In this article, we not only tell you about the best kayak GPS that we think is perfect for kayaking, but we also cover all the features to look for in a GPS for kayaking and how to select a kayak GPS system that will best meet your needs on the water.
Our Top Picks: Best GPS for Kayaking
- Garmin GPSMAP 64st with GLONASS Receiver
- Garmin Striker 4 GPS Fish Finder with Transducer
- Hummingbird Helix 5 GPS Chirp Fishfinder
- Garmin Fenix 5X GPS System
- Garmin eTrex 10 GPS System
Are you thinking of taking your kayak out and exploring the unbounded waves of the sea and what lies beyond them? Are you looking for the most reliable GPS to help you navigate with ease?
In this article, not only will we tell you all about the best kayak GPS options, but we will also cover all the features to look for in the best GPS devices and how to select one that will work best for you.
Without further ado, let’s begin!
Quick Answers: Top 5 Best Kayak GPS Systems
Navigation: GPS, Glonass | Screen size: 2.6 inches | Dimensions: 1.4 x 2.4 x 6.3 inches | Weight: 8.1 oz | Battery: AA batteries or rechargeable NiMH battery pack (not included)
We found the Garmin GPSMAP 64st with GLONASS Receiver to be one of the best Kayak GPS. It’s jam-packed with awesome features and long battery life which left us beyond satisfied with it. Thus, we awarded it 4.9 stars out of 5!
The Garmin GPSMAP 64st features a simple yet functional 2.6 inches color display with a sunlight-readable interface that lets you get all the information you need during your kayaking trip, trek, or hike.
The unit has smart notifications and ANT+ sensors like a temperature sensor, heart rate monitor, speed/cadence, and a VIRB action camera which we found out only works with a 64s or 64st.
What we found impeccable in this particular unit that made it our favorite one was its dual battery system. You can charge it using traditional AA batteries as well as through the rechargeable NiMH battery pack.
You can also record the entirety of your kayak trip on the device. Just make sure you clear the prior track before starting a new one. After completing your adventure, just save the track.
Garmin provides an internal memory of 8GB which is more than enough to save trips without any lag in the function of the device.
Note about maps: Ours came with TOPO U.S. 100K maps but if you’re in Canada you can choose TOPO Canada. If you plan on traveling overseas, you can also buy the TopoActive Europe addon to get all the maps.
You should also buy a MicroSD card with 32 gigs or more to load any future open street maps you may want for the U.S, Canada, or Europe Garmin maps. Between US GPS satellites and the Russian GLONASS satellites (both supported), with this setup, you will be good around the world.
Overall, we really liked the Garmin GPSMAP 64st. We used it for indicating or following the navigation channel on the river and we found the maps of the nearshore waters and islands surprisingly good. See what others think of the Garmin GPSMAP 64st here.
Garmin Striker 4 GPS with Transducer ( Best value)
Navigation: GPS | Sonar: CHIRP and Clear Vu | Screen size: 3.5 inches | Dimensions: 3.6 x 1.6 x 5.9 inches | Weight: 8.1 oz | Battery: 12V marine battery (not included)
If we put it simply; the Garmin Striker 4 GPS Fishfinder with Transducer is a great budget-friendly GPS for kayaking. Due to its simple functions, useful features, and great value for money, we gave it 4.5 stars out of 5!
The Garmin Striker GPS fishfinder with Transducer has a Clear Vu scanning SONAR that helps you see what’s in the water. The SONAR has a high-frequency functionality that can give you clear pictures of not only marine life but also objects and structures in the water.
We loved that the Garmin Striker GPS keeps track of where you are in the water. It also tells you how long it would take to get to a certain point in the water along with the speed you’re going at.
It can detect anything to 1600 feet down in freshwater and down to 750 feet in saltwater.
We also liked how the interface has dedicated buttons. It’s simple, easy-to-use, and quick-to-install. There are 3 ranges of display sizes available; 3.5, 5, and 7.
One downside we found is that the screen display didn’t give much visibility in direct sunlight, especially with sunglasses on. This is not a deal-breaker though because we always managed to create a bit of shade to see the screen properly.
You can connect the Garmin Striker 4 to any marine battery or you can use a 12volt battery pack.
