Basic Features of a Premium Quality Hiking GPS Unit

Basic Features of a Premium Quality Hiking GPS Unit

There used to be a time when the applications of GPS technology were restrictive and limited as the tracking and navigational technique was mostly used by a handful of professionals working in terrestrial space stations, military establishments, and by search patrols.

However over the years, the use of GPS has become mainstream as every other device starting from a dog collar to a digital wristwatch now harnesses this incredible navigational technology. Handheld GPS units, for many years, were extensively used as standalone tracking devices.

However, with the arrival of smartphones, the use of portable GPS gadgets has gone down drastically largely because of the former enjoying some unique advantages over the latter. As a matter of fact, smartphones have come to replace a host of gadgets that were once exploited to the hilt including but not limited to handheld cameras, calculators, alarm clocks, wristwatches, and walkmans.

Yet the humble handheld navigator continues to be used by many mountaineers, patrolling officers, rescue teams, hunters, mariners, dog trainers, and hikers due to some key benefits they have over smartphones.

For instance, they tend to be more robust than smartphones allowing the hiker or camper to use them even in inclement weather. Then again, they’re waterproof allowing you to use them in the rain and snow.  They will also hold up to a fall on rock or pavement or any other hard surface you may use them on.  I once wrecked my bike at speed where my GPS device, a Garmin 810, ejected like I did and we both wen tumbling.  I was hurt worse than the GPS.

At the same time, they come equipped with batteries and a long active life.  Many Devices have replicable batteries or can be recharged by a small portable device charger.

What makes GPS devices better than the traditional handheld navigators?

The latest versions of handheld navigators and tracking devices that corner the best hiking GPS ratings can be connected to portable and/or desktop gadgets allowing you to harness the technology to it’s full potential. This means you can use the modern-day portable GPS units not only for pinpointing location, setting waypoints, elevation, and cardinal direction but also for reviewing, archiving, and sharing your hiking trips with anybody you wish after the fact via email or social sharing apps.

Contemporary portable GPS units of established manufacturers like Garmin, Bushnell, and Magellan come equipped with 3-axis digital compass, barometric altimeters, Bluetooth compatibility, and companionability for connecting with functional apps.

A gamut of GPS systems and devices are available and your choice of a specific type of tracking unit will more or less depend upon the purpose for which you intend to use it.

For instance, if you regularly drive in unfamiliar cities and towns, you’ll need an automotive navigator that will offer you driving directions at every turn as well as provide you regular traffic updates. A GPS watch comes handy for endurance runners, professional athletes, bikers, and fitness experts.

And if you’re a hardcore hiker, mountaineer, hunter, angler or camper, you’ll find a handheld GPS a must have unit when you are out and about.

How to Choose a Quality Handheld GPS?

All handheld tracking units with top hiking GPS ratings are not created equal. Though most models share some things in common in terms of basic features, some brands outclass the rest with regards to design, performance capacity, and construction thereby rendering the latter more suitable for particular outdoor activities like hunting, hiking or geocaching.

Before you proceed to pick up a handheld GPS unit for yourself, you should carefully inspect its features so that the handset serves you well for the purpose or purposes you’re buying it for.

Crosscheck a Handheld GPS Navigator Based Upon the Following Attributes

Some of the important attributes to check while buying a GPS Navigator are discussed below.


If you’re a seasoned hiker, trekker or camper, nobody knows better than you that the terrain you pass through could be extremely rough and weather can change from being highly pleasant to extremely lame and difficult.

Therefore, it goes without saying that you’d need a handheld unit that can withstand heavy handling, remain in one piece if it slips from your hand, and is capable of resisting scrapes or scratches. The device should be fabricated from materials that is weatherproof and waterproof.

The waterproof feature is significant for the simple fact that as a hiker you’ll more often than not, encounter rainy weather, and find yourself taking a dip in a pool or stream whether intended or not, and so on. Always go for a GPS unit that comes with an IPX7 waterproof rating.

Screen Size and Resolution

There is no such thing as a handheld GPS with a perfect screen size since the ideal size is a subjective matter. The best size for you may not be the ideal size for me.

If you are in the habit of frequenting places that are replete with umpteen and undulating topographical features like towering trees, plants, bushes, valleys, mountains, and plains, then you’d want a gadget with a sizable screen.

A unit with at least a 3-4 inch screen (measured diagonally) and having a zoom-in feature will enable you to see the shaded relief in detail so you don’t get stuck off the beaten path.

As for resolution, it is always better to opt for a GPS device that displays images with a high resolution as you’ll be able to distinguish between the different geographical features. Also, a transflective screen means you’ll be able to see images and read clearly even in broad daylight.

Display features

A good majority of modern GPS devices have touch-screen displays which can be both be an advantage and disadvantage. A touch-screen unit may not be suitable for using in high altitude regions and zones where the weather remains cool for the better part of the year.

Moreover, since you are most likely to wear gloves to protect your hands from the frosty weather, you may not be able to take advantage of the touch-screen features as easily as you have thought when you bought the GPS.

At the same time, accessibility is faster and smoother when you use a GPS device with a touch-screen. So, both devices with keypads and touch-screens are suitable, it depends on the types of terrain you usually hike and the climatic features in those zones.

Battery Life

Though the batteries used in a GPS unit are replaceable, go for AA batteries that last for nothing less than 10 hours. Frequently changing or replacing batteries will add to your variable costs.


Needless to say, going for a lightweight device is recommended, especially if you’re a through hiker or mountaineer. After all, climbing with a loaded backpack can be backbreaking and a hefty GPS unit certainly will not help matters.

Navigating/Tracking Features

Modern-day GPS devices not only come preinstalled with digital maps but also feature a tilt-compensated electronic compass and barometric altimeter. The altimeter and compass will continue to guide you, particularly when you’re in a dense forest where GPS signals might be weak or you may not receive them at all.

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