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Published Jun 20, 2022 6:55 AM

Finding the best hunting GPS can be the difference between a successful hunt in the hinterlands and a desperate search for civilization after you become inescapably lost. As a former Junior Officer in the Army, I’ve heard my fair share of jokes about getting lost — trust me, they’re funny every time — and I know the importance of always being aware of my surroundings, but a good GPS can be applied to hunting in many more ways than just finding your way from point A to point B. Most GPS systems aren’t specifically tailored to hunting, but the large majority can be easily used to meet any hunter’s basic needs, including scouting, route planning, and tracking.

In this article, we’ll narrow down the market choices to help you find the best GPS units for hunting, and go into more detail on how many hunters utilize their systems to maximize their hunting experience and increase their odds of coming home with a stock of fresh meat.

Methodology

“Hunting” cannot be nailed down to any certain terms. For some, hunting is a sport. For others, it’s a way of life, a means of survival, or an existential challenge, putting one’s self closer in tune with their food source. There are many reasons for hunting, and with them, countless ways of putting it into practice. Recognizing this, we’ve sought to review a wide range of hunting GPS devices that would be suitable to any of your hunting needs, whether you are a local hunter, hunting your own land, or a worldwide adventurer, always seeking bigger challenges and greater game. 

In order to make sure we are giving you the best recommendations possible, we’ve taken serious time to not only research individual items, their capabilities, and their shortcomings, but also to conduct interviews with fellow hunters and consult expert online sources to learn what people in the field are saying about their devices, how they put them into action, and their suggestions for best practices. Some of the online sources we found beneficial came from the good people at OutdoorLife, The Sporting News, and Eat Elk Meat.

When we talk about the “best GPS for hunting,” we might as well just say “the best Garmin GPS for hunting” because Garmin seems to have the market pretty much cornered on quality GPS systems. As you’ll see below, most of our selections come from Garmin, which is primarily because it produces such a quality product, but also because there aren’t a whole lot of other options that rate anywhere near it.

Just like you don’t want to get lost in the woods on your next hunting trip, we here at Task & Purpose don’t want you getting lost in the purchasing process when it comes to your next hunting GPS, which is why we take our duty very seriously to give you the best recommendations possible. To learn more about our selections and review process, please check out our editorial guidelines here.

The Garmin inReach Explorer+ is definitely a GPS for hunters with big ambitions. Like a GPS, the inReach Explorerer+ comes preloaded with 24k scale TOPO maps and offers a digital compass, on-screen routing, barometric altimeter, and accelerometer. If the preloaded maps aren’t to your liking, the inReach Explorer+ has the ability to sync with your smartphone and utilize the Earthmate app to give you access to a never ending supply of maps, aerial imagery, and NOAA (nautical) charts. With all the map and waypoint options, it really allows you to tailor your experience to fit your needs, instead of conforming to the limited functionality of a lesser device.

What really sets the inReach Explorer+ apart is not its GPS functionality, but its communications functions. If you’re a backcountry hunter that likes to fly solo, a globetrotting adventurer, or you just live way out in the sticks where there is no cellular service, this is the hunting GPS for you. The inReach Explorer+ features 100 percent global Iridium satellite coverage, which allows two-way communications from pretty much anywhere. This is an excellent safety feature in case you fall into a ravine on your elk hunt, get abducted by poachers on your African safari, or just slide off an ultra-rural road in an ice storm. This isn’t the 1800s anymore, so your family shouldn’t have to guess at whether you’re alive or dead until you show up, three weeks overdue, looking like Grizzly Adams. The inReach Explorer+ allows you to keep yourself connected, and to keep yourself safe. Do keep in mind, though, that the satellite functionality is activated through a paid subscription and there are different level/cost plans to fit your hunting needs.

Product Specs
  • Display size 1.4 x 1.9 inches
  • Power Rechargeable internal lithium battery
  • Weight 7.5 ounces
  • Waterproof rating IPX7 (up to 1 meter of water for 30 minutes)
PROS

Satellite messaging capabilities

Extremely durable

Communicates with smartphone and Earthmate app

CONS

Higher price (plus added cost of satellite subscription)

May be overkill for hunters who don’t go on long excursions

Best Value

Hunting can be a very expensive habit if you let it, and this is especially true if you like to take longer hunting trips into more rural areas of the country/world. Fortunately, with GPS systems, you can still get a quality, useful device while keeping the cost reasonable. Enter the Garmin eTrex 22x.

Ruggedly built, the eTrex 22x offers a 2.2-inch color display with preloaded topographic maps, premarked with routable roads and trails for cycling and hiking. The eTrex 22x has an internal memory of 8GB and comes with a microSD card slot, in case you want to add any new maps. This device runs on two AA batteries and has a run time of 25 hours, which might seem long until you’re stranded somewhere, so you may want to pack a few extra batteries into your new hunting backpack, which my esteemed colleague, Brian Smyth, has graciously recommended for you.