Overall, we were pretty happy with the Garmin Striker 4. It’s very accurate, easy to use and we found the bottom mapping feature quite useful. We really think it’s the best for its price and how good it works.
Navigation: GPS, GLONASS | SONAR: CHIRP Dual Beam | Screen size: 5 inches | Dimensions: 1.13 x 7.55 x 4.28 inches | Weight: 10.1 pounds | Battery: 12V marine battery (not included)
We think the Hummingbird Helix 5 410-210 is one of the best GPS fishfinders for kayaking. It gives you clear down imaging and features SwitchFire, SONAR system, Anima Cartography, and much more! We rated it 4 out of 5 stars.
If you want a GPS that locates fish, objects, and different structures underwater with the most precision, then you will like the Hummingbird Helix 5. It has a CHIRP Dual Beam PLUS SONAR, GPS Chart Plotting, and an integrated Anima cartography.
The unit has a SwitchFire that gives you control of the way your returns will appear. It has two display modes –Max mode and Clear Mode. Both of these modes allow you to control the amount of detail you see on the screen.
Another feature that caught our eye was the Dual Beam Sonar. You can choose between two types of beams; a wide beam to view a larger search area or a narrow beam to perform a more precise search area.
One downside of the Hummingbird Helix 5 is that though it has relatively reliable and sturdy hardware, we felt that the clips were a bit flimsy. A few customers also complained about broken clips.
Navigation: GPS and GLONASS | Screen size: 1.2 inches | Dimensions: 5.1 x 5.1 x 1.8 centimeter | Weight: 3.46 oz | Battery: lithium battery
We found the Garmin Fenix 5X GPS watch to be one of the most convenient and efficient GPS for kayaking. With its reliable, durable design and functionality, we gave this unit 4.5 stars out of 5!
With the Garmin Fenix 5X features like full-color Topo U.S mapping, outdoor navigation features, and routable cycling maps, you’re in for a treat!
The watch weighs approximately 0.3 kgs and measures 5.1 x 5.1 x 1.8 centimeters which make the Garmin Fenix 5X GPS watch great for outdoor activities.
The watch also has a built-in GPS and a GLONASS capability which serves to track all your boating trails so you can have a safe yet fun-filled kayaking experience.
We liked how the watch fits nicely on your wrist and doesn’t cause irritation to the skin.
If there’s anything we wish the Garmin Fenix 5X would have was a brightness level. While the digits and information displayed on the screen are visible in low-lighting, it can be difficult to decipher the display’s information in sunny conditions.
Navigation: GPS, GLONASS | Screen size: 2.2 inches | Dimensions: 2.13 x 1.3 x 4.06 inches | Weight: 5 oz | Battery: 2 AA batteries (not included)
Last but not least, the Garmin eTrex 10 is a simple, small, handheld navigation system that you can use for hiking or kayaking. It’s a great entry-level GPS that’s water-resistant with good battery life.
The Garmin eTrex 10 may not be as advanced as the other models we’ve reviewed here but it’s a good option if you’re on a budget.
The Garmin eTrex 10 is a strong handheld navigation device that features a 2.2-inch monochrome display, a preloaded worldwide base map, WAAS enabled GPS receiver, and GLONASS support.
We liked the fact that it’s water-resistant so you don’t have to worry too much if water gets on it. The eTrex 10 is powered by two AA batteries that can last up to 25 hours of use.
The small screen also gives you information regarding the high and low elevation points along your path. Moreover, it estimates the distance as well as the time between two particular points along your journey.
Overall, the Garmin eTrex 10 is a simple, no-fuss GPS system that gives you the basics you need for navigation without breaking the bank.
Buying Guide: Best GPS for Kayaking
What are the benefits of a Kayak GPS System?
GPS stands for Global Positioning System. It’s a Navigation system that helps you navigate around the world. Whether you’re driving through the deserts of America or mountains in Europe, a GPS is a great tool to have on hand.
Throughout the years, GPS technology has been improved and it has become so accurate that it can determine your exact location.
It’s always wise to take a GPS with you on a Kayaking Trip. Not only will it help you remain on track, but it will also help you get to some phenomenal locations on the river or the ocean.
