GPS Navigation Devices for Bikepacking: Side-by-Side Comparison

Perhaps your pedal-powered adventures have progressed to the point where you’re wondering, what’s the best GPS navigation device for bikepacking? It can be a big investment in an important piece of gear, so you’ll want to make a careful decision.

But as you sift through a confusing jumble of model numbers and spec tables, you may feel like your head is about to explode. Choosing a cycling computer or GPS device is hard enough in general, but as bikepackers we have specific priorities that fewer people are talking about. How can we choose the best GPS for bikepacking, specifically, from among so many options?

In this side-by-side comparison of the most popular and bikepacking-friendly GPS units, I attempt to ease your pain. I’ve taken a deep dive into the specs, features, and reviews to extract the details that matter most to bikepackers in particular, and to suggest the ideal match between your bikepacking style and the best GPS device for you.

What Bikepackers Need From A GPS Device

When we’re on a long ride in a remote and rugged place, bikepackers have specific and sometimes mission-critical expectations from a GPS device.

Some features are table stakes for any outdoor navigation device. It should be pretty darn water resistant, show basic stats about the ride, and have a reliable satellite connection. A clear map and route, and in most cases an elevation profile, are also essential.

At some point though, the needs of a bikepacker diverge from the needs of a more “typical” cyclist. Am I saying we’re weird? Yes, that’s what I’m saying. Delightfully weird.

With some exceptions, bikepackers tend to be less interested in performance metrics (VO2 max, power meter integration) and connectivity (Read email on my nav device while riding? No thanks!) and more interested in helpful maps and reliable backcountry navigation.

I think most of us will agree, these features are the bare minimum in a good GPS navigation device for bikepacking:

  • Comprehensive base maps showing a wide range of roads and trails in both urban and remote areas, and ideally also topographic data, with ability to add maps for any country
  • Easy-to-see display for navigating unfamiliar areas efficiently
  • Long battery life, ideally enough for several days of riding, and easy recharging or replacing
  • Ability to load routes from popular platforms, especially RideWithGPS
  • Durable and reliable device that can take some knocks and works in all conditions (cold, hot, wet)
  • Easy enough to operate with cold fingers or numb hands, in the dark, while wearing gloves, and in all kinds of other challenging situations that we get ourselves into out there.

We’ll consider all that and more in the comparison below.

View of handlebar bag on wide gravel drop bars
As bikepackers, we care a LOT about some features of a GPS device and less about others. Shown here: Garmin eTrex during The Big Lonely bikepacking race.

When you buy through affiliate links in this post, I may earn a small commission. Thanks for your support! I always offer unbiased opinions based on real experience from the road and trail. Learn more.

Do I really need a GPS device for bikepacking?

Short answer: no! I bikepacked and toured with a simple smartphone navigation app (RideWithGPS, but Gaia is also popular) for over 10,000 miles. I recommend beginners start this way and save the money to pay for more adventures or more essential gear.

I only sought out a dedicated GPS device for bikepacking when I started “racing.” Long days (and nights) challenged my battery capacity over several days with minimal stops, and rugged trails and nasty weather made it impractical to keep my phone mounted on my handlebars. To efficiently navigate a complicated route under these conditions, I need a durable bar-mounted GPS device.

If you aspire to ride in challenging conditions or if money is no issue, a GPS navigation device can certainly enhance your bikepacking experience. If you train seriously as a cyclist too, it can double as a performance tool. But if you’re on a budget and just want to start bikepacking and see if you like it, please don’t feel like you need to shell out $300 for one of these bikepacking GPS units.

There are times when it doesn’t make sense to have a smartphone on your handlebars for navigation. Enter the dedicated GPS device (eTrex shown here during Tour de los Padres).

Why These Models?

Choosing the following models from among many options was a large chunk of the work involved in creating this article. Rather than list every possible cycling computer or GPS device, I’ve selected the one model from each product line that provides the most important bikepacking-related features at the best value, in my opinion.

