What Features Should I Consider When Buying A Handheld GPS For Hiking?

When it comes to buying a handheld GPS for hiking, there are a few key features that you should definitely consider. Firstly, you’ll want to look for a device that has reliable and accurate navigation capabilities, ensuring that you can confidently find your way even in remote areas. Secondly, a long battery life is essential, especially for longer hikes or multi-day trips. Additionally, it’s worth checking if the GPS has a sturdy and durable construction, as it will likely be exposed to outdoor elements. Lastly, consider features such as topographic mapping, weather forecasting, and geocaching capabilities, which can enhance your hiking experience. By considering these key factors, you’ll be well-equipped to choose the perfect handheld GPS for your hiking adventures.


Water resistance

When you’re out hiking in the great outdoors, you never know what kind of weather conditions you might encounter. That’s why it is crucial to choose a handheld GPS device that is water-resistant. Whether you encounter light rain or accidentally drop your GPS device into a stream, you don’t want it to be rendered useless. Look for a device that has an IPX7 or IPX8 rating, which means it can withstand being immersed in water for a certain period without getting damaged.

Shock resistance

Hiking often involves traversing rugged terrains and facing unexpected obstacles along the way. Your handheld GPS device should be able to withstand the occasional bumps and drops without breaking. Look for a device that is built with shock-resistant materials and has been tested to withstand falls from a certain height. This will ensure that even if you accidentally drop your GPS device while scrambling up a rocky trail, it will remain functional and intact.

Dust resistance

When hiking in dusty or sandy environments, it’s important to have a handheld GPS device that is dust-resistant. Dust particles can easily find their way into electronic devices and cause damage over time. Look for a device that has a dustproof rating, indicated by an IPX6 or higher. This will ensure that your GPS device remains reliable and free from any performance issues, no matter how dusty the trail gets.

Battery Life

Long-lasting battery

One of the most critical factors when considering a handheld GPS device for hiking is its battery life. You want a device that can last for the duration of your hike without needing to be recharged or replaced. Look for a GPS device that offers a long-lasting battery, ideally lasting for at least 10-12 hours of continuous use. This will ensure that you have enough power to navigate through your entire hike without any worries.

Battery saving modes

To make the most of your GPS device’s battery life, look for one that offers battery-saving modes. These modes will allow you to conserve power by dimming the display, reducing functionality, or automatically turning off certain features when not in use. This can be especially helpful when you’re on a multi-day hike or when you know you won’t have access to power sources for an extended period. With battery-saving modes, you can prolong the battery life of your GPS device and ensure that it lasts as long as you need it to.


Screen size

A handheld GPS device with a large enough screen size can greatly enhance your hiking experience. Look for a device that has a screen size of at least 2.6 inches or larger. This will provide you with a clear and detailed display of maps, waypoints, and other crucial information. A larger screen size also makes it easier to read the display in various lighting conditions, especially when you’re out in bright sunlight.


To have a clear and sharp display on your handheld GPS device, pay attention to the resolution. Look for a device that has a high-resolution screen, ideally with at least 240 x 320 pixels. This will ensure that the maps and other graphics on your GPS device are displayed with crisp details. A higher resolution also makes it easier to read smaller text and icons, providing you with a better overall user experience.


Hiking often involves starting early in the morning or continuing late into the evening, when lighting conditions may not be optimal. That’s why having a GPS device with backlighting is essential. Look for a device that offers adjustable backlighting options, allowing you to customize the brightness level according to your surroundings. This will ensure that you can easily see the display even in low-light conditions, such as when you’re navigating through a forest or hiking at dusk.

Weight and Size


When you’re out hiking, every ounce of weight matters. Choosing a lightweight handheld GPS device can significantly contribute to your overall comfort and ease of carrying. Look for a device that weighs around 6 ounces or less, making it easy to slip into your pocket or attach to your backpack without weighing you down. A portable GPS device will allow you to freely move without feeling burdened by its weight.


In addition to being lightweight, consider the overall size and ergonomics of a handheld GPS device for hiking. Look for a device that has a compact design and fits comfortably in your hand. It should have well-placed buttons and controls that are easy to reach and use while on the move. The device should also have a non-slip grip or be compatible with a protective case that provides a secure hold. Investing in a comfortable GPS device will ensure that you can navigate with ease and without added strain on your hands or fingers.

Satellite Reception

Number of satellite systems supported

a reliable GPS device for hiking should support multiple satellite systems to ensure better accuracy and performance. Look for a device that supports both GPS and GLONASS satellite systems, as this will enhance the device’s ability to acquire and maintain satellite signals, especially in challenging environments such as dense forests or deep canyons. The more satellite systems supported, the more reliable your GPS device will be in providing accurate location information.

Signal strength

Having a strong and consistent satellite signal is crucial when using a handheld GPS device for hiking. Look for a device that has excellent signal strength, even in difficult terrain or under tree cover. Some GPS devices come with external antennas or enhanced signal processing capabilities to improve signal reception. A strong signal ensures that your GPS device can accurately determine your location and provide reliable navigation guidance throughout your hike.

