Explore the Wilderness: Best GPS for Hiking and Backpacking

Are you an avid hiker or backpacker looking to confidently explore the wilderness and navigate challenging terrains? Then a reliable GPS device is an essential tool for your outdoor adventures. A GPS (Global Positioning System) can provide accurate location information, detailed maps, and advanced navigation features to ensure you stay on track and make the most of your hiking and backpacking trips. In this article, we will explore the best GPS devices available for hiking and backpacking, along with tips on how to use them effectively.

Importance of GPS for Hiking and Backpacking

Having a GPS device can be a game-changer when venturing into the great outdoors. Here are a few reasons why a GPS is crucial for hiking and backpacking:

  1. Navigation Confidence: With GPS, you can confidently navigate unfamiliar trails, dense forests, and challenging terrains. It provides real-time location data, ensuring you never lose your way.
  2. Safety and Emergency: A GPS device can help rescuers locate you accurately in emergencies or unexpected situations. Some GPS devices even offer emergency communication features, allowing you to send distress signals or communicate with emergency services.
  3. Route Planning and Tracking: GPS devices enable you to plan routes and mark waypoints. You can track your progress, measure distances, and record your hiking or backpacking adventures for future reference.

Factors to Consider When Choosing a GPS for Hiking and Backpacking

Before purchasing a GPS device, consider the following factors to ensure you make the right choice for your outdoor needs:

  1. Accuracy: Look for a GPS device with high accuracy, as this is crucial for precise navigation and location tracking in remote areas.
  2. Battery Life: Opt for a device with long battery life to ensure it lasts throughout your hiking or backpacking trips. Consider devices that offer replaceable batteries or have power-saving modes.
  3. Durability: Since outdoor activities can be rough on your gear, choose a GPS device that is rugged and durable. It should withstand harsh weather conditions, impact, and moisture.
  4. Display and Interface: A GPS device with a clear and readable display is essential for outdoor use. Look for a device with a bright screen and intuitive interface that is easy to navigate, even in sunlight or low-light conditions.
  5. Mapping and Navigation Features: Consider the mapping and navigation features offered by the GPS device. Look for devices that provide detailed topographic maps, trail networks, and waypoints. Some advanced devices even offer turn-by-turn directions and route planning capabilities.
  6. Connectivity Options: Check if the GPS device offers connectivity options such as Bluetooth or Wi-Fi. These features can be beneficial for downloading maps, software updates, or connecting to other devices for enhanced functionality.

Now let’s explore some of the top GPS devices available for hiking and backpacking:

Name Features
Garmin GPSMAP 64sx This device offers high-sensitivity GPS and GLONASS reception for accurate positioning. It has a 2.6-inch color display, preloaded topographic maps, and a long-lasting battery.
Garmin eTrex 30x The eTrex 30x is a compact, lightweight GPS device with a 2.2-inch color display. It provides enhanced mapping, geocaching features, and a built-in altimeter and compass.
Suunto Traverse Alpha Designed for outdoor enthusiasts, the Traverse Alpha features a rugged build and offers GPS/GLONASS navigation, a moon phase calendar, and sunrise/sunset alerts. It also includes specialized hunting and fishing features.
Magellan eXplorist 310 This budget-friendly GPS device has a 2.2-inch color transflective screen and preloaded World Edition maps. It is waterproof and provides paperless geocaching support.
Garmin inReach Explorer+ The inReach Explorer+ combines GPS navigation with satellite communication. It allows you to send and receive messages, track your journey, and trigger SOS signals in emergencies.
Garmin Foretrex 601 This wrist-mounted GPS device is perfect for hands-free navigation. It offers a high-contrast display, dual-positioning GPS and GLONASS, and advanced navigation features like breadcrumb trail tracking.
SPOT X GPS Messenger The SPOT X is a device with two-way satellite messaging, GPS tracking, and SOS capabilities. It keeps you connected even in areas without cellular coverage.
Casio Pro Trek PRW2500R-1CR While primarily a rugged outdoor watch, the Pro Trek PRW2500R-1CR also features a built-in GPS. It offers various outdoor functions like an altimeter, barometer, and compass.
Garmin Oregon 700 The Oregon 700 is a touchscreen GPS device with a sunlight-readable display. It provides detailed mapping, wireless connectivity, and compatibility with various sensors.
Garmin Fenix 6 Pro Although primarily a multisport watch, the Fenix 6 Pro includes advanced GPS features suitable for hiking and backpacking. It offers topographic maps, navigation, and long battery life.

