Best Hiking GPS of 2020 Complete Reviews with Comparisons
There are many tools that you should include in your hiking kit. From a good set of hiking poles to a handheld GPS, you should make your excursions as safe and comfortable as possible.
A handheld GPS is exceptionally valuable for climbing, hiking, and mountaineering since it allows you to keep a good grasp of your location despite the weather conditions or lack of identifiable markers.
Many of these handy tools come in small, easily transported designs that are rugged and fitted with features to maximize your security.
There are a lot of great options out there, but each will have their advantages and disadvantages that you and your hiking needs could benefit from. That being said, because of how many there to choose from, you may find yourself frozen in confusion. Don’t worry — we have you covered!
We have compiled this guide to make the decision-making process more comfortable. Within it, you will find a handy buyers guide as well as our choices for the best hiking GPS models on the market today.
Best Hiking GPS Comparison Chart
Best Hiking GPS Reviews
Garmin eTrex 30x
Our first handheld hiking GPS comes with many features that will heighten its efficiency. It is water-resistant and has a hi-res color display to help you stay on track.
Garmin, as you will see in this guide, has tried to deliver a wide variety of GPS models that offer optimal performance and precision. Each of their models has its own unique specifications, and with the eTrex 30x, these include the following features:
- Designed with a 2.2” display
- 3.7 GB internal memory
- Built-in micro SD card slot
- Preloaded worldwide base map
- 3 axis tilt compensated e-compass
- Barometric altimeter built-in
- Capable of wireless connection
The 30x has a lot going from it with a nice design display; you will easily be able to use this device without worry. It is an easy-to-use device that brings with it a physical build that can stand up to anything you throw at it.
But where this unit really shines is with the navigation. Designed with a 3-axis e-compass and a barometric altimeter, you will be able to navigate no matter the weather or the terrain.
Now you can see why we knew this model had to be included on our list.
There are a few things that need to be addressed before you make your final decision. None of which will affect the performance of the piece. In fact, most of the issues have to do with purchase and extras.
Many of the Garmin products come with a bunch of preloaded maps, as well as subscriptions to additional service. However, this one does not, and that may detract from the value of this GPS for some. Because it is not preloaded with tons of maps, you will have to purchase topographical maps separately.
As we said, the performance of this model is not affected by either of the issues. That means you can focus on what you get from the investment in this handheld hiking GPS, and if you do that, you will see how this could be one of the best models on the market.
Garmin GPSMAP 64st
This entry is a smaller unit, but it still comes with features and functions that elevate it above many of its competitors.
This smaller, more compact offering from Garmin may have you worried that you will lose out on a bunch of the features required for precision navigation. You would be surprised how much can be fit into this compact unit. Check out the features you get when you go with this model:
- Designed with a 2.6” color display
- 8GB internal memory storage
- USB compatible
- Multiple power source capability – batteries & NMEA battery pack
- Capable of pairing with smartphones
- Able to upload wirelessly
The GPSMAP 64st has a lot we could rant about. From the Bluetooth and wireless capability to the navigational tools you have at your disposal, it is easy to see why so many love this unit.
The ability to share your tracks with friends and family will keep you safe when out on the trails. Bluetooth will keep you in contact with the world as well. Never miss a notification or email while enjoying the beauty of the great outdoors.
Where this unit really shines is in the easy-to-use navigation system, plus, that it all comes in a lightweight unit that adds next to nothing to your pack!
The compact nature adds less weight to your pack, but it also means there is less room for the display; this is one of the drawbacks when looking at this model. Though the display is clear to read, it is smaller than normal and won't give you as much detail.
It will also take a little time and patience to set up. So make sure you set aside time to set up and get acquainted with the device before you head out to make sure you get it set the way you need it.
Neither of these two drawbacks defines the efficiency and performance of the piece itself. Though it may be small, it does pack a lot of great assets, and that is why we chose to include it on our list.
This handheld GPS may be small, but it packs a punch. Built with preloaded maps and capable of withstanding almost anything, it is easily one of the best options on the market today.
