GPS for hiking

Decided to replace my 10+yr old handheld GPS with a new one. Not just for SOTA but hiking in general. Lots of choices on Amazon and elsewhere. Looking around the $200 US range. Looking at Garmin 35 or so. Don’t want to buy one that requires buying lots of extra topo maps and such.
Thanks in advance for any suggestions.

There are a number of apps that will turn your phone into a good hiking gps.
You can spend the money on a case and extra battery for your phone.


N4HNH and I use the GAIA app on our phones. It’s available for Android and Apple and the basic maps that come free with it work good. You can get USF maps and NatGeo maps for it for a fee dollars each. While Androids tend to burn through the battery pretty fast with the GPS on iPhones can go many hours without heavy impact on the battery.



I use the App MAPS.ME, no separat GPS needed.

I left st home my premium Garmin and only use Wikiloc (payment version).

There are a lot of app betters that garmins.

Also I used a lot

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Hi Bob,

I use a Garmin etrex 20 for all my SOTA, hiking skiing,… and it serves me perfectly. You do not have to buy any maps for a Garmin. There are free sources on the web, for example

This site is focused on European maps, but I am sure there are map sources for North America too. Anybody out there who can provide a link?

73 Heinz, OE5EEP


I can use the cell phone apps, but parts of my state don’t have cell service or reliable cell service…western North Carolina which has the Appalachian Trial, Cullowhee, Blue Ridge Mts Linville Gorge, etc…
Heinz, glad to know the Garmin works well for you.
Tnx to all for the great info.
73 Bob K4RLC

I can recommend if you consider using an Android Phone to use Oruxmaps

You can mark an area and download map for offline use. In addition it caches the online maps. If you look at the maps before the hike it will be available also without cell service.

A dedicated GPS or at least a spare powersupply for the phone is recommended. Getting a 12 V car to USB charger to combine with our 12 V batteries is a nice combo.

For following a predefined track to the summit I realy enjoy my GPS watch from Suunto. Other suppliers offer similar features.

73 Joe

Any good hiking app should allow you to download maps for offline use.

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I’ve been using GPS assistance on hiking/SOTA since 2008. My preference is for a stand alone GPS against a cellphone + GPS app. This is simply because my standalone GPS is IP67 certified against dirt/water ingress and is drop-proof and rugged. I can operate it with or without gloves. I have a use Oruxmaps on Android and have done for 4+ years. But I cannot use a phone with gloves, my phone’s touch screen does not work when damp, my phones are not IP67 sealed and are certainly not drop proof. The only downside is my ageing eyes can no longer see the small screen of my GPS without glasses.

Using a phone + app works as I never walk outside the UK in less than perfect weather. I’d hate to have to try in typical Scottish weather which is why first choice is a non-touch standalone device.


I have used the maps from and am quite happy with them. They’re not available for Canada (yet) but have good US coverage.

I’m a fan of the Garmin eTrex series. I have an old eTrex 30 that I am going to replace in the new year. I will stick with that series. The only knock is the size of the screen, but I find it large enough, even for my old eyes.

73, Malcolm VE2DDZ

PS. I always have my cell phone with me, but I prefer a stand-alone GPS for many of the same reasons Andy mentioned.

I am a fan of Garmin GPS units and have fond memories using them, but nowadays I use Open Street Maps for Android (OSMAnd+). The paid version lets you download as many maps as your phone can carry and use them offline. I’d invest my money in that app (or similar) and an additional small powerbank.
This might come in handy as the drain of the GPS unit on the mobile’s battery is quite high and you might want to use the searchlight (wonderful app: Tesla) to hunt for that small BNC-to-X thingy :slight_smile:

73, Martin HB9GVW

Ive been using MotionX app on my iPhone for about three years now and its replaced my Garmin eTrek. In fact i use it for some of my needs as a professional geologist. Its accuracy is roughly 10 meters give or take depending on satellite access.
Mike NS1TA

I still use an ancient Garmin Etrex Vista C GPS unit. It has proved to be reliable and rugged despite a lot of rough treatment. It doesn’t care about being in the rain or snow, it runs for more than 16 hours on two rechargeable NiMH AA cells, even in the cold, and I bought the map sets a long time ago.

Better units are available now, for sure. My old unit has a certain simplicity that I find helpful. Yes, I need glasses to see it well, but that would be true for any display.

