Best Backpacking GPS Devices

Maps have been a very useful tool throughout history. First used as a guideline for travelers that were searching for a new life, maps have since become more accurate and in different sizes and packaging. As most things nowadays, most people rely on the internet and smartphone for data, the same thing being true for maps.

But what does one do when the internet isn’t available, and a smartphone battery won’t suffice? Enter the GPS devices. The best backpacking GPS devices will give users enough juice and information to safely reach their destination in optimal time.

GSP devices are a bit different from the smartphone GPS. The best backpacking GPS devices won’t rely on an active internet connection to provide the user with geographical data. They work using satellites. When the user is in the proximity of several satellites, their location will be triangulated by the group of satellites, calculating the distance between the GPS and their current position.

Smartphones are capable of using GPS without them being connected to the internet, but the maps must be downloaded before leaving an internet-covered area using third party software. Additionally, maps tend to take up a bit of space, and the screen must constantly be turned on, quickly draining the battery of the device. Because of this, standalone GPS devices are more valuable on hikes and other outdoor ventures.

Garmin eTrex 30x 010-01508-10 Handheld Navigator

Garmin is a company that’s well-known around the market for quality, accurate GPS devices, and smartwatches. The eTrex 30x Handled Navigator is a great device to have on any type of outdoor activity: golfing, hiking, exploring the countryside and backpacking. It’s packed with features that make it a very valuable purchase.

The Garmin eTrex 30xfeatures a very bright 2.2” screen. The fact that it’s very bright means that, in direct sunlight, it will be very readable. Moreover, the fact that it’s not a very smart device—it doesn’t run many applications. So, even though the brightness is cranked to the max, it won’t run out of juice that quick. It also has a 65k color display, so distinguishing different paths and other types of points of interest will be a breeze!

The eTrex 30x comes with a worldwide map out of the box. For the uninitiated, a worldwide map is a pre-downloaded map of basic geography that includes major bodies of water, rivers, small and big cities, and major roads. Typically, the map covers pre-loaded areas, in the eTrex 30x’s case, these areas being:

  • The US, Alaska, and Canada
  • South, Central Americas, and Mexico
  • Japan, China, and Southeast Asia
  • Australia, Western Europe, Oceania and South Africa
  • Compass with barometric altimeter

On top of that, the battery life on the eTrex 30x has an average functionality of 25 hours. Storage-wise, it can be fed up to 3.7 GB of data (without taking any pre-loaded maps and OS into account), the user being able to upgrade storage via a microSD card. Other great features that are present in the eTrex 30x are:

  • Wireless waypoint sharing (works with similar devices)
  • Satellite Imagery Via BirdsEye (subscription required)
  • Ability to load a variety of different topographical and geographical maps

Pros:

  • Wireless waypoint sharing
  • Very intuitive and easy to use
  • Very readable screen
  • Can be used for a lot of different activities
  • Average battery life of 25 hours

Cons:

  • No subscription for BirdsEye satellite service out of the box

Garmin GPSMAP 64 Worldwide with High-Sensitivity GPS and GLONASS Receiver

Garmin sure does seem to have a monopoly over the GPS device industry. The Garmin GPSMAP 64 is another solid product manufactured by this very reputable brand. Compared to the eTrex 30x, the GPSMAP 64 has a bigger screen — 2.6”. Very bright and easy to read, the screen is very similar to the previously-mentioned one in all other aspects.

The Garmin GPSMAP 64 can use two location systems: GPS and GLONASS. GLONASS is basically a GPS on steroids; it enables the device to communicate with multiple satellites. This is very useful as it uses around the same amount of energy and gets quicker and more precise readings.

The GPSMAP 64 comes in different versions; it can be purchased with an embedded camera, with additional maps, with bluetooth (which allows the user to receive real-time notifications from their smartphone), and with a heavy-duty quad helix antenna, which allows the user to be tracked in canyons and other geographically-challenging areas. The average battery life for the GPSMAP 64 is 16 hours, and both AA batteries and NiMH rechargeable batteries can be used.

Pros:

  • Very accurate tracking
  • Slightly bigger screen than the eTrex 30x
  • GLONASS offers very accurate readings, especially while using the quad helix antenna
  • Comes in a lot of different versions

Cons:

  • Doesn’t feature that many maps
  • Doesn’t get updates that often
  • Not very user-friendly

Garmin Montana 680t

The Garmin Montana is a more premium choice for this list. It’s considerably more expensive than the first two products (more expensive than the basic versions of the two). It is very compact and is designed with round edges, similar to a 2013 generation smartphone. A bit bulky, but small in size, it’s sure to be a valuable asset on mountain trails.

It features:

  • Both GPS and GLONASS receivers for the best results
  • An 8 Megapixel camera
  • 250,000 geocaches (Geocaches are used for playing an outdoor game with other enthusiasts, similar to a treasure hunt)
  • Free one-year subscription for BirdsEye Satellite Imagery
  • 4-inch glove-friendly dual-orientation display (works both vertically and horizontally)
  • Compass with barometric altimeter

Pros:

  • Free One Year Subscription for BirdsEye Satellite Imagery
  • Glove Friendly display
  • 8 Megapixel Camera

Cons:

  • Considerably more expensive than the other two choices
  • Some features don’t really add that much value for the average consumer

Best Backpacking GPS Devices: Which One Takes the Cake

Out of the three entries that are present, the first two represent a good mixture of value and functionality, that’s indisputable. Both of them offer users a wide array of functions and features that are going to make a number of outdoor activities more enjoyable.

While that’s true, the  Garmin eTrex 30x 010-01508-10 Handheld Navigator has to be the better choice. It’s more compact in size, has better battery life and is very user-friendly, something that’s even more appreciated when compared to the Garmin GPSMAP 67.