This is a gear review about the best hiking GPS for 2023.
These Handheld GPS units are lightweight, have long battery life, and are very accurate in determining your exact location.
Not everyone has mastered the art of reading a map and learning how to use a compass. For those who can’t read a map, taking one of the best handheld GPS units for backpacking is an amazing way to keep a track of your hike, no matter where you end up.
Modern Backpacking GPS devices offer bundles of features to make your hiking experience safe, enjoyable, and exciting, without having to trace your position across a cumbersome map.
With so many hiking GPS devices to choose from which one do you choose?
Let’s go through the best hiking GPS units on the market in 2023 and figure out which of them stands as the absolute best of the best.
Best Hiking GPS for Backpacking 2023
The Best Hiking GPS for Backpacking in 2023 are:
- Garmin Montana 700i
- Garmin inReach Mini 2
- Garmin eTrex 32x
- Garmin InReach Mini
- Garmin Oregon 750t
- Garmin GPSMAP 66i
Best Handheld GPS 2023
Garmin Montana 700i
> Offers a slate of features that allow you to stay incredibly safe throughout your trek.
> The sturdy build will withstand the elements, and accidental drops onto through terrain.
> The Large touchscreen display makes it easy to read all information.
> Features such as active weather, which display weather information directly onto the map require the device to be paired to a smartphone.
Despite having a large and responsive touchscreen, the Garmin Montana 700i GPS device is built to withstand all of the elements, and more! Its solid construction is military tested and proven to withstand drops from extreme heights, wet conditions, and accidental impacts to the screen.
You won’t have to spend your whole hike worrying about keeping your GPS safe. Handy applications and programs help to push this GPS device even further.
All maps come with detailed topo maps, to see the conditions of the terrain you’re venturing towards before you even get there, to keep you safe, and to allow you to make informed decisions on the fly.
When venturing to great heights, the Garmin Montana 700i also benefits from built-in Altitude, Barometer, and electronic Compass Sensors (ABC sensors).
The barometric altimeter is accurate and is used to measure your altitude when navigating hills or mountains.
There is a barometer, to track the weather conditions, which can also be checked in detail via the built-in inReach Weather app.
And there is a compass to determine which direction you are heading.
You can also remain safer by keeping to public footpaths, thanks to an optional display that shows you the boundaries of federal public land so that you don’t end up accidentally trekking onto private property!
It also has an SOS PLB and 2 way messaging at an added cost.
Overall, this is the best handheld GPS unit on the market at the moment.
Best Hiking GPS with Satellite Messenger
Garmin InReach Mini 2
Weight: 3.5 oz / 100 grams
> Ultra lightweight
> Very Good battery life
> Small size
> 2-way communications
> Small Screen
> Need a subscription to use the features
> The 2 way communications are not as easy as some others.
The Garmin InReach 2 is an improvement from the very popular Garmin InReach mini. This new model was released in 2022 and has a digital compass and a trackback feature so you can follow your own tracks if you got lost. But most impressive is the increased battery life and it is water resistant.
Although the InReach 2 is an improvement on the original inReach mini it is not so impressive that you should get rid of your inReach to upgrade. In fact, with the now-discounted price of the inReach mini, you could save some money by buying that.
The Garmin InReach Mini 2 does not have good mapping in comparison with other backpacking GPS units due to the small screen size. And does not have as many features. But is small and lightweight is important then this could be for you. Not to mention you can contact the outside world via satellite if and when needed.
Overall, if you are looking for a handheld hiking GPS that tracks your location, has the ability to contact emergency services for rescue, and has two-way satellite communication then this is the best 2-way satellite communication device on the market.
Best Budget Hiking GPS 2023
Garmin eTrex 32x
> Built for adventure, with geocaching features and satellite images to entice exciting hiking.
> Crisp and the clear screen is easy to read in all conditions, and won’t be affected by rain or snow.
> Small and compact construction make it easy to transport without hassle.
> Small size may make it slightly easier to lose if not securely tied down, or stored away.
