Best GPS For Kayaking

For the more adventurous kayakers amongst us, a PGS device is an important piece of kit, and even an essential piece of kit if heaven forbid, you were to find yourself lost in unfamiliar territory.

And on a more positive note, a GPS device is also nice to have if you ever want to retrace a particular route or find your way to a really food fishing spot.

A good GPS navigation system can really enhance your kayaking experience.  

If you’re in the market for a GPS device for kayaking, you may have a few questions in mind - what features do you need, and which GPS is best for kayaking for example.

That’s where we come in. We’ve reviewed 5 of the best GPS devices for kayaks that are out on the market today, and these reviews will follow shortly.

After that, we also have a good buying guide for you which we think covers all those questions you might have.

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Best GPS For Kayaking - Reviews

Garmin eTrex 20x, Handheld GPS Navigator, Enhanced Memory and Resolution, 2.2-inch Color Display, Water Resistant

Our Top Pick

Our rating

There’s a lot to love about this Garmin eTrex device.  Its 2.2-inch color display is clear and easy to read, even in direct sunlight!  It has a good screen resolution too, coming in at 240 by 320 pixels.

The other thing we love is its preloaded worldwide base map - so convenient.  It features shaded relief, which helps you identify mountains and canyons and gives you a better picture of the landscape.

Furthermore, it can save up to a whopping 10,000 waypoints and 200 tracks.  Better yet you can also save up to 50 individual routes, for really easy navigation of pre-set trails.

It’s lightweight, at just under 5 ounces, can fit into a large pocket, since it’s dimensions are only 4 by 2.1 by 1.3 inches.  

It has a battery life of up to 25 hours, so you can comfortably take it for a whole day out on the water.

In addition to GPS connectivity, it’s also GLONASS compatible, which means you get even better accuracy.

Now, this is a GPS device designed with water enthusiasts in mind!

With a waterproof rating of IPX7, so not only do you not have to worry about it getting splashed on, even it gets knocked overboard it won’t get damaged - it will float on top of the water, and be easy to rescue.

It’s a little heavier than our Top pick, coming in at 7.7 ounces.  And it’s about the size of those old Nokia phones, with dimensions of 6 inches by 2.6 by 1.2.  The LCD color screen is a nice 2.6 inches wide.

It boasts a built-in BlueChart, which details coastal charts around the US and the Bahamas, with depth contours, shorelines, harbors, and more.

We love that in addition to the GPS functionality, there’s also an electronic compass, and a barometric altimeter.  That way you can keep tabs on your direction, and get a heads up if the weather looks like it may turn bad.

We also love its microSD memory card slot, so you can store plenty of waypoints and routes for future reference.  Better yet you can even wirelessly share this data to other compatible devices or show them off to your friends.

It has a long battery life, totaling 20 hours altogether.

This is another great GPS from Garmin, and it comes packed with features.

Not only can the 4 inches wide LCD color display touchscreen be read lengthways, but you can also read it on its side too - and even in direct sunlight!  And the touchscreen is just as responsive if you’re using it with gloves.

Already built-in is a worldwide base map featuring shaded relief, and US topographic maps.  And onto these maps, you can log a staggering 10,000 waypoints and up to 200 tracks.

It weighs slightly over 10 ounces, but is quite compact, measuring 5.7 by 2.9 by 1.4 inches.  It’s not going to take up much room on the kayak, and could easily slip into a large pocket.

Its stand out feature is the power source.  Not only does the device come with a rechargeable lithium-ion battery, designed to last up to 16 hours on a full charge, but if they do run out on you, you can just swap them for AA batteries and carry on where you left off.

This device has a waterproof rating of IPX7, so you don’t have to worry about it getting splashed, or even falling overboard, provided you can retrieve it again.

And if all that wasn’t enough, it also features a 3-axis digital compass and barometric altimeter, so you can keep an eye on both your direction and the weather conditions.

This Garmin GPS device is super lightweight and compact, weighing just 5 ounces and measuring a small 4 by 1.3 by 2.1 inches. This is great when space is at a premium, which it often is on a kayak.

The other thing that makes it great for taking kayaking (and fishing) is its waterproof rating, coming in at a nice IPX7.

Its 2.2-inch display screen is in basic monochrome, which makes it easy to read, regardless of the lighting conditions.

The battery life is nice and long, coming in at 25 hours and it runs off AA batteries which is super handy.

It comes with a worldwide base map built-in, but unfortunately, it’s not set up to let you add new maps in. That said it does offer good storage facility of location data, specifically up to 10,000 points, up to 200 tracks, and up to 50 routes.

It also has the added advantage of compatibility with GLONASS, an additional global positioning system on top of GPS. This way you get even more precision and accuracy in your tracking and in identifying your precise location.

