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GPS Tracker For Hiking

Best Hiking GPS Trackers For Adventurers In 2024

When you’re out hiking, it can be easy to get lost—especially if not on a well-established trail. GPS devices with digital compasses and , however, can be part of the solution to keeping track of where you are and ensuring you don’t get lost, especially when used in combination with a map, compass, and other navigational skills. When you first start looking at a GPS tracker for hiking, however, it can be easy to be overwhelmed.

Fortunately, we’re here to help! Let’s look at the features you should consider in a hiking GPS tracking system, as well as what other hiking tips you should keep in mind when out adventuring. That way you can make an informed decision when researching handheld GPS devices before your next big outdoor adventure. But let’s first start by discussing what GPS handheld units are and discuss some of their features!

What Are GPS Trackers For Hiking?

GPS trackers for hiking are devices that use satellite technology to track and record the location of hikers. These mini GPS systems can provide a variety of advanced features such as real-time location tracking, route planning, waypoint marking, and more, which can be useful for both solo and group hikes. They are commonly used for outdoor activities such as hiking, camping, hunting, and many more.

When it comes to hiking GPS trackers, there are numerous options to consider. For instance, how important is the battery life? If you normally only take short day hikes of a half-day or less, battery life will be far less important than if you are considering a personal locator for hiking multi-day backpacking trips. Similarly, if most of your hiking is in front country or small local parks, you will have far less need of the ability to call for search and rescue help than if you’re regularly backcountry skiing, rock climbing, or otherwise spending time in remote or dangerous areas.

That means there is a wide range of options, depending on what you need. Let’s look at some of the best GPS trackers for hiking, however, so you can an informed choice.

Top 10 GPS Trackers for Hiking

Garmin GPSMAP 78sc

Garmin GPSMAP 78sc

  • Stay Oriented: Built-in compass and altimeter help you keep track of direction and altitude.

  • Share & Explore: Wirelessly share waypoints, tracks, routes, and geocaches with other compatible devices.

  • Bright & Clear: 2.6-inch color display is easy to read, even in sunlight.



  • High-sensitivity receiver for improved tracking in challenging environments
  • 3-axis electronic compass and barometric altimeter for accurate navigation
  • Waterproof and floating design for use on land and water
  • Built-in 8 megapixel camera and microSD card slot for storing photos and maps
  • Worldwide shaded relief basemap and the ability to add additional maps

This is our favorite waterproof GPS model, with the added benefit of floating, so if you drop it in the water, it won’t be lost or damaged. Additional fun features include an electronic compass and barometric altimeter, wireless route sharing, and 2.6-inch color TFT display.



  • High-sensitivity GPS ensures accurate location tracking.

  • Large 2.6-inch color display enhances map readability.

  • Waterproof to IPX7; worry-free use in wet conditions.

  • Floats in water, reducing risk of loss during watersports.

  • Wirelessly share data with compatible devices for group hiking.

  • Limited to U.S./Bahamas charts; may not suit global hikers.

  • 2.6-inch screen may be small for some users' preference.

  • Requires additional purchase for worldwide map coverage.

  • Battery life may be insufficient for extended treks.

  • No mention of connectivity (Wi-Fi/Bluetooth) capabilities.


Positive Review Review Date - May 24, 2022

I haven't bought any maps to experience their full capabilities, but so far I’ve enjoyed the trip computer.

Captain D

Negative Review - Review Date -  May 16, 2022

From day 1, I had position drift issues with this unit. When I called Garmin, they told me this was normal since boats move. I told him I was sitting in my office, and it doesn't move. Since then, I cannot get any map detail if I zoom in below 8 nm. Garmin tech support is worthless.

Garmin Rino 755t

Garmin Rino 755t

  • Navigate & Communicate: Combines GPS navigation with a 5W GMRS two-way radio for staying connected in remote areas. 

  • Track & Share: Track your location and share it with others using position reporting, ideal for group adventures.

  • See Clearly: Preloaded TOPO maps and an 8MP camera let you capture the details of your journey. 


  • Dual-band (FRS/GMRS) radio with a range of up to 14 miles
  • 5 W FRS/GMRS, 2 W GMRS, and 1 W FRS
  • High-sensitivity GPS and GLONASS receiver with preloaded TOPO maps
  • 3-inch sunlight-readable color display with dual-orientation capability
  • Wireless connectivity for sharing locations, waypoints, and tracks with other Rino users
  • 8MP autofocus camera with flash and the ability to geotag your photos
  • Barometric altimeter and 3-axis electronic compass for accurate navigation

One of the most reliable GPS models, the 5-watt FRS/GMRS 2-way radio is an additional nice touch, as is the 8-megapixel autofocus camera, electronic compass, accelerometer, and barometric altimeter.



