Having the best hiking GPS unit to hand when trying to navigate your way in the wilderness can prevent numerous nightmare scenarios. Locating precisely where you are and which direction you need to head in to get to your destination is not always as simple as it sounds, especially in poor conditions, whether you’re out for a Sunday stroll or taking on a winter hill-walking challenge.
The best hiking GPS units will tell you both of those things quick-smart, saving your blushes and preventing a minor navigational slip from snowballing into potentially dangerous territory. Hiking GPS units are available in a wide range of abilities, price points and sizes, from cheap and cheerful basic units for occasional use to professional-grade mapping tools that’ll locate you in seconds anywhere on the planet.
This guide focuses on handheld units, but many of today's best outdoor watches and best smartwatches in general also include GPS capabilities, so you'll also find a few wrist-based options in there too. It'll come as no surprise that the brand that dominates is Garmin, a market leader that also crops up repeatedly in our best sat nav and best golf GPS watch rankings.
The best hiking GPS to buy right now
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We think the best hiking GPS in terms of outright capability is the Garmin inReach Mini 2. This unit offers mapping features and plenty more besides. It offers everything that the original model did, but faster and with more accuracy, thanks to multiple satellite service support and faster location fixes. Garmin has also added a new digital compass, and the display has been improved too. You can store up to 500 waypoints, favourites or locations and up to 20 navigation routes, the (excellent) iOS or Android companion app makes it easy to set and sync points and routes. The build quality is compact and tough, and the rechargeable battery will get you up to 30 days of battery life.
The Garmin inReach Mini 2 does offer communication features, although you will need to pay for an inReach subscription to access them. As you can read in our Garmin inReach Mini 2 hiking GPS review, messaging via satellite is slower and fiddlier than you're probably used to, so it's really just for occasional updates.
If mapping is your priority, the Garmin GPSMAP 65s could be the best hiking GPS for you. While this option has a shorter feature list than others in our ranking – most notably, it lacks communications features, and is powered by batteries rather than being rechargeable – it shines when it comes to pure mapping power. With an additional altimeter and 3 axis compass over the standard model, the 65s pairs old-school button operation with new-school pan-global mapping abilities. These are good things because buttons refuse to go wrong very easily, and still work in rain or when wearing gloves, and the new satellite tools (multi-band technology and expanded GNSS support) make location speed exponentially faster, and tracking accuracy much improved. The Garmin GPSMAP 65s’ GNSS means it can access satellites from GPS, GLONASS, Galileo, QZSS and IRNSS constellations. Even though those last two are Asia-coverage only, that’s still covering off most of the public networks available, which is pretty solid work.
The TopoActive Europe maps are detailed, and easily zoomable to immediately show you where you are, what that river or contour line you can see is, and where your destination is. Basically, exactly what you want from a GPS unit. IPX7 waterproofing means this GPS will work underwater (for 30 mins at least), so it should cope just fine with unpredictable weather. Head to our Garmin GPSMAP 65s review for more info.
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. Head to our Garmin eTrex 10 review to find out more.
Although the Garmin eTrex 30x 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.
The Suunto 9 Baro Titanium might look like a standard outdoors watch, and in many ways it is. However, like many of it’s Suunto 9 cousins, there’s a potent GPS unit built into the watch, plenty enough to get an emergency GPS position, or follow a set of waypoints. Indeed, the Suunto 9 Baro Titanium has access to GPS, GLONASS, GALILEO, QZSS and BEIDOU satellite constellations, offers waypoint and visual navigation, POI navigation, bearing navigation and a variety of route planning tools all packed into a tiny unit. The only downside is managing it all on the move, as the screen real-estate is limited by the fact it’s a watch. Battery life even on the most demanding GPS setting is 25 hours, which can stretch to 170 hours by tuning the responsiveness down a touch.
In addition you get all the bells and whistles of a sports tracking watch, as well as barometric altitude, weather alerts, and a bevy of heart monitoring and training tools. All that in a package that weighs 76grams? Not bad at all.
The eTrex range pops up a few times in our best hiking GPS guide, and with good reason. A slightly older model, the eTrex 32x is available as a standalone GPS or as part of a bundle with vouchers for additional maps, and whichever you pick, chances are you'll be able to find a decent deal. 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.
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. Unlike many handheld GPSs, here you have the option of running the Oregon on twin AAs, or using 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, while those trying to cut down on disposable battery use will appreciate the option to recharge.
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.
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. This one comes with an internal rechargeable battery, which could be a problem if you're going off-grid for long periods, but it does at least last a long time on one charge: up to 120 hours on the default 10-minute tracking mode, 30 days at the 30-minute interval power save mode, and up to 30 days in standby mode.
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 water resistant, 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.
How to chose the best hiking GPS for you
The key things to keep an eye out for when choosing the best hiking GPS unit for you are the number of satellite systems they can access (more is usually faster and more accurate), battery life, and your intended use. Basic units are brilliant as emergency tools but awful to actually use as intensive navigational tools, while some of the beautiful touchscreen units might look nice in the shop but won't work as well in driving rain or when wearing gloves.