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It wasn’t that long ago that GPS technology available to hunters and fishers offered little more than gray, pixelated screens, with only the most basic navigation and waypoint functions. Many early models didn’t even have maps, but the game has changed, and a good GPS unit for your particular application can help you safely and effectively hunt and fish. Today, the best GPS for hunting or fishing come in many different forms, including wristwatches and what you’re probably reading this on right now, your phone.
The wide variety of GPS devices and apps available is daunting, but with a little context and intention, you can narrow your search down to the best options that will work for you. Here are some of the best options out there for hunters, anglers, and outdoors people.
The Best GPS Units for Hunting and Fishing
The Best Handheld GPS Unit: Garmin inReach Explorer+
Garmin’s inReach Explorer set the standard for combining handheld GPS units with satellite messaging technology. It is without question the most popular GPS option for those who commonly hunt, fish, or travel in remote, rugged areas with little or no cell service. These Garmin GPS units (and all that utilize the inReach technology) work off of the Iridium satellite network to communicate via text message, retrieve detailed weather forecasts, and feature an SOS feature that summons rescue in case of emergency.
The original inReach Explorer is a fairly typical-sized handheld GPS with a screen that is smaller than many other units and no touchscreen. It does have an adequate display with a variety of map options, as well as a hunt-and-peck keyboard display for messaging, but is more user friendly when using with your smartphone via Bluetooth and the Garmin Earthmate app, which allows you to use essentially all of the unit’s functions through the convenience of your phone. At $449.99 the inReach Explorer+ is a worthwhile investment.
The Best Lightweight GPS Units: Garmin inReach Mini
The inReach Mini is a scaled-down version of the original explorer, but with more limited on-unit functionality and a greater dependence on using your smartphone. It also has limited battery life and seems to take a little bit longer to send and receive messages than its larger counterpart. Either is a good choice for anyone who wants to travel light to remote destinations and needs an all-around GPS with a wide variety of functions. The inReach mini is sold for $349.99.
The Best GPS Unit for Your ATV or Vehicle: Garmin Montana 700i
If you’re looking for a handheld GPS that can serve primarily as a vehicle-based unit for navigation, take a look at the Montana 700i. This rugged unit features a robust design, 2.55” x 4.25” large touchscreen display. It weighs just shy of a pound, so it’s not going to be a backpacker’s best friend, but mounted in your vehicle, ATV, or UTV, or boat, it’s a great, flexible tool for navigation. The Montana 700i has a variety of available navigation maps as well as topographical and satellite image maps available.
It also has a full digital keyboard to make on-device messaging easier, and features all the messaging, weather, and SOS capabilities of the other inReach devices, if you choose that option. The lithium-ion battery pack provides up to 18 hours of operation in GPS mode, and up to 330 hours in Expedition mode. It has a slew of other features such as map sharing and dog tracking, and you can even get one with an 8 mega-pixel camera to give your waypoints an on-board visual. The Montana 700i costs around $700 depending on feature options.
The Best GPS Unit for Your Boat: Humminbird Helix 7 Chirp GPS G3N
If a dedicated fishing GPS unit is what you’re looking for, take a hard look at the Helix 7 All-Season from Humminbird. On the surface, this unit is more of a fish-finder than a dedicated GPS, but the way it combines features make it a great option for ice fishing, open water, and especially for someone who does both. It uses both open-water and ice transducers to function as a fish-finder or flasher, but its GPS and mapping make it an extremely effective and valuable tool. Anglers can download pre-charted lake maps, and even some that other users share, but the unit allows an angler to accurately create and save a chart of the water they are fishing with the Auto-Chart Live. Using an open-water transducer from a boat, you can create and save detailed charts on the unit, then come back and fish the exact spots you want to in the winter. The unit can run mounted to your boat or snowmobile or in the portable ice kit with external battery either on the ice or in a canoe, using a suction-cup transducer attachment. There certainly are more specialized fish-finder and GPS units out there, but it’s hard to beat the flexibility of this one. You can pick one of the units up for $599.99.
