Looking for a good GPS device for solo backcountry hunting? Or, even just for getting to and from your stand location at dawn and dusk safely?
In this guide, we’ll walk you through the 5 best handheld GPS units for hunting and hiking.
They’ll be easy to use, keep you connected well 24/7, and display your position accurately.
Ready? Let’s get started:
- Best Overall: Garmin InReach Mini 2
- Best for easy navigation and satellite communication: Garmin GPSMAP 67i
- Best for hunting and UTV’ing: Garmin Montana 700i
- Best for backup messenger: Spot X with Bluetooth and 2-Way Satellite Messenger
- Best for Low Cost:
Garmin eTrex 10
Best Handheld GPS for Hunting Reviews:
1. Garmin Inreach Mini 2:
The Garmin inReach 2 is our pick for the best handheld GPS for hunting and hiking in the backcountry.
It will give your family peace of mind when you’re out in the woods, while also showing you the route to get back to your truck safely.
1. Keep that peace of mind:
The Garmin InReach Mini 2 features the well proven InReach Technology, giving you and your family peace of mind while you’re heading out into the woods.
The device keeps you connected 24/7 by attaching to Iridium - the largest commercial satellite network running 66 active satellites around the globe.
The best part:
It works without cell towers.
It’s easy and reliable for quickly getting in touch with your family and friends whilst solo hunting and hiking deep in the backcountry.
How do I use the unit?
Just pair the GPS unit with the Garmin Explorer app on your phone, then you can easily text back and forth with anyone in your contact list, to let them know that you’re fine.
Not only that, your wife can keep track of your journey in close to REAL TIME.
They can track your GPS location via the MapShare webpage or following the attached link in the messages.
How to text your family?
You’re able to text your loved ones in the usual way (custom messages) or via Quick text messages.
Here are some predefined samples, saving your keystroke and typing time:
- “Going to be late, but I’m OK. See you later”
- “I'm starting from here.”
- “I'm stopping here (for now).”
- “Battery low. Turning off sometimes.”
- “I might be lost…”
- “I'm on my way. Making progress.”
What if you get stranded or injured in the backcountry?
Don’t worry. The interactive SOS capability saves you from the stress of bad situations.
Just hold down the built-in SOS button for 3 seconds, and it’ll send a message to the Garmin Response team - an emergency monitoring and help center running 24/7.
A trained professional staff keeps in contact with you via two-way messaging, notify local emergency services and let them know your exact location and status.
Don’t worry though
These kinds of circumstances are really quite rare.
However, having a backup safety device such as this for urgent emergencies is great to have, especially if something happens to your phone, or are hunting outside of cell range.
Did you know?
The Garmin Response team has handled more than 10,000 inReach SOS alerts since 2011.
So, they’re very reliable when it comes to having your back in the field.
2. Impact proof design:
Unlike a smartphone that is fragile and has a short battery life, this dedicated GPS is impact resistant and has a long battery life.
It works flawlessly no matter how many times you drop it on a trail, bang it on the rock or get wet under a thunderstorm.
Is it compact?
Sure. This handheld gps unit is pretty compact and lightweight, weighing only 3.5 oz.
Snapping it onto your backpack is a breeze.
How long does the battery run?
The upgraded battery can run up to 2 weeks without charging (at 10 minute tracking mode). So you don’t need to carry extra power banks on multi-day hikes and hunts.
In fact, the Mini 2 runs 3x longer than the GPSMAP 67i (mentioned below).
Does it charge fast?
The new USB-C port is 11x more powerful (100 Watts) and charges faster than using a typical micro USB (9 Watts).
So it saves you a lot of time for charging in the field.
Is it easy to use?
Yep. The learning curve takes only a few minutes, even for someone who’s not too techy.
Although the compact screen limits the navigation a little bit, the hierarchy menu and side buttons are very user friendly.
But in my opinion, I prefer the larger screen of the GPSMAP 67i (below).
Reading on the backlit display is seamless, even in dark conditions. In general, most rescue circumstances happen in the dark, so a good backlit display is very helpful to have.
Garmin Explorer app
Pairing the device with the Garmin Explorer app leverages your elk hunting trip.
Instead of interacting via physical buttons, the intuitive app allows you to manage it easily on a big phone screen.
