2 August 2013 by Shifali Rao
The best GPS for hiking and backpacking enable a great reception, provide excellent mapping capabilities and support the best hardware features for enhanced portability.
The number of satellites your GPS can receive signals from directly influences its reception accuracy. Although GPS devices today are equipped to lock anywhere between 3 and 20 satellites, 5 locks are sufficient to pinpoint a location. The most accurate hiking GPS models support around 10-12 channels and provide a much higher precision.
External antennas (or a support jack) are indispensable for getting reception under a thicket of dense trees and similar remote areas. In-built antennas generally have around 16 dB signal gain as opposed to external antennas which amplify and grant an average of a 28 dB signal gain, thereby providing a much better reception.
If the area you are visiting supports WAAS (Wide Area Augmentation System) it might be a good idea to go with a device integrated with WAAS. WAAS is basically a network of satellites and ground stations which augments your GPS signals to almost 5 times the normal accuracy.
In addition to built-in maps (or the capability to upload from the internet) the two critical mapping enablers are waypoints and route caching.
Waypoints are unique points on the map, which define a route and are therefore vital for mapping your way across unknown terrains. A GPS with a capacity to store at least 500 waypoints is indispensable for a long hike though should be available in most modern GPS units.
The more number of routes your device can cache the simpler your journey becomes - most brands today can accommodate 20 or more routes which is the minimum that you should go for even if on a budget.
From a hardware perspective the best GPS devices for hiking support an easily readable screen, have good waterproofing and great portability.
Transflective colour screens are ideal for hiking and backpacking as they are easily readable in all light variations.Larger sized screens also aid readability - though only upto a point - beyond which they become bulky to lug around. For hiking, a GPS with a 1 - 2.5 inch screen is good enough.
Waterproofing standards are rated by the Ingress Protection Code(IP), which serves to guide you how water-resistant the device is. Most waterproof GPS units are either IPx6 or IPX7. IPX6 is only sufficient to withstand a drizzle or moisture in humid regions, so if you want your device to survive a dousing, you would need an IPx7. Additionally, shock proof casings are also helpful to survive the rigors of the outdoors.
The last and the most important thing to note is your GPS power supply. Most devices have built-in batteries and perform well for 10-12 hours at the minimum but the best GPS devices for hiking would stretch it to 18 hours. An even better option is to go for the ones which support external AA batteries and carry a spare.