Moreover, a GPS does not only tell you about your location but it also determines the speed you’re traveling at. It also correctly determines the speed you should be going at as well as the time you will be reaching your final destination.
Thus, a GPS allows you to discover and explore new places and makes sure you remain on the shortest and safest route.
How to choose the best type of Kayak GPS System?
In this section, we will talk about all the attributes that will help you pick the GPS unit that will fulfill your requirements.
The first thing you’re going to notice on a Kayak GPS is its display. It’s a really important factor to inspect before making a purchase.
All the information will be displayed on the screen so you need to be sure you purchase a GPS that has a visible display. Furthermore, you’re going to kayak in bright daylight and possibly at dusk or dawn so you need a screen display that’s visible in different conditions.
Although most GPS systems work well in a low-light setting, some of them don’t cope well in high-light settings; the screen becomes difficult to read (like that of a calculator in direct sunlight). So select a GPS that has a bright and visible display.
Another thing to keep in mind while checking the display of the unit is its size. We can see from the above best Kayak GPS that they vary not only in size but displays, features, and hardware as well.
Typically, a kayak GPS has a 2 to 5 inches display screen. But how do you distinguish which display size is best for you?
That’s easy. All you gotta do is ask yourself where the GPS is going to go on your kayak. Do you want it mounted on the kayak? Do you want to keep it in your pocket? Or do you want to wear it as a watch?
If you’re going to mount it on the Kayak, you might need one with a display size of 5 inches or more so you can clearly make sense of everything written on the screen while you’re paddling. If it goes in your pocket or on a watch, a GPS of 2 to 3 inches will work well.
We all know the main reason for buying a GPS – it’s to give you a better sense of navigation. A GPS has several maps. The most common type of map that most units have is a world base map.
However, if you dig deep enough, you will find devices that have different kinds of maps like the ones that show you altitudes or give you water detail. Thus, choose a device that can give the type of information you need.
A good way to select the best Kayak GPS is to search up a GPS unit made in the location you live in or the place or country you’re planning to visit. The benefit of this is that they may have more concentrated maps of the different places in the vicinity which will give you more accuracy during your kayak adventure.
GPS/ Fish Finder
A major misconception that most people have about GPS devices made specifically for kayaking and boating is that they are also a fish finder.
While GPS use satellites to receive and send information, they only gain information about the land. This means that they’re of no use when it comes to what’s below the water.
Whereas, a fish finder uses SONAR to detect fish, objects, and structures under the water. Now, let’s have a quick high-school physics recap; the SONAR (Sound Navigation and Ranging) uses sound waves to detect different substances in the water. The waves are reflected in the device and if there is an object in the way, there is a discrepancy in the wavelength.
Thus, while choosing a GPS, first ask yourself why you need it for in the first place. Do you just want it purely for navigation? If so, select a unit that only has GPS.
However, if you want a GPS that also detects fish underwater, opt for a unit that has both a GPS and a fish finder.
Waterproof Capabilities (IP rating)
You’re going to be surrounded by water all the time. There’s a danger of fog, splashes, and rain.
Whether you have your GPS attached to the Kayak, safely tucked in your pocket, or firmly attached to your wrist, there’s a big possibility that it might get splashed by water.
Thus, it’s important that you select a GPS for kayaking that has water-resistant qualities. This will ensure that the GPS keeps on working efficiently even if it gets a bit wet.
But how can you know for sure if the device you’re choosing is waterproof or not? Simple! All you’ve got to do is check the specifications of the unit. You will find an IP code.
An IP code, Ingress Protection Code, is the degree of protection a device has against water or dust intrusions.
Commonly, a GPS with a rating of IPX7 means that even if the device is dropped in water, it won’t be damaged. The higher the rating, the more it can withstand water damage or dust-damage.
Compatibility of GPS with other Navigation Systems
You need to make sure that you buy a unit that is compatible with most of the renowned satellite navigation systems. While we discussed our top 5 Best Kayak GPS, you might have noticed a few unfamiliar terms like GLONASS, WAAS, and CHIRP.
All of these are the world’s leading satellite navigation systems.
Let’s break it down.
- GLONASS or GLObal NAvigation Satellite System gives you real-time position and velocity estimations.