  • Combines GPS with 5W GMRS two-way radio.

  • Share location with others during group hikes.

  • Sunlight-readable 3-inch color display.

  • 8MP camera with geotagging for journey capture.

  • Wirelessly connects with other Rino users.

  • Camera quality inferior to most smartphones.

  • Requires managing radio and GPS battery life.

  • 14-mile radio range may not cover remote areas.

  • Higher cost due to dual GPS and radio functionality.

  • Bulkier design may not suit lightweight hikers.


Positive Review Review Date - November 5, 2023

I bought yet another communication radio for my husband to hunt with because all the other members of his camp were switching to this one. This one is different, though. He loves it because he could transfer all his way points from his last Garmin radio to the touch screen. I love it because it allows everyone to see exactly where everyone is on the drives they take. That gives me some peace of mind, as it adds yet another layer of safety.


Negative Review - Review Date -  January 14, 2022

I was on day 11 of 14 of a hunting trip and the GPS stopped working with 56% battery remaining. I went through all of Garmin's online support recommendations and nothing worked. I contacted Garmin customer support who after a long conversation determined that because my machine was beyond one year old it was no longer under warranty and they could only offer me a 20% discount on a different machine. This GPS was essentially in new condition, and whatever is wrong is something with the electronics on the inside as the device will power on but does not go past the initiation screen. Device is not recognized in Basecamp. This is how Garmin loses customers for life do yourself a favor and just buy OnX.

Garmin eTrex 30x

Garmin eTrex 30x

  • Clear View: Super-sharp 2.2" color display for easy map reading, even in sunlight.

  • Map Mania: Load countless maps with 3.7GB memory and expandable microSD slot.

  • Global Guide: Preloaded worldwide basemap with shaded relief for basic navigation.



  • High-sensitivity, WAAS-enabled GPS receiver with HotFix and GLONASS support for improved tracking
  • 2.2-inch color display with a durable, sunlight-readable design
  • Expandable memory with a microSD card slot for loading additional maps
  • Wireless connectivity for sharing waypoints, tracks, and routes with other compatible devices
  • Preloaded worldwide basemap with shaded relief and the ability to add additional maps, such as TOPO and BirdsEye satellite imagery

The increased internal memory is great for holding more maps, and the barometric altimeter is great for tracking your elevation gain and descent. The 2.2-inch display has great resolution, and the shaded relief is a nice touch on the base map screen. (The eTrex 20x is also a worthwhile option, but we’re just a little partial to the 30x.)



  • 2.2” sunlight-readable display with high resolution.

  • Large 3.7 GB memory plus microSD slot for maps.

  • Includes worldwide basemap with shaded relief.

  • Built-in compass and barometric altimeter for accuracy.

  • Wirelessly share waypoints, tracks with compatible devices.

  • Smaller screen size may challenge readability.

  • Limited preloaded maps; additional purchases may be needed.

  • Physical size might be bulky for some hikers.

  • No mention of waterproof or water-resistant capabilities.

  • Battery life unspecified, important for long hikes.

Kaido Toom

Positive Review Review Date - June 9, 2019

This GPS has brought me back from the deepest New Zealand bush many times for now! The only downside is that if I want a full NZ country map, then I have to buy and pay for it another 250 NZD, but if I want to use free Topo 50 maps, then I can load into GPS only one map at a time! So basically, every time I go hunting to a different place, I have to delete the old map and load the new one in! There is something about the limited number of picture files this GPS can handle (like 100 files), but every map is like 60 picture files. But still, I am very happy with my purchase.

Robert C.

Negative Review - Review Date -  June 17, 2023

I bought this to find survey points. Not even close! I tried it on a lot where I knew where the corner pins were, and the closest it got me was 42 feet away. When I returned it, they charged me a $120 restocking fee! So don't order unless you know you will never return it.

Garmin Oregon 600

Garmin Oregon 600

  • Crystal Clear: 3-inch sunlight-readable touchscreen with multi-touch for easy control.

  • Go Anywhere: Dual-band GPS/GLONASS ensures accurate tracking even in tough conditions.