Garmin brings another well-crafted model that will help you traverse those trails with confidence and precision. In order to do that the engineers and designers have included the following features and benefits:
- Designed with a 3” touchscreen display
- Capable of multiple orientations – landscape and portrait
- Programed with a 3-axis e-compass and barometric altimeter
- Water rated to Ipx7
- Built-in 8 megapixel camera
So much stands out when you really look at this handheld GPS model. It offers a nice size display that is backlit. This will allow you to even be able to see the display in the bright glare of the noonday sun.
It is also fitted with a camera that will enable you to capture those beautiful vistas to be able to geocache them for later trips.
The navigation is easy to use and brings precision to the game. On top of that, drop it, get it wet, and it will still work just fine.
This GPS does have a few design flaws that we feel could be improved to maximize the efficiency and performance of this unit.
The first is that there are some issues with the accuracy of the battery indicator. This may lead to problems when out on the trail.
How much would it suck for you to think you have enough battery power and end up halfway through your trek to find out it was not the case? It would suck a lot, so if you opt for this unit, make sure to carry extra batteries.
Also, make sure to set aside a little time for the setup. Both issues are easily fixed by some preplanning. If you are okay with a few extra steps, then this is a great option.
Garmin Montana 680T
Our next entry comes with a rugged design and an operating system that is not only quick but responsive. Everything from its color touchscreen to its programmed features makes this a great option for any devout hiker.
This is one of the most rugged models on our list. In order for Garmin to bring you this model at such a high level of efficiency, the designers included the following features:
- 250,000 preloaded geocaches
- Built-in WAAS-enabled receiver
- Crafted with Hotfix satellite prediction & GLONASS support
- Designed with a track manager
- Constructed with an 8-megapixel camera
Reliability is the first word that comes to mind when we think about this hiking GPS. The use of multiple position technology allows for very precise maps and geo-tracking.
In fact, the unit comes with an auto geotagging feature that will allow you to map your course out with confidence and save the track logs.
This will ensure that when coming back to this trail or backtracking, you will be able to do it with ease. The display is easy to read as well, which heightens its reliability.
There are some things that may deter some individuals from considering this as an option.
The unit is a little heavy. Though not necessarily a factor that would discount this unit for everyone, some who are conscious about the heft of their backpack may find this as quite the disadvantage.
Other than that, the lack of color selection may be a problem for some.
Both of these issues are all about your preference and have no bearing on the performance of the piece. With that in mind, you may still want to consider this as one of your potential choices.
Garmin eTrex 20x
Our last entry is a small-screen option that is fitted with everything you need to get you from point A to point B.
Another fine example of Garmin’s devotion to precision, safety, and performance, the eTrex 20x comes fitted and programmed with a lot of great features. These include:
- Built with a 2.2” color display
- 3.7GB internal memory storage
- Comes with a preloaded worldwide base map
- High-grade GPS receiver and support for optimal navigation
This made our list for a lot of reasons. Starting with the construction which uses lightweight but durable materials and ending with the navigational system.
The lightweight design allows for the optimization of storage and portability. This makes it great for those who are trekking for several days and are concerned with the weight of their backpack.
The navigational system uses high-grade components and programs to optimize the precision of the maps themselves.
Even with all of that technology, the battery life doesn’t take a hit, and that only serves to make it even more compatible with long multi-day treks.
Of course, there are some aspects that could be addressed and improved. The lack of an e-compass may be the biggest of those.
Many newer handheld GPSes for hiking come with an e-compass that is tilt-compensated. This offers more accurate navigation. The screen is a bit small in comparison to some of the other options on our list.
Having a few flaws can lead to some hikers discounting this as a good option for them. However, neither of these two issues truly takes away from the rest of the amazing features that are included in the design. That is why we included this model on our list.
As we combed through all of the options available, we noticed a pattern of five factors that really make for a good handheld GPS. Then we began to narrow down our choices by really looking at these key aspects.
Here are the five factors that you can use to narrow down your choices as well:
The battery life of a handheld GPS should be at least 10 hours. This will keep you from having to change those batteries while out on the trail (unless you are doing a multi-day trek).
