The Best Hiking GPS of 2023

Garmin Montana 700i

Garmin Montana 700i

A handheld GPS device is very useful for hiking, trekking and mountaineering because it allows you to easily find your way even if the visibility is poor or the landscape has little or no distinct features. Handheld GPS devices have several advantages in comparison to Smartphones which are often used for navigation by recreational hikers. GPS devices are more durable and have a much longer battery life. Furthermore, they are typically equipped with rechargeable batteries which can be replaced with disposable batteries if recharging is not possible – for example in remote and sparsely inhabited areas.

In comparison to the increasingly popular GPS-enabled watches, which are indeed useful for navigation, handheld GPS devices offer a better overview of the terrain as they show detailed maps and in some cases also satellite imagery whereas watches can only show your location and direction in relation to the waypoints and routes (breadcrumb trail). Handheld GPS devices also enable you to easily insert new waypoints and plan the route directly on the device. To do this on a GPS watch you need a computer or a Smartphone with working internet connection. Therefore, handheld GPS devices are the navigation tool of choice when it comes to hiking and mountaineering.

However, you should never rely solely on any kind of GPS device (whether in the form of a watch, phone or handheld device) as they are all limited by their battery life and availability of GPS signal. It is recommended that you always bring a compass and map as a backup when venturing into unknown territory.

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1. Our Hiking GPS Picks

Best Hiking GPS Devices

Best Hiking GPS Devices

  1. Garmin GPSMAP 66i
  2. Garmin eTrex 32x
  3. Garmin Montana 700i
  4. Garmin GPSMAP 65s
  5. Satmap Active 20

2. Comparison of Hiking GPS Devices

Scroll Horizontally
Feature/Product Garmin GPSMAP 66iGarmin eTrex 32Garmin Montana 700iGarmin GPSMAP 65sSatmap Active 20
Weight8.11 oz.4.9 oz.14.5 oz.7.7 oz.11 oz.
Weight (Metric)230 g141 g410 g217 g 310 g
Size2.4 x 6.4 x 1.4 in. 2.1 x 4.1 x 1.3 in. 3.6 x 7.2 x 1.3 in.2.4 x 6.3 x 1.4 in. 2.4 x 5.8 x 1.4 in.
Size (Metric)6.2 x 16.3 x 3.5 cm5.4 x 10.3 x 3.3 cm9.2 x 18.3 x 3.3 cm6.1 x 16 x 3.6 cm6.1 x 14.7 x 3.5 cm
Display3''2.2" 5"2.6"3.5"
TouchscreenNoNoYesNoYes (but also buttons)
Battery Life35 h (10 min tracking interval)25 h18 h (10 min tracking interval)16 h16 h
BatteryRechargeable lithium-ion 2 AA batteries (not included)Rechargeable lithium-ion 2 AA batteriesRechargeable lithium-ion
Technology GPS + GALILEO GPS + GLONASSGPS + GalileoGPS + GLONASS + GalileoGPS + GLONASS + GALILEO
Electronic CompassYesYes YesYesYes
Barometric AltimeterYesYesYesYesYes
WaterproofYes (IPX7)Yes (IPX7)Yes (IPX7)Yes (IPX7)Yes (IP68)
Memory Card SupportYesYesYesYesYes
Routes Memory250200250200Unlimited
POIs Memory 20000100002000010000Unlimited
Supports Standard BatteriesNoYes (2 AA batteries)NoYes (2 AA batteries) Yes (3 AA batteries)
Wireless ConnectivityBluetooth, Wi-Fi and ANT+ ANT+Bluetooth, Wi-Fi and ANT+ Wi-Fi and ANT+Bluetooth and Wi-Fi
Camera NoNoNoNoNo
Geocaching-friendlyYesYesYesYesNo
Trip Planning SoftwareYes (BaseCamp, Garmin Explore)Yes (BaseCamp)Yes (BaseCamp)Yes (BaseCamp, Garmin Explore)Yes (Xpedition)

3. The Selection

Garmin GPSMAP 66i

Garmin GPSMAP 66i

1. Garmin GPSMAP 66i

Suitable for:

  • Hiking
  • Mountaineering
  • Trekking
  • Hunting
  • Geocaching
  • Backpacking

 

The Garmin GPSMAP 66i is a very powerful handheld GPS device. It is equipped with a helix antenna that tracks GPS and Galileo satellites simultaneously which increases the satellite lock speed as well as the positioning accuracy. It also has inReach technology which means that it can work as a satellite communication device, using the Iridium satellite network. Therefore, you can send and receive messages where there is no cell phone signal and trigger an SOS in case of emergency. However, note that inReach technology requires a subscription. Other features include an electronic 3-axis compass, barometric altimeter and Bluetooth chipset which allows you to wirelessly connect the device to other Bluetooth devices, for example your SmartPhone. The Garmin GPSMAP 66i also supports notifications such as missed calls, text messages and other alerts from your phone to be displayed directly on the GPS device (requires Garmin Connect app). The hiking GPS device comes with the TOPO U.S. 100K maps and a 1-year BirdsEye Satellite Imagery subscription. The only bigger downside of this device is that it doesn’t work with AA batteries and thus needs access to the electricity to be recharged.

