Yes, it really is that simple and no, your smartphone is not as good as a dedicated GPS. Many hikers get lost and claim they thought they could rely on their smartphone, but the truth is, no smartphone has the full capabilities and durability of a GPS, at least not yet anyway. Smartphones GPS are meant to run at extremely low power levels to ensure you get long-lasting battery life. This means a smartphone will not be able to reach as far or be as accurate as a dedicated GPS device. Please, do not rely on your smartphone to guide you through the wilderness.

Investing in a high-quality GPS is absolutely crucial for anyone who plans on spending time in the great outdoors.

Want to learn how to choose a GPS for hiking before seeing the list? Keep reading!

GPS for Hiking Buying Guide

Getting lost seems like something out of a movie and it couldn’t possibly ever happen to you, right? I’m sure the thousands of people every year who get lost say that too.

Sure, you might just be a master navigator in a concrete jungle or even a skillful tracker of all things furry in the wilderness, but what happens when you fall into a river and your phone gets soaked? What happens if the markers you’ve been leaving are swept away or covered? If you eat a mushroom that erases the last 48 hours of your memory? (okay, I’m not sure this happens but it doesn’t hurt to be prepared). There are so many unfortunate events that could happen to a hiker no matter their skill level that it is absolutely imperative that you are prepared and equipped with the latest GPS technology. With how cheap these devices are, how available they are, and how easy they are to use, there is absolutely no excuse in venturing out without one.

Now that you are going to buy one because you’re responsible and wouldn’t want a SAR out looking for you all weekend, where do you look and what do you look for? There are so many options that come configurable with many different options and functions, where do you even start to look?

HERE!!! We’ll first discuss what the most important functions of a GPS are and then I’ll guide you through my favorite GPS devices on the market that you can easily find for sale on the web.

Most Important GPS Functions

Touchscreen or physical buttons?

This one is personal preference unless you are hiking in extremely low temperatures. Touchscreens are really cool and will probably be faster to use and configure, but if you’re hiking in low temperatures, chances are that you’ll be wearing gloves. Gloves and touchscreens do not work well together so please consider the conditions you will be hiking in. A touchscreen is also more likely to be rendered incapacitated from screen damage. Most GPS units are made to be extremely tough but if on the off chance the screen takes a beating, a touchscreen has more likelihood of rendering the device useless.

What functions do you need?

All GPS devices are built for basic navigating purposes, but the range of functions and cool features is huge. Typically, this will depend largely on your budget and what you actually need. To choose the right GPS for you, I would consider the extensiveness of your other gear. If your trip requires high-end hiking boots (if you’re interested, check out my favorite hiking boots here), a tent that can withstand 100mph winds, a sleeping bag then is rated for -50 degrees, etc, then you should probably be looking into state-of-the-art GPS devices as well. If you just need a plastic water bottle and some basic tennis shoes, you will probably be fine with a budget brand GPS. Of course, that is a very general statement and you may really enjoy the advanced features of a high-end GPS for your stroll through the woods.

Most GPS devices will do these:

  • Display your positioning via coordinates and uses this data to place you on a map.
  • Select a point and display directions to that point from either another point or your current location.
  • Tracking features allowing your GPS to record your path and help you find your way back home.
  • Trip data information containing statistics such as time traveled, distance traveled, average speed, the altitude you’ve gained/lost, etc.

Expensive GPS devices will do these:

  • Intuitive geocaching managers.
  • Digital camera functionality with geotagging (yes, some even stick on a selfie stick).
  • Radio communication for communicating with other devices or calling for help.
  • MicroSD expandable memory slots that allow for your device to store map data, photos, contacts, special route data, and even music!
  • Third party map services for advanced topography and route information.
  • Electronic compasses will display the direction you are facing currently versus cheaper GPS units that may only be able to tell you which direction you have been heading with the last several steps.
  • Advanced Barometer and altimeter functions that may be able to record weather trends and even alert you to possible weather changes.
  • Places of interest or cautionary warnings notifications

Here Are the Best Handheld GPS Systems for Hiking

In no particular order, I will provide a list of GPS devices that you may be interested in. These are certainly not the only devices, but the list will pretty well sum up the majority of options available. There are hundreds, if not thousands of GPS devices from many different manufacturers that essentially all do the same thing. This list is meant for those of you who don’t know where to look, are overwhelmed with the multitude of options or may just want to pick something up quickly with a small and brief review.

