Published Jul 7, 2022 11:00 AM
Before satellite-powered hunting GPS units were a thing, outdoors people learned lessons in humility. Some of the best hunters, hikers, and anglers I know tell stories about tailing gagger bulls and bucks over one ridge and then another only to stop and realize they had no idea where they were.
Of course, many could pull out the paper map and compass and develop a get-back-to-camp plan, but for others, Mother Nature quickly added to the problem by blowing in a heavy rain or snow storm. It’s scary, and I’ve been there. These stories, thank God, are on the verge of extinction. Sure, they add an element of danger and can be fun to listen to, but many who got lost in the backcountry or found themselves broken and battered never got to tell their tale. They perished, and that’s the hard truth.
Today, advancements in GPS technology ensure you always know your exact location, no matter how far away from camp you roam. Some units contain radios, while others allow you to send messages to friends and family and get immediate help if a situation becomes dire.
On the less serious side of things, taking a dedicated hunting or fishing GPS means you can mark big fish spots and locales where monster bulls are sure to roam. You can scout from the comfort of your couch and pinpoint treestand sites in states thousands of miles away. You can even share those waypoints with others if you choose to do so.
With all the advantages that come with the best hunting GPS units, one wonders how we’d ever get along without them.
Things To Consider Before Buying a Hunting GPS
If you spend time outdoors, whether hunting, fishing, or hiking, a GPS is a must-have item. My units have saved my bacon more than once, making life outdoors much simpler and less stressful. However, keep these things in mind before you make your purchase.
How Bold Is the Adventure
Budget GPS units are on the market—and they work great—but they aren’t the best choice for every outdoor person. Suppose you’re going on a dangerous backcountry adventure in daunting terrain in an area of the world where Mother Nature tends to get pissed off regularly and with little warning. In that case, you need the ability to communicate. When it comes to communication, not all hunting GPS units are created equal. Some have built-in radios that cover a decent-sized area and allow you to communicate with others in your hunt party. Still, if you’re solo or you and your crew find yourselves in a bad way, you need the ability to message family and friends and get help by pushing a button. I highly recommend having a quality handheld GPS—especially if you tend to wander the Rockies—that features inReach technology.
One Size Fits All
GPS units are expensive, and while I recommend having one for your boat, one on your wrist, and one for the backcountry, I realize that’s not always feasible. If you’re an outdoor addict, an advanced handheld GPS unit will serve you well and is reasonably adaptable to whatever you’re doing. No, you can’t mount it to your boat and use it as a fish finder, but you can mark hot spots on the lake or pond or drop a pin on desirable hunting locations. A handheld unit will work great for a hike, and if you purchase the GPS with inReach technology, your walkabouts can be anywhere you desire.
Do You Need It
I run ultramarathons, mountain bike, hunt, fish, and spend piles of time outdoors. I’m obsessed with data like my heart rate, respirations, VO2 max, recovery, performance data, etc. I want the best smartwatch money can buy for these and many other reasons. However, there are oodles of smartwatches on the market, and you may want to consider one with fewer features. Or if you’re not interested in any of that, just stick to a handheld GPS. You don’t need to pay for fancy-to-do technologies you’ll never use.
Why It Made The Cut
Our winner has it all—ABC sensors, Birdseye Satellite Imagery, Preloaded Topo maps, two-way messaging—the works. From the Rockies to the Midwest hardwoods to the dense forests of the East, this unit serves its purpose flawlessly.
- Interactive SOS Alerts
- Location sharing
- 100 Percent Global Iridium Satellite Network
- Extended battery life
- Built for adventure
- Multiple global satellite navigation
- Built to military standards
- Optional GPS inReach Weather
If you’re looking for one GPS to do it all, the GPSMAP 66i fits the bill. From hiking to hunting to fishing, this 2.5″x6.4″x1.4″ unit allows you to mark and share waypoints. Features like BirdsEye Satellite Imagery let you download high-resolution, photo-realistic maps to the device without an annual subscription. ABC Sensors give you an altimeter, barometer, and a 3-axis electronic compass. InReach technology keeps you in touch with family and friends while you’re on your adventure. Should things ever go from bad to worse, trigger the unit’s interactive SOS message, and help will be on the way 24/7/365. The unit has proven as durable as the day is long, and other features like Expedition mode mean you can get up to 200 hours of battery life while using inReach technology. If there is a do-all hiking, fishing, and hunting GPS, the 66i is it.