Now, this is the most comprehensive GPS device on our list!

It has maps of a whopping 5 million trails and roads already built-in, including, but not limited to, detailed US street maps, trails within US National Parks and Forests, and importantly for us, water features.

Better yet, you can use it completely hands-free, since it gives not only visual turn by turn directions but also spoken directions too.

There’s absolutely loads of storage available on it too, thanks to its 8 GB of memory which is capable of storing up to 7,000 waypoints and a whopping 1000 tracks. And, not that we think you’ll need it, there’s even a microSD memory card slot to boot.

It comes in a convenient size for packing into a pocket, measuring just 4.7 by 2.7 by 1.25 inches. And it’s not too heavy either, weighing just under 9 ounces.

Its color touchscreen display is a large 3 inches wide and comes with a very handy anti-glare screen protector, which enables clear easy reading even in direct sunlight.

It also boasts a 3-axis compass and an altimeter, so you always be sure your heading in the right direction, and you can track your elevation too.

The other feature that makes it great for taking kayaking is its waterproof rating of IPX7, so not only can it handle a spot or two of rain, but if it falls into the water it should still survive if you get to it quick enough.

Best GPS For Kayaking - Buyers Guide

Why Use A GPS?

GPS, for those that don’t know, stands for Global Positioning System.  It is a satellite-based navigation system owned by the US Government, that was originally developed for military operations, but has since become more widely used as a means for the general public to track their precise location.

A GPS device receives signals from these satellites to ascertain your location, using coordinates.  A good GPS device can not only pinpoint your exact location, but can also show you what direction you’re heading in, guide you to a particular location, and even track your speed.

A GPS device will show your route on its screen, so you can see exactly where you’ve been and easily find your way back to your starting point or waypoint.  You’ll also be able to return to the same trail on a later date.

GPS navigation systems have become widely popular across the globe for a huge range of sports and other outdoor activities.  Driving and hiking are prominent examples, but the list also includes fishing and kayaking to name but a few.

Golfers for example like to use GPS to accurately calculate distances during their game.  Fishers meanwhile can use GPS to find their way back to their favorite fishing spots, saved on the system as waypoints, so they’ll never have to worry about not finding them again.

Can’t I Just Use A Smartphone?

There’s a good chance that you’ve asked yourself this very question, and we have an answer for you.

Whilst many smartphones these days have GPS built-in, more often than not, the GPS will only work when it’s connected to a cellular network or wifi.

With GPS devices, in contrast, the signal is received directly from the satellites, completely doing away with the need for any other signals or network connections.  It’s a continuous signal available everywhere in the world.

Also, smartphones don’t generally store any maps, and again have to rely on wifi or network signals to relay the coordinates onto a map.

GPS devices, on the other hand, can often store a large number of maps, and relay the coordinates onto a map for you to view without the need for any further connectivity.

Some smartphones feature assisted GPS, which relies on cellular and wifi networks to give you an accurate location.  And we concede that this can be a very handy function in many circumstances, however, once you head off the beaten track and away from any cellular towers and this will be insufficient.

A further disadvantage to relying on smartphones GPS is that, due to all their smart notification systems and such like, the battery can get drained far too quickly at times.  A smartphone battery, whilst using GPS will not last anywhere as long as a dedicated GPS device does, and may give out on you.

Clearly then if you’re headed to new territory in your kayak and you need to be able to navigate easily, then a GPS device would be a far more favorable option compared to simply relying on your smartphone.

Kayak GPS Units: These Aren’t Fish Finders Are They?

The short answer is No, a GPS is not a fish finder.  Fishfinders and GPS devices are designed for different purposes, and as such, they use different technology.

Fishfinders are built to map the underwater landscape and find fish, and they do so by using sonar technology, analyzing data from pulses of energy, detecting when they’ve bounced off objects in the water, and the signal is transmitted to the fishfinder screen.

Fishfinders can give you a lot of data, allowing you to see nearby fish using the screen, often giving you quite a precise image, so you can gauge the type and size of the fish in the area.  A fishfinder can also let you see various depths in the water and temperatures.

A GPS device cannot find your fish for you, but it can still be handy piece of kit when you go fishing.  A GPS device allows you to mark specific locations as waypoints, which means once you’ve identified a really good fishing spot, you’ll be able to get to it again and again.

Top Features to Look Out For in a GPS

Once you’ve decided to invest in a GPS device, you need to know what features to look out for, so you can pick the best one to meet your needs.  Let’s walk you through.

Water Resistance

Having some level of resistance to water is perhaps one of the more important features to look out for if you want to take the device kayaking.  It can easily get splashed, whether by a drop of rain or thanks to the turn of your paddle.  Or worse still it could fall overboard if it’s not securely attached to something within the kayak.