The Best GPS Watches
The demand-driven progress of GPS watches has been another contemporary marvel. A little wristwatch can do far more functional work than the most expensive handheld GPS could do just a few years ago. Smartwatches have a wide variety of functions in everyday life, and with GPS built in, they can provide valuable tools for backcountry users. A GPS watch’s practicality is often limited by battery life and a small display, so they sometimes aren’t suited for a person’s sole GPS, but they are ideal for runners, hikers, and other users who want to track their physiological statistics as well as maintain the functions of a normal GPS.
Being dominant in the GPS market, Garmin is always a player, and this watch is packed with more features than a T-89 calculator (for my fellow former calculus students). The capabilities of this watch are incredible. It serves the basic GPS functions including map display, tracking, and waypoints, but also turn-by-turn navigation, atmospheric condition tracking, and route suggestions for jogs or walks that bring you back to your starting point. It also features extensive biometric tracking and music storage. The watch’s display acts as a solar charger to help improve battery life, and a power manager that allows you to adjust settings quickly to maximize your battery life in the field. The Fenix 6 Solar’s MSRP is $799.
Another great option for a GPS watch is the Suunto 9 Baro. This watch is built to withstand rugged treatment making it ideal for the outdoors. It’s water-resistant to 100 meters, boasts great battery life, with up to seven days of continuous GPS tracking, and features battery optimization programming. You can download a variety of GPS maps and select from an array of tracking modes, including pace tracking and estimated time of arrival based on your current travel pace and distance to go. It tracks heart rate and other exercise biometrics and even offers sleep tracking. The Suunto 9 Baro is an awesome piece of hunting gear that sells for $499.
The Best GPS Apps
Many people find that they don’t really need a dedicated GPS unit for most applications, if at all. But it can still be handy to have some of the functional benefits of mapping, tracking, or navigating, and most of us carry a sort of GPS with us anyway, our smartphones. Even in areas with no cell signal, many phones still have GPS connectivity and can track via satellite. They just typically aren’t quite as effective a tool as a dedicated GPS if you’re off grid. Quite a few apps have popped up in recent years that offer incredible benefits, so much so that even those who have dedicated GPS units will usually find them useful. In some ways they are more user-friendly and valuable than what your standard handheld GPS.
Several popular options provide a lot of the same information, but recently, BaseMap has become my favorite. The app is free with basic functions, but for about $30 per year you get access to the full features. The app presents you with a high-quality satellite image with a tracking icon at your location. You can add multiple map layers, including public and private land boundaries, property information, roads, trails, waterways, historic wildfires, and other state-specific info. It features an intuitive navigation aid that lays out both azimuth and distance over the map, showing you quickly how far you are from point A to B. It’s user-friendly and a tool that just about any hunter will find worth having.
If this one seems out-of-place, it is. If you have no use for a million features and options that you’ll never use, so why pay for them? This is a cheap and simple app that I use periodically. It provides an overhead satellite map view with a directional icon at your location, although the map isn’t as updated as some of the other apps. The purpose of the map is to give you the current dominant wind direction based on where you are at and the closest weather reporting sources. It’s not always spot-on because of locale. Still, overall it does pretty well, and it’s also useful as a simple reference and basic navigation tool, definitely worth having this hunting GPS if you don’t need all the fluff.
Q: What is the best hunting map app?
BaseMap and OnX are two of the best all-around hunting map apps. BaseMap offers a free version and a $30 annual subscription with full features. OnX offers subscription plans from $30 to $100 annually. HuntStand is the best app for deer hunters who want to keep track of stands, trail cameras, and food plots and then share that information with their buddies.
Q: What is the easiest GPS to use for hunting?
The easiest GPS to use for hunting is a mobile app like BaseMap. The Garmin inReach is also an easy GPS to use for hunters going off-grid.
Q: How do I choose a GPS for hunting?
First determine your budget and the features you need from a GPS. This will narrow down your selection, and then you can choose from our picks of the best GPS for hunting and fishing.
Final Thoughts on the Best GPS
Your GPS choice depends on your use case. If you’re using it as a backup to a paper map, a Garmin inReach mini is a great option. If you need one for your ATV the Garmin Montana 700i is your best choice. For casual everyday use, a GPS watch like the Suunto Baro 9 is a fantastic unit. Check each of them out by clicking the links above.