For a few extra dollars, you can jump to the next model up, the eTrex 32X, which is a similar device but comes equipped with a three-axis compass and barometric altimeter.

Product Specs
  • Display size 1.4 x 1.7 inches
  • Power 2 AA batteries
  • Weight 5 ounces
  • Waterproof rating IPX7 (up to 1 meter of water for 30 minutes)
PROS

Rugged build

Large color screen

Reasonably priced

CONS

No emergency messaging system

Compatible with fewer map sources

Honorable Mention

The Garmin GPSMAP 66i receives our Honorable Mention in large part because it is so similar to our Best Overall pick, the inReach Explorer+. Like the inReach, the GPSMAP 66i comes preloaded with topographic maps and has a three-axis compass and barometric altimeter. This device is capable of syncing with your smartphone, so you can use all the fancy apps to get yourself an unlimited amount of maps and aerial imagery. The GPSMAP 66i can also access the 100 percent Iridium satellite network (service plan required at monthly cost), allowing you to communicate with anyone, anywhere, and trigger an emergency SOS to a 24/7 search and rescue center, should you find yourself in hot water.

So you may be asking, with all the similarities to the inReach Explorer+, why did the GPSMAP 66i get relegated to Honorable Mention? The answer: price and battery life. The cost of the GPSMAP 66i is going to run you a bit higher than the inReach, and this is mainly due to the device’s storage capabilities. While the inReach Explorer+ has 2GB of internal storage, the GPSMAP 66i boasts 16GB.

Product Specs
  • Display size 1.5 x 2.5 inches
  • Power Rechargeable internal lithium battery
  • Weight 8.1 ounces
  • Waterproof rating IPX7 (up to 1 meter of water for 30 minutes)
PROS

16GB of internal memory

Large color screen

Syncs with smartphone

CONS

Higher price

Shorter battery life compared to inReach Explorer+

Best Lightweight

If you’re going on a backcountry hunt and you know you’re going to be carrying all your essentials on your back, you also know that every pound or ounce makes a difference. If you’re looking to lighten your load, the Garmin InReach Mini may be the right option for you.

Like its big brother, the InReach Mini has two-way satellite message capabilities (subscription-based), the ability to send an SOS to a 24/7 monitored search and rescue line, and the ability to sync with your smartphone or tablet to access more maps from Earthmate. With a screen that measures 0.9 x 0.9 inches, the InReach Mini is one of the most compact handheld GPS devices on the market and will definitely contribute to a lighter pack, weighing in at only 3.5 ounces. Don’t let the size fool you, though. The InReach Mini is still durably built, impact-resistant, and boasts a battery life of up to 90 hours (depending on the mode of usage).

Product Specs
  • Display size 0.9 x 0.9 inches
  • Power Rechargeable internal lithium battery
  • Weight 3.5 ounces
  • Waterproof rating IPX7 (up to 1 meter of water for 30 minutes)
PROS

Lightweight

Long battery life

Same primary features of the bigger devices

CONS

Small screen may be hard to see

Monochrome screen (not full color)

Best App for Smartphone or Handheld

Okay, so I’m cheating a little bit here because the onX Hunt App is clearly not a GPS device, but a GPS app. However, I’d be remiss if I didn’t talk about onX Hunt as a viable option for your GPS needs. I know a good deal of hunters who subscribe to the onX Hunt app and have been very pleased with its performance and depth of information. With the onX Hunt app, you get access to maps covering over 985 million acres of public land, and with individual state packages, you can get into the nitty-gritty details of public-to-private land boundaries, names of landowners, and specific districts for hunting. You can also create custom map layers for areas you keep coming back to. I personally have used the onX Hunting app to scout potential hunting areas from the comfort of my office chair. The detailed property boundary lines and ownership information also make this an ideal tool for anyone seeking hunting permissions from a private land owner (which I’ve also done).

Some hunters use the onX Hunting app on their phones as a way of negating the need for a GPS device entirely, but this has its ups and downs. On the one hand, it means you have one less device adding weight to your backpack, but on the other hand, you lose out on the safety benefits provided by devices with satellite messaging. The good news is that the onX Hunting app is compatible with most Garmins, as long as they have a color screen and SD card slot (the onX Hunt app comes with an SD chip for loading your maps).

