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Choosing the best GPS for hiking, wild-camping or backpacking

Choosing the best GPS for hiking, wild-camping or backpacking

If you’re planning an adventure that takes you off the beaten track, you’ll want to make sure you have the right gear to stay safe and on the right route. One essential tool for any adventure is a GPS device. With so many options on the market, choosing the best GPS for hiking, wild-camping or backpacking can be overwhelming. In this article, we’ll discuss what to look for in a GPS for hiking, wild-camping or backpacking – the aim being to help you make an informed decision.

When it comes to choosing a GPS, there are a few key factors to consider. First and foremost, you’ll want to look for a device that is reliable and accurate. This is especially important if you’re hiking in remote or unfamiliar areas. You’ll also want to consider factors like battery life, durability, and ease of use. 

Another important consideration is the type of maps and navigation features that the GPS offers. Some devices come preloaded with detailed topographic maps, while others require you to download maps separately. Additionally, some GPS devices offer advanced navigation features like turn-by-turn directions, while others simply display your current location and allow you to mark waypoints. By taking these factors into account, you can find a GPS that you can afford, meets your specific needs and helps you stay on track during your next adventure. 

Choosing the best GPS for hiking, wild-camping or backpacking – key things to consider


When choosing a GPS, durability is a crucial factor to consider. A durable GPS will be able to withstand the rough conditions of the outdoors and last for many hikes to come. A GPS with a rugged design will be able to withstand bumps and drops without breaking. Look for a GPS with a rubberized or reinforced casing to protect it from impacts.


When it comes to hiking and backpacking, accuracy is essential. A GPS that is not accurate can lead you in the wrong direction, which can be dangerous. Therefore, it is important to choose a GPS with a high level of accuracy.

One way to ensure accuracy is to choose a GPS that can connect to multiple satellite networks, including GPS, GLONASS, and Galileo. This will help get signals faster and with more accuracy. Additionally, a GPS with a high-quality receiver will be more accurate than one with a lower-quality receiver.

It is also important to keep in mind that accuracy can be affected by environmental factors, such as tree cover, mountains, and buildings. Therefore, it is a good idea to choose a GPS with a high-sensitivity receiver that can maintain accuracy even in challenging environments.

In addition to the GPS itself, the accuracy of the maps and waypoints you use is also important. Make sure to regularly update your maps and calibrate your compass to ensure accuracy.

Battery Life

GPS battery life is an essential factor to consider. A long-lasting battery will ensure that you can navigate safely and accurately throughout your entire hike without worrying about your device running out of power.

Most GPS devices have a battery life that ranges from 10 to 20 hours, depending on the device’s features, such as screen size and brightness, as well as the type of battery used. Some devices come with rechargeable batteries, while others use replaceable batteries such as AA or AAA batteries.

If you are planning a long hike or backpacking trip, it is recommended to choose a device with a battery life of at least 16 hours. This will give you enough time to navigate and record your route without worrying about running out of battery power.

It is also important to note that using certain features of your GPS device, such as the backlight or Bluetooth connectivity, can drain the battery faster. To conserve battery life, you can turn off unnecessary features or adjust the screen brightness to a lower setting.

Hiking and camping in the wilderness

Screen Size and Display

Screen size and display are important factors to consider. The size of the screen will impact the overall size and weight of the GPS unit, while the display quality will affect how easy it is to read and interpret the information on the screen.

A larger screen can make it easier to read maps and navigate menus, especially if you wear glasses or have poor eyesight.

Basic models like the Garmin eTrex offer only monochrome visuals, with a screen measuring 2.2 inches diagonally. This may be sufficient for some people, but others may prefer a larger, full-colour display. For example, the Garmin GPSMAP boasts a 2.6-inch screen with a resolution of 160 x 240 pixels, making it easier to read maps and navigate trails.

Touchscreen or Buttons

Another important consideration is whether the GPS unit has a touchscreen display or physical buttons. Touchscreens can be more intuitive and user-friendly, but they may be more difficult to operate with gloves or in wet conditions. Physical buttons, on the other hand, may be easier to use in adverse weather conditions, but they can be less intuitive and require more time to navigate through menus.