1. Garmin eTrex10 GPS (Best Value)

Garmin eTrex 10 Handheld GPS

Price Range: Under $100

My Review: I personally own two of this exact model and in my opinion it’s the best hiking GPS for the money. If you just need a basic GPS for hiking you will not be disappointed in the eTrex 10. For under 100 dollars you get a reliable GPS that is more than capable of doing all the things most recreational hikers want from a GPS. It’s great very easy GPS to use and has all of the functions you can expect from a low budget GPS device. The battery life is great, and one of the favorite things about this GPS is that it runs off two AA batteries. I definitely recommend packing a couple extra sets of batteries just in case. If you don’t want to use this as your primary GPS because you want a fancier one with more functions and a touchscreen as your primary GPS, it’s also a great back up. I would recommend this to anyone hunting or doing casual hiking and camping. I used this while in the Marines and never had any problems with it. Garmin also supports a wide variety of mounting hardware allowing you to easily mount this unit on a backpack, bicycle, etc. This unit does have an issue with being a bit slow and may take a few seconds here and then to respond but this is easily circumvented with a bit of patience.

Here is a short video I found on YouTube describing it’s basic features and how to save, search, and set waypoints.

Read more

Notable Functions and Features:

  • 2.2” monochrome display
  • WAAS enabled receiver inclusive of HotFix and Glonass support.
  • IPX7 waterproofing standard
  • Paperless geocaching
  • Garmin Spine Mounting capable
  • 20-25 hour power rating powered by 2 AA batteries
  • Several cumulative stat trackers such as high/low points, start, finish, step counter, time traveled between points and waypoint storing.

Key Features:

  • GLONASS satellite support which is the fastest system available for tracking and locating GPS position.
  • Has a lot of great functions but remains incredibly easy to use.
  • Rugged and waterproof.
  • Interchangeable batteries.

2. Garmin GPSMAP 64st (Recommended)

Garmin HIking GPS

Price Range: Under $300

My Review: This is one of the highest rated and best selling GPS systems out there for many reasons. It offers pretty much any functionality that any basic to mid-range outdoorsman would ever require. This GPS has great connectivity options for a PC or mobile phone and tracks a variety of different metrics that are fun and easy to share and compare with friends who use similar devices. The device does have a low battery life compared to many other devices but that seems to be a pretty universal trend with 2xAA battery devices that have a lot of functionality. If you simple turn off functions you don’t need such as Bluetooth and advanced topography, the device will last significantly longer. GLONASS integration ensures great GPS connectivity and with the onboard electronic compass you will always know where you’re headed!

Here is a pretty good video that gives a 1 minute overview of the GPS. I think you’ll see why this is the best hiking GPS systems out there, and considering it’s under $300 makes it a great value.

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Notable Functions and Features:

  • First, I’d like to inform you that you can customize this model when you purchase, adding or subtracting several features to fit your needs.
  • 2.6” color display with boosted backlit functionality allowing for easy reading in the sun
  • Display resolution of 160×240
  • High speed USB and NMEA 0183 compatible
  • 8.1oz weight including batteries.
  • Dual AA battery OR rechargeable NiHM battery packs that can be charged while inside the device
  • Wirelessly upload data to the Garmin app for smartphone
  • Sharing and comparing with other users
  • Live tracking
  • 3 axis compass
  • Barometer and altimeter
  • MicroSD capability up to 8GB
  • Bluetooth connectivity
  • ANT+ sensors that track heart rate, temperature, speed, cadence, etc
  • Control of the Garmin Verb (action camera)
  • US topography map pre-downloaded
  • 250,000 preloaded geocaches
  • Support for 3rd party mapping software
  • 2D or 3D trip rendering on your computer with the use of BaseCamp software

Cons:

  • The full function device is a bit more expensive than its competitors.
  • Battery life is low compared to competitor products
  • The instruction manual is very simple and may leave some users with questions about how to use it’s functionality

Key Features:

  • Full featured GPS with easy connectivity to your smartphone.
  • Extremely rugged and waterproof
  • Option to use rechargeable battery or AA batteries. This is a great function allowing you to charge the device and then bring along spare AA batteries if you need them.

