LAST UPDATED: August 15, 2019
Best Off-Road GPS: Pinpoint Your Location Precisely
These top off-road GPS units know the planet’s crooks and crannies better than you
The Review Team
How We Decided
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PUBLISHED ON August 15, 2019
When navigating a route during an outdoor adventure, you want to find a location easily and efficiently. We’ve gathered a wide range of information in the following buying guide to help you find the best off-road GPS. Whether you purchase one of our top picks or not, the resources included in this review will steer you on the right track, so you can get where you need to go.
Benefits of Off-Road GPS
- Accurate tracking and navigation. Taking some time off from the grid can be a good thing. However, it’s best to have the ability to connect and converse with the outside world in case of emergency and to know where you are so you can get where you want to go.
- Affordable. Off-road GPS units are actually more affordable than you might think. We often rely on our cell phones for navigation, but having a unit that will work off a satellite connection instead can mean the difference between being stranded and having a sense of direction.
- No cell phone service required. No matter what cell phone companies boast, there are still spots across the country without reception. With an off-road GPS unit, you won’t have to worry about picking up a few bars on a signal.
- Waterproof. Being out in the elements means preparing for anything. When your off-road GPS unit can withstand the same conditions you can, you can focus on what’s really important.
- Variety of uses. Off-road GPS trackers are useful in a number of instances and situations. You can easily take your GPS unit camping in the summer and then ice fishing in the winter. The GPS unit will earn its keep no matter where you take it.
Types of Off-Road GPS
Most personal, off-road GPS units are comparable to the size of a cell phone. They typically fit into the palm of your hand. Handheld off-road GPS units can also easily be tethered to your belt, backpack, or even the bicycle, motorcycle, or other mode of transportation you’re using. With handheld units, you’ll sacrifice a bit in terms of screen size; however, most of these types of off-road GPS units are portable, rugged, and even waterproof.
These types of off-road GPS units prioritize screen size over other features. You’ll often see GPS units of this nature mounted in cars or on the dash of an ATV or UTV. Some off-road GPS units can be a touchscreen, but that’s not always the case. If you’re looking to navigate around an area rather than from point A to point B, screen-centric off-road GPS units can be more user-friendly as they allow you to see the surrounding area for a broader view.
Headquartered in Kansas, Garmin has been an industry leader since 1989. If you want to add a Garmin product to your inventory, check out the Garmin Foretrex 401 Waterproof Hiking GPS. This small unit fits on your wrist and is easy to reference during a hike.
The Trail Tech Route Tracker is essential for any off-road trip, especially when you’re traversing lots of ground over a short period of time. With a variety of functions, this product is exemplary of the business practices that have kept Trail Tech in business for a handful of years. Trail Tech is headquartered in Washington.
With more than 30 years in the industry, Magellan has been guiding customers with a variety of innovative GPS solutions, including the Trail and Street GPS Navigator. Magellan is headquartered in California.
Off-Road GPS Pricing
- $75-$150: If you’re looking for a basic off-road GPS unit, you shouldn’t have to spend more than $200. However, these units will typically only offer basic functions and may not include some of the more desirable features that really make off-road GPS units a lifesaver.
- $200-$600: The majority of well-equipped off-road GPS units fall into this price range. For about $300-$400, you can invest in a waterproof and reliable GPS tracker that will perform a number of useful functions. These GPS units can either be handheld or screen-centric.
- $600 and up: If you use an off-road GPS unit a lot, it may be beneficial to spend more upfront. Whether you choose a screen-centric unit to mount to your dashboard or a handheld one that tags along with you, spending upwards of $600 should get you a unit that does pretty much anything you need it to.
The best off-road GPS units are both portable and waterproof. This enables you to bring the GPS unit with you into various environments, from simple hiking trails to snowy forest paths. The best off-road GPS trackers will also fit in your hand easily and won’t take up a lot of space within your pack. The best portable off-road GPS units keep up with you through it all.
Lightweight GPS units are more desirable since they won’t weigh you down. If you like to hike, bike, or otherwise traverse long trails, you know that every ounce counts when you’re loading a pack. Everything you include should earn its place, and the best off-road GPS units do just that.