How to Use a GPS for Hiking and Backpacking

Once you have chosen the right GPS device, knowing how to use it effectively during your outdoor adventures is important. Here are some essential tips:

  1. Preparing the GPS: Familiarize yourself with the features and functions of your GPS device before heading out. Set up the necessary settings, including the time, date, and units of measurement.
  2. Acquiring Satellite Signals: Turn on your GPS device and allow it to acquire satellite signals. This process may take a few minutes, so ensure you have an unobstructed view of the sky.
  3. Navigating with Waypoints and Routes: Learn how to create waypoints and routes on your GPS device. Waypoints are specific locations you want to mark, such as trailheads or campsites. Routes are pre-planned paths that guide you from one waypoint to another. Use these features to stay on track and follow your desired route.
  4. Using Mapping Features: Take advantage of the mapping features on your GPS device. Zoom in and out of maps, switch between different map types (e.g., topographic, satellite imagery), and explore points of interest along your route. Some devices allow you to upload additional maps for more detailed information.
  5. Marking Points of Interest: As you explore the wilderness, mark points of interest on your GPS device. These can include beautiful viewpoints, water sources, or interesting landmarks. This feature helps you remember important locations for future reference.
  6. Tracking Your Progress: Use the track recording feature on your GPS device to record your hiking or backpacking route. This allows you to review your path, distance travelled, and elevation gain/loss. It can help analyze your performance and share your adventures with others.
  7. Emergency Communication: Familiarize yourself with the emergency communication capabilities of your GPS device. Some devices offer SOS features that can alert emergency services in emergencies. Understand how to use these features and have a plan in case of unforeseen circumstances.

Tips for Maximizing the Performance of Your GPS

To ensure your GPS device performs optimally during your outdoor expeditions, consider the following tips:

  1. Keep the Firmware Updated: Regularly check for firmware updates for your GPS device. These updates often include bug fixes, performance improvements, and new features that can enhance your user experience.
  2. Carry Spare Batteries: If your GPS device uses replaceable batteries, carry extras to ensure you have enough power for your trip. It’s essential to have a reliable power source, especially in remote areas.
  3. Learn the Functions and Features: Take the time to learn and practice using your GPS device’s various functions and features. This familiarity will help you navigate smoothly during your hikes or backpacking adventures.
  4. Use Protective Cases and Screen Protectors: Protect your GPS device from impact, moisture, and scratches by using protective cases and screen protectors. These accessories can prolong your device’s lifespan, ensuring it remains functional in challenging environments.
  5. Practice Using the GPS Before Your Trip: Before embarking on a major hiking or backpacking trip, practice using your GPS device in familiar surroundings. This practice will help you become comfortable with the device and ensure you can navigate confidently in the wilderness.


When exploring the wilderness, a reliable GPS device is a valuable companion. It provides accurate navigation and mapping capabilities and enhances safety during outdoor adventures. Consider your specific needs and the factors discussed in this article to choose the best GPS device for hiking and backpacking. Remember to familiarize yourself with the device’s features and practice using it before embarking on your journeys. With the right GPS device, you can confidently navigate the wilderness and experience unforgettable outdoor escapades.


Can I use a smartphone instead of a GPS device for hiking?

While smartphones can offer navigation apps and GPS functionality, they may not be as reliable or durable as dedicated GPS devices. Smartphones are often more susceptible to battery drain, lack ruggedness, and may not have the same level of accuracy.

Are GPS devices waterproof?

Many GPS devices designed for outdoor use are waterproof or at least water-resistant. However, the level of water resistance can vary among devices. Always check the specifications of the GPS device to ensure it meets your waterproofing needs.

How accurate are GPS devices for hiking?

GPS devices generally provide accuracy within a few meters. However, the accuracy can be affected by various factors such as satellite signal strength, terrain, and environmental conditions. It’s essential to understand the limitations of GPS accuracy and use other navigational aids, such as maps and compasses, as a backup.

Can I use a GPS device in areas without cellular coverage?

Yes, GPS devices rely on satellite signals and do not require cellular coverage for navigation. They can function in remote areas where there is no cellular network available. However, certain GPS features that rely on online connectivity, such as downloading maps or weather updates, may not be accessible without an internet connection.

Are GPS devices difficult to use?

GPS devices can vary in complexity, but most modern devices are designed to be user-friendly. Manufacturers provide detailed user manuals and online resources to help users understand the features and functions of their GPS devices. With a little practice and familiarity, using a GPS device for hiking and backpacking can become straightforward and enjoyable.

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