Orienteering is an essential skill for backcountry hikers. Fortunately, advances in technology over the past several decades have reduced the need to rely on the trusty old map and compass.
Like any new tool, however, GPS systems are only as good as the person using them. That’s why new GPS users should always take some time to learn how to effectively use a GPS system.
While many seasoned backcountry hikers will always keep a map and compass handy (even if it’s just as a backup), we have better technology at our fingertips today than we’ve arguably ever had in the past.
In this article, we’re going to take some time today to detail five GPS systems perfect for backcountry hikers!
Garmin eTrex 20x
As you’ll notice throughout this article, Garmin is a very trusted name in backcountry GPS systems. They have a wide variety of GPS systems to choose from, but simple is generally better for backcountry hikers. The eTrex 20x comes with almost 4GB of internal memory so that you can download and store maps for later use.
The unit itself is durable and waterproof, as well as being resistant to dust, dirt, and humidity. It’s capable of tracking both GPS and GLONASS (Global Navigation Satellite System) satellites at the same time, which translates to greater locational accuracy when you need it most.
Finally, this GPS system weighs just half a pound, which means you won’t have to add a bunch of weight to your pack if you want to bring it along on your next hiking adventure!
Garmin GPSMAP 64s
If you sometimes struggle to read small screens, the GPSMAP 64s offers a little bit of a larger display and a screen that can be read in direct sunlight. This GPS system is equipped with a quad-helix antenna that delivers superior reception and its high-sensitivity receiver picks up signals from both GPS and GLONASS satellites.
This Garmin GPS system boasts wireless Bluetooth and ANT+ technology. This allows you to share waypoints, tracks, routes, geocaches, and other data with compatible devices without hooking up to a hardwire connection.
It also allows you to set up smart notifications so you can wirelessly receive emails, texts, or other alters from a compatible device. Finally, this unit has a barometric altimeter, which becomes useful when hiking at higher elevations!
Garmin eTrex 10
If you’re looking for a GPS system that’s going to be very easy to use, the eTrex 10 provides all the essential features you’re looking for without the complexity of too many added bells and whistles.
It’ll sync with your computer to help you record waypoints, routes, tracks, and geocaches. It’s also equipped with a hunt and fish calendar if your backcountry hiking involves hunting and/or fishing.
This GPS system is ruggedly designed to handle the elements. It meets IPX7 waterproof standards and offers about 25 hours of battery life on a single full charge.
If you’re into geocaching, you’ll no longer have any need to carry paper maps to find your desired caches. This GPS system offers plenty of storage to keep a record of geocache locations for later use.
Garmin Quatix 5 Marine GPS Smartwatch
Some backcountry hikers might not want to carry a bulky GPS system that adds even the slightest bit of weight to their pack. For those that want to travel light and fast, we suggest checking out the Quatix 5 Marine GPS Smartwatch.
Although it’s original design is for marine use, it also offers all the features that a backcountry hiker would find useful on the trail.
This watch connects with compatible Garmin chart plotters to provide you with remote waypoint locations and data streaming capability. It also includes a wrist-based heart rate monitor to help you track your fitness metrics.
Finally, advanced data collection is also possible with this watch, including relevant data on outdoor temperate and wind direction and speed.
Cobra Handheld VHF Radio with GPS
Designed for marine use, this GPS system is also perfect for the backcountry hiker who constantly finds him (or her) self in wet conditions (PNW hikers, this one is for you!).
The Cobra Handheld Radio floats when dropped in water and allows you to use Bluetooth technology to make and receive calls while you keep your cell phone safe and dry.
The unit has a display screen that shows your GPS coordinates and can automatically send your location with DSC calls. It boasts a rewind-and-repeat feature that allows you to replay missed radio transmissions.
It is also equipped with a flashlight and SOS signal, as well as a lithium-ion battery that lasts up to 10 hours on a single charge. When transmitting from this radio, you’ll be able to choose between 1, 3, and 6-watt output that will satisfy your needs for short or long-range communications.
GPS Systems Save Lives
Unbeknownst to some hikers, NASA actually has a network of satellites dedicated to tracking distress signals that originate from activated GPS beacons.
The system is called the Distress Alerting Satellite System (DASS), and it’s playing a critical role in helping search and rescue personnel track and locate lost hikers, skiers, and others recreating in the backcountry.
According to Gilmer Blankenship of Techno-Sciences, Incorporated, “…[some] 30,000 people . . . have been saved by this system . . . without NASA, they wouldn’t be here with us today.”
This brief point is meant to illustrate the larger network you become part of as a GPS user. Our hope is that you will never need to tap into this network, but as the saying goes, “it’s better to have it and not need it, than to need it and not have it!”
Not interested in the GPS systems shown above? Check out all the GPS options at Gander.