A handheld hiking GPS helps ensure a safe and enjoyable outdoors experience, but with dozens of models it can be hard to choose what you need! If you're looking for a hiking GPS, it might feel overwhelming, but there are a few key decisions that can help narrow down which hiking GPS is right for you.
Why not use the same GPS from your car while in the woods? The most important reason to use a hiking GPS is for a strong antenna that can receive GPS satellite signals even when in dense tree cover. Modern hiking GPS units are equipped with high-sensitivity receivers and use the Wide Area Augmentation System (WAAS), a series of ground-based stations that help improve GPS accuracy and availability. The majority of automotive GPS units without these features will only function under a clear sky, and can take several minutes to acquire satellites.
Basic hiking GPS units like the Garmin eTrex or Garmin GPS 60 don't have an on-screen map, so you'll need to keep a paper map with you as well. Basic hiking GPS units are rugged, have longer battery-life, and are more affordable in comparison to advanced models, so if you only need to use your hiking GPS to double check your position in case you get lost, a basic hiking GPS may be the best option for you.
Most hikers are interested in a hiking GPS with maps to help with navigation. When browsing, remember that not all hiking GPS units come with preloaded maps, and topographic maps for your hiking GPS can be very expensive! If you enjoy backpacking or longer hikes, you will want a GPS unit that is waterproof and has a battery life long enough for your trip: don't be fooled into buying a hiking GPS with a huge touchscreen display if it won't be available when you need it most. If you plan on taking your GPS out on a boat, you might even consider a waterproof GPS that floats such as the Garmin GPSMAP 76CSx.
Advanced hiking GPS units like the Garmin Colorado series provide additional features including 3-D map view, altimeter, geocaching support, and trail logging, but can be very expensive and have a slight learning curve. With so many menus and features available, don't let them distract you from the beautiful outdoors! Computer connectivity allows you to plan your hike from home, upload it to the GPS, and then share your trip with friends when you get home.
Whichever hiking GPS is right for you, remember to bring an extra pair of batteries and a backup map just in case. Try your hiking GPS out at home first, and learn how to use all its features before you're out in the wilderness. Most of all, enjoy your hike!