  • Stay Aware: Built-in compass, altimeter, and accelerometer for complete situational awareness.



  • 3-inch sunlight-readable, dual-orientation color touchscreen display
  • Wireless connectivity for sharing waypoints, tracks, and routes with other compatible devices
  • Preloaded worldwide basemap and the ability to add additional maps, such as TOPO and BirdsEye satellite imagery
  • Rugged, waterproof design for use in various outdoor conditions
  • Built-in camera with geotagging capabilities
  • Expandable memory with a microSD card slot for loading additional maps
  • Customizable interface with the ability to add and arrange data fields, and a dual-battery system (3 AA batteries or an optional rechargeable battery pack)

This might be our favorite touchscreen display, and the dual battery system (either a NiMH battery back or 2 AA batteries will power it) is a nice touch, too.



  • 3-inch touchscreen, readable in sunlight.

  • Dual-band GPS/GLONASS for accurate positioning.

  • Includes compass, accelerometer, and barometric altimeter.

  • Wireless sharing of routes and waypoints via ANT/Bluetooth.

  • Dual orientation display switches between views.

  • Touchscreen might be challenging to use with gloves.

  • Requires frequent battery changes or recharge.

  • NiMH battery pack not included with all models.

  • Not specified as waterproof, important for hiking.

  • Screen size may be small for detailed map viewing.


Positive Review Review Date - May 30, 2021

Our last Garmin unit quit working, and we were very happy to get this new one a full week before the delivery date given when we purchased it. It is up and running tonight and ready for the next few years' use! Thanks.

Aaron L.

Negative Review - Review Date -  November 12, 2020

Purchase GPS for an elk hunting trip. It worked for 1 day and then quit working. No screen. No nothing. I checked the batteries and they were full of charge. I got home from the trip and tried to return, but it was 2 days after the return date expired. Don't purchase from this seller.

DeLorme inReach Explorer

DeLorme inReach Explorer

  • Plan & Track: Create routes, drop waypoints, see tracks, and navigate with maps.

  • Stay Aware: Digital compass, barometer, and accelerometer for enhanced navigation.

  • Share & Connect: Plan routes online, share with friends, and track progress remotely.



  • 2-way satellite communication for messaging, tracking, and SOS capabilities
  • 100% global coverage through the Iridium satellite network
  • Built-in GPS and navigation with preloaded DeLorme topographic maps
  • Waterproof and impact-resistant design for use in various outdoor conditions
  • Long battery life of up to 100 hours in tracking mode and up to 30 days in power-saving mode
  • Customizable message templates and the ability to send and receive messages with any cell phone number or email address
  • Built-in compass, barometer, and accelerometer
  • Online trip-planning and management tools
  • Option to add weather forecast service

With 100 hours of battery life, the inReach Explorer is best for big adventures, and with the added features like satellite messaging and SOS tracking capabilities should you need SAR. Should you want to use it as a GPS tracker, you can, with reports anywhere from every 10 minutes to every 4 hours. While the screen is small (only 1.8 inches), it’s one of the best big adventure units you could ever consider.



  • Create/view routes and waypoints on-screen.

  • Digital compass, barometric altimeter, and accelerometer included.

  • SOS feature with 24/7 search and rescue communication.

  • Pre-plan routes online and share with others.

  • Send/receive texts with GPS coordinates globally.

  • Limited to 160-character text messages for communication.

  • Requires cell or email connectivity for messaging.

  • No mention of the device's water resistance for hiking.

  • Screen size and readability not specified.

  • No details on battery life for extended use.


Positive Review Review Date - July 14, 2023

It took a little work to get everything going, but it worked just as I needed it. My first use was on a bear hunt in Idaho with no cell service for miles, and it was surprisingly quick.

Davis L. Battey

Negative Review - Review Date -  January 21, 2021

The returned, reconditioned unit is still locked to the previous owner, and no replacement is available! To put it politely, I am irritated!!!

Garmin GPSMAP 66St

Garmin GPSMAP 66St

  • Big & Bright: 3-inch sunlight-readable display for easy navigation, even outdoors.

  • Global SOS: Trigger emergency alerts and get help from rescue centers via satellite (subscription needed).

  • Detailed Maps: Preloaded TOPO maps with downloadable satellite imagery, no annual subscription required.