Product Specs
  • Display size Anywhere from smartphone to desktop computer
  • Power Your smartphone or tablet
  • Weight N/A
  • Waterproof rating As waterproof as your phone
PROS

Highly accurate and detailed maps and imagery

Can be easily used across multiple devices

Allows for extensive scouting before even leaving for the woods

CONS

Degraded capabilities in low cell service areas (maps need to be preloaded and saved)

Long-term subscriptions may not be optimal for some hunters

Best for Boats

We’re going to pivot once more and talk about our GPS recommendation for fishermen, because what are fishermen if not hunters of the sea. The Garmin Striker 4 is our pick for the best fishing GPS and fishfinder. The Garmin Striker 4 comes equipped with a full-color 3.5-inch (diagonal) LCD screen and its CHIRP sonar technology provides stunningly clear imagery of what’s going on below the waves. Find where the fish are hiding and start hammering them into the boat. Use this GPS to set waypoints in your favorite bodies of water to mark excellent fishing holes, hazardous stumps and rocks, or to just find your way back to the dock.

The Garmin Striker 4 also allows you to share your waypoints with other fishermen with like devices, though I haven’t known too many fishermen who are really keen on sharing the locations of their favorite fishing holes.

Product Specs
  • Display size 3.5 inches (diagonal)
  • Power Requires a 12-volt power source
  • Weight 8 ounces
  • Waterproof rating IPX7 (up to 1 meter of water for 30 minutes)
PROS

Top-of-the-line sonar technology

Reasonably priced

Sharable waypoints

CONS

Power source not included

The Garmin Instinct Tactical was originally designed for soldiers, the hunters of “the most dangerous game,” but has plenty of practical applications for regular hunters as well. This high-speed, low-drag watch comes equipped with a chemically strengthened, crisp monochrome display with night vision capabilities, and utilizes multiple global navigation satellite systems to give the most accurate location readings possible. On top of its top-notch GPS capabilities, this watch can sync with maps on your smartphone, store waypoints, give you readings on your heart rate and other vitals, and probably do your taxes for you, too. The watch also features a three-axis compass and barometric altimeter.

The Garmin Instinct Tactical is a great buy for someone looking for a top-rated hunting GPS, as well as a smartwatch they can wear while working out.

Product Specs
  • Display size 0.9 x 0.9 inches
  • Power Lithium battery
  • Weight 1.83 ounces
  • Waterproof rating Up to 100 meters of water
PROS

Highly durable

Extensive GPS capabilities in a small package

Can be worn for everyday use

CONS

Small display

Higher price

Our verdict on hunting GPSes

Unsurprisingly, all of our picks fall in the Garmin family, but the Garmin inReach Explorer+ stands out as the best choice among the Garmins due to its broad range of functionality and reasonable price (compared to other GPSes with similar functions). If you’re not a globe-trotting hunter and are looking for something more reasonably priced, we recommend the Garmin eTrex 22x as the best hunting GPS for your money, which will still give you all the features you need for hunting in your own neck of the woods.

What to consider when buying a hunting GPS

When choosing your next GPS device, it’s important to consider just what type of functions you need. If you’re a solo artist hunter and you like to spend days on end in the rugged backcountry stalking elk by your lonesome, you may want to consider a device with global satellite communication technology that can get an SOS out if needed. If you’re a local hunter, who just likes to mark waypoints for deer encounters, treestand locations, and the occasional antler rub, you can probably get by with a far less sophisticated device.

Types of hunting GPS

Handheld

The handheld hunting GPS device is definitely the most common and what most people think of when they start their product search. Though they are often similar in size and shape, handheld devices can differ greatly in their capabilities. As you’ve seen from our list above, handheld devices can range from purely navigational tools to sophisticated satellite communication devices. 

The handheld devices that are purely for navigational needs are still more than enough for the basic everyday hunter whose primary needs are to mark waypoints for key terrain features like waterholes, clearings with good fields of fire and natural choke points, or to mark signs of animal activity like bedding areas, antler rubs, and tracks. Some hunters who utilize multiple treestands during a single hunting season may use these devices to mark their stand locations to make sure they don’t lose track of any. These handheld devices are not only for pre-hunt scouting, but can also be used for tracking a kill as well. By marking the last known spot on a blood trail, the hunter can be free to explore the area, knowing he has a waypoint to bring him back to the last sure marker. 

As the handheld devices go up in price, they go up in functionality, and many of the higher-priced hunting GPS units feature global satellite messaging systems. Though more expensive, this capability can be life-saving in environments that can often turn hazardous in the blink of an eye. These devices may cost a little extra, but if there’s a chance you’ll be hunting somewhere dangerous, a few extra dollars is worth upping the chances you’ll make it back unscathed. 

Watches

GPS watches, in conjunction with smartwatches, are a growing trend and may be a good solution for someone looking to cut down the weight of their backpack. Most GPS watches are originally geared for fitness purposes, tracking running routes and keeping tabs on your vitals, but many have the ability to mark waypoints, which is primarily what a hunter needs.

