The Best Hiking GPS Devices for Hillwalking and Backpacking in 2023

Whether you are an avid hiker, a weekend warrior, or a backpacker planning a multi-day expedition, GPS (Global Positioning System) technology can greatly enhance your outdoor experience. Handheld GPS devices are constantly evolving, and 2023 offers some of the best options.

No matter whether you are planning to hike The Wicklow Way or the Cooley and Mourne Mountains in Ireland this comprehensive guide will help you navigate through the choices, features, and comparisons to find the best hiking GPS unit tailored to your needs.

Best Hiking GPS Summary

  • The article covers choosing the best hiking and backpacking GPS in 2023, including the importance of durability, battery life, size and weight, accuracy, maps and navigation, user-friendliness, and connectivity.
  • It also provides a list of the top 10 best hiking GPS devices, with descriptions, features, pros and cons, and a table for easy comparison before making a buying decision.
  • The article discusses factors to consider when choosing a hiking GPS, including hiking needs, budget, brand reputation, and user reviews. It provides guidance on how to use a hiking GPS and answers common questions.

What is GPS and Why Do You Need One for Hiking and Backpacking?

Image of a hiker using a GPS device in a mountainous terrain

Understanding GPS Technology

GPS, which stands for Global Positioning System, is a satellite navigation technology that allows users to determine their approximate location. Hiking GPS devices are specially designed for outdoor activities and offer various features beneficial to hikers and backpackers. Unlike standard GPS models, these rugged devices are built to withstand the elements.

How Does GPS Work?

GPS, or Global Positioning System, is a navigation technology that operates via a network of satellites orbiting Earth. At its core are Global Navigation Satellite Systems (GNSS), including the American GPS and other systems like Russian GLONASS. Your device, whether a tracker or a more advanced satellite communicator and GPS, connects to these satellites to determine your precise location.

Global Navigation Satellite Systems (GNSS),
The Best Hiking GPS Devices for Hillwalking and Backpacking in 2023 8

Global Navigation Satellite

The term refers to any satellite involved in the navigation or positioning system. Each satellite in these systems continuously transmits data about its location and the current time to Earth.

GPS Receiver

The GPS receiver in your handheld unit or smartphone captures these transmissions. By connecting with at least four satellites, the receiver can accurately triangulate your position.


Many modern GPS devices utilise American and Russian GLONASS satellites to improve accuracy, selecting the best satellite signals from among them for the most precise positioning possible.

Combining these elements allows for precise backcountry navigation, whether hiking, backpacking, or engaging in other outdoor activities.

Do You Really Need a GPS Device?

While smartphones may offer GPS capabilities, they’re not the best option for serious hiking or backpacking. Many handheld GPS devices are designed to work for extended periods, especially compared to smartphones. Additionally, they often feature better battery life, detailed maps, and more robust navigation features, making them more suited for backcountry navigation and discovering the best hiking locations in Ireland.

How to Choose the Best GPS for Hiking in 2023?

Consider the Battery Life

Battery life is crucial when you’re out in the wilderness. The best handheld GPS devices of 2023 offer varying battery life, often ranging from 16 to 50 hours in standard GPS mode. It’s vital to consider your usage and how often you’ll be able to recharge when choosing a GPS unit for your hiking or backpacking trips.

GPS Features You Can’t Ignore

When shopping for a GPS device, look beyond the basic GPS functionality. Many handheld GPS devices of 2023 also offer features like altimeter, barometer, and even satellite communicator functionalities. These additional features can significantly enhance your hiking experience.

Reading a map, Best Hiking GPS, Best GPS for Hiking
The Best Hiking GPS Devices for Hillwalking and Backpacking in 2023 9

Garmin vs Other Brands: A Comparison

Garmin GPS Devices

Garmin is a name synonymous with GPS technology. They offer a wide range of models, including the Garmin Montana 700i GPS device, known for its long battery life, excellent map functionality, and additional features like satellite communication.

Magellan and TomTom

While Garmin dominates the GPS market, other brands like Magellan and TomTom shouldn’t be overlooked. Magellan offers GPS units with similar features but at a different price point, while TomTom is known for its user-friendly interface.

Is Offline Navigation an Essential Feature?

The Importance of Offline Maps

Not all areas you’ll hike or backpack in will have a reliable data connection. Therefore, offline navigation is crucial. Most good-quality GPS units will allow you to download and use maps offline, which can be a lifesaver in remote areas.

Gaia GPS App as an Alternative

The Gaia GPS app can serve the purpose for those looking for a budget-friendly alternative. The app allows offline map downloads but will require you to use your phone, which might not be as durable or have as long battery life as a dedicated GPS device.

Best Overall and Budget Choices in 2023

In the table below, we have outlined some of the best GPS options and great handheld GPS devices available in 2023.

