Comparing GPS Watch vs Handheld GPS for Hiking

A GPS (Global Positioning System) device for hiking is a portable electronic device that utilises satellite signals to determine and display your precise location on Earth. It is specifically designed for outdoor activities like hiking, backpacking, and camping. These devices provide navigational assistance, track your routes, offer mapping capabilities, and provide useful information such as distance, speed, elevation, and waypoints.

GPS watch vs handheld GPS: Which is better?

When it comes to choosing between a GPS watch and a handheld GPS device for hiking, there are several factors to consider. Here’s a comparison of both options:

Form factor and convenience:

GPS Watch: A GPS watch is worn on the wrist, providing easy access to navigation and tracking information. It’s lightweight, compact, and convenient for quick glances while on the move.

Handheld GPS: Handheld GPS devices are larger and bulkier, requiring you to hold them or attach them to your backpack. They offer a larger display and more features but are less convenient to access on the go.

Display and usability:

GPS Watch: GPS watches typically have smaller screens due to their compact size. This can limit the amount of information displayed at once, making detailed map viewing challenging. However, they often have intuitive interfaces and simplified navigation options.

Handheld GPS: Handheld GPS devices generally have larger screens, allowing for more detailed map views and easier reading of information. They may have more complex menus and features, which can require some learning to navigate efficiently.

Battery life:

GPS Watch: GPS watches usually have smaller batteries due to their compact size. They are designed for shorter activities and can last anywhere from a few hours to a few days, depending on usage and features.

Handheld GPS: Handheld GPS devices tend to have larger batteries that can last significantly longer. Some models can provide power for days or even weeks, making them suitable for longer hikes or backpacking trips.

Features and functionality:

GPS Watch: GPS watches often focus on essential hiking features such as tracking your route, providing distance and elevation information, and displaying basic maps. Some models may offer additional features like heart rate monitoring or compatibility with other sensors.

Handheld GPS: Handheld GPS devices usually offer a wider range of features, including detailed mapping capabilities, waypoint management, advanced route planning, geocaching support, and more. They often have more robust navigation options and can support various accessories.


GPS Watch: GPS watches vary in price depending on the brand, features, and build quality. Generally, they tend to be less expensive than handheld GPS devices, especially for entry-level models.

Handheld GPS: Handheld GPS devices can range from affordable options with basic features to high-end models with advanced functionality. They are typically more expensive than GPS watches, especially if you require extensive mapping capabilities.

Final thoughts

If you are wondering which one I have, I actually have both but tend to use my watch more than the handheld, especially on multi-day hikes when weight is a consideration. Ultimately, the choice between a GPS watch and a handheld GPS device for hiking depends on your specific needs and preferences. If you prioritise convenience, simplicity, and portability, a GPS watch may be a suitable option. On the other hand, if you require detailed maps, extensive navigation features, and longer battery life, a handheld GPS device might be a better fit. Consider your hiking style, desired features, budget, and personal preferences when making a decision.

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