Best hiking GPS 2020: stay on track, wherever you're headed | T3

Best hiking GPS 2020: stay on track, wherever you're headed

The best GPS will keep you right no matter where you hike or how bad the weather

The best hiking GPS

Welcome to T3's guide to the best hiking GPS. When you're out hiking there are two fairly crucial bits of information to know: where you're going, and where you are. Thanks to GPS it's never been easier or faster to find out both. GPS technology for hikers is more useful and more affordable than ever, and the best hiking GPS costs a lot less than you might expect.

Of course, GPS isn't the only thing you'll need on your hike – so make sure you're suitably suited and booted with our pick of the best hiking boots, and prepared for rain with one of the best waterproof jackets.

The best hiking GPS isn't necessarily the same as what you'd want from an urban GPS system. For example, touchscreens are nice to have, but they're not exactly helpful when you're halfway up a hill and the rain's coming in sideways. The best hiking GPS option may not necessarily be the one with the most cutting-edge technology or the longest list of features, and we've put together our list based on what you'll really need when you're out on a hike. 

best hiking GPS: Garmin eTrex 30x

(Image credit: Garmin)

1. Garmin eTrex 30x

This capable classic is still the best hiking GPS

Specifications
Best for: Small and lightweight
Battery: 2xAA batteries
Touchscreen: No
Memory: 3.7GB
Reasons to buy
+Very light and compact+Great value functionality

The best hiking GPS is the Garmin eTrex 30x. Although the design hasn't changed much for a while now (the 30x is a slight upgrade on the original eTrex 30, with a higher-res screen and more memory), its appeal for hikers hasn't lessened, even in the face of slightly more flashy handheld GPS options. Its IPX7 waterproof rating and side button/joystick control combo (no touchscreen here) means it's usable in all weathers, and reviewers found it suitably compact and lightweight at just shy of 150g including batteries. Users also commented favourably on its fast-acting satellite latching, saying it rarely loses contact, and were impressed that it matched the functionality of some higher-end models with features like wireless sharing, tri-axial compass and Garmin Chirp technology.

best hiking GPS: Garmin eTrex 32x

(Image credit: Garmin)

2. Garmin eTrex 32x

Everything the eTrex 30x can do, plus built-in TopoActive maps

Specifications
Best for: High end option
Battery: 2 x AA
Touchscreen: No
Memory: 8GB
Reasons to buy
+Improved over its predecessor+Topographic maps
+Some good value bundles around

The eTrex 32x is available as a standalone model or as part of a bundle with vouchers for additional maps. Either way, price cuts mean it's getting ever more affordable: at the time of writing the standalone 32x was available for under £200.
The difference between it and the eTrex 30x are minor: the 32X has more memory (although not much of it is available to you because of the very large pre-installed TopoActive map) and the menus are a little different. It supports both GPS and GLONASS and it has both a magnetic compass for fast direction-finding and a barometric altimeter for accurate measurements of your trail’s ups and downs.

Hardware-wise, it’s not exactly a radical upgrade. But it’s the TopoActive map that really matters here. For European customers that means preloaded maps of 46 countries based on the OpenStreetMap database, with thousands of points of interests covering everything from natural features to places to get a post-hike pint.

best hiking GPS: Garmin Oregon 700

(Image credit: Garmin)

3. Garmin Oregon 700

A high-end GPS that's quick to respond but impressively rugged

Specifications
Best for: High-end
Battery: 2xAA batteries or rechargeable pack
Touchscreen: Yes
Memory: 1.7GB
Reasons to buy
+Improved version of firm favourite+Rugged case is very durable+Sunlight-readable touch screen+Choice of AAs or battery pack

The Oregon 700 is the successor to the much-loved but now discontinued Garmin Oregon 650T, which expert testers described as the most wide-ranging hiking GPS receiver on the market. The newer version retains the impressively durable, sunlight-readable touch screen and useful camera, has a redesigned antenna for better reception and has expanded wireless connectivity with support for Active Weather and Geocaching Live. There's also a year's free subscription to BirdsEye satellite imagery. As before there's a useful choice of power, enabling you to run the Oregon on twin AAs or on a rechargeable battery pack. Being able to swap the pack out for a pair of AAs is good for peace of mind on longer hikes.

