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Handheld GPS For Hiking – Guide To Using And Choosing One

A handheld GPS device is a valuable tool for hikers and outdoor enthusiasts. Whatever it is you are doing, a GPS device will let you find your way with ease. You’ll even appreciate this device more in weather conditions that affect visibility and will otherwise make finding your way difficult without using a GPS device.

These handheld GPS devices are built to withstand the elements and are thus very durable. They have very long battery life and even use disposable batteries in case you are in an area where it’s not possible to recharge them.

You’ll also love the display of these devices as they offer a better overview of the terrain. The maps are more detailed than you’d get from a watch. In fact, it’s possible for you to get satellite images.

Overall, you enjoy a redefined navigating experience as you can easily input new waypoints and plan your routes. And this allows you to wander as far as you like when you are hiking, trekking or mountaineering because you are confident of finding your way back.

Now that you know how important handheld GPS devices are, you’ll agree with us that you can’t just buy any random device. You need to go for the best so you won’t get stranded.

We’ll be taking you through an extensive guide. This guide will help you understand all the specs and jargon of hiking GPS devices. And by understanding the features, you’ll be able to make an informed decision when buying a GPS device. So here we go.

General Considerations

Do You Need A GPS Device?

This is the first question you should ask yourself. If you’ll be going on a well-marked trail and you are equipped (and able to use) a compass/map, then you don’t need a GPS device.

But if you’ll be venturing into unfamiliar territory or wandering farther, then having a GPS device will let you find your way.

Can I Use My Smartphone Instead?

Some phones, especially the newer models, have really good GPS receivers. And they are a number of applications that you can download on your phone for easy navigation. But the problem with smartphones is that they are not built specifically for the outdoors. They are not as rugged or waterproof as GPS devices. And the battery life of smartphones is another issue. Also, you can lose a cell phone signal.

As you can see, smartphones aren’t ideal replacements for GPS devices. At least not yet.

Hiking GPS Phone

GPS Devices vs GPS Watches

GPS watches are also good navigational tools. Their obvious advantage is their size. They allow you to move very fast. Also, they are great if you want to travel as light as possible. But they provide basic navigation features.

If you want dedicated navigation functionality, then you have to go for a GPS device.

Can a GPS Replace a Map and Compass?

A GPS device does what maps and compasses do, albeit faster and more efficient. But you should always have a map and compass with you when you are outdoors as some kind of contingency plan.

Every outdoor enthusiast should know how to use a map and compass.

Positioning Technology

The most popular positioning technology is GPS (Global Positioning System). In addition to GPS, some devices also use GLONASS. GPS is American owned while GLONASS is owned by Russia.

A device that uses both GPS and GLONASS will locate your position quicker and with more accuracy even when you are in an area with a poor signal such as dense forests and narrow valleys. Some devices have the WASS feature which corrects errors in the data received by GPS for more accuracy.

3-Axis Compass and Barometric Altimeter

Some GPS devices have 3 axis compass and barometric altimeter. The compass allows you to navigate and find your way. The barometric altimeter measures altitude and allows you to monitor your ascent and descent. Since barometric altimeters measure air pressure, they can also help predict the weather.

How to Choose a Hiking GPS?

Batteries and Battery Life

Most devices use AA or AAA batteries. There are models that use inbuilt rechargeable batteries. And that means you’ll have to find a way to charge them.

Always go for devices with a battery life of at least 10 hours as you won’t have to change the batteries too often. All the devices on our list have stunning battery life for your convenience.


Handheld GPS devices must be rugged and made of materials that are resistant to shock and abrasions. Also, they must be water-resistant so that you’ll be able to use them in the rain. Our handheld devices are very sturdy, durable, and have an IPX7 water resistance rating (This means they can withstand exposure to water of up to 1 meter for up to 30 minutes).

Display Screen

For convenience, go for devices that have at least a 2-inch display. Also, the resolution must be good so that you can easily read the screen. You also have to make a choice between going for those with touchscreen features or buttons.

While touchscreens are easier to operate, you might have difficulty using them in cold weather with gloves on.


You can get a lot more from GPS devices than just your location on a map. Some have an electronic compass and barometric altimeter. Some can be connected to your smartphones so you can read messages and notifications on them. There are even models that can be connected to heart rate monitors and temperature sensors.


We know you want to travel light when hiking, mountaineering, and participating in other outdoor activities. As a result, we included only lightweight devices on our list.

Final Thoughts

That’s all fellas. Our buying guide will provide you with all you need to know so you can make an informed decision when buying your handheld GPS device. After all, the best handheld GPS for hiking is the one that suits your needs, above anything else.

It’s not fun to be stranded in the wild. And with our handheld GPS devices, you can wander as far as you’d like because you know you’ll find your way home with ease. Get one today and explore the outdoors as more as you like!

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