Here are what it can do:
- Create waypoints and courses
- Download maps for offline viewing
- Mapshare for your family to track
- Review tracking locations
- 2 way messaging
- And much more…
3. Get back home safely:
TracBack routing is my favorite super important feature. It shows you the way to get back home safely.
Let’s say you get lost when hunting elk on public land in Montana, and forget where you parked the truck.
As usual, you might rely on pre-downloaded maps on OnX or Gaia to find the way home.
Unfortunately… your phone died (dropped it or ran out of charge).
So what now?
Just turning TracBack on, it’ll show you the route to your truck location from within the last 24 hours.
The result: You get back to your truck safely.
This life saving feature is auto triggered once you turn the GPS unit on.
So you don’t need to worry about forgetting to activate it before heading out, or lose track of where you are out in the field.
Needs an extra subscription
The handheld GPS device starts as low as $14.95 for the subscription for advanced features, such as: tracking, messaging, weather forecasts and interactive SOS.
Is it worth it?
Although it adds extra charges to your existing hunting app collection (such as OnX, Huntstand, Gaia…), it's still worth every penny.
Trust me, you won’t wanna get stranded in the middle of nowhere with a broken ankle and no cell service.
# My advice:
You can opt in on the monthly plan during hunting season and suspend it when not in use to save some money.
inReach® Subscription Plan
The screen is as small as a “POSTAGE-STAMP” making the navigation a pain in the ass.
That’s why I recommend you to use it for trip updates or as backup GPS communicator only.
You’d be better off relying on hunting apps on your phone for navigation.
Besides that, the small display makes the operation partly dependent on the phone.
Can’t change the battery
You can not replace the battery with an AAA patch if it runs out on long stints out in the field.
In that case, you’d better bring additional power banks, which adds extra weight to your pack.
Backpack tether not included
Unlike the ancestor model, the new inReach 2 doesn’t include a backpack tether.
You have to buy it separately if you want to snap the device on your backpack.
- Compact and lightweight
- Rugged and reliable
- Interactive SOS
- 2 way messaging (without needing cell coverage)
- Stay in contact with your family
- Incredibly long battery (up to 14 days)
- TracBack routing
- Extra features when pairing with Garmin Explorer maps
- Weather forecast
- Needs a subscription
- Small screen
- Can’t change out the battery
2. Garmin GPSMAP 67i:
This GPSMAP 67i is the new Garmin flagship device.
It’s purposely designed for easy navigation and satellite communication, thanks to having a bigger screen than the Mini 2.
1. Extra maps:
The GPSMAP 67i features everything that the inReach Mini 2 can do, PLUS topo & birdseye maps.
The 2x screen makes route mapping, tracking and texting a lot easier.
If you plan it out, the topo map will tell you how long further from your standing point to your destination.
Or, by snapping it on the backpack strap, you can glance at it whilst on the move to make sure you’re on the right track (like Google Maps).
Or, if you’re hiking through deep canyons or thick tree coverage, it still tracks your position accurately (within 6 feet), without issue.
And guess what?
It runs independently from your phone without draining the battery quickly. Cool, right?
You might be wondering:
“Hey, why don’t I use the OnX app for navigation and texting? Isn’t it faster and easier to use?”
Yep. You’re right.
This handheld device can’t beat your phone when it comes to ease of use.
But think about it:
- Do you want to take your phone out when hiking the Rocky Mountains in cold and wet weather?
- What if you clumsily drop your phone?
- What if the battery is starting to run low?
RUGGED. TOUGH. RELIABLE.
Unlike the iPhone’s battery which lasts only a few hours, this standalone GPS unit can run up to 7 days (165 hours) at 10 minute tracking intervals.
So you don’t need an extra power bank unless you’re really camping out there for a long time.
In case you drop it or knock it against the rocks, the rubberized case protects it, ensuring it will continue to work like a charm.
The result: you can use it on backcountry hunts with CONFIDENCE.
2. Handy big screen:
While the Mini 2 features a compact size and tiny screen, the GPSMAP 67i goes with a bigger size and display.
Reading the map on the color screen is much more comfortable, even in bright conditions.
Although moving around the VIRTUAL keyboard can be a little bit limiting, the larger screen is still more intuitive than the Mini 2.
Is it better than a phone?
