The 8 Best Hiking GPS Trackers of 2021

Track your trail adventures

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GPS units are GPS-enabled devices that can help you figure out where you are when you’re hiking. GPS units typically come in one of two forms: a handheld device or a GPS-enabled smartwatch. And many come with additional features, like built-in cameras, satellite messaging capabilities, fitness tracking, and more. 

GPS units may seem unnecessary for casual hikers—or advanced hikers who feel very confident in their capabilities. But Mark Evans, a summer camp guide at Summer Camp Hub, says GPS units can be useful for any hiker. “People don't think they will get lost until it happens,” he says. “But all it takes is a little bit of wandering in the wrong direction with no trail road in sight before panic kicks in.” In these situations, figuring out where you are can be tough. And since cell service isn’t always reliable in the great outdoors, your phone may not be as handy as a GPS unit in helping you find your way home.

Thankfully, there are tons of great GPS units out there—and they’re available at a range of different price points. Here are the best hiking GPS trackers on the market.

Our Top Picks
A well-rounded, customizable GPS unit, it lets you take advantage of the features you really care about.
It comes equipped with two different navigation systems and promises to be water-resistant.
With a long-lasting, solar-powered battery, you can recharge as you hike and easily track your journey.
Best for Beginners:
SUUNTO Traverse at Amazon
As you hike, the watch will track your speed, distance, and altitude, as well as provide you with weather alerts.
It can monitor your body’s oxygen levels to see how well you’re acclimating to various altitudes on your hikes.
The large touchscreen can function as a camera, giving you the chance to capture stunning hiking sights.
Equipped with inReach, a satellite-based messaging technology, you can stay connected while on your hike.
Most Durable:
Coros Vertix at Walmart
A solid hiking smartwatch, it's water-resistant up to 150 meters and promises to hold up to extremely low temperatures.

Best Overall: Garmin Montana 700i

Garmin Montana 700i
Pros
  • Battery-save mode

  • Equipped with two navigation systems

  • Water-resistant

  • Touchscreen can be used while wearing gloves

Cons
  • Expensive

  • Battery life is long, but shorter than many other options

Garmin’s Montana 700i is a well-rounded GPS unit. And even better: It’s customizable. So you can stock up on the features you care about, and skip out on the ones you don’t really need. The device is GPS- and Galileo-enabled, so it’ll give you more than one navigation system to rely on. And it also comes equipped with realistic topographical maps.

Its large touchscreen promises to be incredibly easy to read. And since the device is water-resistant, you shouldn’t have to worry about getting caught in the rain. The unit’s battery promises to keep you going for up to 18 hours in GPS mode, and for up to a week in Expedition mode. And since the device is customizable, you can choose whether you want to spring for messaging capabilities and/or a built-in camera.

Style: Handheld | Navigation Systems: GPS and Galileo | Battery Life: 18 hours (in GPS mode), 7 days (in Expedition mode)

Best Budget: Garmin eTrex 10 Worldwide Handheld GPS

Garmin eTrex 10 Worldwide Handheld GPS Navigator
Pros
  • Relatively affordable

  • Equipped with two navigation systems

  • Water-resistant

  • Touchscreen should be easy to use and read

Cons
  • Powered by AA batteries, not rechargeable

  • Missing many of the capabilities of more expensive units

Looking for a budget-friendly GPS unit that’s actually worth the buy? Garmin has you covered. The brand’s eTrex 10 comes equipped with two different navigation systems—GPS and GLONASS—and it promises to be water-resistant.

Since the device is lightweight and compact, it should make an easy addition to your bag. And its touchscreen promises to be easy to read and easy to use. The only downside? The device is powered by AA batteries, so it isn’t rechargeable.

You can expect the device to last as long as 20 hours between battery replacements, but you might want to carry backup batteries with you on the go.

Style: Handheld | Navigation Systems: GPS and GLONASS | Battery Life: 20 hours

Best for Watch: Garmin Instinct Solar Smartwatch

Pros
  • Classic smartwatch with GPS unit

  • Incredibly long-lasting solar-powered battery

  • Equipped with three navigation systems

  • Water-resistant

Cons
  • Programs and capabilities may be tough to learn and understand for beginners

  • Smaller screen

Garmin’s Instinct Solar is a classic fitness-tracking smartwatch that’s incredibly useful to have while hiking. The watch makes it easy to track your favorite activities (like running, cycling, swimming, and more). And since it offers access to three satellite navigation systems—GPS, GLONASS, and Galileo—it’ll make a valuable addition to your outdoor adventures.

