Once upon a time, navigation was all about bits of paper and magnetised needles, but fortunately technology has come along and fixed all that with the advent of these best hiking GPS units (although there’s still a place for map and compass). Perhaps needless to say, knowing where you are and where you’re trying to go is pretty crucial outdoors, whether you’re out for a Sunday stroll along some local footpaths, or taking on a hill walking challenge in the winter. An outdoor or hiking GPS unit 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 have come a long way from their early days too, now available in a wide range of abilities, price points and sizes, from cheap and cheerful basic units for occasional use, through to professional-grade mapping tools that’ll locate you in seconds anywhere on the planet.
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.
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. All kitted out? Then read on for the best hiking GPSs around.
The best hiking GPS 2021
When only the best will do, turn to the Garmin GPSMAP 65s. 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, and even though the latter 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 it’ll work underwater (for 30 mins at least), so using it in the UK in all weathers should be OK. Head to our Garmin GPSMAP 65s review for more info.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.