Garmin Montana 680

4. Garmin Montana 680

The mid-range montana impresses with its large, easy-to-use screen

Specifications
Best for: Big and tough
Battery: 3xAA batteries or rechargeable pack
Touchscreen: Yes
Memory: 4GB
Reasons to buy
+Powerful and reliable+Large, easy-to-use touchscreen

If you're looking for a great mid-range option, try the Garmin Montana 680. Testers found this receiver to be nice and powerful, offering excellent accuracy and reception and a superbly user-friendly large screen with an easy-to-use interface. The 8MP camera and 4GB of internal memory show just what a powerhouse it is, too. Naturally, this all means it’s quite large and heavy, so best avoided for backpacking, but fine if you’ve got the space and weight to spare. 

best hiking GPS: Garmin eTrex 10 GPS

(Image credit: Garmin)

5. Garmin eTrex 10

This entry-level option is the best hiking GPS on a budget

Specifications
Best for: Budget buyers
Battery: 2 x AA
Touchscreen: No
Memory: 8MB
Reasons to buy
+Very cheap for a dedicated GPS+Sunlight readable display+Capable option for GPS beginners
Reasons to avoid
-Very basic feature set

If you're on a tight budget, the best hiking GPS for you is the modestly priced Garmin eTrex 10 GPS. Don't expect lots of bells and whistles for your money, but don't expect it to be cheap nonsense either: it's sturdy, water resistant (IPX7) and gets an impressive 25 hours from a pair of AA batteries. The 128 x 160mm screen is clear and the buttons are easy to use one-handed. The E-Trex 10 GPS is compatible with Garmin Connect and Garmin Basecamp. It enables you to store 1,000 waypoints/favourites and 50 routes; it can track 10,000 points and save up to 100 tracks. However, you can't load additional mapping and it lacks an SD card slot for expanding the memory.

Garmin inReach Explorer+

6. Garmin inReach Explorer+

Stay in touch via satellite with this communication-promoting GPS

Specifications
Best for: Communication
Battery: Lithium battery
Touchscreen: No
Memory: 2GB
Reasons to buy
+Reliable reception+Quicker and cheaper than many satellite phones

The Garmin inReach Explorer+ proves you don’t have to choose between shelling out for a separate satellite phone and – quelle horreur – completely cutting ties with the outside world when you’re on a hike. If you spend a lot of time off the grid, this is a great handheld GPS device that also lets you stay in touch using satellite messaging, sending notes to both telephone numbers and email addresses. Testers found that while it could take a few minutes to send and receive messages (you need to wait for satellites to pass over) the reception was incredibly reliable.

Garmin eTrex 20x

7. Garmin eTrex 20x

Weatherproof and wonderfully affordable, this eTrex is a great first-time buy

Specifications
Best for: Simple, affordable
Battery: 2xAA batteries
Touchscreen: No
Memory: 3.7GB
Reasons to buy
+Very inexpensive+Waterproof and durable

Infrequent hikers who don't want to take their phones out on the trail seem to be the target audience for the eTrex 20x: it's rugged, it's waterproof, and it's very reasonably priced, so basically the opposite of most smartphones, and a great value buy for those who don’t want to invest too much but still want decent functionality for their buck. While the unit only comes pre-loaded with a base map, you get the full benefit of Garmin's own functionality, including free software Basecamp which lets you plan routes and load them onto the eTrex, and tons of free downloadable topo maps.

best hiking GPS: Garmin Instinct

(Image credit: Garmin)

8. Garmin Instinct

A good smartwatch that's useful for occasional hiking

Specifications
Best for: occasional explorers
Battery: 16 hours (GPS mode)
Touchscreen: No
Memory: 16MB
Reasons to buy
+Also used as an everyday watch+Unlikely to be left behind+Small screen
Reasons to avoid
-Limited compared to dedicated GPS

If you'd rather have a smartwatch than a standalone GPS unit, Garmin's military-spec GPS smartwatch is water-resistant and also built to US standards for thermal and shock resistance. It accesses GPS, GLONASS and Galileo GPS and features an altimeter, barometer and three-axis electronic compass. It's not a dedicated hiking device but it does have a hiking profile alongside its presets for winter sports, swimming and cycling.

One of the big compromises with wearables is battery life, because of course there's not room for a big battery in there. The Garmin does a decent job with a rechargeable battery delivering up to 14 days as a watch and up to 16 hours in GPS mode. If this is your only GPS, it might be wise to take a portable charger with you just in case.

Check out the alternatives in this area in our rankings of the best outdoor watches or the best smartwatches in general.