If you need a hiking GPS that is small and unassuming, and won’t take up vital space in your pockets, then the Garmin eTrex 32x is perfect for you. Despite its small size, this device is just as sturdy as you would expect from the trusted Garmin brand.
The Garmin eTrex 32x features a watertight build that won’t be affected by rain or snow, so you won’t be wrestling to interact with its touch-screen.
As well as this, the screen itself is crisp, clear, and easily legible even in direct sunlight, so you won’t have to find yourself a spot of shade before you can read it.
This device can also make adjustments to its information based on how you plan to get around. Want to go Bikepacking or Cycling? The Garmin eTrex 32x GPS will show you numerous cycling paths that are perfect for achieving good speeds while still remaining safe.
The Garmin eTrex 32x is also wonderful for the burgeoning adventure sport of geocaching, where you hunt down small treasure troves in the outside world that other players have left for you to find.
The eTrex 32x allows you to keep track of all geocaching quests that you are on, so you won’t have to lug around paper clues, they’re all accessible right from your Handheld GPS device.
As well as indicated difficulty levels, so you can make sure that you are taking part in challenges that are right for you.
With a small additional subscription fee, you also gain access to wonderful birdseye satellite imagery, so you can get a great sense of the area around you, and mark landmarks and natural wonders on your map to hunt them down personally.
Overall, the Garmin eTrex 32x GPS device is built for adventure and fun in the outside world, whether alone or with family and friends, making it perfect for those adventure junkies who just can’t get enough of the world around them.
More Backpacking GPS Units to Consider
Garmin InReach Mini
> Easy to understand, with only the most crucial information displayed, perfect for first-time users.
> The Small design makes it easy to keep this GPS close by at all times, so you’ll always know where it is when you need it.
> Extra features make it useful in everyday life, outside of hiking.
> Certain features require a connection to a smartphone, which can be off-putting for some.
If you’re in the market for your first ever hiking GPS, and you want something inexpensive and simple, then the Garmin InReach Mini is perfect for you. Although this model has now been replaced by the updated inReach Mini 2 the older version represents good value for money.
This simple little device has a small shape that will fit beautifully inside your pocket without taking up a lot of space. The InReach Mini features an LCD backlit screen, which is recessed so that it won’t accidentally bash against rocks or other sharp objects while climbing, so you won’t have to worry about cracking.
This GPS can tell you the time accurately to where you are, but can also give you other vital information, such as your amount of steps, the weather conditions in your area, and even the altitude that you have climbed.
You can easily connect this little pocket GPS device to your smartphone via a Bluetooth connection, to enjoy improved connectivity and information.
There is also the Earthmate app, which allows you access to extra information, such as detailed maps, and information about your hike, to allow you to keep on track of your many adventures.
If you find yourself in trouble it is good to know that this works as one of the Best Personal Locator Beacons on the market and is also one of the Best 2-way satellite Communication devices on the market. There is also the larger Garmin Inreach Explorer which is very similar, I just prefer the smaller, lighter mini version. And it is water resistant which means you can wear it on the outside of your pack in case you need it.
Overall, this is the best ultralight handheld GPS unit that also functions as a PLB and more.
Garmin Oregon 750t
> The Touchscreen makes accessing the information you need simple.
> The Built-in camera allows you to take stunning photos of the landmarks you see.
> Multiple barometers and an accurate electronic compass make keeping to your heading easy.
> The camera can not take video footage, unfortunately.
The Garmin Oregon 750t is perfect for those who want to splash out a little bit more to access incredibly useful and personalized features from their hiking GPS.
The Garmin Oregon 750t device can easily be used in all manner of conditions, and won’t be affected by cold fingers or adverse weather.
The focus on durability does not mean that this handheld GPS device will operate slower than your average smartphone. With a good processor built-in, this GPS unit can easily keep up with whatever you need from it, and provide you with the right information quickly and without a fuss.
Battery life is also not affected by this high-speed processing, able to last you an entire day of intense hiking action, without needing to be recharged!