When it comes to GPS watches, what you gain in portability and durability, you lose in versatility. Most GPS watches come with a small monochrome display, making them incapable of displaying detailed topographic maps like their handheld cousins. To combat this disadvantage, most GPS smartwatches can be synced to your smartphone or tablet that does contain detailed maps, so the GPS data can be transferred over and utilized accordingly.

Apps

An increasing number of hunters are opting simply to use their smartphones or tablets as their personal GPS system. A number of apps are available today, like onX Hunt, that can provide accurate topographic maps, aerial imagery, and other key land details that can help hunters along the way. The downside of using an app is that you’re often hamstrung by the availability of cellular service. If you know you’re going to be hunting somewhere outside of cell service, it may be helpful to save maps and overlays to your mobile device before leaving cellular coverage. Data saved from most of these apps can be easily transferred to a handheld GPS device if you opted to use both systems. 

Key features of a hunting GPS

Display

The displays on a hunting GPS can range widely, from the small monochrome displays on GPS watches, to the larger, full-color displays of units like the Garmin inReach Explorer+ and the Garmin GPSMAP 66i. Obviously, the higher the display’s resolution, the more detailed and accurate maps and imagery the device can hold. Conversely, a better, brighter display, usually means a little larger device, which then translates into additional weight. If you’re looking to cut ounces from your pack, a smaller, less complicated device might be the way to go. 

Durability 

If one thing is for sure, a hunting GPS had better be durable. Made for knocking around the woods, a good hunting GPS should be able to withstand drops, scrapes, bumps, and the occasional treestand freefall. If your chosen GPS doesn’t feature external protections, it might behoove you to purchase a good carrying case to prevent any accidental damage. On top of physical abuse, a good GPS should offer some level of water resistance. Most of the devices on our list have a waterproof rating of IPX7, which means they can be submerged in water up to one meter deep for up to 30 minutes.  

Battery life

Though it’s often a secondary consideration when shopping for a GPS device, battery life can be the difference between a well-navigated hunt and an aimless blunder through the woods. It could also mean the difference between life and death. It’s imperative to know the capabilities of your device when it comes to its battery life and how the different function modes can drain the battery at different rates. Just because a device boasts a max battery life of 50 hours doesn’t mean you’re going to get that length of time if you keep the GPS mode on for the full duration. Take time to understand the nuances of your device, so you don’t get lost in the woods with a dead GPS.

Pricing

As with anything, the pricing of hunting GPS devices varies widely depending on the extent of the device’s capabilities and the quality of its build. Generally speaking, for regular handheld devices, $100 to $200 will get you a device with a monochrome display, decent durability, and basic GPS capabilities such as waypoint storage and route tracking. Between $200 and $350, you start to see devices with color LCD screens that can display better and more detailed maps. Many of these devices are able to sync with smartphones/tablets and have SD card readers, so more maps can be utilized. At $350 and above, GPS devices begin to incorporate communications technologies such as radio or digital messaging. As the price climbs, so do the messaging capabilities, and some of the higher-priced devices offer global satellite messaging.

Tips and tricks

As with something you do for decades upon decades, you pick up a few tips and tricks along the way in terms of selecting the right product, and/or using it. That’s the case with us and hunting GPS devices. To help you bridge the information gap, here’s a selection of what we’ve learned along the way.

  • Always carry a spare power source in case of emergencies.
  • Preload your GPS device with needed maps and imagery before leaving service areas.
  • Designate specific waypoint icons to specific scouting highlights (beds/rubs/animal encounters/lookout spots) to better remember why you marked them later on.
  • No matter how good a product is, err on the side of preparedness. Always carry a compass as a backup.

FAQs about hunting GPS

You’ve got questions, Task & Purpose has answers.

Q: Who makes the most accurate GPS?

A: Garmin. Go through any list of top GPSes, and what you’ll find is just a long list of Garmin devices.

Q: What is the difference between GPS and DGPS?

A: The main difference between GPS and DGPS (Differential GPS) is the way in which a location is calculated. With a regular GPS, a signal is returned to the device via several satellites. With a DGPS system, the satellite information is sent through a secondary, fixed receiver that then transmits the data back to the main receiver, preventing signal degradation that can cause inaccuracies. 

Q: What is the easiest GPS to use for hunting?

A: Ease of use is often relative to the user, but generally, the devices that are easiest to use offer the fewest features. The more functions a device has, the more there is to learn to effectively use them. From a personal standpoint, if I were going to be spending a good chunk of money on a hunting GPS, I’d focus on its accuracy and durability before I worried about its ease of use.

Q: Is DGPS more accurate than GPS?

A: Yes. While standard GPS is usually accurate to within 10 meters, the DGPS systems are accurate to around one meter or less (sometimes down to 10 centimeters).

Task & Purpose and its partners may earn a commission if you purchase a product through one of our links. Learn more about our product review process.

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