The prices are all very comparable, so you can instead focus on the features and tradeoffs of each bikepacking GPS option. At the end of each section I’ll briefly mention the other models in the product line and why I didn’t choose them for this comparison. If you’re interested, you can go explore them on your own.

Please note: There are affiliate links in this article. If you buy through them I make a small commission at no cost to you, which helps me keep this site running and growing. Thanks!

Side by Side Comparison Table

This table compares bikepacking-related features across three very popular mid-range GPS devices. It barely scratches the surface of all the different proprietary functionality each one offers, so check the manufacturer descriptions from Garmin and Wahoo for all the details.

This table scrolls left and right on small screens.

Garmin eTrex 32xGarmin Edge 530Wahoo ELEMNT Bolt
Size2.1″ x 4.0″ x 1.3″1.9″ x 3.2″ x 0.8″1.86″ x 3.05″ x 0.84″
Weight5 oz2.7 oz2.4 oz
Screen2.2” color2.6″ color2.2″ 64-color
Screen brightnessmanualambient light sensorambient light sensor
Battery typeAA (alkaline or lithium), or runs on mini-USB powerrechargeable lithium-ion (micro USB)rechargeable lithium-ion (USB-C)
Battery life25 hours with alkaline AA, longer with lithium AA (I estimate 50+ hours). Can also be powered indefinitely by mini-USB (but not recharged)20 hours, or 40 with optional extra power pack or in battery saver mode15 hours
Water resistanceIPX7IPX7IPX7
Base mapsTopoActiveGarmin Cycle MapWahoo (OSM-based)
Support for additional mapsAdditional regions of base maps: yes
3rd party or custom maps: yes
Additional regions of base maps: yes
3rd party or custom maps: yes
Additional regions of base maps: yes
3rd party or custom maps: no
Internal memory8GB plus microSD slot16 GB16 GB
Satellite networksGPS and GLONASSGPS, Galileo, GLONASSGPS, Galileo, GLONASS, BEIDOU, QZSS
Wireless connectivityANT+ANT+, Bluetooth, wifiANT+, Bluetooth, wifi, Low Energy
Loading routesGPX file via mini USB cableIntegrations (RideWithGPS, Komoot, Strava), FIT file via cableIntegrations (RideWithGPS, Komoot, Stava), TCX or GPX file via companion app or cable
Biggest differentiating factor (my opinion)Focus on outdoor recreation and backcountry navigation over cycling performance; also great for hikingFocus on cycling-specific training and performance with tons of Garmin-specific tools and analysisFocus on cycling-specific training and performance with ergonomic and intuitive interface and smartphone companion app
Purchase or learn moreView at REI
View at Amazon
View at Backcountry
View at Amazon
View at Backcountry
View at Amazon

Why Should You Care?

Some of the above specs are self-explanatory, but if you’ve never used a GPS for bikepacking it can be hard to know why you should care about some of them. Before diving into the product descriptions, here’s some additional context for the key features above.

Battery type: Preference depends on individual riding and charging habits. USB-rechargeable batteries are often seen as preferable since they use the same cables and battery packs as our phones and other devices. But when you already have lots of USB-rechargeable electronics to keep charged it can be reassuring to have navigation running on a totally separate power source like AA batteries.

Battery life: The longer the better, especially if you’re wild camping and not spending much time in towns.

Sensors (compass, altimeter, accelerometer, etc): The data you’ll see on your device is only as good as its sensors. Generally, GPS devices can estimate most values from data included on the map or route (like elevation) or by comparing two subsequent location points (to calculate speed or direction). Having the right sensor allows more accurate and detailed measurements. For example, any GPS device can calculate speed between two different location points, but a device with an accelerometer can show how fast you’re changing speed and detect motions like jumps or crashes.

Base maps: Each device comes preloaded with a different type of map, and not all maps are equally good for all kinds of bikepacking. When riding remote trails in the mountains a detailed topographic map is key. When passing through cities a clear urban map, with cycling-specific features like heatmap data and low-traffic routing, is very helpful. A “routable” road or trail means the GPS device can direct you to follow it as part of an on-the-fly route; non-routable simply means it’s visible on the map.

