Outdoors Magazine

Best Hunting and Hiking GPS Reviews 2017 – A Handheld Unit?

By Chris Noal

Things to consider when you’re looking for a reliable hunting/hiking GPS: Your mother may have told you, “You get what you pay for.” This is true of any purchase, of course, but if you’re heading into the trees or the mountains (or the desert) today, you may want to spend a bit more on your global positioning system.

That doesn’t mean you can’t purchase a unit that is both high-quality and less-expensive. When you spend a little extra you get a few more features. That’s when you have to decide if the benefits of those features are worth investing in. This depends on your destination, your experience in the field and your patience when getting to understand those valuable features.

Best Hunting GPS

Handheld GPS?

About 20 years ago, you could have attended a dinner meeting at which everyone was excited about having a GPS unit on their tractor. These larger units were important to the farmers because they helped make the man more efficient when working in large fields and over larger tracts of land. Most of that calculating power and memory power has been slightly reduced in size and included in the handheld GPS products of the 21st century.

One veteran of the hunting, fishing and hiking community advises individuals to give one question a great deal of thought. Do you need a GPS? There will be some who answer “yes, of course” quickly while others will hesitate for a second and then answer in a positive way. There’s certainly nothing wrong with this train of thought. Maybe the question should be “Why do you need a GPS?”

Think about the time you traveled outside of your comfort zone, say 200 miles. If you wanted to know which direction you were heading, the digital display on your dashboard lets you know immediately. Driving on a paved road isn’t the same as being out with the wildlife, as long as you keep the wheels on the asphalt. But when you consider buying a good handheld GPS unit, think about how you’re going to use it.

Getting Started – Choosing the Best Hunting, Hiking GPS

Handheld GPS
When you’re trying to decide how to choose the best GPS for your hunting trips or when you’re taking a day-long hike from your campsite, you can start by answering the question posed in the last sentence. Then, you can take the first steps toward learning about the features and benefits of this item called handheld GPS. You can generally depend on what others say about their equipment. But the best way to determine which product is best is this: See how your fellow outdoors enthusiasts are spending their money.

The handheld units looked at below all provide certain benefits, including: multi-functional; route tracking; marking waypoints and making notes. There are other features as well, but these seem to be common among the most reliable GPS products. Size has a lot to do with success in finding the right GPS, since you’ll want to wear it on a lanyard around your neck, keep in your pack or in a coat pocket.

You should also pay close attention to the real battery life of a GPS unit you’re considering. Since you’re not going to be near your vehicle, you’ll need to have the battery fully charged and have it last for as long as you need it. How long is that? This is where reading the specifications of an electronic item is essential.

  • Like a Watch?

GPS Watch
You can also give serious thought to a GPS watch, but make sure you are ready to spend some money to get one that’s reliable, rugged and does what any handheld unit should do. (You’ll find out more below.)

These watch-like units should also log route information, track altitude and much more, including those items mentioned earlier. It’s probably best not to rely on the inexpensive fitness tracker, which is like a watch and counts your steps. This won’t be enough in the wilderness. They might work quite well for a trail runner or hiker, but even the backpacker may find the fitness tracker falls short of the mark.

Best GPS for Hunting and Hiking 2017 – Reviews and Guide

1. Garmin Oregon 600 – Overall Best for Hunting and Hiking

Garmin Oregon 600 Review

First in line is the Garmin Oregon 600. In its price range, this is certainly one of the best GPS units for outdoor activity.

With its 3-inch, touchscreen display and dual-band satellite positioning, the 600 has become a favorite among enthusiasts who enjoy a range of activities. You get Bluetooth or ANT technology, making connectivity a key benefit. Use it to share routing and waypoints, with wireless connection.

When you purchase the Oregon 600 you receive the unit, cable for charging and USB connection, carabiner clip, base map of the world, and all documentation.

You can use standard batteries, though a NiMH battery pack is available separately, with charging possible while the unit is connected to power. You can charge the 600 through a computer or with your laptop.

The Garmin Oregon 600 is easy to use and comes with all the features one might ever be looking for.

Pros: Bluetooth, touch screen, standard batteries

Cons: Drains batteries, screen could be a bit bigger

2. Garmin eTrex 20x  – Best GPS for Mounting on ATV, and Sunlight Readability

Garmin eTrex 20x Review

Garmin seems to be at the top of the list when it comes to GPS technology in general, and in handheld products as well.

Start with the Garmin eTrex 20x, an extremely popular GPS unit for hunting and hiking that now features an upgraded display (2.2” and 65K colour). It’s readable in sunlight due to the improved resolution.

With almost 4 GB of internal memory you can store additional maps, with even more storage room on a microSD card. It will work well with BirdsEye Satellite Imagery, HuntView, TOPO 24K and more. Be sure to check into subscription requirements for the various mapping applications.

As with all the top units, you get a pre-loaded worldwide base map that delivers shaded relief for better information.

Garmin checks off many of the boxes you’re looking for in GPS, including HotFix satellite prediction and GLONASS support. You’ll find positions quickly and accurately, plus you will be less likely to lose your position in a canyon or in deep cover. This is an upgraded version of the eTrex 20, which was already popular with hunters, hikers and other outdoorsmen.