Why It Made The Cut
Small and lightweight, the unit takes up very little room in the pack and can be lashed to a backpack or belt loop comfortably. Though small, this global satellite communicator has many features that make it a backcountry must-have.
- 3.5 ounces
- 14-day battery life
- Life-saving features
- Two-Way Messaging
- Interactive SOS Alerts
- Location Sharing
- Digital Compass
- TracBack Routing
Without this blaze orange handheld, I won’t walk 10 feet from my truck into the wilderness. This miniscule unit is great, and I’ve already written a full review of it for Field & Stream. Not only will it save your life, but it will allow family and friends to track you via the Garmin Explore App. Most purchase the unit for its get-out-of-trouble and let others know where I am at all times features, but there’s much more to the inReach Mini 2. I love the TracBack routing feature. Once engaged, you don’t have to worry about where or how far you roam. Nor do you have to fret about Mother Nature dropping the cloud ceiling to a level that makes visibility impossible. This routing feature will navigate you back to your starting point, and you’ll walk back on the same tracks you trekked on. A built-in digital compass gives you an instant, accurate heading, and the internal, rechargeable lithium battery provides you up to 14 days of battery life when the unit is set in the default 10-minute tracking mode. And, yes, you can trigger the SOS button, and help will be on the way.
Best for Fishing
Why It Made The Cut
The best isn’t always the most expensive. Humminbird makes finders with more features, larger screens, and bigger price tags. But this fish finder ($720) performs duties that would have cost well over $1K not many years ago.
- 7-inch display
- Multiple sonar options
- 1,200 ft. depth w/standard transducer
- Keypad Control
- User-friendly menu
- MEGA Side & Down imaging
- Dual Spectrum CHIP sonar
- Internal GPS
I ran a $145 Hummingbird model for three years on my craft and decided to upgrade. This Helix 7 Chirp Mega SI will be the last Internal GPS fishfinder I ever own. Not only is it a breeze to set up and operate, but you can’t beat the MEGA imaging options of Side and Down. Side imaging provides a 2D, crystal-clear view of the structure, vegetation, canals, drop-offs, etc., out to 125 feet on either side of the boat. Down imaging does the same with maximum picture clarity down to 125 feet. MEGA Side and Down imaging ensure up to 3X more detail than standard Down and Side imaging sonar. You’ll also love the Wide and Narrow mode options of the Dual Spectrum CHIRP sonar, and the Internal GPS and Humminbird Basemap lets you fish, navigate, and mark hot new fish zones quickly and easily. I love the padded touch button control, and I’ve had zero issues with this innovative unit. Best of all, I catch more fish with it.
Why It Made The Cut
The original Garmin eTrex was my first-ever GPS unit. It never failed me and was always functional. It was a GPS that didn’t break the bank and would get me there and back again. The eTrex 10 will do all that and a little more.
- 25-hour battery life w/AA batteries
- GPS and GLONASS satellites
- Works in heavy cover
- Waypoint marking
- Excellent display lighting
- Easy-to-use interface
- Worldwide Basemap
- Advanced Tracking
- Not many bells and whistles
An easy-on-the-wallet hunting GPS that will stand up to any terrain and weather condition, Garmin’s eTrex 10 lets you roam where you please, drop waypoints along the way and get back to your camp or vehicle safely. You can mark hunting and fishing hot spots, as well as along-the-trail locations you must revisit. I love the simplicity and no-fail setup of the device, and though not huge, the 2.2-inch monochrome display is easy to read in any lighting condition. Garmin has also gone the extra mile in satellite communication, and the device grabs both GPS and GLONASS satellites simultaneously, which gives the eTrex 10 the ability to connect to 24 satellites. The Map, Compass, Mark Waypoint, Trip Computer, Setup, and Waypoint Manage options are incredibly user-friendly, so if you’re not a tech guru, this GPS is the way to go. You get all of these great features for under $110. How can you beat that?
Best GPS Watch
Why It Made The Cut
This is the best watch for the outdoorsman or woman, period. I’ve owned the Fenix 3, Fenix 5, and now the Fenix 6. Somehow, Garmin continues to improve on perfection, making this watch a win for fitness and outdoor enthusiasts.