 

Pros:

  • Durability
  • Buttons
  • Galileo support
  • inReach technology
  • Pairs with a smartphone
  • Robust design

Cons:

  • Size
  • Doesn’t support standard batteries

Video

Garmin eTrex 32

Garmin eTrex 32

2. Garmin eTrex 32x

Suitable for:

  • Hiking
  • Mountaineering
  • Climbing
  • Trekking
  • Hunting
  • Geocaching
  • Backpacking

 

The Garmin eTrex 32x is the lightest and smallest device in this review. This makes it perfect for hiking, mountaineering, trekking and other outdoor activities – you can easily store it in your backpack’s hip belt pocket. The device also fits perfectly in your hand. It is very compact and provides great water- and shock-resistance. The display is small but provides sufficient readability. It has a resolution of 240 x 320 pixels and can show 65.000 colors. Garmin eTrex 32x is equipped with WAAS and HotFix features and has a 3-axis electronic compass and barometric altimeter. The electronic compass shows direction even when the device is not completely leveled. The WAAS and HotFix features make positioning fast and precise. The eTrex 32x hiking gps device also supports satellite images (it can display satellite images instead of a map), but a subscription is required to use this feature (BirdsEye). It runs on two AA batteries and thus you can easily change the batteries on the go. The Garmin eTrex 32 is a great handheld GPS device due to its small size and incredible hardware. The only downside is that it doesn’t support Bluetooth or Wi-Fi.

 

Pros:

  • Battery life
  • Weight
  • Buttons
  • GLONASS support
  • Supports AA batteries

Cons:

  • Screen size
  • Connectivity (no Bluetooth or Wi-Fi)

Video

Garmin Montana 700i

Garmin Montana 700i

3. Garmin Montana 700i

Suitable for:

  • Hiking
  • Mountaineering
  • Trekking
  • Hunting
  • Geocaching
  • Backpacking

 

The Garmin Montana 700i is another sophisticated hiking GPS device from the iconic brand. It is slightly bigger and heavier than the above listed devices but on the other hand it also has a bigger display with better resolution. The touchscreen display supports double orientation and is more “glove-friendly” than standard touchscreen displays. This does not completely eliminate the fact that touchscreens are hard to use with gloves on because wearing a (thick) glove you will still have problems touching the screen precisely. The Garmin Montana 700i features a barometric altimeter, digital compass, sun and moon information, hunting/fishing calendar, tide tables and turn-by-turn navigation.  As the device tracks both GPS and Galileo satellites, it retrieves signal very fast and shows the location precisely. Garmin Montana 700i is powered by a rechargeable lithium-ion battery. The lifetime of the lithium-ion battery is approximately 18 hours. Like the GPSMAP 66i mentioned above, it is equipped with inReach technology.  The Garmin Montana 700i is a powerful navigation tool but it has two big downsides – weight and size.

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Pros:

  • Screen readability
  • Galileo
  • User-friendly
  • inReach technology
  • Pairs with a smartphone

Cons:

  • Weight
  • Size
  • Hard to use with gloves

Video

Garmin GPSMAP 65s

Garmin GPSMAP 65s

4. Garmin GPSMAP 65s

Suitable for:

  • Hiking
  • Mountaineering
  • Trekking
  • Backpacking
  • Hunting
  • Geocaching
  • Backpacking

 

The Garmin GPSMAP 65s looks almost the same as the Garmin GPSMAP 66i mentioned above. However, the devices differ in features and price. The GPSMAP 65s is less expensive and thus has less features and cheaper components. It does not support inReach technology and has a smaller screen with lower resolution in comparison to the GPSMAP 66i. Nevertheless, the Garmin GPSMAP 65s is still a great hiking gps device. It features barometric altimeter, digital compass and supports Bluetooth and ANT+. It can be easily paired with your Smartphone for receiving notifications directly on the device. The Garmin GPSMAP 65s is compatible with GPS, GLONASS and Galileo satellite systems. Therefore, it provides accurate location and quick satellite fix. The device runs on 2 AA batteries which enables you to simply replace the batteries. This is indeed useful for long backpacking trips where you might not have access to the electricity to recharge your GPS device. All in all, the Garmin GPSMAP 65s is a great device for the price.

 

Pros:

  • Durability
  • Buttons
  • Galileo support
  • GLONASS support
  • Pairs with a smartphone
  • Robust design

Cons:

  • No Wi-Fi
  • Size
Satmap Active 20

Satmap Active 20

5. Satmap Active 20

Suitable for:

  • Hiking
  • Mountaineering
  • Trekking
  • Hunting
  • Geocaching
  • Backpacking

 

The Satmap Active 20 is a simple but very effective handheld GPS device. Therefore, it is suitable for beginners as well as professionals.  The device weighs 11 ounces and is equipped with a 3.5-inch high-resolution display. The buttons are large and easy to use – even when you are wearing gloves or having fingers numb of cold. The construction is very solid and thus the device offers good protection against shock and water. Satmap Active 20 has the IP68 water-resistance rating which means that it can be submerged up to 1.5 meters. It also has the IK7 impact rating and utilizes the robust Gorilla glass. The Satmap hiking gps device is equipped with Bluetooth Smart which allows you to share routes wirelessly and connect additional equipment, like a heart rate belt, to it. It is also equipped with a barometric altimeter for precise readings. Altitude information is available even if the GPS signal is lost – exactly due to the barometric altimeter. There are many maps available for this device – they can be purchased directly from the Satmap’s website. The included rechargeable battery lasts for up to 16 hours but can be replaced with 3 AA batteries. The Satmap Active 20 is a great device for every hiker or mountaineer. The main advantages of the Satmap Active 20 in comparison to the competition are the convenient buttons and the large high-resolution display.