3. Garmin Oregon 650t (Great Touchscreen GPS)

Hiking GPS with Digital Camera

Notable Functions and Features:

  • It may be easier to list what this GPS device doesn’t come with, but for the sake of keeping this list consistent, here we go!
  • Impact resistant 3” sunlight readable touchscreen display encompassing multi touch technology
  • Glove accommodation for touchscreen usage
  • 3 axis compass including accelerometer, barometer, and altimeter
  • Dual-band GPS/GLONASS satellite position capability
  • Dual AA battery or NiHM rechargeable battery pack (included)
  • ANT and Bluetooth connectivity
  • Wirelessly share tracks, waypoints, routes, geocaches, customized maps, trip statistics, and photos
  • 8MP Digital Camera with autofocus, zoom and LED flash/torch
  • Geotagged photos for easy sharing via Garmin Adventures platform
  • MicroSD expandable memory
  • Pre-downloaded US topography maps
  • Lightweight 7.4oz design

Read more

Cons:

  • Users have reported the device can sometimes freeze, resulting in the need to remove the batteries and reset the device
  • This device is more expensive than most people are willing to spend on a GPS
  • It claims to have support for almost all 3rd party map creators but users have complained about a handful of 3rd party apps not being compatible

Key Features:

  • The photo capabilities are among the best of all GPS Units
  • You can use the touchscreen and even multi touch functions with gloves on
  • The screen is among the best for sunlight visibility

4. Winterworm Outdoor Mini GPS (Cheap)

Mini Handheld Portable GPS

Price Range: Under $50

My Review: This is perfect for someone that does some light hiking on marked trails or cycling and simply needs to find their way back to civilization. I would definitely not trust this to venture into largely unknown territory as there are reports of it failing. This GPS is cheap and barebones. Perfect to buy as a “just in case” back up to provide simple and basic information. The fact that it doesn’t allow for interchangeable batteries makes this very dangerous. Make sure you bring an external battery pack with you to charge it!

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Notable Functions and Features:

  • ABS plastic and compact keychain design
  • Up to 16 waypoints
  • Small 1.5” Monochrome display 128 x 64 pixels
  • Displays current position, latitude and altitude data
  • Records distance and time
  • Up to 12 hours battery life in active mode
  • Built in rechargeable battery
  • Accurate up to 10 meters
  • Only weighs 3oz

Cons

  • This is not a reliable GPS for extensive purposes
  • No waypoint labeling
  • Very basic directions

Key Features:

  • This is by far one of the cheapest GPS devices worth buying
  • Extremely lightweight and small
  • Comes with a carabiner and keychain attachment

5. DeLorme Two Way Satellite Communicator

Two Way Satellite Communicator

Price Range: Around $350

My Review: First and foremost, you must understand that this device is not a standalone GPS navigation device. This is for saving your tail in dangerous situations. You can use this to track your specific location and you can pair it with your smartphone for GPS navigation, but the primary use of this device is the ability to send text messages anywhere in the world using satellites. SAR teams will always be in contact with you and will be able to easily pinpoint your location with this device.

This device isn’t for the light trekkers. This is for people venturing into dangerous conditions that may need rescue.  With that said, it never hurts to have a device with you where you can send text messages to a SAR or one of your contacts. Your family will also be able to track your journey in real time, ensuring that if your behavior is erratic or something seems off, they can contact you and/or send help.