- Solar charging
- Large display
- Topo maps
- Fitness guidance
- Rugged as hell
- Simple to use
- Track your fitness
- GPS location
- Fitness details
- Improve your health
- A few unnecessary features
From a hike in the backcountry to running a 5K to conquering a triathlon, this smartwatch won’t let you down. Not only does the Fenix 6 have a built-in sports app for virtually any activity you can think of, but it also tracks your performance, recommends workouts, and provides you with a slew of data like heart rate, body battery, and sleep patterns. Built for an adventurer, the watch features an altimeter and barometer, and you can access multiple global navigation satellite systems to keep you on track in challenging environments. Expedition mode saves battery, and turn-by-turn navigation keeps you on course. This watch has it all, including models with a solar-charged battery that allows it to run for up to 16 days in smartwatch mode. When paired with Garmin’s free Connect App, you’ll be able to track your progress like never before.
Best GPS App
Why It Made The Cut
For $30 per year, you get unlimited access to premium map layers that show private and public lands, and you can download maps offline for times when cell coverage is zero. Map clarity is second to none, and you can view your hunt areas in Real 3D.
- Monthly satellite imagery updates
- Detailed map layers
- Weather data
- Detailed waypoint markers
- TerraPulse Tree Cover
- Accurate & Detailed
- HuntZone Wind Detector
- Moon Phase
- Takes time to master the app
There are many digital mapping apps on the market, and all have their place, but HuntStand continues improving its game and adding purposeful features. The Monthly Satellite update is remarkable and allows the user to see flooding, fires, and the like that could impact game concentration and movement. Not a state-by-state payment plan, $30 gives you access to all 50 states, and you can quickly and easily look at public and private land parcels. Maps can be downloaded for use when you’re headed to an area void of cell service, which is a great feature. HuntStand makes it a breeze to map out your back 40 hunt area or make detailed plans for an off-the-beaten-path adventure in a far-flung location. You will need to spend some time behind the driver’s seat, as there is a lot to the app, and it can be a tad overwhelming when trying to operate on the fly. Other must-mention features include up-to-date weather and future weather forecasts, and with HuntZone, you know exactly what the wind is doing in your hunt area.
How I Made My Picks
We didn’t pull these picks out of thin air. Make no mistake. Every GPS and app mentioned in this article has been thoroughly tested in the mountains, on the water, across the plains, and in every weather condition you can imagine. A GPS is too important of a tool to do a “round-up” style article that reflects data solely provided by the manufacturer. You want to know what works, what will get you there and back again, and what will save your life. You can count on the units provided.
Q: How Much Does a Hunting GPS Cost
The cost reflects features and technologies. You can purchase a GPS unit that will get you there and back again for under $110, or you can pick one up that sports advanced mapping features, extended battery life, two-way messaging, SOS, weather intel, etc., for $500. Of course, models are available for anglers that cost thousands of dollars; however, these units have sonar and multitudes of other features specific to serious angling. When choosing the right GPS, it’s all about matching the GPS to your outdoor lifestyle.
Q: Which GPS System Is the Most Accurate
Advancements in GPS technology and the ability for these units to pair with GPS, GLONASS, and GALILEO satellite systems make them pinpoint accurate. Even most budget GPS models pair with over 20 satellites, making them remarkably accurate.
Q: Is A Handheld GPS Better Than A Phone
The short answer is yes. Why? Life-saving features such as 24/7/365 rescue support. Also, if you forget to download maps to your phone’s digital mapping app before heading out on an adventure, you may get to your destination, realize you don’t have cell service, and now you have serious problems. Several times, I went the phone-only route, and I did all of my e-scouting beforehand, pinpointing numerous elky spots. The problem was that I always forgot to download my maps offline. Not only did this eliminate hours of e-scouting, but it also left me in the hills without a functioning GPS signal.
Q: Can You Get A Hunting GPS Without A Subscription
Absolutely. Piles of GPS units allow you to upload maps without a subscription. However, most require a subscription for features like up-to-date weather data and the ability to communicate with family and friends and get rescue help. Read carefully when deciding on specific models.
I firmly believe that if you don’t have a GPS, you’re setting yourself up for disaster in one way or another. That disaster may happen in the mountains after taking a tumble, or it may be as simple as having a boat full of anglers and not being able to find your best shallow-water fishing spot. A quality GPS makes life in the outdoors safer, more fun, and if you’re a hunter or angler, more successful.