No, obviously we can’t compare it to the touchscreen of your phone.
But the handy screen gives you much more confidence with being able to keep contact with your family via the 2 way messaging.
And again: it works without phone and cell coverage.
How long does it take to fully charge?
Like the Mini 2, the 67i enables fast charging within 2 hours using a USB-C port.
It saves you lots of time when you need to get on the move.
3. Same inReach technology:
Like the Mini 2 (above), this safety tool offers the same life-saving features:
- Nearly real-time tracking: it records your journey and leaves breadcrumbs every 10 minutes to your wife, so she can track your route via the MapShared web page.
- TracBack: the standalone GPS unit tells you the route to get back in case you get lost.
- SOS: instantly alerts the Garmin emergency support team when needed.
- Compatible with the Garmin Explorer app…
The device runs a little bit slower than the Garmin Montana 700i (mentioned below). Loading might have a bit of a delay.
Yep, it costs extra money for an extra map and bigger screen.
If you’re a tech guru and need a redundant GPS map without a phone, this is your best fit.
Shorter battery life than Mini 2
The battery life on the 67i is 50% shorter (roughly 7 days) than the Mini 2 at the same 10 minutes tracking mode.
So you should be prepared to plug it into the solar panel when you have some downtime.
Too many features
Unlike the Mini 2 with a few key features, the 67i offers too many powerful features.
If you’re not dialed in with technology, the learning curve will likely take a little more time.
However once you get familiar with it all, it's not so bad.
Can’t change battery
Like the Mini 2, you can’t swap the battery out if it runs out of juice. What a shame.
- Includes all the extra features of the Garmin inReach 2
- Extra topo and Birdseye maps
- Shockproof and waterproof
- Barometer and altimeter
- Long battery life
- Easy to use
- Handy big screen
- Can’t change out the battery
- More complex functions
- Slow loading
- Shorter battery life than the Mini 2
- More expensive
3. Garmin Montana 700i:
The Garmin Montana 700i is our choice for the best handheld GPS for hunting and UTV’ing/ ATV’ing.
In fact, this is the only handheld GPS device featuring a big, fast and “smartphone-esque” touch screen.
The beauty of the Montana 700i is the huge touch screen, up to 5”.
It works like your smartphone with that bigger display size. Even if you’re wearing gloves, you get an instant response.
Is it readable under the glaring sun?
Yep, navigating maps under sunlight is pretty easy. So it is even good for aging eyes.
Unlike a phone, you don’t need to run around to find the shade to be able to check contours and photos on your Huntstand app.
However it’s a little hard to read in low light conditions.
Is it easy to text?
This is the only handheld GPS unit featuring a big virtual Qwerty keyboard.
Texting on the device is as easy as with a smartphone. So you won’t need to pair the device to your phone to keep in contact with your wife.
What can it do?
You can use it as an ALL IN ONE GPS device and leave your smartphone in your truck.
The GPS unit includes all common features that a hunting app can do, such as:
- Topoactive maps
- Birdseyes imagery
- 2 way messaging
- SOS response
- Weather forecasts
- Breadcumbs tracking
- Viewing public land boundaries…
2. Built like a tank:
The GPS unit is built like a tank, meeting MIL-STD 810 standards.
It means it can withstand shock, water and vibration without issue.
Imagine you’re hiking under sub-zero temperature in Alaska. This handheld GPS unit works without crapping out in the cold weather.
3. Interchangeable battery:
Compared to the Mini 2, this device has a pretty short battery, lasting up to 18 hours only.
It might be a problem if you’re out on a sheep hunt for several days.
However, you can carry additional batteries and swap them out to extend your navigation time.
Adding external storage
Besides the 16GB internal storage, there is a slot for a micro SD card for storing extra custom tracking files (up to 32GB).
For sure, it’s still much smaller than your iPhone storage.
But you still can always download the data to the memory card and sync them.
Its bulky size and weight (14.5 oz) is not a big deal for people out on UTVs and ATVs.
But it is a bit much to carry for all day hiking up in the high mountains. So take that into account before heading out on a big mission.
The unit integrates a bunch of features taking roughly a week to get used to and fully utilize.
It’s a big challenge if you’re not tech savvy.
The touchscreen is inconsistent in the wet.