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Notable Functions and Features:

  • Two-way text satellite communication with GEOS (24/7 SAR monitoring center)
  • Interactive SOS trigger
  • Iridium powered satellite communication technology (worlds farthest reaching)
  • Free access to Earthmate app in paired mode which includes topographic map data and downloads
  • Ability to share in real time your journey via MapShare
  • Full trip planning portal
  • Full function 3 axis digital compass, altimeter and barometer
  • Built in accelerometer tracks speed, time, cadence, and many other useful statistics
  • Real time location pinging
  • 100% global coverage

Cons

  • This is not a standalone GPS navigator
  • Expensive contractual service

Key Features:

  • This communicator will be functionable ANYWHERE on the planet
  • 24/7 access to SAR teams
  • Ability to send text messages to saved contacts anywhere in the world

6. Garmin eTrex 35 (Good Value Touchscreen GPS)

Touch Screen Hiking GPS

Price Range: Under $250

My Review: This is on the cheaper side for a solid touch screen enabled device. It’s suitable for pretty much all situations and has MicroSD expandability to load custom maps from third party map makers. This is the perfect GPS for someone who wants a fancy touchscreen model but doesn’t need a top of the line GPS. It’s affordable and comes with all of the functions any average hiker would need. The only thing it lacks that most models in this price range come with is Bluetooth connectivity.

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Notable Functions and Features:

  • 2.5” color touchscreen display that is sunlight readable
  • Built in mapping with a worldwide base map and shaded relief
  • 100k US topo maps included
  • Electronic compass offering 3 axis tilt compensators
  • Activity profiles
  • ANT+ connectivity to track activity statistics
  • Barometer, altimeter and compass
  • 4GB memory
  • 250k geocache maps
  • GLONASS and GPS satellite positioning
  • 2xAA batteries or rechargeable NiHM battery capabilities (batteries not included)
  • 16 hour battery life
  • Transfer data from unit to unit wirelessly
  • 100k points and 200 tracks logging
  • Garmin connect compatible
  • 5.6oz weight

Cons

  • Low screen resolution

Key Features:

  • One of the cheaper full function GPS models available
  • Very powerful sunlight readable screen
  • Rugged and compact design

7. Garmin Foretrex 601 (Rugged Military Style)

Durable Military GPS

Price Range: Under $250

My Review: This is a great device for rugged all terrain use. This was modeled after the military’s version and comes with almost all of the same functionality except bullet trajectory calculators. It’s not fancy and it doesn’t have a nice color display but it has almost unbeatable battery life and durability. This isn’t made for the casual runner or cyclist but more so for extreme sports and long journeys into tough elements.

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Notable Functions and Features:

  • GPS, GLONASS, and Galileo satellite functionality
  • Smart phone connectivity
  • Notifications for emails, texts, calls, etc
  • MIL-STD-810G military grade construction
  • Over 1 month battery life in watch mode
  • Over 48 hour battery life in navigation mode
  • 3 axis sensors including compass, altimeter, and barometer
  • Night vision goggle compatible
  • Garmin Connect compatible with auto upload features

Cons

  • Very basic monochrome display

Key Features:

  • One of the toughest GPS devices offered by Garmin
  • Ultra-battery life expectancy
  • Can be used in wearable or handheld configuration

8. Garmin Foretrex 401

Waterproof GPS for Hiking

Price Range: Under $150

Review: This unit is designed for our none military and hardcore adventurists. It has a lot of the same functionality as the Garmin 601 but is a lot easier to use and a bit smaller and lighter. The device is great for both casual use and extensive adventuring, just don’t expect ultra-high durability. For the price, this is likely the best wearable full functioning GPS you can find today. It is also top rated on Amazon and despite there being an actual military version, many servicemen utilize this device in combat zones around the world.

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Key Functions and Features:

  • HotFix enabled GPS sensor for high-sensitivity performance
  • Tracks waypoints, routes, heart rate (with add on monitor), path retracements, sunrise/sunset times and more
  • Basic hunting and fishing information
  • 3 axis including barometer, altimeter, and electronic compass
  • LCD display with 100×64 resolution
  • 1.42”x0.91” display size
  • Audible tones and dual position readout configurations

Cons

  • Display may be difficult to read in extreme sunlight
  • Entering data is difficult due to its small and simplistic design

Key Features:

  • Similar to the 601 but better suited for casual usage
  • Full service trip computer in a small wristband style GPS
  • Downloadable map support including info regarding trail heads, campsites, ranger stations, etc.