Additional maps: If the preloaded maps don’t meet your needs, does the device allow you to download others? Maybe you’re taking a trip somewhere unusual and need to add regional maps. Maybe you want to add detailed topographic maps for an especially rugged trail ride. There are free tools where you can get these maps, usually based on Open Street Map data, as long as your device supports them.

Satellite networks: GPS location won’t be accurate unless the device can reach satellites reliably. All these devices use multiple satellite networks to improve coverage. In theory, more networks should mean more reliable coverage anywhere in the world. In practice, all of these devices seem to offer sufficient coverage and accurate location.

Wireless connectivity: GPS devices use various wireless protocols to send data (like route or ride tracks) to or from a smartphone or computer, another nearby device, or wireless sensors for metrics like heartrate and cadence. This mostly matters to bikepackers when it comes to transferring routes onto the device and ride tracks off of it.

Loading routes: A very common workflow for bikepackers is to plan a route in RideWithGPS (or use a route someone else has planned and published), then load it onto a GPS device to follow while riding. Some devices make this easier than others.

Garmin eTrex 32x

What sets it apart: Rugged device emphasizing outdoor recreation features over cycling performance and connectivity, from the established industry leader in GPS devices.

Price: $300 | View at REI | View at Amazon

Summary: The Garmin eTrex 32 is considered a “handheld” GPS unit, a category usually intended for hikers, mountaineers, and other outdoorspeople. This focus is clear from the eTrex’s features and sensors. For example, it’s the only unit in this list to have a real compass and to lack an accelerometer.

The support for bikepacking is still strong though, especially when it comes to mountain bike trails and remote roads, which are easy to see on the high-quality preloaded topo maps. It’s a very durable device with all the basic navigation features, and some extra bells and whistles like support for compass navigation and geocaching.

Conspicuously absent are connectivity-heavy features like pairing with a phone and displaying alerts, messaging other users, and live tracking. This device is for getting off the beaten path and staying there until you’re ready to navigate back to civilization.

If you like to get way out there on your bikepacking adventures and don’t care as much about cycling performance metrics, the eTrex 32x may be the best bikepacking GPS for you.

Reasons to buy:

  • Long battery life, takes AA batteries (may be a drawback for some riders)
  • Preloaded with detailed and easy-to-read TopoActive maps, which show terrain and include many routable trails in addition to roads
  • Only device in this list with a real compass
  • Doesn’t require a smartphone to set up or use
  • Also works well for backpacking and other remote types of outdoor adventures
  • Supports loading additional maps, including 3rd party and custom

Reasons NOT to buy:

  • Takes AA batteries, not USB-rechargeable (may be a benefit for some riders)
  • Lacks cycling-specific performance and training features (though it can integrate with sensors via ANT+)
  • Data transfer, such as loading a RideWithGPS route or transferring tracks to a computer for upload to Strava, is by GPX file over cable only (no Bluetooth or app integrations).
  • Data transfer requires an increasingly uncommon mini USB cable.
  • Longer routes must be split or compressed, or they’ll be truncated without warning.
  • Interface, especially cursor button, can be hard to use while riding (designed for handheld use)

Consider the Garmin eTrex 32x for bikepacking navigation if:

  • You bikepack in remote and rugged areas where you need to see less-traveled trails and understand the topography.
  • Performance-oriented training is not a priority in your cycling.
  • You want a navigation device that also works well for hiking and backpacking.

Consider a different device if:

  • You train for cycling performance and want a device that also supports this type of riding.
  • You primarily bikepack or tour on roads in populated or frontcountry areas.

Buy eTrex 32x or learn more:

You might also want: screen protector, handlebar mount

Related eTrex Models

Garmin eTrex 22x ($200): Very similar to the 32x, costs $100 less, but lacks a true compass and altimeter. This means you can only get a compass reading while you’re moving, and (a deal breaker for many bikepackers) you can’t see elevation profiles for your tracks and routes.

eTrex 22x at REI | eTrex 22x at Amazon

Read More: Garmin eTrex 22x Long Term Review

Garmin Edge 530

What sets it apart: Wide variety of cycling-specific features and integrations to support navigation, training, and performance, from the established industry leader in GPS devices.