This unit is remarkably easy to use with ATV, boat and foot travel, just what you want in handheld GPS. It weighs about 5 ounces and uses two AA batteries.

Pros: More memory for map storage, rugged, compatible mounts for many vehicle types.

Cons: Screen a bit smaller than some other Garmin units, but this also makes it handy for moving around outdoors.

3. Bushnell 360500 Back Track – Best GPS for Clarity and Optics, Weather Resistant

Bushnell 360500 Back Track Review

You’ll immediately like the great optics and high-definition clarity of this unit. Bushnell also uses the finest raw materials to construct their products, which the company puts through extensive testing.

This is a very durable unit with an excellent design. It’s designed to be weather resistant and comes with a one-year warranty.

Keep information on up to 25 locations and log trip data for up to 48 hours. You get information for time, temperature, elevation, distance, longitude and latitude, plus you’ll see information on sunrise, sunset, moon rise and moon set, in addition to barometric-pressure information. With the data stored in the unit you can accurately predict peak activity of animals.

Pros: Clarity of optics, animal-activity prediction

Cons: Compass reading variance, moisture problems

4. Magellan eXplorist 310 Waterproof Hiking GPS – Best Overall for Hikers and Satellite Accuracy

Magellan eXplorist 310 Waterproof Hiking GPS Review

When you take the Magellan CX0310SGXNA eXplorist 310 Waterproof Hiking GPS into the field you’re taken more than a product with a long name. This GPS unit is excellent for active hunters because of the excellent graphics and the easy-to-use menus.

It comes with a 2.2-inch display and programs that are field ready right out of the box.

With the Magellan, you’ll find detailed road information, water-feature guidelines and realistic look to the shaded-relief background.

This unit delivers up to 18 hours of battery life, with good power-saving features for all-day use. It’s important to use fresh batteries at the start of your day. You can download and view 20 characteristics of each cache you need.

You won’t have to wait for the Magellan to power up, when you use fresh batteries. Button feel is excellent and the unit size and shape makes it comfortable in the hand. Full-operation manual is available online, but the unit comes with a quick-start guide.

Pros: Topographic map, great menus, satellite accuracy

Cons: Some difficulty with readability, important to use fresh batteries, small screen

5. Suunto Traverse Alpha – Best Watch-Style GPS, Movescount Software Great for Hiking

Suunto Traverse Alpha Review

If they use one of the fitness-watch designs to count steps and keep track of their location, most serious hunters will soon realize they need something more robust. That’s what you get with the Suunto Traverse Alpha. This company is one of the leading producers of quality compasses and they didn’t cut corners with this watch-like GPS unit.

This one has a complete range of valuable features for outdoor use, to help you stay on track (GPS and GLONASS navigation). The company has included fishing and hunting features in the Traverse Alpha, include sunrise alert, weather trends, moon phases, even a red backlight for use at night. Route planning and a hunting/fishing diary are one of the benefits of Suunto Movescount.

You’ll be pleased with the construction quality and ruggedness, though it’s a bit heavier than previous models. Even so, you won’t find it bulky, so you can wear it all day. The Movescount app is user friendly, with easy input of planned routes. It’s perfect for longer trips, with accurate altitude and temperature readings. You may even want to wear it as an everyday watch.

Pros: Rugged, reliable, variety of information available, Movescount

Cons: Display not sharp enough, software updates necessary

6. SportDOG Tek 1.0 GPS Tracking System – Best GPS for Hunting and Hiking with Canine Companion

SportDOG Tek 1.0 GPS Tracking System Review

As the great comedian once said, “And now for something completely different.” This unique GPS system is designed to deliver feedback over a 7-mile range when used on dogs weighing 10 pounds or more.

In fact, with additional collars, you can track and gather information from up to a dozen dogs. The unit is DRYTEK™ waterproof (submersible to 25 feet).

While this is a bit different from the other handheld units, it’s important enough to include for hunters who are in the field with a reliable canine companion. You can keep track of your dog with the handheld unit and its scalable screen.

This product comes with multiple waypoint features and is generally reliable up to 7 miles.

Pros: Move between training and tracking modes, overall design

Cons: Time to learn to use, compass direction variations

Summary

Each of these GPS units have their good points when used for hunting, hiking or other outdoor activity. Keeping a Garmin or Bushnell unit on a lanyard or in a handy pocket may be the best way to go for most hunters. However, some will prefer to have the watch version, such as the Suunto, simply because of convenience. The SportDOG Tek 1.0 is obviously for a specific purpose, but can be invaluable when working with a wide-ranging dog.

Some may try to get by with their touchscreen smart phone, though this can be a problem in difficult weather conditions. You may notice that a touchscreen unit will use up your battery more quickly, so that’s something to be said in favour of the button versions. It’s also important to consider how important the compass feature is for your type of hunting and long-distance hiking. The electronic type will show direction at a glance. But some still prefer to use both a GPS unit and a differential compass.

If altitude information is a key to your success, you should consider a unit that has a barometric altimeter, which will be more accurate than other methods. A quality altimeter feature also helps determine weather conditions.

As with any other outdoor equipment, buy the best unit you can afford, based on your specific use.


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