Mapping and Navigation

Topographic maps

Having access to detailed topographic maps is essential for successful hiking adventures. Look for a handheld GPS device that offers preloaded topographic maps or the ability to download and display them. Topographic maps provide valuable information such as elevation contours, terrain features, and points of interest. They allow you to plan your route, understand the landscape, and make informed decisions while navigating challenging terrains.

Waypoints and routes

A GPS device with the ability to create and save waypoints and routes is invaluable while hiking. Waypoints are specific locations you can mark on your GPS device, such as trailheads, scenic viewpoints, or campsites. Routes, on the other hand, are predefined paths you can create and follow on your GPS device. Look for a device that offers sufficient storage for saving multiple waypoints and routes, allowing you to plan and track your hikes effectively.

Track recording

Track recording is a useful feature that allows you to record your hiking route in real-time. Look for a GPS device that can track and save your movements as a track log. This way, you’ll have a detailed record of your hike, which can be helpful for reviewing your progress, sharing your adventure with others, or retracing your steps if needed. A GPS device with track recording capabilities will enhance your hiking experience and serve as a valuable tool for future reference.



Having Bluetooth connectivity on your handheld GPS device can offer several advantages. Look for a GPS device that supports Bluetooth so that you can pair it with a compatible smartphone or other devices. This allows you to share data wirelessly, such as downloading maps or uploading your hiking routes. Bluetooth connectivity can also enable you to receive notifications, weather updates, or even control your GPS device remotely from your smartphone.

Wireless data transfer

In addition to Bluetooth, some GPS devices offer wireless data transfer capabilities through Wi-Fi or cellular networks. This allows you to quickly and easily download maps, updates, or additional content directly to your device without the need for a computer. Look for a GPS device that offers wireless data transfer options if you prefer the convenience of obtaining and updating information on the go.

Memory and Storage

Internal memory

A handheld GPS device with sufficient internal memory is essential for storing maps, waypoints, and other data. Look for a device that offers ample internal storage capacity, ideally with at least 8 GB or more. This will allow you to store a considerable amount of map data and have enough space for saving waypoints, routes, and track logs. A GPS device with generous internal memory ensures that you don’t have to constantly delete and replace data while on a hike.

Expandable storage options

If the internal memory of a GPS device is not sufficient for your needs, look for one that offers expandable storage options. This can typically be done through a microSD card slot, allowing you to insert additional memory cards to increase the device’s storage capacity. With expandable storage, you’ll have the flexibility to carry more maps, waypoints, or other data without worrying about running out of space during your hiking adventures.

User Interface

Ease of use

When you’re out in the wilderness, you want a handheld GPS device that is easy to use and navigate. Look for a device that offers an intuitive user interface, with clear menus, easy-to-understand icons, and logical navigation. The device should have simple and straightforward controls that allow you to access various functions quickly. An easy-to-use GPS device ensures that you can focus on enjoying your hike rather than struggling to operate complicated features or menus.

Intuitive controls

In addition to an overall user-friendly interface, consider the specific controls of a handheld GPS device. Look for a device that has well-placed buttons or a touchscreen that is responsive and precise. The controls should be easy to use even while wearing gloves, as hiking often requires protection from cold or wet conditions. Having intuitive controls on your GPS device will allow you to make quick selections, zoom in and out on maps, and access important features without any frustration.

Additional Features

Compass and altimeter

Some handheld GPS devices come equipped with a compass and altimeter, which are valuable tools for hiking. A built-in compass helps you navigate and orient yourself in relation to your surroundings, while an altimeter provides accurate elevation information. Having these additional features can enhance your overall navigation and ensure that you stay on the right path, especially in situations where GPS signals may be weak or unreliable.

Weather updates

Staying informed about weather conditions is crucial for safe and enjoyable hiking. Look for a GPS device that offers weather updates, either through built-in weather apps or by connecting to your smartphone. This feature allows you to receive real-time weather information, including forecasts and alerts. Being aware of upcoming changes in weather can help you plan your hike accordingly, make adjustments to your route if necessary, and ensure that you’re prepared for any unexpected conditions.

Geocaching support

If you enjoy geocaching, a GPS device with dedicated geocaching support can add an extra element of adventure to your hikes. Look for a device that is compatible with geocaching platforms and offers features such as geocache navigation, hints, and logs. Geocaching with a GPS device allows you to discover hidden treasures along your hiking routes, making your outdoor experience even more exciting and rewarding.

In conclusion, choosing the right handheld GPS device for hiking involves considering various factors. Durability, battery life, display quality, weight and size, satellite reception, mapping and navigation capabilities, connectivity options, memory and storage capacity, user interface, and additional features are all important aspects to evaluate. By selecting a GPS device that meets your specific needs and preferences in each of these areas, you can enhance your hiking experience, ensure your safety, and make the most of your outdoor adventures. So, go ahead, gear up with the perfect handheld GPS device, and hit the trails with confidence!