DeviceDisplay SizeBattery LifeConnectivityPrice
Garmin GPSMAP 66i3 inches35 hoursWi-Fi, Bluetooth, inReach$499.99
Garmin eTrex 32x2.2 inches25 hoursNone$299.99
Magellan eXplorist TRX77 inches10 hoursWi-Fi$549.99
Garmin Montana 700i5 inches18 hoursWi-Fi, Bluetooth, inReach$699.99
Magellan eXplorist 3102.2 inches18 hoursNone$199.99
Garmin inReach Explorer+2.3 inches100 hoursBluetooth, inReach$449.99
Garmin Oregon 7003 inches16 hoursWi-Fi, Bluetooth$399.99
Garmin GPSMAP 64sx2.6 inches16 hoursWi-Fi, Bluetooth$349.99
Magellan TR7 Trail and Street GPS Navigator7 inches2 hoursNone$399.99
Garmin eTrex 30x2.2 inches25 hoursNone$249.99

This table provides a quick snapshot of the devices’ display sizes, battery life, connectivity options, and price points, enabling you to make an informed decision based on your specific requirements. Whether you’re prioritising long battery life for multi-day expeditions or seeking a budget-friendly option, this comparison should help you find the perfect GPS for your next hiking or backpacking adventure.

The Best Overall GPS Device for Hiking

The Garmin Montana 700i GPS device is highly recommended for those looking for the best handheld GPS of 2023. With robust GPS features, long battery life, and additional functionalities like satellite communication, it tops the list of best handheld GPS units in 2023.

Best Budget GPS for Hiking

If you’re on a budget but still want a reliable GPS for hiking, many handheld GPS devices offer basic functionalities at a more affordable price. These may lack advanced features but are more than adequate for short hikes and day trips.

GPS Watches: Are They A Good Alternative?

Best Hiking GPS Watches
The Best Hiking GPS Devices for Hillwalking and Backpacking in 2023 10

Advantages and Limitations

GPS watches offer a more compact way to track your hike or backpacking route. However, their smaller screen size and limited battery life compared to handheld GPS units might make them less suitable for serious backpacking trips.

Best GPS Watches in 2023

If you opt for a GPS watch, some of the best models in 2023 include brands like Garmin, which offer long battery life and various hiking-related features, making them a suitable alternative for shorter trips.

To Buy or Not to Buy: Do You Really Need a New GPS?

When Not to Buy a GPS

If you’re not a frequent hiker or if you mainly stick to well-trodden paths, you may find that a basic GPS app on your smartphone suffices for your needs. Some argue that you don’t necessarily need to buy a GPS device for infrequent, short trips.

When to Invest in a GPS Device

Investing in a quality handheld GPS device is advisable if you plan a multi-day hike, go off the beaten path, or take up hiking as a regular hobby. It provides reliability and features that smartphone GPS simply can’t match.

GPS Tips and Tricks

Offering additional advice on how to get the most out of the device To get the most out of your hiking GPS device, try using it on different hikes and in different weather conditions. Experiment with features and settings to find what works best for you.

  • Preload Maps: Never head out without preloaded maps on your handheld GPS device.
  • Software Updates: Keep your GPS device up-to-date.
  • Calibrate the GPS Compass: For accurate navigation.
  • Set Waypoints: Plan your route effectively.
  • Use ‘Trackback’: A lifesaver when you get lost.
  • Monitor Battery Life: Always carry a backup.
  • Watch Signal Strength: Be mindful in tricky terrains.
  • Customise Display: Make it personal to your trek.
  • Have a GPS App Backup: Two is better than one.
  • Test Before Trip: Better safe than sorry.
Best Hiking GPS Software for Smart Watches
The Best Hiking GPS Devices for Hillwalking and Backpacking in 2023 11

Do I need a hiking GPS device if I have a smartphone?

While smartphones can be useful for navigation, they are less reliable than dedicated GPS devices. Smartphones rely on a cellular network, which may not be available in remote areas. They also have shorter battery life and are less durable than hiking GPS devices.

Can I use my hiking GPS device for geocaching?

Many hiking GPS devices have geocaching features that allow you to search for and find geocaches.

How do I know if my hiking GPS device is accurate?

You can test the accuracy of your device by comparing it to a known point or landmark. You can also use multiple devices to compare their readings.

Conclusion A hiking GPS device is an essential tool for any hiker.

It provides valuable information about your location and helps you navigate through unfamiliar terrain. When choosing a hiking GPS device, consider your needs, budget, and brand reputation. The top 10 best hiking GPS devices for 2023 offer a range of features to meet any hiker’s needs. Choose a device that is durable, has a long battery life, is accurate, has good maps and navigation features, is user-friendly, and has connectivity options.

When choosing the best hiking GPS, accuracy should be a top priority. Look for devices that utilize advanced GPS technology and have a strong reputation for providing accurate location data. Trust me, having a dependable and accurate hiking GPS can be a lifesaver in unfamiliar terrain.

Author: Walking Holiday Ireland

Cliff Waijenberg is a passionate hiker, nature enthusiast, and the proud founder and owner of Walking Holiday Ireland. Cliff has always been captivated by the Emerald Isle's breathtaking landscapes and rich cultural history. His love for the outdoors and genuine desire to share Ireland's hidden gems with travellers worldwide led him to establish Walking Holiday Ireland.

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