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Best Thru-Hiking GPS

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Finding the best thru-hiking GPS basically comes down to whether you want or prefer a screen on the device or to have the device work with your phone’s screen. After this much of the choice will come down to the incurred monthly costs the device will have from the amount of messaging to other benefits like location sharing.

There are other deciding factors that will play in like the weight of the device, ease of use, the GPS network they are on which may all play into your decision for the best GPS for thru-hiking any long-distance trail.

Our Best GPS Devices for Thru-Hiking

  1. Garmin InReach Mini (Best Overall Performance, Thru-Hiker Favorite)
  2. Zoleo Global Satellite Communicator (Best Budget Hiking GPS) *Note this is what I use*
  3. Bivy Stick (Smallest and Most Simple)
  4. Garmin InReach Explorer (Best Full Feature Device)
  5. Spot X Satellite Messenger (Full QWERTY Keyboard)
  6. Lynq People Compass (Best Partner Device)

6 Best GPS Devices for Thru-Hiking Reviewed

Now that you have seen my list of the top GPS devices let’s dig into each and explain why I chose to rate them there and why they may be a perfect match for you and your long-distance hike.

Best Overall Performance

Garmin InReach Mini

  • Incredibly small form factor and weight without a loss in pure functionality
  • Tightly integrated into cell phone for full functionality.

The Iridium network is used by numerous other tested gadgets. Some people claimed that because the Mini is smaller in size (and hence a smaller antenna), it would have worse signal strength but this hasn’t proven to be true in the least.

You pay for the smaller form factor by sacrificing some ease of use when compared to larger inReach devices. Additionally, the Mini must be charged more frequently, and sending messages directly from the device is more difficult.

The compromise of the Mini’s battery life isn’t as significant as you might think. The claimed 50 hours of battery life is more than sufficient for a week-long excursion as it is 50 hours of use, not just 50 hours total, which is really down to sending and receiving messages.

Weight3.5 oz (100.0 g)
Size (L x W x D)2.04” x 3.90” x 1.03” (5.17 x 9.90 x 2.61 cm)
Ingress ProtectionIPX7
Power inputmicro USB
Battery lifeUp to 90 hours at 10-minute tracking (default)
Up to 35 hours at 10-minute tracking with 1-second logging
Up to 24 days at 30-minute tracking power save mode
Up to 1 year when powered off
Charging timeNot provided
Satellite networkIridium
Global Navigation Satellite SystemNot Provided
9.6
Best Overall Performance
Weight9.7
Small Form Factor9.7
Easy Use9.5

Best Budget Hiking GPS

Zoleo Global Satellite Communicator

  • Simple Button Interface – On device doesn’t have a massive amount of controls, this leaves the important parts to be simple to locate like the emergency button without overwhelming you.
    • SOS Button – SOS alerting ensures that you can get assistance if something goes wrong. You may count on your SOS and GPS coordinates being sent to our monitoring/dispatch partner (GEOS) 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. You’ll be notified when your alert is received, and if it was a false alarm, you may cancel it.
    • Check-in Button – Simply press one button to notify others that you’re safe. Your check-in message will be sent to your check-in contact(s). If desired, you may also include your GPS coordinates. ZOLEO makes it simple for them to know that you are safe, so they can relax.
  • Location Share+ – ZOLEO users will be able to share their position with their check-in contacts on a user-determined timetable from 6 minutes to 4 hours. ZOLEO users and check-in recipients will be able to access the free ZOLEO app to see their present location and breadcrumb trail on a map.

ZOLEO is an affordable accessory that allows you to use your smartphone to text from anywhere on Earth and offers a security system you can trust.

The ZOLEO satellite communicator device, which is strongly built, location-aware, and Iridium-based, will keep you connected and safe when you go outside of cell coverage.

Even if your phone is damaged or out of power, the built-in Check-in and SOS buttons keep you safe, regardless of your access to a smartphone.

