I'm going on a backwoods hiking trip, with some non-zero chance of getting lost and needing help. So I'd like to be able to navigate using a GPS device, and ideally have the same device be able to function as a tracking beacon in case I need backup. I haven't been able to find a product like this, but does anyone know if such a thing exists? Thanks!

(I know I could use two different devices, but I'd like to keep the gear to a minimum.)

  • 2
    You might also try this question on outdoors.stackexchange.com. Jul 3, 2014 at 21:23
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    Depends on what you mean by 'tracking'. Do you just want to record a tracklog, to look at later? Or do you want to transmit your position, so others can see where you are in real-time?
    – vclaw
    Jul 4, 2014 at 9:28
  • @vclaw: real time, so that if we needed to be rescued, there'd be an online beacon to look for. Jul 4, 2014 at 16:36
  • I've never come across one device that does both. A hand-held GPS and a Spot Messenger or similar would be the normal combination to use.
    – Doc
    Jul 5, 2014 at 17:29

2 Answers 2


All Garmin devices I've seen have the ability of constantly writing GPS track in background. I suppose, every touristic GPS has such functionality. Since GPS device is constantly tracking GPS signal, writing track is a low-cost operation.

I'm using my Garmin to navigate to the geocaches, and I'm always registering GPS track in the same time. It's a standard function nowadays.

From what I know, there are clocks with GPS that can be used only for GPS tracking because they don't display maps, but such devices are quite a niche, practical only for speed runners who want to save a bit on weight.

Smartphones, on the other side, are relatively good for GPS navigation, but not for tracking, because GPS drains power from them very quickly. It's practicable to activate GPS only to see how to go further and then shut up the maps app.

But with tourist GPS, it's not the case. They are designed to be turned on constantly, and they can work on one battery set quite a long (my Etrex - over 24 hours). Consider buying the device that can work with rechargeable batteries like AA, you can take extra supplies, and in "emergency" case, buy some unrechargeable AAs in any newspaper shop.

  • Why does GPS drain power faster from a smartphone faster than it does from a dedicated device? Can you recommend a specific model that does mapping for navigation and uploads a location to a server so that it can be tracked? Jul 4, 2014 at 16:39
  • Because smartphones are not designed as GPS devices. I have experience mostly with Androids, iPhones are said to be better when it comes to battery life. I'm not aware of any Garmin model that would upload to server life via wifi. Jul 4, 2014 at 17:34
  • Thanks. What I'm trying to understand is what a GPS device does, by design, that allows it to do this using less power. Jul 6, 2014 at 0:18
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    @JoshuaFrank: The reason is that a dedicated GPS device only does GPS functions. On the other hand, a smartphone will power up the whole smartphone CPU and run the OS and perhaps some application code while the GPS is tracking your position. Smartphones have a much more powerful CPU than a dedicated GPS unit. It would be possible to design a smartphone with a low-power GPS tracking function that stores track points until the rest of the phone is turned on again, but I don't know of any phones that currently do that. Jul 6, 2014 at 2:56
  • NB: the GPSmap 66 claims 170 hours battery life in expedition mode.
    – gerrit
    Apr 25, 2019 at 7:57

Garmin recently bought deLorme, and has just released new versions of the inReach devices. If you enable the feature (and pay a lot for it), they allow you to put your location on the web every five seconds (or ten or ....). If you disable that, they still have an "SOS button" that will get a message out with your location. Works via the iridium satellite.

There is also a way for other people to "ping" for your location, but unfortunately, they have to do it by clicking a button on a website, which means anyone in the world can do it, with YOU paying ten cents for each ping. Unless you pay the big bucks for the "unlimited" plan.

  • For what it's worth, release of the "PLUS" versions means you can find good condition previous versions for much lower prices. I paid something over $300 at REI when Best Buy was still showing the old price of $489. (Best? Buy!!)
    – WGroleau
    Mar 15, 2017 at 13:31

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