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Advice for a GPS device for hiking and kayaking

I'd like to kayak the San Juaquin from the central valley to SF bay.  It should all be flat water but in places a maze of multiple forks.  I'm thinking a GPS would help me navigate.  Any suggestions on how to choose?  I don't mind paying for one but also don't want more than I need.

8 Replies

Any of the garmin GPS handheld units with mapping would be perfect along with the Fenix units with a map. The most basic one with maps like eTrex 22x. The topo maps onboard will work fine on smaller rivers. If ypi go more to navigable waters the bluechart card for your area would be expensive.

Don't forget a waterproof floating case.

@70andrelevant thanks for reaching out! We'll tag a few REI employees who are paddling-savvy and see what suggestions they have for you. With that said, even though you posted your question on the "Ask an REI Employee" board, you may get responses from other community members as well. You can always tell an REI employee by our usernames and our titles (REI Employee). Hope this helps!

@REI-EricP@REI-KatieK@REI-RachelL@REI-RachelR - any suggestions?   

At REI, we believe time outside is fundamental to a life well lived.

It appears the Garmin inreach needs a subscription for two way communication but do the other functions continue (except two-way communication) if the subscription lapses?


@70andrelevant Great question!

Per the Garmin inReach Satellite Subscription FAQs : An active inReach satellite subscription is required for track sharing, messaging functions and syncing account information such as contacts, waypoints, and routes. You must have an active inReach satellite subscription for SOS emergency messaging and services.

Hope this helps!

At REI, we believe time outside is fundamental to a life well lived.

Thanks, I get it that you need the subscription to sync with others and two-way communication.  I assume though that the device will function similarly to the GPS in my car even if the subscription has lapsed.  Is that a valid assumption?



You are correct in that assumption. We reached out to Garmin to confirm, and they stated that the inReach basically runs two systems: a GPS network for navigation and the inReach Iridium Satellite network for communication. If you do not have a subscription, or choose to let it lapse, you will not have access to the inReach Iridium Satellite network, but the GPS functions will still operate.

That being said, if you choose to purchase an inReach, you can also choose a 'Freedom Plan' subscription which allows you to suspend your subscription month to month as needed. You can read more about the different subscription plans for inReach devices here.

If you do not think that you will need a subscription or the two-way communication that the inReach provides, we recommend looking at a GPS unit like the Garmin GPSMap 66s or the Garmin GPSMap 64x. They offer the GPS capabilities you are looking for without the two-way inReach communication you may not. If you would like, you can compare all three devices here.

Hope this helps, thanks for your patience as we tracked down this information!


At REI, we believe time outside is fundamental to a life well lived.

Yes, this is what I needed.  On occasion I go out of cell service areas.  If I am hiking or on the water then I would like the insurance of being able to contact someone if the need arises.  I will not always need two way communication.  If I am close to a cell tower, which I will be most of the time, then I can use my phone.  But, there are times when I go out of a service area.  Those times can be planned and the Freedom plan that can be turned on a month at a time sounds like the right fit for me.  That is when I will appreciate the satellite access.   When I return to a coverage area I would like the device to continue to function as a GPS and I think I am learning it will.

Thanks for your help

For the bay area pretty much any modern smart phone can run GPS enabled mapping apps and many of them are water resistant to some degree.  Obviously you should use some form of water proof flotation bag that can be tied down.

One app I use for hiking is called USTopo and runs on Android.  I believe it will do track and waypoints but you have to buy the premium version to upload a route.  You can download various map layers including NOAA raster charts for free with or without hill shading which you can cache on the phone.  While these are "not for navigation"  they are almost certainly good enough for short range coastal trips in a kayak or similar small craft.  They have the advantage of showing the navigational aids and soundings.

The only caveat is that it is not that easy to operate a touch screen when on the water... I haven't tried but in the past I have sailed a Laser and have briefly kayaked in the SF bay so I can imagine it not working so well.