Some GPS units also offer additional features like backlighting or adjustable screen brightness to improve visibility in low-light conditions. This can be especially important for hikers who plan to do a lot of night hiking or who will be using their GPS in shaded areas.

Ease of Use

When it comes to choosing a GPS for hiking, ease of use is a crucial factor to consider. After all, you don’t want to be fiddling with complicated settings while you’re out on the trail. Here are some things to look for:

Intuitive interface

Look for a GPS with a user-friendly interface that makes it easy to navigate menus and settings. Make sure the GPS has quick access to key features such as marking waypoints, navigating to a destination, and checking your location. It’s also a good idea to choose a GPS that comes with clear instructions and a helpful user manual. Some GPS devices offer tutorials or online support to help you get started and troubleshoot any issues you may encounter.

Maps and Navigation

One of the most important features to consider when selecting a GPS device for hiking is the quality of its maps and navigation system. A good GPS device should have detailed maps that are easy to read and navigate, with clear markings for trails, water sources, and other important landmarks. It should also have a reliable navigation system that can accurately track your location and provide clear directions to your destination.

Some GPS devices come with preloaded maps, while others allow you to download maps of specific regions or trails. You may also want to consider a GPS device that offers topographic maps, which provide detailed information about the terrain, elevation, and contours of the land.


When hiking in wet or rainy conditions, it’s important to have a GPS device that is waterproof or at least water-resistant. Look for a device with an IPX rating of 7 or higher, which means it can withstand immersion in water up to a depth of 1m for up to 30 minutes. This will ensure that your GPS device stays functional even in wet or humid conditions, and can help prevent damage from accidental drops or spills.


Many GPS devices come with additional connectivity features that can enhance your hiking experience. For example, some devices offer Bluetooth connectivity, which allows you to sync your GPS device with your smartphone or other devices. This can be useful for downloading maps or other data, or for sharing your location with other hikers or emergency services.

Two-way satellite messaging / communicating

You may also want to consider a GPS device with satellite messaging capabilities, which allow you to send and receive messages even in areas without cell phone coverage. This can be especially useful in emergency situations, or for staying in touch with friends and family while on the trail. Some two-way satellite communicators allow you to ping home every 30 minutes, which is a fantastic way to let loved ones know where you are.


Price matters, obviously. It’s all very well wanting all the above features, but if you can’t afford a device with all the bells and whistles, take a bit of time to choose the features that are the most important to you. Here are a range of GPS systems that should suit a range of prices:

Choosing the best GPS for hiking, wild-camping or backpacking – price checker

Related: Looking for a budget action camera to start filming your adventures? Check out our What to look for in a budget action camera article which is full of good ideas. Interested in a satellite communicator/messenger? Check out our Zoleo Satellite Communicator vs Garmin InReach Mini 2 article.

Interested in the Right To Roam? Check out our latest article – everything could change if Labour get in at the next election: What a Labour government would mean for the right to roam.

Choosing the Best GPS for Hiking – summary

Overall, the best GPS for hiking is one that is easy to use and allows you to focus on the trail ahead. By choosing a device with a user-friendly interface, quick access to key features, you can ensure that your GPS is a valuable tool on your next outdoor adventure. Choosing the best GPS for hiking, wild-camping or backpacking isn’t something to rush into. Even a ‘budget’ GPS is quite expensive and you need to balance cost with functionality. Have a think about all the features that are key to you and the adventures you plan to go on. For example, if you’re going to be out in the UK, then waterproofing is an essential feature. There will be a GPS out there that meets your needs and budget, and hopefully this article has helped you choose.  Finally, don’t forget to take a map and compass. Yes you’ll have your GPS and phone, but having a map and compass, and knowing how to use it, could save your life. It will provide a good backup and allow you to double check directions and your location.

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The specs in our articles have been compiled on a best effort basis from research on the manufacturers’ own websites, and on other websites selling the products. We do not guarantee the data we have given is correct and cannot be held responsible for incorrect information. Always do your own spec checks before making a purchase.