Price: $300 | View on REI | View on Amazon

Summary: The Garmin Edge 530 is a cycling computer focused on navigation and performance. As the mid-range device in Garmin’s Edge bike computer series, it offers a non-touchscreen color display and a powerful package of cycling-specific features without costing an arm and a leg. (Want a touchscreen? See the Edge 830 instead.)

Bikepackers and cyclists in general will appreciate the preloaded Garmin Cycle Maps and “Trendline routing” that prefers more popular cycling routes in well-traveled areas. Serious cyclists can geek out on the many opportunities for integration and data analysis, like “dynamic performance monitoring,” structured workout syncing, and even electronic shifting data! Garmin’s ClimbPro and MTB Dynamics features might be especially interesting to performance-oriented bikepackers.

The Edge is also packed with loads of connectivity-related features that bikepackers may or may not need, like showing alerts from a Bluetooth connected smartphone, Livetrack and incident detection, and a bike alarm.

If you want a feature-packed cycling computer (as opposed to a “handheld” unit like the eTrex) from the most established company in the GPS device industry, the Edge 530 might be the best bikepacking GPS for you.

Reasons to buy:

  • Decently long battery life
  • Slightly larger screen than others in this list
  • Tons of cycling-specific performance and safety features
  • Garmin’s ClimbPro feature is great for people who obsess over the details of their climbs
  • MTB features like TrailForks map data and MTB ride metrics appeal to more singletrack-focused bikepackers
  • Easy route loading from RideWithGPS, or import routes via FIT file with fewer data limitations than eTrex (less need to split long routes)
  • ConnectIQ app store allows wide range of integrations
  • Supports loading additional maps, including 3rd party and custom

Reasons NOT to buy:

  • Lacks backcountry navigation features like compass and detailed topo maps (though apparently topo data can be installed)
  • Includes lots of connectivity and performance features that many bikepackers won’t need or appreciate
  • Some people find the buttons less ergonomic and the interface a bit clunkier than Wahoo devices
  • Some people report frustration with firmware bugs and updates
  • FIT file is Garmin’s format, so there may be some compatibility or conversion issues when trying to share routes or tracks across other applications. For example, waypoints (often used to note water sources, resupply stops, etc.) in RideWithGPS routes aren’t supported when importing a FIT file.

Consider the Garmin Edge 530 for bikepacking navigation if:

  • You’re an active cyclist outside your bikepacking trips and want a bike computer that can also support your training goals and rides around town.
  • You’re into mountain biking and appreciate Garmin’s MTB-specific features like MTB Dynamics and “Grit and Flow” metrics.
  • You can’t live without a specific app integration supported by Garmin’s open ConnectIQ platform.

Consider a different device if:

  • You mostly bikepack in remote and rugged areas or on singletrack trails.
  • You aren’t interested in cycling-specific performance metrics or training.
  • You want the most intuitive and ergonomic interface out there.

Buy Garmin Edge 530 or learn more:

You might also want: screen protector, handlebar mount

Related Edge Models

The Garmin Edge series spans a wide range of features and price points. The Edge 530 seems like the sweet spot for a bikepacking navigation device — it has all the important bikepacking features at a reasonable price — but some folks may want to consider these too:

Edge 130 Plus ($200): Budget-friendly device lacking color screen and, more importantly, base maps. Navigation is simply a breadcrumb, which is insufficient for most bikepackers trying to navigate unfamiliar or remote areas.

Edge 130 Plus at Backcountry | Edge 130 Plus at REI | Edge 130 Plus at Amazon

Edge 830 ($400): Very similar to the Edge 530 but with a touchscreen. This makes the interface more intuitive, but can be problematic in wet or cold conditions or when wearing gloves (though people seem to think the Edge 830 screen works pretty well). If you bikepack in mostly good conditions and don’t have the patience for non-touchscreen interfaces, you may want the 830 instead of the 530.

