The Best GPS for Walking

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If you are considering a GPS for walking, you may have some questions you need answering. The following article will examine walking GPS’ in more detail to see whether you need one.

What is a Walking GPS?

In simple terms, a walking GPS is a device that tells us our location while hiking. A GPS (Global Positioning System) works by receiving signals from at least three GPS satellites to triangulate your position. The more satellites your receiver locks onto, the more accurate your location will be.

This system is similar to the old-fashioned way of using landmarks to find your location. Using a compass and map, you could draw lines pointing in the direction of each landmark. Where these lines intersect is where you are located on the map.

While GPS devices are designed to be hard-wearing, if they fail for any reason while you are out walking, it is always advisable to carry a map and compass as a fail-safe to triangulate your position..

GPS for Walking

Why do you need a GPS for walking?

Casual walkers and hikers will most likely not need a GPS for walking. There are certain situations where one would be helpful:

1. Walking Remote Trails

Using a Walking GPS allows you to preload a map or trail before you set off.

This can be important when walking in areas you are not used to or regions that may experience bad weather, for example, snow covering your trail and landmarks.

2. Search and Rescue

Hopefully, this feature won’t be needed when hiking, but it is worth considering.

If you were to get into trouble while walking, some models of GPS have built-in beacons and even a walkie-talkie to help search and rescue locate you.

3. Predict the Weather

Many devices have a built-in barometer that will enable you to see any approaching inclement weather.

This will allow you to seek shelter or decide to return home before the bad weather hits.

4. Tracking your Progress

With pre-planned routes, specific GPS devices can track your progress, help you remain positive, and help push you towards your goal.

Some may even have altimeters that will allow you to see your elevation and when you should take rest breaks while walking uphill.

Where can you use a GPS for walking?

It should work as long as your device can receive a signal from a GPS satellite.

Unfortunately, if you find yourself in a tunnel, cave, narrow canyon, or forest with a lot of tree cover, you may lose signal and have to rely on other methods.

Nowadays, a smartphone with an appropriate app such as Gaia GPS or AllTrails may help as they can also pick up GPS from cell towers.

It is advisable that for optimal performance, you do not cover your GPS device. So avoid putting them in your backpack or pocket. A GPS wristwatch may even be affected by covering them with a long-sleeved shirt or jacket.

Which GPS is best for walking?

There are plenty of different types of GPS walking devices, with many other brands available. Let’s look at the three main varieties:

1. Handheld GPS Device

A handheld GPS is often just a receiver held in your hand. It will have a screen (sometimes a touch screen) and buttons to control what you see.

There are some benefits to using a handheld device:

  • Long battery life. Nowadays, some devices are rechargeable, with a single charge lasting many days without recharge.
  • Durable. These rugged devices can withstand drops, scrapes and water without damage.
  • Easy to use. A handheld GPS often only has a single job and is simple to navigate.

There are also a few potential problems:

  • Slow to triangulate. Sometimes it may take a while for the device to lock onto enough satellites to give you an accurate location.
  • Awkward to carry. Some models are large and cumbersome to carry.
  • Limited memory. You will only be able to preload a set number of maps depending on the device chosen.

2. Smartphone with App

If you own a smartphone, you need to download an app to use it as a GPS. Many of these apps are free but have limited features. You can invest in one of the paid apps for those serious about hiking.

Some of the benefits of using a smartphone include the following:

  • Large screen. Most smartphones nowadays have large touchscreens that make them easy to use.
  • Functional. Utilising a pro app can offer just as much functionality as a handheld GPS.
  • Extensive collection of maps. Paid apps provide a large number of maps to preload into your smartphone.

Some issues with using a smartphone include:

  • Poor battery life. Using a GPS app on your smartphone can drain your battery quickly, which can be a problem if you need to use your phone in an emergency.
  • Fragile. Smartphones are expensive, and dropping them will often cause substantial damage.

3. Wearable GPS Device

There are numerous smartwatches with GPS capabilities.

Benefits include:

  • Wearable. As it is on your wrist, it ensures both hands are free for other tasks.
  • Functional. They are as functional as a handheld device with the ability to preload maps and routes.
  • Accurate. Like the handheld device, these are often more accurate than a smartphone.
  • Durable. They are designed to be rugged and waterproof.
  • Long battery life. Once charged, they should last for ages.

Some potential issues may include the following:

  • Small screen. This can be an issue as it will be difficult to see the map and route.
  • Heavy. Compared to a standard watch, they can be heavy. 


What is the difference between GPS and GPRS?

GPS is used for navigation using satellites to triangulate your position, while GPRS is used for video calling, accessing emails and multimedia messaging.

How do I change my GPS to walking?

Certain apps, such as Google Maps, can be changed from driving to walking and back with a few simple steps:

  • Type in your destination using the app, and tap the search button
  • Go to the Directions option under the map and select walking

Final Thoughts: Should you buy a GPS for walking?

If you are serious about hiking, walking with a GPS is invaluable, especially if you spend a lot of time exploring trails you have never walked.

For the more casual hiker, they could still be a good purchase but not an essential investment since there are plenty of apps available for your smartphone to track your location and progress.

We have listed a couple of recommended GPS devices. If you have any questions, please leave them below.

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