9. Magellan eXplorist 300 (Garmin GPS Alternative)

Garmin GPS Alternative

Price Range: $80

My Review: This is a great GPS unit for those of you who enjoy simplicity and ease of use. The eXplorist 300 has a very rugged and durable design and simply gets the job done. This unit will get you from point A to point B and help you find your way if you get lost in between. This GPS isn’t going to blow your mind with features and it won’t help you take sick selfies on the way, but it will provide a very budget friendly option for low to medium range adventures.

Magellan also has several different variations of this device that may have less or more functions. I chose to review this one as it seems to take the middle ground. I would look further into these models to find the one that fits your needs.

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Notable Functions and Features:

  • 3 axis functionality including barometer, altimeter, and electronic compass
  • Built in 8MB basemap of North America
  • 14 parallel channels with WAAS enhancement for greater positional accuracy
  • 8 hour battery life
  • Weighs less than 4oz
  • Ipx7 water resistance
  • Impact resistant

Cons

  • No PC interface or smart phone connectivity

Key Features:

  • Cheap compared to similar GPS units
  • Very easy to use and has a simple interface

10. Casio Pro Trek (GPS Watch)

Hiking GPS Watch

Price Range: Around or Under $400

My Review: This watch is perfect for those who need minor GPS functionality in activities such as running, hiking, hunting, etc. It’s incredibly easy to use and includes a ton of functions outside of GPS as well. The GPS itself is fairly accurate but you must download the maps you wish to use. It does not come with maps pre-installed and will not work without your phone if you have no maps installed. The maps are Google Maps based and are not nearly as accurate or feature filled as a designated GPS device, but they will help you find your way home.

As far as GPS enabled smart watches go, I would recommend them to the less serious adventurers reading this. Not everyone will be venturing deep into the wilderness and they won’t be scaling any significant elevations. GPS signals on watches are clearly not as precise as a full GPS unit but they will get the job done just as well as a GPS unit for minor activities. You are spending about the same on this watch as most of the mid to high end GPS devices, but you are getting a full-fledged smart watch. Most smart watches today are running the same OS and have the same functionalities, so I would recommend finding the style you like and basing your decision off of that as the GPS functionalities will largely all be the same.

In conclusion, please do us all a favor and bring a GPS device that is fit for the adventure you are planning to take. You are not only risking your own health and wellbeing by choosing to be unprepared, but you are also risking the lives of the search and rescue operators, friends, local law enforcement, etc. GPS units are not going to break the bank but they will save your butt in a pinch. You may be frustrated to see that Garmin pretty well dominates the market alone. They have a version of their GPS systems for every platform including watches and are by far the most well-known GPS manufacturers in the world. With this said, there are other options to consider! No matter what you choose, don’t ever venture into unknown (or you think you know it but actually don’t) territory without a trusted device.

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As a little disclaimer, the list is not a fully encompassing end all be all list. These are just talking points for further investigation. Most of the GPS devices discussed in this article have several variations of the same model which range in price and functionality. My advice would be to define your budget, find a “style” of GPS that you like, then determine which model has the functions you will need. You can spend all day reading the function lists of several hundred different models but at the end of the day, they’re all basically the same thing.

Notable Functions and Features:

  • Android Wear OS by Google
  • Mil-Standard 810 G durability
  • 50m water resistance
  • Digital compass, altimeter, barometer
  • Activity tracker
  • Dual layer LCD screens
  • Full color map display
  • Offline map functionality with downloadable maps
  • Location memory
  • Compatible with almost all smart phones

Cons

  • This is not a replacement for a full GPS unit
  • You must download the maps before leaving internet access or use your smart phone.

Key Features:

  • Easy to wear design which looks rugged and works great as an everyday watch as well as a general use GPS
  • The watch is completely usable without smartphones but has a lot of functionality paired with a phone
  • Full color maps and intuitive GPS style functions

References:

MNN: Uses for a Hiking GPS

Wikipedia: GPS Devices

Final Thoughts

There are a lot of great GPS systems on this list. It’s impossible to say exactly what the best GPS for hiking is because it depends on what features you’re looking for, but the GPS systems at position 1 and 2 on this list are great options for most people.

If you have any questions or comments feel free to leave them below.

If this page helped you out like my Facebook page to stay up to date on the latest hiking gear! Thanks for visiting my website.

Semper Fi,

Corporal Wabo

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