Edge 830 at Backcountry | Edge 830 at REI | Edge 830 at Amazon

Edge 1030 Plus ($600): Top of the line touchscreen cycling computer packed with features that won’t matter to many bikepackers. Probably only worth the price for serious cyclists seeking in-depth performance data and training support in addition to bikepacking navigation.

Edge 1030 Plus at Backcountry | Edge 1030 Plus at REI | Edge 1030 Plus at Amazon

Garmin Edge Explore: This interesting model, focused on navigation instead of performance metrics, would have made a great addition to this list of bikepacking GPS navigation devices. It was marketed to bicycle tourers, after all! Sadly Garmin has discontinued it, but perhaps you can pick one up secondhand. It offers a large touchscreen and many of the other Edge features, though the battery life is unimpressive at only 12 hours.

Wahoo ELEMNT Bolt

What sets it apart: Performance-focused cycling computer with intuitive configuration via smartphone companion app and thoughtfully designed interface, from an upstart fitness technology company.

Price: $300 | View at Backcountry | View at Amazon

Summary: The Bolt from Wahoo is a relative newcomer to the cycling computer scene, but it’s made a strong entrance. Like the Garmin Edge series, the Bolt’s intended user is a serious cyclist looking to navigate rides, execute training workouts, and analyze performance data.

The Bolt is also popular as a GPS navigation device for bikepacking, likely because of Wahoo’s focus on design and usability. Many people find it easier to configure than Garmin devices thanks to its companion smartphone app. The 64 color screen is clear and easy on the eyes when looking at maps all day in an unfamiliar place. The buttons are thoughtfully located and easy to use.

If you want a full-featured cycling computer (as opposed to a handheld GPS unit like the eTrex) and you’re allergic to clunky interfaces, you may prefer the Bolt over Garmin’s Edge series.

Reasons to buy:

  • Ergonomic and intuitive interface
  • Bright high-contrast screen
  • Many cycling-specific performance and safety features
  • Easy configuration via companion smartphone app
  • Supports largest number of satellite networks for seamless and accurate location
  • Easy integration with RideWithGPS via companion app; can also import routes from GPX or TCX file.

Reasons NOT to buy:

  • Lacks backcountry navigation features like detailed topo maps and compass
  • Shortest battery life in this list
  • Smartphone and connectivity are required for initial setup and some advanced features
  • Lacks some of Garmin’s specific features, like ClimbPro, that existing Garmin users may miss
  • Includes lots of performance and connectivity features that many bikepackers won’t need or appreciate
  • No support for loading 3rd party maps (limited to the ones provided by Wahoo)

Consider the Wahoo ELEMNT Bolt for bikepacking navigation if:

  • You’re an active cyclist outside your bikepacking trips and want a bike computer that can also support your training goals and rides around town.
  • You prefer an intuitive smartphone interface for configuring your navigation device.
  • You’re highly sensitive to clunky interfaces; you want the smoothest and most thoughtful layout and buttons.
  • You like the idea of supporting a newer “underdog” company instead of the well-stablished giant.

Consider a different device if:

  • You mostly bikepack in remote and rugged areas or on singletrack trails, so you need topographic maps.
  • You aren’t interested in cycling-specific performance metrics or training.
  • You already struggle to keep USB-rechargeable devices charged on your trips (less of an issue for riders with dynamo hubs) and need a device with long battery life.
  • You don’t want your smartphone involved in using your bikepacking GPS navigation device.

Learn more: Petr at Cyclists Hub shares why he thinks it’s the best bike computer on the market in his review of the Wahoo ELEMNT BOLT v2.

Buy Wahoo ELEMNT Bolt or learn more:

You might also want: screen protector, handlebar mount

Related ELEMNT Models

Wahoo ELEMNT Roam ($380): Similar features to the Bolt but has a larger, full color display and slightly longer battery life (17 hours). Some people find the unit a little bulky depending on handlebar setup, but it can be nice for map-intensive bikepacking navigation in unfamiliar places.