  • 2.6-inch sunlight-readable, color display with dual-orientation capabilities
  • Rugged, waterproof design for use in various outdoor conditions
  • Expandable memory with a microSD card slot for loading additional maps
  • Built-in barometric altimeter and 3-axis tilt-compensated electronic compass
  • Customizable interface with the ability to add and arrange data fields
  • Long battery life of up to 20 hours in GPS mode

One of the most rugged devices out there, the GPSMAP 66St is great even in bright sun (which can make many screens hard to read) and works well with Custom Maps, an app that allows you to turn paper maps into downloadable ones.



  • Large 3-inch display, easy to view in sunlight.

  • Digital compass, barometric altimeter, and accelerometer included.

  • Preloaded Garmin TOPO maps; no annual subscription.

  • Compatible with Garmin Explore for trip management.

  • Up to 35 hours battery life in tracking mode.

  • Satellite subscription required for two-way messaging.

  • Cellular connectivity dependent on service availability.

  • Usage restrictions in some jurisdictions.

  • Battery life varies greatly with tracking settings.

  • Requires management of satellite and cellular services.

Read a detailed review on this GPS tracker for hiking on


Positive Review Review Date - January 12, 2024

It works great for hiking, dirt biking, mountain biking, and motorcycle riding, and I use it for hunting as well.


Negative Review - Review Date - December 12, 2023

This is a 15-year old design that is less capable than the similar predecessor I had in 2010. It comes without a pouch; there is no place to tether it. In order to conserve battery life, the screen is always dark, and although it is supposed to be an entry-level, easy-to-use device, it is difficult to use. The AA battery concept is obsolete. It is not worth $180; it is worth $30. Remember to allocate a budget, for the price tags on batteries are indeed steep. I returned it.

Garmin Foretrex 401

Garmin Foretrex 401

  • Go Anywhere: Powerful GPS finds signal even in tough conditions.

  • Track & Explore: Save routes, tracks, and waypoints (even heart rate with an add-on).

  • Retrace Steps: Get back to camp easily with the TracBack feature.



  • High-sensitivity GPS receiver with HotFix and GLONASS support for improved tracking
  • Waterproof and rugged design for use in various outdoor conditions
  • 2.6-inch monochrome display with a user-friendly interface
  • Long battery life of up to 17 hours in GPS mode
  • Built-in electronic compass and barometric altimeter for accurate navigation
  • Built-in trip computer to track multiple data such as trip distance, time, and more
  • Customizable data fields and alerts
  • Ability to add additional maps with a microSD card (sold separately)

While admittedly not as feature-laden as some of the other Garmin devices on this list, the Foretrex 401 still offers plenty of bang—and at a lower price than most other comparable units, it’s probably the best budget GPS device.



  • High-sensitivity GPS receiver works well in dense areas.

  • Tracks routes, waypoints, and heart rate (monitor extra).

  • TracBack feature retraces path on LCD display.

  • Dual position readout in multiple formats.

  • Includes trip computer, sunrise/sunset, hunting/fishing info.

  • Requires separate purchase for heart rate monitor.

  • Uses standard AAA batteries; frequent replacements needed.

  • Limited display resolution (100 x 64 pixels).

  • Battery life only up to 17 hours in GPS mode.

  • Compass accuracy depends on level holding.

Kevin Reed

Positive Review Review Date - November 22, 2023

I took it hunting in some thick woods, and it worked great to help me get back to my car. I definitely recommend it for hiking and hunting. It was easy to set up and use. It does take a while to get satellite readings, but not too bad.

Cody & Jenn Barday

Negative Review - Review Date - October 16, 2020

After the first use on a hunting trip, the track was permanently stuck on screen. I reached out to Garmin support for help, and they recommended I delete previous tracks, even though the issue is obviously not a programming issue. It was a September hunt trip and did not reach temperatures below freezing.

Garmin Montana 700

Garmin Montana 700

  • Built Tough: Survives extreme temperatures, shocks, water, and vibrations (MIL-STD 810).

  • Big & Bright: Easy-to-use 5" glove-friendly touchscreen (50% larger than previous model).

  • Go Anywhere: Tracks with GPS, GLONASS, Galileo, and preloaded TopoActive maps.



  • 3-inch sunlight-readable, dual-orientation color touchscreen display
  • Preloaded worldwide basemap and the ability to add additional maps, such as TOPO and BirdsEye satellite imagery
  • Rugged, waterproof design for use in various outdoor conditions
  • Built-in camera with geotagging capabilities
  • Expandable memory with a microSD card slot for loading additional maps
  • Customizable interface with the ability to add and arrange data fields
  • Dual battery system (2 AA batteries or an optional rechargeable battery pack)

One of our favorite backcountry GPS trackers, the Garmin Montana 700 may lack some of the extra features of the inReach Explorer, but in exchange, it offers waterproof protection.