With a pre-installed barometer, a slew of in-depth topo maps, and even a barometric altimeter sensor, you’ll always have a good sense of where you are, without needing to access any confusing options menus or navigate through advanced features.
This is a perfect device for both beginner hikers and those who need a reliable and in-depth device with all of the information they could need for a successful hike.
And don’t forget the incredibly useful camera application built into this little device. This camera allows you to take amazing 8 Megapixel photographs of the vistas you’ll come across on your adventures.
The Garmin Oregon 750t makes it easy to create memories that will last a lifetime of the adventures you’ve taken with this little beauty.
Garmin GPSMAP 66i
> SOS button makes it easy to warn services of an emergency.
> The built-in texting system means you could easily travel without having to break out your smartphone.
> Massive battery life makes this device seriously stand out!
> In order to access texting functions, you need to pair the device with your smartphone.
With features that raise it completely above all competing hiking GPS devices and numerous extra features, it’s no surprise that the Garmin GPSMAP 66i would stand apart from the crowd as the absolute best in the business.
Unlike many handheld GPS devices which focus heavily either on navigational features of safety and communication systems, the Garmin GPSMAP 66i finds an incredible balance between the two, in a device that can easily compete with even some of the best smartphones in processing speed and efficiency.
Reading the device is easy, thanks to its easy-to-understand design, which is reminiscent of a classic Nokia mobile phone. This design makes the device easy to learn and to get to grips with.
While this device may lack a touch screen, it is still incredibly easy to interact with, and responsive to all inputs. Every button is clearly labeled, with obvious functions.
The buttons themselves are large and evenly spaced, to ensure you won’t end up accidentally pressing one button when you mean to press another!
Perhaps one of the most useful buttons is the special SOS button, which juts out clearly from the side of the device, so you can easily call for help and assistance when you need it, without having to scroll through endless menus.
You can also send detailed SOS messages, to detail injuries, or the assistance you may require, thanks to the built-in satellite messaging system.
This built-in satellite messaging system also allows you to send text messages via satellite, which does cost an additional extra subscription fee but is well worth the cost.
You can also easily connect the unit to smart devices, and access extra features via the Garmin Explore App, to retrieve extra data from your day’s hike. However, these features are considered to be extras and aren’t necessary to enjoy the device to its fullest capacity.
You don’t need to connect your handheld GPS unit to a smart device in order to access its most basic features, which makes it great for users without smart devices.
You won’t have to worry about running out of battery life either! The Garmin GPSMAP 66i GPS device can last upwards of 35 hours on one single charge when using more advanced features. If you are just using basic features, then you can expect the battery life to last in excess of 200 hours!
This is some serious battery life, which makes the device perfect for those long-haul hikes when you may not have easy access to a power supply.
The Garmin GPSMAP 66i GPS device can easily be charged by plugging it into an available plug socket, or into a portable charging device, to allow you to travel even further, not that you will need to charge this bad boy up often!
So we’ve explored a fantastic range of acclaimed hiking GPS devices today, and hopefully, you feel inspired to finally pick one up for yourself, to see what it can offer you and your adventures.
However, picking the right handheld GPS device is a highly personal task, and simply knowing which device is the absolute best won’t always cut it. You might have highly specific needs, or you may be wondering how much is a reasonable price for a handheld GPS.
Read onwards below to find out some top factors to consider when browsing through the best GPS devices, to find one that suits you perfectly, and will have you completely satisfied.
Display and Buttons
The display and ability to navigate around the screen can be touchscreen, buttons, or a combination of both. The size of the screen will also affect the weight, battery life, and how well maps and location can be displayed.
Most of the new models of handheld hiking GPS units feature a touchscreen. This eliminates the need for buttons and can make navigating multiple screens within the app a bit easier and quicker.
A touchscreen does have its downsides. When the screen is wet it does not always want to work as well as it is dry and at times will need to be wiped dry. And when you are wearing gloves you often will need a special glove that has a screen pad to be able to be used on touchscreen devices.
Overall, I prefer a touchscreen and so do many others.
