GPS technology has made finding out exactly where you are, and then finding your way to another location easy and almost foolproof. They’ve found their way into almost every car; and units for boats, cycles, and running are gaining popularity as well. There’s one model of GPS that might have the greatest potential for usefulness of all the different kinds of navigation devices: Hiking GPS units. If you’ve been thinking of purchasing a hiking GPS, or upgrading from the one you already have, you’ll find that there are better models available with more features than ever before, even as their prices keep coming down.
|Garmin eTrex 35t||Click for the Price||16 hours||4.8 / 5 stars||Full Review
|Garmin eTrex Touch 25||Click for the Price||16 hours||3.8 / 5 stars||Full Review
|Garmin Oregon 650t||Click for the Price||16 hours||3.7 / 5 stars||Full Review
|Magellan eXplorist 510||Click for the Price||15 hours||3.5 / 5 stars||Full Review
|Garmin Monterra||Click for the Price||16 hours||3.2 / 5 stars||Full Review
|Magellan eXplorist 310||Click for the Price||18 hours||3.2 / 5 stars||Full Review
|Garmin Montana 680||Click for the Price||10 hours||3.3 / 5 stars||Full Review
A Hiking GPS Is Indispensable When You’re In The Wilderness
If you’re out in the wilderness hiking, determining exactly where you’re located can be a daunting task. Unlike car navigation devices, there’s usually no backup if your hiking GPS goes dead. When you’re driving a car, a GPS unit is very helpful, but if your battery goes dead, the roads still have signs and markings on them to help you find your way to where you’re going. It’s usually possible to stop and ask a friendly stranger how to get where you’re going as well.
If you’re in the middle of nowhere and your hiking GPS stops working, you have to go back to map and compass navigation, which is difficult and time consuming, and there are no signs or many friendly people to direct you where you’re going. A reliable hiking GPS could literally save your life, so if you often hike, camp, or trek overland in remote places, it’s well worth your while to purchase one.
The most popular handheld GPS devices for hiking and backcountry trails are the Garmin Monterra, Garmin Montana, Garmin Oregon, Garmin eTrex and the Magellan eXplorist. These handheld GPS have proven themselves over and over again.
One Word On Using Your Smartphone As A Hiking GPS: Don’t
People are very fond of their smartphones. With the easy and inexpensive availability of apps, short for applications, your smartphone can be made to perform all sorts of additional tasks besides making phone calls. There are numerous apps for navigation available for any model phone, and users accustomed to doing everything with their phones might think that a dedicated hiking GPS isn’t necessary. That’s a big, big mistake.
Just because your smartphone can function as a navigation device doesn’t mean you should use it for one.
- Smartphones are not very durable, and not designed to be used on wilderness treks. A sun shower or a short drop onto a boulder and you’ll be without your makeshift hiking GPS for the rest of your journey.
- Unlike many hiking GPS devices, a smartphone doesn’t have removable batteries so you can carry spares, and you’re likely to be very far away from any opportunity to charge your phone when you’re hiking.
- The only thing your hiking GPS needs to determine where you are and deliver navigational information is a clear view of the sky. Smartphones rely on cell towers that are scattered all over a provider’s coverage area. If you’re hiking in remote areas, they’re not likely to have good coverage, and some don’t get any signal at all.
- Your hiking GPS will likely be equipped with a number of other important and useful features commonly used by hikers, like a barometer, a compass, an altimeter, and others. You might need all that information in an emergency, and if your cellphone can’t get service, you could have a hard time if bad weather bears down on you in a hurry.
- If your cellphone loses signal, it won’t be able to display any information. Your hiking GPS will still be able to at least show you maps and a compass under any circumstances, and you’ll be able to download additional maps at any time.
- Using navigation apps is resource intensive, and can drain your cellphone’s battery faster than you’re accustomed to, and wipe out a month’s data plan limit in a few hours. If you’re out in the wild while using your cellphone as a navigation device, and it goes dead for any reason, you’re left not being able to determine where you are, and not being able to call for help, either.