  • MIL-STD 810 rated: withstands diverse environmental conditions.

  • 5-inch glove-friendly touchscreen for easy navigation.

  • Multi-GNSS support ensures accurate positioning.

  • Preloaded TopoActive maps for outdoor navigation.

  • Connectivity options: ANT+, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth.

  • Larger size may be cumbersome for some hikers.

  • Requires BirdsEye Satellite Imagery subscription for full functionality.

  • 2200 mAh E-bank charger may offer limited extra charge.

  • Advanced features could be complex for casual users.

  • Relatively heavy due to rugged construction.

Cynthia T. Sims

Positive Review Review Date - November 10, 2022

I upgraded from my Oregon 300, and I'm glad I made the change to the Montana 700. Fast and accurate with so many features, I'll be hard-pressed to learn them all.


Negative Review - Review Date - October 10, 2021

Overthought technology, cumbersome, extremely poor graphics, outdated GPS technical design, and jerky transmission on screen. Confusing on getting it to do what you want to do may even cause conflict on your laptop when down loading maps. I had an IT person look at it and try to work down load information, and it took that person a ridiculous amount of time to down load information, even though the app was clumsy. That IT person said they took the simple out and paid Garmin engineers to put the difficult in. I personally would be so upset that I would send it sailing in the swamp. I would rather rely on my compass than try to spend the night in the woods to get the dang thing to load up information on a fuzzy screen that you can’t determine if the obstacle is a lake or mountain. At least with an old-fashioned compass, I could navigate around it rather than swim across it. I don’t have the time to type what I really think!! My advice If you get a phone app, you will be far happier, and you will be able to find your way back to civilization.

Garmin GPSMAP 64St

Garmin GPSMAP 64St

  • Bright & Clear: Sunlight-readable 2.6" color display for easy viewing, even outdoors.

  • Go Long: Get up to 16 hours of battery life on AA batteries or a rechargeable pack.

  • Stay Smart: Receive notifications and connect with sensors like heart rate monitors or action cameras.



  • 2.6-inch sunlight-readable, color display with dual-orientation capabilities
  • Preloaded worldwide basemap and the ability to add additional maps, such as TOPO and BirdsEye satellite imagery
  • Rugged, waterproof design for use in various outdoor conditions
  • Expandable memory with a microSD card slot for loading additional maps
  • Customizable interface with the ability to add and arrange data fields
  • Long battery life of up to 16 hours in GPS mode
  • Wireless connectivity for downloading software updates, geocaching GPX files, and connecting with other compatible devices

Perhaps the only drawback is the 16-hour battery life—and even that is plenty long enough for most one-day adventures. With dual battery systems (rechargeable NiMH battery packs or 2 AA batteries), 8 GB of expandable internal memory, and a beautiful 2.6-inch display, it just doesn’t get any better.



  • Sunlight rWirelessly uploads data to Garmin Connect.eadable 2.6-inch color display.

  • Expanded internal memory of 8GB.

  • Dual battery system: AA or rechargeable NiMH.

  • Receives smart notifications and pairs with ANT+ sensors.

  • Wirelessly uploads data to Garmin Connect.

  • Battery life limited to 16 hours.

  • Display resolution relatively low (160 x 240 pixels).

  • Optional accessories needed for full feature use.

  • Limited water rating IPX7; not fully waterproof.

  • Heavier weight (8.1 oz) with batteries.


Positive Review Review Date - February 26, 2021

I purchased my GPSMAP 64st for elk and mule deer hunting in Arizona. Being a "greenhorn" to this technology, I luckily purchased the right product the first time. It comes with an attachable clip for my backpack. The screen size is OK and is lit. I need to take extra AA batteries into the field with me because the cold weather and screen time do eat up batteries. One thing I didn't know is that I had to purchase separately a microSD memory card for Onx hunting maps ($119.00, depending on the card manufacturer), so be prepared to add that price to the purchase cost. The G&F Department requires all hunters to be aware of hunting units and private land boundaries. Additionally, you'll want to know the latest topography, road, etc. map features. In short, you'll need a memory card.