The watch will track your journey as you hike, making it easy to retrace your steps. And it comes equipped with an altimeter and a barometer, so you can get plenty of elevation and weather data on the go.

The watch’s solar-powered battery promises to recharge as you hike, giving you up to 145 hours in GPS mode—and unlimited time in smartwatch mode. And since it’s water-resistant up to 100 meters (330 feet), you can rest assured knowing it should hold up to a quick rainstorm or two.

Style: Smartwatch | Navigation Systems: GPS, GLONASS, and Galileo | Battery Life: 145 hours (in GPS mode), unlimited time (in smartwatch mode)

Best for Beginners: SUUNTO Traverse

Pros
  • Budget-friendly given its capabilities

  • Equipped with two navigation systems

  • Long-lasting battery

  • Water-resistant

Cons
  • May not be complex enough for more advanced hikers

  • Smaller screen

Suunto’s Traverse is a solid GPS smartwatch, and it’s a particularly great option for the first-time hiker. The watch comes equipped with two navigation systems: GPS and GLONASS. And it promises to drop digital “breadcrumbs” as you explore, making it easy to retrace your steps.

As you hike, the watch will track your speed, distance, altitude, and more. And since it comes loaded with sunrise/sunset times and weather alerts, you can get the information you need to make changes to a hike on the go.

The durable watch promises to be water-resistant up to 100 meters (330 feet). And its long-lasting battery promises to run for up to 100 hours in GPS mode, and for up to 14 days in smartwatch mode.

Style: Smartwatch | Navigation Systems: GPS and GLONASS | Battery Life: 100 hours (in GPS mode), 14 days (in smartwatch mode)

Best Advanced: Garmin MARQ Adventurer Performance Edition

Garmin MARQ Adventurer Performance Edition Smart Watch
Pros
  • Equipped with three navigation systems

  • Tracks altitude, air temperatures, and weather changes

  • Monitors oxygen levels

  • Battery-save feature

Cons
  • Very expensive

  • Smaller screen

Looking for a high-tech smartwatch worth investing in? Garmin’s MARQ Adventurer Performance Edition promises to be worth the splurge, especially if you’re an avid outdoor adventurer. The watch offers access to three satellite navigation systems—GPS, GLONASS, and Galileo—enabling you to do more off-the-beaten-path exploring. And since it comes equipped with topographical maps and a compass, you can take navigation matters into your own hands whenever you need to.

In addition to tracking altitude, air temperatures, and weather changes, the watch will monitor your body’s oxygen levels to see how well you’re acclimating to various altitudes on your hikes. And its long-lasting battery promises to keep you going for up to 28 hours in GPS mode, and up to 12 days in smartwatch mode.

Style: Smartwatch | Navigation Systems: GPS, GLONASS, and Galileo | Battery Life: 28 hours (in GPS mode), 12 days (in smartwatch mode)

Best With Camera: Garmin Oregon 750T Handheld GPS

Garmin Oregon 750t Handheld GPS Unit
Pros
  • Large touchscreen doubles as a camera

  • Equipped with two navigation systems

  • Water-resistant

  • Touchscreen promises to be readable

Cons
  • No battery life listed

  • Device is powered by AA batteries, so you might need to carry backup batteries

  • Memory card fills up quickly

Garmin’s Oregon 750 is a handheld GPS unit that doubles as a camera. The handheld device comes equipped with two navigation systems: GPS and GLONASS. And since it also boasts a barometric altimeter, you shouldn’t have any trouble keeping track of weather or altitude as you hike.

The device’s large touchscreen promises to be readable, even in bright sunlight. But it isn’t just easy to use and read. The large touchscreen also functions as a camera, giving you the chance to capture all the stunning sights you see on your hikes.

Style: Handheld | Navigation Systems: GPS and GLONASS | Battery Life: None listed

Best for Messaging: Garmin inReach Explorer +

Garmin inReach Explorer +
Pros
  • Equipped with messaging technology

  • Water-resistant

  • Long-lasting battery

Cons
  • Only equipped with one navigation system

  • Only Bluetooth-compatible with newer devices

  • Somewhat involved setup process

Garmin’s inReach Explorer+ isn’t just a GPS navigator. The device comes equipped with inReach, a satellite-enabled technology designed to let you text from just about anywhere. The handheld unit is GPS-enabled, and it comes with a range of helpful tools, including a compass and a barometric altimeter. And since it’s designed to be impact-resistant and water-resistant, it promises to hold up to the wear and tear of the outdoors.