Simple, easy to use, and can be used with gloves and in all weather. A GPS unit that uses buttons to navigate through the different screens is simple, cheaper and they just work. But as time moves on and technology advances they are dying a slow death.
The size of the Hiking GPS unit will determine the resolution of the screen, the weight, and how compact it is. Even the biggest handheld GPS units in this review are similar in size to a smartphone, although usually quite a bit thicker.
Whether it is the ultra-compact and lightweight Garmin inReach Mini 2 or the full-featured Garmin Montana 700, they are all not that heavy. If you require basic features and weight is super important then go light and you will only need to carry 3.5 ounces. If you need a full-featured GPS then they weigh around 14 ounces in total.
Hiking GPS Battery Life
There’s no telling just how long a hike might last. Some days it might take you a few hours before you decide to head back home. On other days, you may choose to take on a long-haul trip, one that requires you to camp out overnight.
Because of the uncertainty that hiking can present, you need to make sure that your handheld GPS has the right battery life to suit your needs. Most people use either a Power Bank for Backpacking or a Portable Solar Charger for Backpacking to keep electronics charged. Carrying one of these will increase the battery life of the GPS unit and for most hikers, they are something you must carry to keep everything charged.
Do you plan to hike for multiple hours every day? If so, you need to acquire a Handheld GPS device with a suitably long battery life, so that you don’t have to concern yourself with a low battery level.
Most handheld units will last upwards of 30 hours of battery life in GPS mode with one overnight charge, which would be more than suitable for a day’s hiking.
If you plan to camp overnight, and you aren’t sure that you’ll be close to a power supply, you can opt for a model with a larger battery capacity, or bring along an extra battery pack, to give you an extra day’s worth of charge.
If you are an infrequent hiker or someone who only hikes across shorter distances whenever you do hike, then a model with a shorter battery life should be more than suitable.
GPS devices with shorter batteries may cost less as well, so you should make sure to strongly consider whether you need extended battery life.
Regardless, most GPS devices are fitted with high-grade batteries that last a long time on a single charge, and that don’t degrade quickly after years of use. You can expect your GPS unit to last you many years, with proper care.
Hiking is a risky business. The sport involves you pushing yourself to the limit to witness amazing vistas and explore the bountiful and beautiful outside world around you. However, accidents can happen.
Sometimes you may fall a short distance or otherwise bash into a hard surface. You may even drop some of your cargo by accident. In these instances, there might not be much of a risk of harm to yourself, but any delicate belongings you have may become damaged.
When choosing your perfect GPS unit make sure that it is durable and ready to take on what you throw at it.
If you enjoy climbing great heights and exploring rough terrain, you will definitely want to spring for a GPS unit that is durable and won’t break when dropped or otherwise damaged.
Much like with other features, the better the durability, the higher the cost. If you are only occasionally planning on hiking, then you should only need a basic level of durability, which all handheld GPS devices strive toward as a standard.
Ease of Use
More advanced hiking GPS devices require greater knowledge of how to operate them and thus are not greatly suited to beginner users.
There would be no point in springing for a highly expensive model with lots of bells and whistles, as you may not even know how to use it properly.
When choosing a handheld GPS, make sure to consider your experience level with such devices, and how competent you are at hiking. If you are just starting out, you should settle for a more basic model that provides you with the basic information to get started.
That way, should you find yourself enjoying the sport, and continue it further, you can easily upgrade to a more expensive model. If it turns out that hiking isn’t for you, then at least you haven’t spent too much of your hard-earned cash on expensive technology.
If you are a beginner, you should also look to make sure that safety features are easy to access. Check for devices with clear buttons and user interfaces, especially those with easy-to-access SOS buttons, just in case of emergencies.
Handheld GPS Cost
To put it simply, more features mean a higher price. If your Handheld GPS device has extra features such as texting, or geocaching facilities, then you can expect to pay a higher price for these features.
Some models even require an extra subscription fee to make use of these features, such as the Garmin Montana 700i and Garmin InReach Mini which locks certain extras behind a paywall.