Negative Review - Review Date - December 12, 2021

Garmin, best in the business, 3-2019 I spent $250 for this brand new 64ST unit without any reservations. Within a year and with very limited use, the data port stopped working. I received a 'new' refurbished replacement under the Garmin warranty. Now 12-21, still with very limited use of the replacement unit, the battery terminal breaks while simply removing or replacing a battery. I contacted Garmin support about it. I will have to spend another $120 to get a replacement, as it is out of warranty. Something I use very little breaks on both units?? WHY ME?? $250 plus accessories down the drain. FRUSTRATED!! BEWARE Just because it's a Garmin, it may not be so good.

Garmin Montana 680t

Garmin Montana 680t

  • Plan & Navigate: Easily manage waypoints, routes, and tracks on-device.

  • Capture Memories: High-resolution 8MP camera with automatic geotagging.

  • Go Anywhere: Precise GPS & GLONASS track you even in tough conditions.



  • 4-inch dual-orientation, sunlight-readable color touchscreen display
  • Preloaded worldwide basemap and the ability to add additional maps, such as TOPO and BirdsEye satellite imagery
  • Rugged, waterproof design for use in various outdoor conditions
  • Expandable memory with a microSD card slot for loading additional maps
  • Built-in 8-megapixel autofocus camera with geotagging capabilities
  • Customizable interface with the ability to add and arrange data fields
  • Dual battery system (2 AA batteries or an optional rechargeable battery pack)
  • Wireless connectivity for downloading software updates, geocaching GPX files, and connecting with other compatible devices

Of course, the Montana 680 offers nearly as many great features in addition to an 8-megapixel camera, 250,000 pre-loaded geocaches, and Track Manager to help keep your waypoints organized. As a result, this is definitely the best option for geocaching and possibly the best option for orienteering or navigation competitions as well.

You’ll note that there are quite a few Garmin models on that list—9 out of the 10. The truth is that there are a few other brands that also make good GPS tracker for hiking options (DeLorme, for instance, which had the 10th model on the list, as well as Spot and Magellan, both of which make some great GPS trackers). Garmin simply offers the best choices, and that was reflected in our list.



  • Includes 1-year Birdseye Satellite Imagery subscription.

  • High-sensitivity GPS with WAAS and GLONASS support.

  • Track Manager for easy navigation of waypoints/routes.

  • 8MP digital camera with automatic geotagging.

  • Maintains location even in heavy cover, deep canyons.

  • Camera quality may not match modern smartphones.

  • After first year, Birdseye subscription requires renewal.

  • No mention of waterproof or rugged features.

  • Device size and weight not specified.

  • Battery life unlisted, important for longer hikes.

Martin H Gulseth

Positive Review Review Date - August 23, 2021

I bought this to replace an Oregon 450t because I wanted (and needed!) the bigger screen. My eyes are getting' older. I'm still getting used to the minor differences in the user interface and display, but I think it's going to be mission accomplished!

Tom K

Negative Review - Review Date - March 29, 2022

There appears to be an inherent design flaw in Garmin's Montana GPS units dating back to the 600-series models. Multiple citations have been recorded of the units failing catastrophically when using the Garmin-recommended lithium-ion rechargeable batteries. Garmin Support staff will offer step-by-step troubleshooting advice to determine if the unit is damaged beyond repair, but there are no solutions to why the power issue is occurring. There is no evidence Garmin has taken design steps to fix the problem in the newer 700-series models.

Related Article: Best Wireless GPS Trackers For 2024

Hiking Tips

Of course, just having a great handheld GPS hiking tracker is not enough for getting the most out of your hiking adventures. Just keeping from getting lost, after all, won’t necessarily keep you from other potential issues. So let’s look at some of the best advice you can consider to help ensure you make the most of your hiking trips, both staying safe and having an enjoyable time outside.

Among other things, we’ll look at the ten essentials, a framework first proposed by the Mountaineers (a Seattle-area mountain safety and education group) in the 1930s and since used in various forms by outdoor groups as varied as the Boy Scouts of America. These ten essentials aim to help outdoors people answer two basic questions:

  1. Can you safely spend a night (or more) outside if an accident occurs or your time frame is different than what you originally planned for?
  2. If you are involved in or come across an accident or emergency, can you respond positively?

Note that this framework helps ensure your self-sufficiency and responsibility as well as helps ensure that you would be able to help others if they need your help. We’ll look more at what that means, though, in just a moment. First, those 10 hiking tips for beginners!