Of course, the device’s messaging capabilities are what really set it apart. Using inReach, you should be able to message your loved ones while on the go. You should also be able to share your location with friends, get weather forecast updates, and trigger an emergency SOS message if anything goes wrong.

Style: Handheld | Navigation Systems: GPS | Battery Life: 75 hours (in GPS mode), 30 days (in battery-save mode)

Most Durable: Coros Vertix GPS Adventure Watch

COROS VERTIX
Pros
  • Equipped with three navigation systems

  • Water-resistant

  • Can handle extremely low temperatures

  • Monitors oxygen levels

  • Long-lasting battery

Cons
  • Expensive

  • Smaller screen

Coros’ Vertix is a solid hiking smartwatch, designed with durability in mind. The watch offers access to three navigation systems: GPS, GLONASS, and BEIDOU. And it also comes equipped with tons of other tools you can use to plan and adjust your hikes. These include a barometric altimeter, an accelerometer, a compass, a gyroscope, and a thermometer.

And since the watch also comes with a pulse oximeter, you can keep track of how you’re acclimating to different altitudes. What’s nice? These features only scratch the surface of what makes this watch so great. The watch is also water-resistant up to 150 meters (492 feet), and it promises to hold up to extremely low temperatures (as low as -4 Degrees Fahrenheit) without significant battery failure.

Plus, its battery promises to keep you going for up to 60 hours in GPS mode and for up to 45 days in smartwatch mode.

Style: Smartwatch | Navigation Systems: GPS, GLONASS, and BEIDOU | Battery Life: 60 hours (in GPS mode), 45 days (in smartwatch mode)

Final Verdict

If you’re looking for a well-rounded GPS unit, Garmin’s Montana 700i (view at Backcountry) is worth the buy. The handheld device comes equipped with two satellite navigation systems (GPS and Galileo). And since it’s customizable, you can choose whether to splurge on upgrades, like messaging capabilities and a built-in camera.

If you’d prefer a wearable, Garmin’s Instinct Solar (view at Amazon) is a solid choice. The watch doubles as a fitness tracker and triples as a GPS unit, making it a particularly versatile option you can use during workouts and outdoor adventures, alike.

What to Look for in a Hiking GPS Tracker

Style

GPS units tend to come in two styles: handheld devices and smartwatches. Handheld devices tend to be a bit larger, giving you a bigger display to read and a bigger screen to use. But smartwatches offer the flexibility of hands-free use, and they tend to come equipped with classic fitness-tracking features you can use outside of your hikes.

Navigation Systems

All GPS units come equipped with GPS. But some come equipped with additional satellite navigation systems, like GLONASS, Galileo, and BEIDOU. This may seem redundant, but it makes your GPS unit more reliable. If one navigation system isn’t picking up your signal, you may be able to turn to another to find your way.

Battery Life

Hikes can get long—especially if you’re embarking on a multi-day adventure. And you’ll want your GPS unit to hold up for the entire length of your hike. Battery life can range from 18 to 145 hours (in GPS mode). And some solar-powered options give you the option to extend your battery life even further (especially in power-save mode). 

FAQs

Do you need a GPS for hiking?

“It's crucial to carry a reliable GPS navigator with you [while hiking], due to the fact that getting lost is a possibility for just about anyone,” Evans says. GPS units can be useful for beginner and advanced hikers, alike. And according to Evans, they’re particularly important when hiking with children. “[A GPS unit is] an absolute must if you're hiking with kids,” Evans says. “Children have a tendency to go off track. And by the time you finish chasing after them...you might have lost your sense of direction.” 

Can I use my phone GPS for hiking?

“A phone can certainly act as an inferior substitute if you don't have a GPS navigator,” Evans says. But he recommends planning ahead and bringing a GPS unit with you, because your phone may not do everything you need it to.

For one thing, cell service can be unreliable—especially if you’re exploring somewhere off-the-beaten-path. And your phone may die much more quickly than a GPS unit, especially if you’re actively using it for GPS.

If you do end up relying on a phone for navigation, Evans recommends downloading all the maps you need before your hike. Once these maps are downloaded, you should be able to use them offline. So you won’t have to worry about spotty cell service keeping you from downloading or accessing your map.

How to use a GPS for hiking

There are many ways to use a GPS unit while hiking. You can use the GPS unit as an electronic map, let it give you step-by-step directions as you navigate a trail, or take advantage of its built-in compass (if it has one).

Some GPS units also drop “digital breadcrumbs” as you hike, making it easier for you to find your way back. And some come with sunrise, sunset, and weather alerts, which you can use to plan your hike. 

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