Integrated Navigation and Messaging

When people talk about a “bikepacking GPS device” they usually mean navigation, but many bikepackers also use another type of GPS-enabled device: personal locator beacons and messaging devices.

These devices provide an “SOS” button to initiate emergency rescue, send and receive simple messages including your location, and optionally can send tracking points at intervals to record your location over time. The two most common standalone satellite messaging devices are the SPOT Gen 3 and the Garmin InReach Mini.

I prefer to have separate devices for GPS navigation and satellite communication because sometimes I use one but not the other. For example, I often take my InReach Mini backpacking but only use my eTrex for bikepacking. They do share some of the same hardware though, and people may naturally wonder if it makes sense to combine them. The following two options won’t be right for most bikepackers, but they’ll illustrate the concept of an integrated device and may appeal to a few folks.

The Garmin GPSMAP 66i ($600) is essentially an eTrex and an InReach together in a single device. It doesn’t offer any cycling-specific features and isn’t at all optimized for handlebar-mounted use, but it’s designed for the ruggedest of rugged environments and includes the same routable topo maps as the eTrex. It weighs — and costs — a bit less than the combination of a standalone eTrex 32x and InReach Mini.

This integrated navigation and communication unit might appeal to bikepackers who are also hardcore remote outdoor explorers, and don’t plan to use the device much in frontcountry areas.

The Garmin Montana 700i ($700) is another combo of eTrex and InReach functionality, along with a massive 5″ touchscreen and full digital keyboard. It’s heavy and expensive, but apparently designed for handlebar mounting; a bike mount is even available! If you don’t mind having this massive and heavy device mounted to your bars and you want the latest and greatest in combined messaging and navigation, it might be worth considering.

In Conclusion

I sincerely hope this comparison of the best bikepacking GPS units has saved you some anguish. I got a headache diving into spec sheets so you don’t have to!

If you know which features are important to you, by all means go back to the details above and see which device meets your needs. But if you’re still on the fence and need one last summary, at the risk of oversimplifying:

  • Outdoor adventurer with preference for remote trails: get the Garmin eTrex 32x.
  • Dedicated cyclist with preference for feature-packed device from established company: get the Garmin Edge 530 (or perhaps the 830).
  • Dedicated cyclist with preference for slick interface from smaller upstart company: get the Wahoo ELEMNT Bolt (or perhaps the Roam).

When all is said and done, any of these excellent devices will level up your bikepacking navigation experience significantly if your trips have outgrown smartphone-based navigation. You can’t go wrong! So don’t drive yourself too crazy with the decision. Pick your favorite, and then get out and ride your bike!

Have you used one of these devices on your bikepacking trips? Let us all know what you think of it in the comments below.

More Bikepacking Resources

If you’re interested in bikepacking navigation devices, you might also find these helpful:

Or, visit the complete bikepacking resources center for much more!

About the Author

Hi there, I’m Alissa, founder of Exploring Wild. I’ve traveled over 20,000 miles by bike and still can’t stop planning my next ride (and helping you plan yours). Pavement and panniers or singletrack and seat bag, I love it all. On my bike I feel free. Learn more about me here.

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    4 thoughts on “GPS Navigation Devices for Bikepacking: Side-by-Side Comparison”

    1. Really like your take on these, including the advice to consider just *not* getting a dedicated GPS device for those of us getting our first taste of bikepacking. I haven’t made a decision yet, but found this article very insightful. Thanks!

    2. Garmin Edge Explore was in fact replaced by Edge Explore 2, which improves on many things, including battery life. It might have been released shortly after you posted the article 🙂 I’ve got one myself, but haven’t had a chance to test it thoroughly yet.

    3. Love your articles! As a relatively new tourer, I ended up getting a refurbished Garmin Explore for $150 on Amazon. While the upgraded Explore 2 has been getting great reviews, the Explore should be sufficient for my type of riding for now (i.e., local and regional day trips and overnights).


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