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The best GPS for hiking and backpacking enable a great reception, provide excellent mapping capabilities and support the best hardware features for enhanced portability.

Reception
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.

Mapping
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.

Hardware
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.

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Garmin Rino 610

Garmin Rino 610 GPS Receiver


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Garmin Rino 610
Garmin Astro 320
Garmin Montana 650
Magellan eXplorist 710
Magellan eXplorist 110
Garmin Rino 610 GPS Receiver
Garmin Astro 320 GPS Receiver
Garmin Montana 650 4 in. Handheld GPS Receiver
Magellan eXplorist 710 Handheld GPS Receiver
Magellan eXplorist 110 GPS Receiver
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Release Date
Aug 2011
Nov 2011
May 2011
Dec 2010
Jan 2012
Designation
Hiking, Outdoor
Hiking, Outdoor
Outdoor, Hiking, Motorcycle / Bikes
Outdoor, Hiking
Hiking, Outdoor
Map capabilities
Internal
Internal, Map cartridges / Data cards
Internal, Map cartridges / Data cards, Download maps
Map cartridges / Data cards
Internal
Receiver type
22 Channels
Enhanced accuracy
WAAS enabled
WAAS enabled
WAAS enabled
WAAS enabled, EGNOS enabled, MSAS enabled
WAAS enabled, EGNOS enabled, MSAS enabled
Form Factor
Handheld
Handheld
Handheld
Handheld
Handheld
Input Method
Keypad
Keypad
Touch Screen
Touch Screen
Keypad
Screen Size
2.6 inch
2.6 inch
4.0 inch
3.0 inch
2.2 inch
User interface
Keypad
Keypad
Touch Screen
Touch Screen
Keypad

  • The Garmin Forerunner 610 is an outstanding device. It's versatile, responsive, accurate and well-designed. It's not just the big things like how it's packed with features, and the way they are accessed and arranged in such a logical way. Small details matter, like being able to set the time manually while on a flight without having to connect to a computer or find a satellite signal, using a magnetic charger, or having the scrolling touchscreen menus. It's a great product with a hefty price.


  • Garmin's Forerunner 610 is pricy but if you're a serious athlete we can definitely see its value. It's able to track and store a huge range of workout metrics in combination with the bundled heart-rate monitor, and includes software to monitor your long-term progress via PC. The touchscreen may be a bit fiddly but our biggest concern is the short-ish battery life.


  • The Forerunner 610 is a huge improvement in terms of operability over the 410. The touch screen makes interacting with the menus, cycling through pages and accessing the data much much easier. But there are still the occasional problemsd with selecting options on screen, scrolling is one operation that, for me at leats, still proved fiddly and cumbersome but on a run, which is where it really counts, it works well. A single tap to select and change pages is easily performed and the data can be scanned quickly.


  • The Astro 320 handheld GPS has a removeable microSD card slot that allows you to add additional maps including detailed maps such as TOPO, Inland Lakes, BlueChart and City Navigator. You can also add Garmin BirdsEye Satellite imagery with subscription.

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    The Montana series has some great features a larger and somewhat brighter touchscreen that can rotate between portrait and landscape orientations, an interface that makes it much easier to access settings and switch functions, and a dashboard that can slide out of the way to give you a full screen map view. The ability, at additional cost, to set it up for a nuvi-like highway routing experience is another big plus. I love not having to send trailhead waypoints to another unit.


  • The Garmin Montana 650 is a high-end multi-use GPS unit similar to the Garmin Montana 600. The sole improvement that the Montana 650 offers over the 600 is its inbuilt 5 megapixel camera. Otherwise, the two GPS units sport the same features, including: a 4" sunlight-readable touchscreen display, a dual battery system and wireless waypoint sharing with other compatible Garmin GPS units.


  • Overall, the Garmin Montana fulfills its promise as a true, rugged and durable, multi-purpose GPS. It is nice to have one unit all set up for a big trip, with one set of charging cables and mounts to serve all nav functions, plus assurance that you'll have the battery power (with spare AAs) to go the full distance. Its construction truly is rugged and waterproof.

  • Rating Unavailable

    The Magellan eXplorist 710 returns Magellan to the top tier of handheld GPS manufacturers (along with Garmin and DeLorme). The four corners interface is very well thought out, intuitive and reduces the number of steps that plague some other touchscreen models, such as the Garmin Oregon series. The list of significant negatives is short. I don't know if the contour line issue can be fixed with a firmware update or not.


  • The eXplorist 710 is a higher-end model in Magellan's eXplorist series of handheld outdoor GPS devices. Like the 510 and 610, it features a waterproof design, 3.0" touchscreen with customizable physical buttons, and a 3.2-megapixel camera.


  • Apart from its 3.2Mpixel camera, video and voice recording abilities, the Magellan eXplorist 710 is a fairly standard premium hiking GPS. It's waterproof and ruggedised, has a three-axis compass and barometric altimeter, and offers the usual tracking, waypoint, Geocaching and routing functionality. However, the menu system puts most common functions within easy reach, and you can customise it to provide rapid access to your favourites.