Top 10 Hiking Tips for Beginners

  1. Start small and with the right trail for your fitness. Until you have more experience, it’s hard to know how to estimate how long a hike might take you. In general, though, you should know that you won’t be able to walk as fast on hilly terrain or technical trails as you would on flat surfaces and that the trail itself may well determine how much you can. Start with an estimated pace of 2 miles per hour, then add at least an hour for every 1000 feet of gain on the trail. After you’ve been out a few more times, you’ll better be able to adjust your estimates, but at least at first, assume trails will take you longer than you think they will, and consider starting with some out-and-back trails until you get a better sense of your hiking fitness.
  2. Do your research. Make sure you have the appropriate map, have read about the trail, and know what good scenic points are along the trail, for instance. You should also be aware of any trail junctions where you might make a wrong turn, for instance.
  3. Check the weather. And know that it might change. This will help you pack appropriately.
  4. Tell someone about your plans. Give them an itinerary and in addition to a time when you expect to be done, give them a time at which they’re allowed to start worrying. This is a good idea even if you carry a SPOT tracker or other PLB, or a hiking GPS tracker that includes an SOS option, for instance.
  5. Pack your 10 essentials. (More on the 10 essentials in just a minute…)
  6. Wear the right shoes and socks. It’ll take you a little bit to figure out the footwear system that works best for you, but no one likes getting blisters or wearing uncomfortable shoes. Also, good socks are worth it! (As is including blister materials in your first aid kit.)
  7. Dress appropriately. As a general rule, “cotton is rotten” (it gets damp and stays damp), and light layers are important so you can layer up or layer down as weather or your effort changes. Similarly, as part of your 10 essentials, you should pack a few extra layers as appropriate.
  8. Don’t overpack. There are plenty of ways to carry your 10 essentials and everything you need without overpacking. Simply pack the lighter versions where you have that option, such as a light rain jacket that you can also wear for warmth or wind protection, rather than one of each, or a travel tube of sunscreen rather than a 16-ounce bottle.
  9. Pace yourself. It’s easy to get excited and hike hard early in the day. The problem with that is that you’re likely to bonk and run out of energy later in the day, especially as the sun gets hot and you’ve been out for a few hours. Instead, pick a pace you can keep all day and instead of getting miserable as you run out of energy later in the day, your smiles will stick around.
  10. Leave no trace. Take the time to read up on the leave no trace (LNT) principles. The guiding motto of “take only pictures, leave only footprints” is one to keep in mind, but you should also take the time to learn the seven principles so that your time in the great outdoors is sustainable.

Now about the 10 essentials. Let’s look at the 10 things you should have with you on every hike, also known as the 10 essentials!

10 Essentials of Hiking – Everything You Should Know!

  1. Navigation. Depending on where you are going, this may be a map, compass, GPS system, or (ideally) a combination of all three—as well as the knowledge of how to use each piece. You should be familiar with and comfortable using a topographical map, a compass, and your GPS unit so that you aren’t struggling should you find yourself lost in the backcountry.
  2. Sun protection. This means sunglasses, sunscreen, and a hat. If you’re going to be out, you need to be able to protect yourself from the sun, especially if you aren’t used to being out for a long time or at the elevations you are hiking. Not only can the sun do tremendous damage to your skin, but it can also wear you out, overheat you, dehydrate you, and make keeping a good pace on your hike more difficult.
  3. Insulation. Of course, you also need to be prepared if the weather isn’t hot and sunny, especially as weather can change quickly and unpredictably. You should have extra layers that reflect the most extreme weather conditions you could encounter. In the mountains, for instance, you might experience snow and hot sun within a few hours of each hour, and you need to be prepared for those sorts of temperature swings if it might occur in your hike area.
  4. Illumination. For most hikers, this probably means a headlamp. Even if you are only expecting to be out for an afternoon hike, having a headlamp can save you if your hike runs late and it gets dark before you get back to your car. You should also remember extra batteries.
  5. First Aid Supplies. Be sure to modify your kit to fit your surroundings and trip plan, too. Check expiration dates and replace items as needed, and if your first aid skills are rusty at all, consider including a small guide so you know what to do if faced with an unfamiliar medical emergency. (And if you’re someone that spends lots of time outside, consider taking a wilderness first aid or even wilderness first responder course. The skills you’ll gain are well worth the investment!)
  6. Fire. Even if you are unlikely to need to make a fire, you should have materials so you could make a fire if you needed to, as it can be a good way to signal for help or stay warm on a cold night. We recommend waterproof matches, a few fire-starting materials (such as cotton balls soaked in vaseline and other lightweight fire materials), and a good lighter. (If you want to learn how to make fire with flint or friction, by all means—but if you ever have to make a fire in an emergency, you’ll want real fire-starting supplies with you.)
  7. Repair kit and tools. Even just a few basic tools (such as a good multi-purpose tool like a Leatherman), some duct tape, and a knife can go a long way. A small mirror can also be great for both fire-starting (simply focusing the sun’s rays on a hot, sunny day) and signaling (flashing the mirror to reflect the sun at anyone out searching for you).
  8. Food. This means above what you think your minimal needs will be. If you think it will be a 2-hour hike, for instance, but then you roll your ankle, do you have sufficient food to stay out until help can get to you? A general rule is an extra day’s supply of food on a day hike, preferably no-cook items that will help keep your energy up.
  9. Water. This means above your minimal needs. Even if you aren’t carrying significantly more water than you think you will need, you should have ways to get water, such as a knowledge of where water is and the equipment to filter it, whether by packing a water filter or something similar and smaller, such as a Lifestraw or Steripen.
  10. Shelter. Finally, if an emergency occurs, you should be able to comfortably spend the night out. While in some places an emergency space blanket (sleeping bags) may be enough, in other locations, you will need a tarp, bivy, or even a tent so you are prepared if you need to spend the night out.