If you only need the basic information from your GPS unit: your location, the local weather conditions, and the time of day. Then you will be fully satisfied with a cheaper device that has fewer features that you likely won’t even use.
If you are a beginner hiker, this is also the right option for you. Having bountiful extra features may seem like the best choice, to begin with, but it is likely that your lack of experience will render those features useless to you.
If you are planning to spring for a more expensive model, which features text messaging and Bluetooth connections, then you should make sure that those features are definitely of use to you.
You might also want a more expensive model if you are highly experienced in hiking, and know how to maximize the settings on a handheld GPS to achieve the best results.
Keep in mind that some people use a GPS watch in place of a dedicated unit as mentioned in this review. A GPS watch is a handy item that will do a lot of the same things as some of the best handheld GPS units but they don’t have the same computing power, battery life, or functions as most of the units mentioned here. But they are getting very close, so close in fact that many people now prefer a GPS Watch.
There are several good Hiking GPS units on the market. All have their pros and cons.
Overall the best basic and simple handheld GPS unit is the Garmin eTrek 32.
The best full-featured GPS for Backpacking is the Garmin Montana 700i.
The best combination of a PLB and Satellite Messenger hiking GPS unit is the Garmin inReach Mini 2.
- Garmin Montana 700i
- Garmin inReach Mini 2
- Garmin eTrex 32x
- Garmin InReach Mini
- Garmin Oregon 750t
- Garmin GPSMAP 66i
Maybe should take a look at my other guide about the Best PLB and Satellite Communication device or the Best GPS Watch for Hiking for further inspiration.
Frequently Asked Questions
If you have a smartphone with GPS capabilities and map functions, it would be easy to assume that owning a handheld GPS is pointless. What more could a handheld GPS offer that a phone can’t?
What makes handheld GPS devices stand above smartphones is their ability to provide dependable map data throughout your hike.
A smartphone requires some kind of cellular connection to be able to provide you with the data to guide you on your journey, so when hiking through difficult terrain, you are likely to lose connection and lose access to your maps.
Handheld GPS devices have up-to-date maps pre-installed, so they require no kind of connection to give you an accurate sense of your location, unlike a smartphone.
GPS devices can help you to get a sense of your bearings easily, this helps to keep you from getting lost or wandering onto terrain that is dangerous, or that should not be accessed on foot.
Thus, GPS devices are well worth taking with you on any hiking expeditions. It is definitely possible to have a safe hiking trip without one, but for peace of mind, it is best to have one handy, even if it is just a small and basic one.
Many handheld GPS devices also have built-in SOS functions, so you can call for help easily at the press of a button if you end up in a sticky situation.
When you are engaged on a hiking trip, you do not need any kind of wifi connectivity. All maps are pre-installed to your device, so you don’t need to connect to wifi or use cellular data to keep track of where you are heading.
Many handheld GPS devices can connect to the internet, for functions such as map updates, but this is not essential.
Some GPS devices can also connect to smartphones for added functionality, but this is done via a Bluetooth connection and requires no wifi or cellular connectivity.
At this point, a prevailing question in your mind might just be “Why do I need a hiking GPS?” What kinds of features can it possibly offer, and is it really any more helpful than a trusty map?
First off, it is best to mention that having a handheld GPS allows you access to an incredibly detailed map that requires no folding away, and doesn’t risk tearing from the slightest gust of wind!
A handheld GPS also makes it far easier to find your exact position, with no need to triangulate it on a map.
You might also be wondering what a hiking GPS could possibly offer that your basic smartphone can’t.
While it is true that modern smartphones have incredibly useful GPS features that can make navigating unfamiliar areas much easier, they can easily fail to do so as soon as you run out of cellular data, or you end up in an area without a cellphone signal.
A handheld GPS can track your position on a map easily, as all maps are pre-installed into them so that they can work no matter where you are.
As well as this, if you are hiking during harsh weather conditions, a hiking GPS will more likely survive the elements better than a smartphone, thanks to their incredibly durable builds.