Most of the units available right now have extraordinary battery life. They typically are able to be used either with the traditional battery or a battery pack.
You can also find a charger with a solar-powered option that is helpful for recharging a GPS on longer hiking trips.
A handheld GPS should be designed with at least a 2-inch screen that is easy to read. Numerous cutting edge GPS devices now have touch screens.
Some of them are not ideal for climbing in a chilly climate or at high elevations as they are difficult to use with gloves on. In any case, touchscreens permit you to work the gadget more easily.
Hiking and mountaineering require lightweight rigging. That means you want to look for the lightest device as possible that offers you everything you need.
A few handheld devices support GLONASS – an option in contrast to GPS. However, one that uses both GPS and GLONASS will help you find your position quickly and offer more precision.
This is great, especially in rugged and ever-changing terrain. There is also WAAS, which gives GPS signal boost while the speed of navigation can be improved with Hotfix satellite, which helps compute and show you where the satellites are located over several days.
Having one or all of these will help elevate your positioning technology.
Another factor to consider is the durability of the handheld device. This means paying attention to the construction.Keep an eye on the materials and their resistance so that you choose a model that will stand up to everything that will be thrown at it.
Hiking GPS FAQ
With technology, there are always questions that arise as you learn about it, and that is definitely the case with a handheld hiking GPS.
So we have gathered together some of the most commonly asked questions and answered them below for you.
What is a mapping GPS?
Yes, all GPSes have maps, but mapping is different. Mapping refers to the ability to apply other sources over the top of those maps for more precise navigation. Most also allow you to track your path and save your trails.
A mapping GPS can overlay maps behind your targets, ways, and way points. You can get traffic maps, elevation maps, topographic maps, and the sky’s the limit from there!
Are rechargeable batteries good to use for a handheld hiking GPS unit?
When you are hiking and using a GPS, you will probably find yourself using one with traditional batteries.
That means that you could bring one of those handy battery charger packs, but that will add heft to your bag and may be cumbersome to use in the long run.
Along these lines, to spare the earth and your wallet, you can use rechargeable AA batteries and top them up with a solar recharger. In this case, you can carry 2 sets of batteries, using one set while the other is recharging; recharge the charger as you hike.
Is a touch screen better than a button-operated GPS?
This is really a preference. There are some scenarios that one is better than the other, and each has its advantages and disadvantages. For instance, when comparing a touch screen with one that is button operated, you will see a marked difference in battery life.
For the most part, the touch screen will, in general, have a nicer, easier-to-read display, but they will also eat that battery alive.
If you don’t require crazy detail or the capacity to alter maps in the field, consider a button-operated device. They’re very similar to their more technological cousins; however, they may feel like you’ve stepped back in time. Because of the lack of all those extra frills, the battery life of these options is longer than the touch screen variety.
One thing to consider is the weather and season. Touch screens can be difficult to use when they’re wet, and they can be frustrating to use in a chilly climate. Button operated can easily be used with thick gloves.
How do I load a map on my hiking GPS unit?
This will be dependent on the unit. But with the handheld units above, since they are all from the same company, the process will be very similar.
You can introduce point-by-point maps via the BaseCamp application. All you have to do is peruse the map with the handheld device or an SD card.
So here are the basics:
- Pair your device with your PC. To do this, just follow the instruction manual
- The name of your gadget shows up in the Library and Devices territory
- Right-click the Internal Storage tab under the GPS name
- Select the map and hit install
- Then follow the on-screen prompts
Are handheld GPS devices accurate?
The standard handheld GPS unit, dependent on the device, of course, can acquire locations with a flat precision of roughly 3 meters.There are those that, if fitted with additional position technology of the unit, can get locations with an accuracy of up to 10 meters.
There are a lot of benefits to including a handheld GPS device in your hiking gear.
Not only will you be able to navigate those tricky trails, but go off the grid easier. Plus, when you find a trail that you like, you will be able to save it for another trip.
The trick is getting one that will offer optimal performance and not add much weight to your gear. The options that we reviewed above are those we feel are the best hiking GPSes available today.