It’s a little inefficient when using it in the rain, since the display becomes less sensitive when it gets wet.
Old fashioned charging port
The “old-fashioned-micro-usb” port offers slower charging speed (at 9 Watts) than the new USB-C type (at 100 Watts).
The 700i is on the higher end of the price spectrum, costing 75% more than the Mini 2.
However, if you need something that is more rugged, easier to navigate the maps and to text your wife at home, this will be your best fit.
- Massive touch screen
- Easy to read under sun glare
- A breeze to text
- All inReach features included
- Built like a tank
- Interchangeable battery
- Extra external storage
- Able to pair with GPS dog trackers
- Shorter battery life (18 hrs)
- Lower resolution than an iPhone
- Slow charging
- Not the best software
- Takes lots of time to get familiar with
4. Spot X with Bluetooth 2-Way Satellite Messenger:
The Spot X is our best hunting GPS unit for backup messenger under $300.
It offers some of the same advanced features as the premium Garmin GPS, but at a more affordable price and maintenance cost.
1. Backup emergency messenger:
Like the Mini 2, the SpotX works as a backup emergency messenger, enabling you to trigger an SOS when needed.
But unlike the Mini 2, this GPS device connects to the Globalstar network, running 24 satellites around the world.
It means you’ll get less coverage than using Iridium, which has 66 satellites.
Does it matter for US hunters?
It’s not a big deal if you hunt in North America, since you’re fully covered everywhere from the Rocky Mountains, to the New Mexico desert, with no issue.
Check the “blue coverage” in below chart:
Is it easy to text?
Yes, the massive backlit screen makes texting directly on the device a breeze.
In fact, this is the biggest display on our list (up to 7.2”).
Texting and leaving tracks for your loved ones to let them know you’re safe gives you and your family a sense of security.
How long is the battery?
The Spot X runs longer than most typical GPS units on the market, up to 10 days at a 10 minute tracking interval.
On top of that, you can optimize it to run even longer by shutting it down when not in use.
The long battery gives you MORE CONFIDENCE when heading out on an extended trip out into the wilderness of Wyoming, for example.
Did you know:
SPOT is partnered with FocusPoint International Inc, which was founded in 2011 and has served over 13 million customers across their networks. (Source)
2. Dedicated keyboard:
This is the only handheld GPS featuring a dedicated Qwerty keyboard.
No other unit on the market offers a “BlackBerry-like” keyboard like this.
But there’s a problem:
Don’t expect it to be as instantly responsive as a smartphone keyboard. It functions a fair bit slower than that.
Also the buttons and font text are so small that you might end up with a heap of typos.
3. More budget friendly plans:
The SpotX offers the same cost effective plans as Garmin, but at a lower rate.
Let's say you opt for the basic plan at $14.95, with 20 custom messages.
This is much better compared to Garmin’s lowest monthly plan, where you only get 10 custom messages. It means you’re getting double the messages without paying any extra.
Low coverage issue
Occasionally you might get these issues due to having less coverage than the Mini 2, such as:
- Getting unstable satellite signals even in open spaces.
- More than half of the time, you get your location at 0.0 lat 0.0 lon (no GPS tracking).
- Sending/ receiving messages takes a longer time (up to 15 minutes or more)
- Get no connection in the deep woods
You get what you pay for.
The SpotX enables you to create waypoints and leave tracking markers for your family.
However, unlike the Mini 2, you cannot view the preset route on your GPS unit.
The weight of SpotX is 2x heavier than the Mini 2, weighing up to 7 oz. It’s not that much of a big deal in my opinion, even for longer day hikes.
This handheld GPS comes with micro USB and needs approximately 2 hours for a full charge.
- Waterproof and dustproof (IP67)
- Beginner friendly
- Works well as an backup emergency messenger
- Biggest screen (7.2”)
- Long battery life (10 days)
- Dedicated keyboard
- Affordable cost
- No weather forecast feature
- Can’t change the battery
- No map
- Longer charging
- Low satellite coverage
- Slow and small buttons
5. Garmin eTrex 10:
The Garmin eTrex 10 is the best handheld hunting GPS for first time users.
Functional. Reliable. Works well, without too many extra bells and whistles. And that’s it.