Off-road GPS units are the translators between you and the satellites that know where you are and where you want to be. Without a clear and bright LCD screen, off-road GPS units are practically useless. When you’re shopping for your off-road GPS unit, check out products that make it easy to read the information on the screen.
There are no outlets in the wild. That means you can’t charge your off-road GPS unit whenever you want to. Having a long battery life allows you to traverse more ground before searching for a power source. No one wants to interrupt an adventure to plug in a device. Look for products that understand this need and respect it with long battery life.
- Rugged Design: Having an off-road GPS unit that you don’t have to worry about breaking can make a huge difference. Consider purchasing a GPS unit with a rugged design so you can depend on it to weather the same conditions you put your body through. At the end of the day, the best off-road GPS units are rugged enough to travel along with you.
- Extra Features: Beyond helping you navigate, off-road GPS units often offer a variety of extra features you may enjoy. The best off-road GPS units package together several resources you might need, from SOS alerts and messaging to weather applications and data storing. These extra features may seem like nothing when you’re at home reading about them, but out in the field, they’ll be more useful than you first considered.
Best Off-Road GPS Reviews & Recommendations 2020
We chose the Garmin inReach Mini is our top pick for the best off-road GPS unit. Garmin dominates two spots in our buying guide, and there are different reasons we selected both products. For instance, this inReach Mini GPS unit has a lot to offer in any situation and looks good doing it, too.
Garmin fits its inReach Mini with a number of desirable features. First is it's small, rugged, and waterproof design. If you ever find yourself in an emergency situation, simply activate the GEOS emergency response signal and you’ll be updated on your rescuers’ timeframe. This GPS unit weighs only about 3.5 ounces and measures 4 inches by 2 inches. You can connect to a messaging application via satellite and get weather updates as well. Garmin includes a backpack tether and belt carabiner clip with this navigation device, which charges via a USB connection.
Our biggest concern with the Garmin inReach Mini is that you’ll have a hard time seeing the screen if you’re not close enough. The readout won’t necessarily be visible from a few feet away. However, Garmin does make it easy for anyone to feel safe and connected to the outside world whenever they bring the inReach Mini along on their trip.
Despite the name, there’s nothing really bad about our pick for the best value off-road GPS. This unit from Bad Elf comes in black and silver and encompasses a wide array of features that any hiker or adventurer can enjoy. Let’s take a closer look at why we chose this GPS unit from Bad Elf as our value pick.
Besides the compact design and simple features, Bad Elf’s GPS Pro has a variety of technological features you’re bound to find extremely useful. For example, this Bluetooth-capable device can record up to 100 hours of trip data, so you can boast about your travels and have the goods to back it up when you’re home and among friends. The 16-hour battery life applies to trips made when Bluetooth is activated, but the device can run for up to over twice that amount with simple data logging. Bad Elf’s GPS Pro will report to you the latitude and longitude of your location, along with the altitude, direction, speed, and time. When connected to Bluetooth, you can easily share data in real-time with up to five paired devices and up to 10 times per second.
The biggest drawback we found with Bad Elf’s GPS Pro comes as a Catch-22. While you can share and stay connected with the outside world, you’ll have to limit such usage for trips taking longer than 16 hours or so. That being said, nearly anyone will find this GPS unit useful.
Our second pick from Garmin and our honorable mention for this buying guide, the Garmin Drive GPS Navigator, is a solid alternative to both of the products we’ve already highlighted. The 6-inch screen is something you’d more likely find in a car rather than on your person, but there are a variety of uses for this particular unit.
We chose to include the Garmin Drive because it offers a screen-centric alternative that’s still useful in off-road situations. The GPS unit is lightweight and slim, so you can easily pack it in your bag or slip it into a sealable pocket. The dual-orientation display offers you more in terms of viewing perspectives, and spoken turn-by-turn directions allow you to focus on what’s ahead of you while still being able to navigate successfully. Back-up camera compatible, this GPS unit comes with Foursquare and Direct Access preloaded. Lithium-ion batteries ensure you’re
connected for the long haul.
One drawback of the Garmin Drive is the large screen. While you might be able to wear some of our other picks at your side, it may be dangerous to do so with this GPS device, especially if you’re navigating rough terrain. A broken-screen GPS unit isn’t much help when it’s unreadable. At the same time, a large screen does make this unit from Garmin a great alternative for navigators of all levels.