Frequently Asked Questions

What Is The Best Handheld GPS On The Market?

So what’s the best handheld GPS on the market? Call it a cop-out if you must, but we’re of the opinion that the best handheld hiking GPS tracker is the one that helps encourage you to hike more and puts your mind at ease when you are out adventuring. Think about the features you need—whether that’s waypoints, navigational maps, satellite messaging, the ability to send an SOS signal, or whatever else—to best support your adventures.

Do you know the other advantage of our list above? Each of those 10 we chose is best for a particular feature or use. So, without further ado:

  • Best geocaching GPS: Garmin Montana 680
  • Best one-day adventure GPS: Garmin GPSMAP 64st
  • Best one-day backcountry GPS: Garmin Oregon 450t
  • Best budget GPS: Garmin Foretrex 401
  • Best rugged GPS: Garmin GPSMAP 62St
  • Best display: Garmin Oregon 600
  • Best battery life/best big adventure GPS: DeLorme inReach Explorer
  • Best multi-use GPS: Garmin eTrex 30x
  • Best reliable GPS: Garmin Rino 755t
  • Best waterproof GPS: Garmin GPSMAP 78sc

How Accurate Is The Most Accurate Hiking GPS?

Every GPS tracker for hiking will vary in accuracy . For instance, the oldest civilian GPS receivers may only be accurate within a fraction of a kilometer or a tenth of a mile, for instance. As newer models are readily available, however, GPS accuracy continues to improve. The newest cellular network GPS receivers, for instance, may be accurate within a few feet. Military applications may be even more accurate, though that information isn’t always readily available.

So while most currently available smartphones, for instance, are usually fairly accurate within a range of 5 meters or 16 feet. A GPS tracker for hiking may be of similar accuracy, depending on the model and the location in which you are using, as well as other surrounding factors (such as cloud cover, for instance). The biggest reason military applications are more accurate, however, is that they may use 2 receivers instead of 1, as (contrary to popular belief) the military does not degrade civilian GPS service as they once did, using Selective Availability in the 1990s.

Does Hiking On A Cloudy Day Affect My GPS?

No, clouds are not one of those things that affect GPS signals. In fact, if you’re out in the woods and notice a bit of cloud cover, that won’t be enough to disrupt your hiking GPS tracker.

Can Car GPS Be Used For Hiking?

The short answer? Probably not. That said, if your car GPS is a portable model, you might be able to use it in walking or pedestrian mode, which will optimize your route for walking rather than driving. If this is an option with your car GPS, simply switch to pedestrian mode and enter your destination and follow the prompts or directions just as you normally would. This still only works for street navigation, however, unless you have a specific crossover model. For extensive hiking, however, you’re going to be better off with a handheld GPS tracker for hiking.

(Another consideration: Most car GPS receivers have short battery lives, often less than a few hours, so if you do take your car GPS hiking, consider turning your unit off when not in active use.)

Matthew Henson
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