 

Pros:

  • Big screen
  • Buttons
  • Compact

Cons:

  • /

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4. Hiking GPS Buying Advice  – What is important?

Positioning Technology:

In addition to GPS, some devices also support GLONASS, Galileo and other positioning systems. These positioning systems are alternatives to GPS but can also work together with it. Devices that support multiple positioning systems locate your position faster and more precisely. Furthermore, they are also more likely to locate your position in difficult terrain (narrow valleys, dense woods etc.).

Garmin GPS devices often feature WAAS technology which increases the positioning accuracy. WAAS stands for Wide Area Augmentation System and provides GPS signal corrections (clock drift, delays caused by atmosphere etc.) thus increasing the positioning accuracy. WAAS is only available in America. Another useful feature from Garmin is Hotfix which decreases satellite acquisition time. Hotfix calculates and saves the positions of satellites for the next three days for area where you last used the device. This feature is useful if you’re using the device regularly in the same area.

Extra Features – Altimeter, Barometer, Compass etc.

Modern GPS devices do not only show your location on a map but also have other useful features such as an electronic compass and barometric altimeter. Such a compass and altimeter work even if the GPS signal is not available and are thus useful for hiking in narrow valleys or dense woods, where it might be hard to get the signal. Some GPS devices can also be connected to other devices such as Smartphones, cameras (for example the Garmin Virb action camera), heart rate monitors and temperature sensors. These devices can then be controlled directly from the GPS unit, which can also show different information from each device (for example notifications from a Smartphone, the heart rate from a heart rate monitor etc.).

Mapping and Memory:

Most GPS devices come with preloaded maps. For example, Garmin devices typically come with TopoActive mapping for the country where you bought the device. You can buy TopoActive mapping for other areas on Garmin website. TopoActive maps are very detailed and regularly updated. Backpackers and hikers are very satisfied with them in general. However, if you find them too pricy you can always use open-source mapping like OpenTopoMap. You can download open-source maps for free and then transfer them to your device. GPS device will typically have a memory card where maps are stored. The memory card also stores information about routes and POIs.

Satellite Messaging:

Satellite messaging has become very popular in the last few years and many GPS devices started supporting it. However, note that satellite messaging only works if you have an active subscription which is typically billed monthly. For example, Garmin requires inReach subscription plan for satellite messaging which costs $15 per month. Satellite messaging allows you to communicate in areas without cell service. You can send and receive texts, share your location, post to social media and communicate with others via GPS device. Furthermore, you can also send SOS signal in case of emergency.

Battery Life:

The battery life of a handheld GPS device should be at least 10 hours so that you don’t have to change batteries too often. All GPS devices in this review have good battery life. Some use AA batteries while others have rechargeable batteries. Devices that use AA batteries are convenient for long backpacking trips because you can simply change the batteries. Nevertheless, devices with rechargeable batteries can be recharged with a solar charger or a power bank.

Construction/Case:

A handheld GPS device must be robust and made of materials that offer good shock- and abrasion resistance. Furthermore, a GPS device must also be water-resistant so that you can safely use it in rainy weather. All devices listed in the review above provide good durability and qualify for the IPX7 water resistance rating (meaning that the device can withstand exposure to water of up to 1 meter for up to 30 minutes).

Size and Weight:

Having a lightweight and small GPS device is a big benefit when it comes to hiking. Lightweight gear enables you to hike faster and delays the exhaustion. Small size allows you to easily store the device in pockets etc. and handling a small device is in general easier. However, small and lightweight devices typically also have small screens. Therefore, how you’ll be using the device dictates what weight and size are suitable for you. For example, if you’re need device only for hiking the small and lightweight Garmin eTrex will be great. However, if you’re also planning to use the device for ATV driving, snowmobiling etc., you might want to opt in for a device with bigger screen size such as Garmin Montana.

Planning Software:

It’s a great advantage if a GPS device comes with planning software (for PC or Mac) because planning software enables you to easily create routes and waypoints which can then be imported to the device. Usually planning software also shows you advanced information about the routes you have created such as distance, ascent etc. Some brands have their own software like for example Garmin (BaseCamp app which is available for Mac and Windows) while others use third party applications.

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Author Information

Blaz

Outdoor enthusiast with experience in all types of hiking and mountaineering. Hiked in the Alps, Iceland and other countries. In love with via ferrata trails and snow-covered slopes. Check out my hikes.

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