Specs:

Weight5.3 ounces
Size (L x W x D)9.1 x 6.6 x 2.7 cm (3.58 x 2.6 x 1.06 in)
Ingress ProtectionIP68; dust- and water-resistant (to 1.5 m (4.9 ft) for 30 min)
Power inputMicro-USB Type B connector
Battery life200+ hours
Charging time2 hours using 1.5 A charger
Satellite networkIridium
Global Navigation Satellite SystemGPS, GLONASS
9.4
Best Budget Hiking GPS
Weight9.2
Small Form Factor9.6
Easy Use9.4

Smallest and Most Simple

Bivy Stick

  • Device Benefits

Building Relevant Content

Weight
Size (L x W x D)
Ingress Protection
Power input
Battery life
Charging time
Satellite network
Global Navigation Satellite System
9.5
Smallest and Most Simple
Weight9.6
Small Form Factor9.5
Easy Use9.4
Check REI Price Check Amazon Price Check Bivy Price

Best Partner Device

Lynq People Compass

  • Device Benefits

Building Relevant Content

Weight
Size (L x W x D)
Ingress Protection
Power input
Battery life
Charging time
Satellite network
Global Navigation Satellite System
9.7
Best Partner Device
Weight10
Small Form Factor10
Easy Use9

TBD

Garmin InReach Explorer

  • Device Benefits

Building Relevant Content

Weight
Size (L x W x D)
Ingress Protection
Power input
Battery life
Charging time
Satellite network
Global Navigation Satellite System
9.5
Best Full Feature Device
Weight9.3
Small Form Factor9.3
Easy Use9.8
Check x Price Check x Price Check x Price

Full QWERTY Keyboard

Spot X Satellite Messenger

  • Device Benefits

Building Relevant Content

Weight
Size (L x W x D)
Ingress Protection
Power input
Battery life
Charging time
Satellite network
Global Navigation Satellite System
9.4
Full QWERTY Keyboard
Weight9.4
Small Form Factor9.1
Easy Use9.7

Handheld GPS Device Buyers Guide

To find the best hiking GPS device they will all share some similar features and be a mix of the below items building you the best match for your needs.

Not everyone has figured out how to use a compass and read a map. Taking one of the finest handheld GPS units for hiking is an excellent method to maintain track of your trip, no matter where you go.

Backpacking GPS devices, like those from Garmin, Bivy, Zoleo, and others offer packages of features to make your trek safe, pleasant, and thrilling without the need for a large map.

Construction and Casing

One key to the device is that it be strong enough to take the knocks and scrapes of tough trails. The casing should preferably be water-resistant, strong, and able to withstand hard impacts without harm.

The construction on some low-quality GPS devices can be flimsy or even cheap plastic that can break if dropped on a rock. It is best to go with a high-quality product that will last through years of tough exploration.

Battery Life

You want to have a long battery life to make sure you don’t begin the expedition with a dying device. The best GPS devices can provide at least 5-7 days before needing another recharge, this way they can make it between towns and recharges without issue.

Price

The price of your hiking GPS will vary based on the brand name and features provided. The more expensive options tend to have better battery life and durability along with more maps preloaded onto the system.

With all other aspects being equal, consumers should go for the cheapest option they can find that still provides quality service rather than opting for one of the cheaper devices.

Distances & Elevations

The leading GPS devices are capable of providing accurate measurements for distance covered, elevation changes, and even speeds. This is useful for getting back to where you started if you go off-trail by accident, as well as gauging how much further until the end of your hike.

Maps & Navigation

Most hiking GPS devices come with maps that can be preloaded onto them or accessed through Wifi hotspots. If you plan on traveling abroad then it is best to find a device with access to more maps than just regional types, including topographical maps.

As new areas are explored they will be added to the list of map options, allowing hikers to make sure they have access no matter where they are.

Display

The next major issue is the screen. The screen should be large, clear, and bright enough to see in different light conditions. This is important for being able to read the device at night without straining your eyes or taking a quick glance at what GPS unit you have during a hike to make sure it is still on you.

Weight

When choosing which GPS device to purchase you want to have the lowest weight possible. The weight of your hiking GPS will be weighed heavily against other features and which brand you use, but should not be an overriding factor when making a purchase.

If the device is bulky or heavy then it may hinder other aspects such as comfort during use. However, if it’s light enough to hardly notice on your backpack then there shouldn’t be any issue with the overall design and construction of the unit.

Additional Features

Lastly, what additional features does the product provide? Some devices come with preloaded apps that will do such things as tell your current location and give you the nearest cafe.

If it has extra features like this then make sure they are compatible with your phone and other technology before purchasing. This way you can make sure that they work together effectively before buying them both at once.