- WAAS is an abbreviation for Wide Area Augmentation System. It helps with air navigation and was built mainly to improve the precision of a GPS for aircrafts.
- CHIRP is also known as Compressed High-Intensity Radiated Pulse. It’s a military technology that calculates the SONAR signals of various frequencies to calculate a very precise picture of what is below the water. Most Fish Finders have this technology.
All these systems are quintessential when it comes to getting an accurate map of the underwater world. Thus, make sure the unit you purchase has at least a CHIRP Technology in it.
Lastly, we all want a product that can last for as long as possible. When it comes to a GPS, you can ensure its durability through quite a few things.
First, check the device’s IP rating. As we discussed above, the bigger the IP rating, the more protected it will remain. Then, inspect the display screen. What is it made of? Most of the screens are made from glass or plastic which can withstand rugged conditions.
You need to figure out the type of battery you want. While some work well with standard AA Batteries, others have rechargeable batteries that can make your GPS last for 20 hours!
Thus, it’s important that you select a GPS device that has reliable and long battery life. Especially, if you plan on staying out on your kayak for a while, then better opt for rechargeable batteries or keep an extra pair of AA batteries in your bag.
If you want to save up your tracks or additional maps in your GPS, then opt for a GPS device that has a memory card. You can get memory cards with storage space of as much as 8GB like the Garmin GPSMAP 64st with GLONASS Receiver has.
You don’t necessarily need additional storage but it’s useful if you like saving detailed maps or your trails.
Precautions When Using a Kayak GPS System
Though GPS systems are reliable, and some have a battery life of as much as 20 hours, your device can malfunction while you’re in the water. Thus, it’s always necessary that you have a backup plan in such situations.
Keep maps and compass as back up
Have on-hand maps of the location you are boating at. Take the time to review the maps before your trip so in the event the GPS device fails, you can still find your way around and can navigate around the water yourself.
A map is useless if you don’t know the directions well. Thus, unless you’re an expert in reading stars to find your way back, keep a compass with you too!
Keep extra batteries
Before you venture off into the water, store extra batteries in your bag. Whether your GPS functions on rechargeable batteries or standard AA batteries, keep an extra set of batteries with you all the time.
Frequently Asked Questions: Best GPS For Kayaking
Not necessarily. On waterways that are restricted to kayaking and canoeing, you don’t need navigation lights on each side of the kayak. However, to ensure other paddlers see you, the minimum requirement is to have a hand-held waterproof flashlight to display as needed.
If you plan on venturing out on waterways shared with powerboats and sailboats, you will need navigation sidelights. You should refer to the U.S. Coast Guard and inland regulatory agencies to ensure you’re compliant with the rules and standards.
2. Is it safe to kayak at night?
Many professionals recommend that you Kayak during the day. At night, you might face visibility issues that can potentially be dangerous for you. As discussed above, you need to at least display a flashlight to make yourself visible to other paddlers.
3. Why can’t I use my phone’s GPS?
It’s possible to use a mobile’s GPS but the problem with it is that you need constant strong WIFI signals. Or you would need the cellular network to access the GPS.
When you’re out in the water kayaking the day away, there’s a very big chance that you might lose reception on your phone. This means you won’t have a navigation system with you and you could potentially get lost.
Even if you do have reception, it could be too weak to rely on. And you might have inaccurate maps and tracking history.
Hence, to ensure that you remain safe at all times, buy a small and reliable GPS device for your trip.
Check out our outdoor gear section to see what other equipment we find useful when we’re camping.
Summary: Best Kayaking GPS System
We think it’s a good idea to bring a GPS with you when you go on a Kayak trip. It will help you explore new places and, most importantly, find your way back. It will also keep you safe from any hazards that may float beneath the surface.
For us, the Garmin GPSMAP 64st with GLONASS Receiver is one of the best options when it comes to GPS for Kayaking. It’s lean, practical, efficient, and durable. Our two other favorite ones are the Garmin Striker 4 GPS with Transducer and the Garmin Fenix5X GPS, both of which are fast, precise, and really convenient.
We hope this article has helped you clear up all the questions you had to find the best kayak GPS for your next adventure. Happy Kayaking!