- Consider also purchasing a protective case for your off-road GPS unit. Many handheld units are already encased in protective material. Screen-centric GPS units are more susceptible to damage, especially to the screen area, so consider investing in protective glass sheets that will resist damage.
- When navigating in your vehicle, be sure to practice safe and responsible driving behaviors. Pullover if you’re not sure where to go. Turn the volume up on your radio if the GPS unit you purchased reads directions to you out loud. If you miss a turn, try to take the next one and allow the navigator to backtrack and reroute for you.
- Keep your GPS unit updated for the most accurate maps and information. Updates can seem like a pain, but an accurate map ensures you’re not wandering off the map inadvertently.
- Take a short trip with your GPS unit before you use it on a long journey. That way, you can work out all the bugs that may pop up while staying in a safe environment. If you encounter any issues, fix them before you go on a longer trip.
- Read the owner’s manual before you use the device for the first time. There are many features preloaded into each of the various GPS units, but you have to know how they work before they can be of any use. Do some light reading before you strike out on your next trip.
- If possible, rely on more than one GPS navigation system. When taking trips with friends, ask them to bring along their GPS devices too. That way you can be sure you’re going in the right direction, and you’ll have a back-up device or two in case anything happens.
- Be spontaneous. Sometimes sticking to the plan can a trip a little boring. If you see something you’d like to stop and see along the way, adjust your route accordingly. Take a moment out of your itinerary to have some fun.
Q: What kinds of maps are included on an off-road GPS unit?
A: There are a variety of maps on a GPS device. For example, topographic maps may provide off-road trails and waypoints. Besides topo maps, you’ll also likely find points of interest on your road navigation system. Each manufacturer includes a different set of maps, so be sure to check them out before making a purchase.
Q: How accurate are off-road GPS units?
A: Most GPS units connect to Google Maps for things like street navigation and satellite imagery. In reality, these maps are only as accurate as the last time they were updated, so keep this in mind as you plan your trip.
Q: Is there a subscription associated with off-road GPS units?
A: Some GPS units will come preloaded with certain features. However, in order to set up long-term use of these features, you may need to eventually subscribe to a service. Read the fine print of any GPS unit product to figure out what subscriptions you may need in the future.
Q: Will off-road GPS units record video or take pictures?
A: It’s always nice to update your social media with pictures and video of your trip. There are many GPS devices out there that can do this, typically via a Bluetooth or satellite connection. Like many other devices, GPS units will typically store pictures and video on SD cards or micro SD cards, so you can upload the saved media at a later date as well.
Q: How is the resolution on off-road GPS units compared to those installed in a vehicle?
A: The quality of both in-car and off-road GPS units varies from unit to unit; however, newer products have a much higher resolution. Road routes may show up differently on various devices but each of these road GPS systems cues the user through colors, markers, or a number of other defining features.
Q: Are off-road GPS units water-resistant?
A: The best GPS receivers should be water-resistant. At the same time, units with large screens may not include this feature in their design. If you’ve already purchased a GPS unit and it’s not water-resistant, check to see if it’s compatible with any aftermarket cases that protect against water damage.
Q: Who should buy off-road GPS units?
A: While you may think GPS units are just for off-roaders, road enthusiasts, and anyone venturing off public land into the great unknown, GPS units are useful to nearly anyone. Many people use them when riding a snowmobile, competing in the Baja 500, or even exploring a national forest. A handheld GPS unit makes all types of road adventures safer and more fun.
Q: Are off-road GPS units compatible with both Android and Apple devices?
A: Since most GPS units connect to mobile devices via Bluetooth, both Apple and Android smartphones should connect pretty easily. Many off-road adventurers will actually use both their GPS unit and their smartphone during a journey, but this type of compatibility isn’t necessarily required.
We chose the Garmin inReach Mini Satellite Communicator Bundle as our top pick for the best off-road GPS unit. Lightweight, portable, and capable, the Garmin inReach is a powerful tool.
For a value product, check out the Bad Elf 2200 GPS Pro, another handheld unit that will guide you towards your next adventure.