1. Rugged GPS at a reasonable price:
The rugged design ensures your backup GPS will survive through harsh weather, while still showing you the way back to your hunting camp.
Best for positioning
The compact GPS unit works best for positioning your location along the trail.
Just turn on the device, and it will tell you whether you’re on the right track.
It also works like a basic navigator
Reading the small map is pretty challenging, due to the small screen.
However, if you want to use it as a basic navigator, just download the GPS tracks and waypoints from your PC, then follow the oriented arrow on the GPS device.
It’s that simple.
One thing to note… This will drain your battery faster though.
Is it easy to read?
Reading the small monochrome display is pretty easy, even under sunlight.
In fact, it has a bigger screen than the Mini 2, sizing at 2.2”.
How long does the battery last?
A double AA battery can last up to 25 hours and you can easily swap them out mid-hunt.
2. Double satellites:
This entry level GPS connects to both GPS and GLONASS networks, running 24 satellites around the world.
With this, you can feel much more confident solo hunting and hiking in the backcountry, especially when the weather hinders your ability to find your routes.
3. Budget friendly:
This GPS unit includes all the core GPS functions, without breaking the bank.
Here’s what you get:
- Map and waypoints
- Saved tracks and routes
- Digital compass
- Basic basemap…
The internal memory is pretty small, only 6 MB without external expansion capability.
So don’t expect to save a ton of tracks and waypoints onto this device.
No inReach technology
This personal navigator features NO inReach technology (such as the):
- SOS trigger
- 2 way messaging
- iRidium network connectivity
You know what though? Not having the inReach features saves you extra money on your monthly subscription.
- Basic basemap and way points
- Saved tracks and route
- Digital compass
- Affordable price
- Beginner friendly
- Rugged design
- GPS and GLONASS connectivity
- Easy to read screen
- Interchangeable batteries
- Small memory
- No phone pairing ability
- No advanced inReach technology
What to Consider Before Buying a Hunting Handheld GPS?
Here are some important factors you should take into account before buying a handheld GPS unit for hunting out west.
1. Screen size:
Depending on your demand and budget, you prefer to get a big or small handheld GPS unit.
Both of them have their own pros and cons:
- Big screens are easy to read maps and for tracking, but the battery doesn’t last long.
- Small screens are more compact and use less battery, but navigating and viewing waypoints might get a bit challenging.
My advice: Pick a medium display, such as the Garmin GPSMAP 67i, which gives you the best of both worlds.
Be sure to pick a good portable GPS that can pair with map apps, such as: OnX, Gaia, Huntstand…
So you could also do with a bunch of advanced features, such as view topo maps, mark waypoints, route planning, tracking…
However, navigating a map on a smartphone will be much faster and more intuitive regardless of which GPS unit you’re comparing to.
3. Two way Messaging:
Most high-end hunting GPS units integrate 2 way messaging, which is a handy and life-saving feature.
You’re able to text back and forth to any phone number or email address, and let your family know you’re fine.
And, it works without cell coverage even if you’re miles off the beaten path.
The best part: SOS triggering
Premium hunting GPS devices also incorporate a built-in SOS button.
If something bad happens to you in the wilderness, just hold it down for a few seconds and a rescue team will be on the way to your coordinate within hours.
I’d rather spend a few extra dollars for a premium hunting GPS than get stranded in the middle of nowhere.
4. Battery Life:
Generally a dedicated GPS device is designed to run for days without charging.
Also there are a lot of variables affecting battery life, such as settings, brightness, and outside temperature…
Pick the unit that offers the longest battery life that you can afford.
So, you can keep the peace of mind when hunting, without worrying about running out of battery, just when you need to rely on it the most.
Our final pick for the best handheld GPS for hunting and hiking is the: “Garmin InReach Mini 2”.
Here’s why you must give a try when heading out the backcountry:
- Powerful satellite connection
- Leaves breadcrumb tracking markers, giving your wife and family peace of mind
- SOS rescue option, if needed
- Handy 2 way messaging
- Impact proof design
- Compact and lightweight
- Long running time (up to 2 weeks)
- Fast charging
- Beginner friendly
- Able to pair with Garmin Explorer app
- Get back home safely with the Tracback feature
So which device do you prefer? Garmin Inreach Mini 2 or inReach Explorer+?
Let us know below!