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Which are the best GPS Devices for thru-hiking & long-distance Hiking?

February 19, 2020
Home » GPS News & More » Which are the best GPS Devices for thru-hiking & long-distance Hiking?

Thru-hiking, section hiking or long-distance hiking gets more and more followers. An important aspect of thru-hiking is the weight of the backpack. Every serious hiker tries to keep the backpack weight – and the total equipment weight – as low as possible.

Another important aspect is navigation – especially in bad weather or when the trail is not waymarked!

In this article we give you an overview of the best lightweight GPS devices for thru-hiking, section hiking or long-distance hiking!

Thru-hiking in the Spanish pyrenees
Thru-hiking in the Spanish Pyrenees

Garmin eTrex 32x for thru-hiking

 

Verdict – Probably the best GPS handheld for weight watchers.

But – because of the slow interface we recommend the eTrex 32xAmazon Shop only for looking on the map (where am I?), for navigation with predefined tracks or to navigate to waypoints saved on the device.

A different tactic could be to use the eTrex in combination with your smartphone. If the weather is fine you use the smartphone, in severe conditions the eTrex (image below).

Tipp – You can connect your smartphone to the eTrex via an OTG cable (e.g. for copying track files). 

eTrex 32x – Pros

  • Light & handy
  • Excellent display
  • Top-notch battery life (especially with lithium batteries)
  • Accurate GPS
  • All necessary & basic navigation features
  • Built in barometric altimeter for accurate elevation data or weather forecast
  • Optional microSD-card for additional maps (e.g. from OpenStreetMap)
  • Glove friendly

 

eTrex 32x – Cons

  • Very slow e.g. when zooming & panning the map or searching for POIs
  • No Bluetooth interface for smartphone connectivity
  • Outdated interface, handling needs getting used to (five keys & thumb stick)

 

The Garmin eTrex keeps you on the track while Thru-hiking

The eTrex 32x keeps you on the track (GR 11, Spanish Pyrenees)

Garmin fenix 6X Pro & Smartphone

 

Verdict – The ultimate lightweight solution for long-distance hiking.

Every hiker keeps a smartphone. So it is a weight saving solution to use the smartphone for every day navigation – except the weather is bad or you need a hands-free device while hiking. In these situations you can send your track (e.g. a GPX file) to the fenix 6X ProAmazon Shop and start the navigation there.

Otherwise, the fenix 6X Pro has all navigation features you ever need – so you can also use the fenix independently from your smartphone.

We recommend a proven smartphone app like Locus Map Pro in combination with several OSM maps (OpenStreetMap). In addition, you should install the tool gimporter to export files from your Android smartphone to the fenix.

fenix 6X Pro – Pros

  • Stunning battery life for a smartwatch
  • Large display
  • Extensive connectivity
  • Rugged & reliable
  • Feature rich
  • Maps & navigation on the wrist

fenix 6X Pro – Cons

  • Expensive

 

Garmin inReach Mini when backpacking

Garmin inReach Mini attached to the backpack

Garmin inReach Mini

 

Verdict – The best tracking & SOS device for hiking.

The Garmin inReach Mini is the perfect safety and tracking companion for every hiker. You can send and receive text messages, trigger SOS messages and send your actual position ("live tracking") to a website – worldwide and independent from the mobile phone network. In addition, you can connect the inReach MiniAmazon Shop to your smartphone or your fenix (e.g. for SOS).

In our experience, the messaging via the Iridium network is absolutely reliable and fast.

inReach Mini – Pros

  • Light & small
  • Good battery life
  • Reliable & tough
  • Connects to the global Iridium network

inReach Mini – Cons

  • Expensive subscription

 

Further GPS devices

 

If saving weight is not your first priority we can recommend the Garmin Oregon 700 (touchscreen & keys), the Garmin GPSMAP 64s (keys) or the new Garmin GPSMAP 64sx.

Both devices are largely mature and offer plenty of memory e.g. for additional maps. Our favorite would be the Oregon, because its Bluetooth interface enables you to copy GPX files (e.g. with tracks) from your Android smartphone to the Oregon (install the gimporter widget from the Garmin Connect IQ Store & the gexporter app from Google Play).

If you prefer the GPSMAP, get the "old" GPSMAP 64s (cheaper and faster GPS reception).

Garmin GPSMAP 64sx (©Garmin)

Weight considerations for thru-hiking

eTrex 32x

  • eTrex & two AA lithium batteries: 130 g
  • Carabiner clip (optional): 33 g
  • Two spare lithium batteries: 30 g
  • OTG cable: 15 g

fenix 6X Pro

  • fenix with wrist band: 92 g
  • Short USB cable: 14 g
  • RAV powerbank: 128 g (6.700 mAh)
  • USB quick charger: 58 g

inReach Mini

  • inReach Mini with carabiner clip: 114 g
  • Short USB cable: 15 g
  • RAV powerbank: 128 g (6.700 mAh)
  • USB quick charger: 58 g

Smartphone

  • e.g. Xiaomi Mi 9 with cover: 189 g
  • Short USB cable: 15 g
  • RAV powerbank: 128 g (6.700 mAh)
  • USB quick charger: 58 g

Oregon 700

  • Oregon & two AA lithium batteries: 179 g
  • Carabiner clip (optional): 33 g
  • Two spare lithium batteries: 30 g

GPSMAP 64sx

  • GPSMAP & two AA lithium batteries: 201 g
  • Carabiner clip (optional): 33 g
  • Two spare lithium batteries: 30 g
  • OTG cable: 15 g

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