Some of the places where I need GPS are without cel coverage, often in vast forest terrain without adequate visibility of landmarks, or wide slopes of steep peaks, on days where the sun is obscured, occasionally in fog or clouds, or in places where it’s easy to get turned around or off-heading.

My GPS has a barometric altimeter and both a GPS and magnetic compass.

The altimeter must be calibrated for best accuracy, but I mostly use it for relative measurements. It’s helpful at times in connection with false summits, as well as for tracking progress.

I rarely use the magnetic compass, and it uses more battery power, but it’s there if the GPS fails, or if there’s a question about a heading.

Of course the GPS provides and displays very accurate time, so I use it for logging.

The real reason I still use this instrument is that I have a big file of tracks from my activations, as well as other outings, and it’s easy to upload and download these tracks to use for planned trips. The file names are organized by summit and date. It just takes a minute or two to look at an old track and put it back into the GPS unit to use for bushwhacking or snowshoeing up some obscure SOTA peak that has no trail other than what the deer, elk, and moose have left.

We have the problem of too many trails here in Colorado. Not dealing well with this problem can lead to taking the wrong route, and that may have serious consequences. There are built, marked trails, social trails, jeep roads, service roads, abandoned roads, logging tracks from over 100 years ago, well-used animal tracks (game trails), unofficial but useful trails made by climbers, secret mountain bike trails, routes with cairns of variable and unknown value, routes marked by colored plastic ribbons tied to trees, hunters’ trails, and trails left by people going off route for numerous reasons. Add several feet of snow, and things get really interesting.

What GPS does best is to record how you got in there, so you can follow your route back out (backtracking). You don’t even need a topo map set for that. Add a topo map and you have a lot of info to work with.

My particular unit is occasionally susceptible to interference from my KX2 during activations, as well as from radar sources or other kinds of microwave services. I occasionally see bad data points in the tracks, and rarely I have seen bad fixes and location errors, probably due to local interference. Hopefully modern units are better at dealing with interference.

What I like is that the saved tracks are very easy to edit after downloading onto a computer, so I can clean them up to save them for future use. It just takes seconds to make an edited track showing a subset of a recorded track, like the ascent or the descent, or some critical sub-track you want to see again.

Whatever system you use, there is a learning curve, and practice is required to get familiar with the gear and the results. This is one piece of equipment where reading the manual multiplies the value. Incorrect navigation is one of the most serious risks of participating in SOTA activations, and using GPS without enough practice “in the field” could have terrible consequences.

The skills required to read topo maps and to navigate with coordinates, bearings, compass headings, and various scale factors are essential. There are no shortcuts, except for taking courses or learning from online demos.

In particular, navigating to a summit, using GPS via the shortest, most direct displayed route, can be a disaster. Those little contour lines really tell a story you need to be familiar with.

Last but not least, ALWAYS study the map of where you plan to go BEFORE you get up there. At high altitude, with less oxygen and fatigue, the brain can make mistakes…preparation can be very helpful.




Thanks to all for this very useful discussion. George reminded me of being “lost” in the Selway-Bitter-root wilderness in Idaho many years ago with just my Boy Scout compass…learned two great lessons: 1) you’re never really lost, as you know exactly where you are (in the present); & 2) Back tracking can be the best way out of a bad situation…even if it’s 10 or so miles.
-Will try the Iphone app for an activation on Jan 4th to Hanging Rock in NC…W4C…EP003.
-My old GPS is an Earthmate PN-20 from 2003…leaning toward a new Garmin in the future.
73 de K4RLC Bob

I second Gaia. If you bring up the hiking-SOTA area of interest before you set out (using WiFi) you will not need to use your phone’s data plan while on the trail (assuming you have not loaded a RAM intensive app on top of the Gaia map after the fact).

That doesn’t sound a particularly wise thing to do. Can you not download the maps and save them to flash memory either in the device or in an SDcard?

I have maps downloaded that cover from Nashville to Ashville down to Atlanta. When I don’t have cell service, most of the time, I still have navigation with GAIA.

When using the Gaia app on the start of your hike turn on the airplane mode, it will save a ton of battery life. When out of cell coverage the phone keeps looking for cell towers as a result it uses up the battery. Once I am near the summit I turn airplane mode off to see if I can connect to a tower if I have one bar I can send a SMS text for spotting. Great App! Kris

FYI: Don t forget the 10 Essentials. In Idaho I add 1 more thing which
makes 11 (Bear Spray) :slight_smile: is worth a look. You can download maps to SD card to use off line. It derives position from phone masts.