How Do Hiking GPS Devices Work?
The Department of Defense operates a network of 31 satellites in orbit around the earth that broadcasts signals from orbit to the ground. Your hiking GPS receiver picks up these signals from at least four of these satellites at the same time, and by measuring the difference in the signals, it determines exactly where you are on a superimposed map.
Who Could Use A Hiking GPS?
- Hikers and backpackers
- Mountaineers and climbers
- Backcountry skiers
- Mountain bikers
- Off-road motorcycles and other vehicles
The Major Functions Of A Typical Hiking GPS
- A hiking GPS device is able to determine where you are at any given time and display either your map coordinates, your position on a digital map, or both.
- Hiking GPS devices can direct you towards another destination by giving you a compass direction as well as a distance.
- Almost all hiking GPS units will record your travels as you go, which allows you to keep a record of your travels or follow your route back the way you came.
- A capable hiking GPS unit will let you design a series of waypoints along a path so you can design your entire route before setting off, and often let you save these waypoint maps for use time and time again.
Smart Hikers Have A Backup
Although a hiking GPS is much more reliable than a smartphone for extended use, accuracy, and durability, it’s still not wise to completely depend on a hiking GPS without any backup plan to locate yourself, especially if you’re hiking or climbing very far from civilization. A paper map and a compass was all we had until recently to find our way in the wilderness, and you’d be wise to pack those items just in case something goes wrong with your hiking GPS, or more likely, if you lose it while you’re on the move.
While a hiking GPS will get a much more reliable signal than any cellphone used for navigation, very deep tree canopy cover or travel in deep canyons can make satellite signals fade, so you should be prepared to find your own way without the device for short periods.
Any Hiking GPS Is Very Accurate
Even the most modestly priced hiking GPS devices are accurate to within about 30 feet. Some more sophisticated models also use a series of ground-based stations called the WAAS to supply GPS devices with close to pinpoint accuracy, sometimes to within 10 feet. If you require absolute accuracy, look for models that are WAAS enabled.
Important Considerations For Picking A Hiking GPS
There are many models of hiking GPS devices to choose from, and many have so many options you’ll have trouble keeping them all in your head at once when you’re shopping for one. But there are a few features that make the most difference to the price and usability of a hiking GPS that you should look out for:
Color screens – A hiking GPS isn’t like a car GPS. A bigger screen isn’t really much more useful, and a bigger device is a pain to carry, so they all have pretty small screens. Very inexpensive models have black and white screens, which are plenty useful, but most users prefer to spend a few more dollars for a full color screen. They’re easier to read, and can show features like water more clearly.
- Buttons Or Touchscreens – This is less of a clear-cut choice than GPS units for a car, where touchscreens are always preferred. If you commonly use your hiking GPS in extreme conditions like backcountry skiing, you may want to operate your hiking GPS without removing your gloves, and might prefer a device that has push buttons. Otherwise, most users will probably prefer a touchscreen.
- Memory upgrades – All units have some internal memory, but like most electronic devices, you might quickly find you have use for more. Look for units that have slots for microSD cards to store additional maps, waypoints, and other data. Some let you put video, photos, or even music on them as well.
- Compass – In a way, a compass is the most useful part of your hiking GPS, more important then any map. It’s important to remember that your hiking GPS can’t tell you what direction you’re heading in if you stop moving, so a big, accurate electronic compass is handy for stopping to get your bearings.
- Barometers and altimeters – Barometers help you keep track of changes in the weather, and altimeters are useful for checking paper maps to see if you’re where you think you are if your hiking GPS maps give out for any reason.
- Cameras – Like smartphones and other electronic devices, hiking GPS devices are often equipped with a digital camera that lets you take photos or videos while you’re in the wild. With their rugged cases, they’re much better suited to the wild than your digital camera, and it’s one less thing you have to carry.