Some GPS devices are not only water-resistant but are waterproof.  Unlike an item that’s just water-resistant, a device that’s waterproof can still function well even if it’s been fully submerged in water.

Water-resistant GPS devices are fairly common, but if you want a device that’s waterproof then you should ensure that your intended device has this capability before you buy.  You should check out our Top 6 picks since many of them are waterproof.

Water-resistance is typically indicated by an item’s IP rating.  Basically the higher the IP rating the more resistance an item is to dust and water.

For any gadget that you take kayaking with you, it’s our recommendation that you look out for an IP rating of at least IPX7.  This rating certifies that the gadget can stand a brief submersion in water.

If you already own a gadget that you want to take kayaking and it’s not waterproof, you would do well to consider getting a waterproof case for it.

Portability

Size matters.  When you’re in a kayak, storage space is at a premium, as is the weight capacity.  For this reason, you should aim for a compact and lightweight GPS system, that you can easily squeeze in amongst all your other gear.

If you don’t want to mount a GPS device to your kayak you could consider one that you can wear on your wrist.

Alternatively, a GPS that fits into your pocket would be another great idea.  Several of the GPS devices in our Top 5 picks will fit into large pockets, and their dimensions are specified in our reviews.

Plenty of Memory

GPS devices typically store maps and topographical data on them, but to make the most of the devices it’s nice to be able to save pertinent waypoints, and favorite trails, and to that end, it’s good to get a device with a memory card slot to add additional storage capacity.

The more memory you have in total the better.  Especially if you’re thinking about using any additional maps that aren’t already available on the device.

With a memory card in play, not only can you store routes, paths that already exist, but you can also store tracks when you want to record your path when you go off the beaten track.

Long Battery Life

The last thing you want on your kayaking adventure is for your GPS battery to die on you right when you need it most.  So a GPS battery life is an important consideration.  The longer it lasts the better.

Many GPS devices feature lithium-ion batteries, which we deem to be a great option since they are both lightweight and they can be recharged.

You should also have a back-up plan in case the battery does run out.  So if you’re unable to take a power bank to recharge your GPS, if it takes AA batteries that could be really handy, since you can get AA batteries anywhere and they’re small and light to take in your kayak.  This might be a good option if your kayaking outing is part of a longer camping excursion.

Good, Detailed Maps

A good GPS navigation device will come with at least some maps already pre-installed.  And come with the ability to update said maps.  Many GPS devices will also allow you to store any additional maps you might want to use (several in our Top 5 will do this).

GPS devices can differ in how advanced their mapping software is.  If you’re really into your hiking or kayaking for example you may be more interested in topographic maps or water routes.

To really help you see the lay of the land, many GPS systems feature shaded relief to help you make out mountains and valleys etcetera.

Compatibility

GPS is a great global satellite navigation system, but there are more besides, such as GLONASS, which is Russian owned but covers the entire globe.

When your GPS is compatible with more than one satellite navigation system, you get a more precise identification of your location and you get more accurate maps besides.

Frequently Asked Questions

Now that we’ve shown you our favorite GPS devices for kayaking, and explained what to look out for in your GPS device, we’d now like to finish by tackling your most frequently asked questions.

How do I Power the GPS on Long Trips?

Our recommendation for this is that with rechargeable GPS devices, you should give the device a full charge before you set off.  Also if the device is rechargeable, you could take a small power bank out with you.  Or if your device takes AA batteries, simply take some spare batteries with you.

How do I Mount the GPS to the Kayak?

You can mount a GPS to your kayak in the same way you would a fishfinder.  You can find some good videos showing you exactly how to do this on YouTube.

You may decide not to install a permanent mount.  You could use gear tracks to keep the GPS in place, or set aside an appropriate flat area in your kayak.

Can I use a GPS with a Fishfinder?

You certainly can!  

Although some fishfinders can have GPS built-in, we explained earlier how they each have different intended functions and purposes, and combining these two technologies together can really enhance your kayaking and fishing experience.  

You can explore new territory and find fish to catch.

Do they tell you what speed you’re doing?

They do indeed.  When your GPS is on, it can tell you your current speed, and if you keep it on for the entirety of your paddling, it will calculate your average paddling speed.  Or alternatively, you could set it to give your average speed between two waypoints.

Conclusion

Having a GPS on your kayak can be really valuable, you can determine your location wherever your whims take you, and always find your way back to important waypoints, such as to your vehicle.

By this point, you will have seen some of the best GPS devices out on the market, and we’ve also covered what we feel are the most important features to look out for.  But it’s worth repeating.  You should look for devices that are at least water-resistant if not waterproof, and ones that feature a long battery life.

With regards to any other factors, that primarily comes down to your personal needs and requirements.  Over to you.  Happy kayaking!

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