The best personal GPS trackers are really handy things to have around. If you’re in the habit of wandering far off the beaten track, into the wild places that are left in the world such as national parks or forest reservations, then carrying a hiking-grade personal GPS trackers can literally be a life-saver. These are battery-powered wireless receivers that pick up signals from orbiting GPS satellites, converting this data into a position on the planet that they then report back to a smartphone app.
If you’re carrying a personal GPS tracker and get lost, or injured, while away from civilization, then your loved ones or a rescue party can use the tracker software to find you again. Of course, you don’t need to carry one of these yourself. You can put smaller models on a car, bicycle, float plane or other vehicle (or valuable item) so you can find it wherever it ends up.
Most trackers have some sort of wireless connectivity which means they can report their location back to base, and unfortunately this needs to be paid for - an ongoing data plan fee is a possibility if you’re using a tracker a lot, but there are other options too.
Trackers such as these shouldn’t be used as replacements for specialized medical items - we have recommendations for the best fall detection sensors and the best medical alert systems elsewhere on the site. Just in case you've fallen, and you can't get up.
1. Spot Gen 4: Best personal GPS tracker overall
The Spot Gen4 is designed for hikers that want to know they can be found when heading out into the most remote locations. Thanks to satellite GPS and messaging functionality this will keep you safe and others aware of your location with ease. The battery life is worth shouting about as it is good for a whopping 436 hours and with the use of replaceable AAA batteries these can be extended even further.
The Spot Gen4 is a little bulky but features a carabiner for easy attachment to a pack. It's also tough and built to withstand the great outdoors. The mapping functionality is custom so you can track the GPS from this locator using the dedicated app. This can be viewed live or in history mode with data stored for up to three years after it's recorded. The SOS feature which contacts emergency services is a real stand out spec of this unit.
Pricing varies for the device itself as do the plans for data service. The longer you commit, like for an annual plan, the more savings can be made.
2. Tile Mate: Best budget GPS tracker
The Tile Mate is an alternative option that is not technically a GPS device. Rather it uses Bluetooth and a connection to your smartphone to detect if it is lost. This works the other way too since the Tile has a button - double tap this and the app on your connected phone will emit a noise so you can find your phone.
The Tile Mate comes with a replaceable battery, which is good for around a full year, depending on how much use it gets. This is super affordable to replace. All in all, when you consider this also doesn't require a subscription, this is a very affordable option. But this is more for keys, bags and items like that, rather than people. Since the idea is that this will let you know where the connection to your phone was lost, if the items moves after that point it may no longer be there. The Tile does emit a sound when needed, making finding it easier.
3. AngelSense Guardian: Best for vulnerable kids and the elderly
The AngelSense Guardian is the ideal GPS tracker for children and the elderly. This is because it can be attached to the person and only removed using a key. It also offers a useful two-way talk mode, allowing a person to talk to the wearer in an emergency. The use of 3G, 4G and Wi-Fi combined with GPS means you can see the person's location on a map, indoors too, which can easily be shared with emergency services if needed.
Auto alerts are useful, letting the guardian know if the wearer has left a boundaried location, is late home, and for checking bus trip progress. This even has a step counter built in for health monitoring. While the price might be higher than some, with a regular payment commitment needed, this offers more services and in depth controls than most of the competition.
The battery life, at 24 hours, isn't the longest but since this is rechargeable and offers so many connected features that does make sense.
4. Samsung SmartThings Tracker: Best GPS tracker for valuables
The Samsung SmartThings Tracker is a fantastic tracker that does it all in one small package. This offers 4G LTE and GPS for live tracking inside an IP68 case that's good for all weather and wet. While a parent can live track a child, for example, using the app with map, this is also good for pets, the elderly and more. Usefully, this can be used to send an SOS if needed.
Geofencing can be setup with the app so that you are notified if the tracker leaves the designated area you've set - ideal for parents that want to keep their child's school boundaries as limits during the day.
Battery life is up to an impressive week, but real world use will likely be less, but it depends on how regular you setup the device to ping you a location. The very rare offering that sets this apart from the competition is the include of a year's 4G LTE service with the frankly affordable purchase price.
5. BrickHouse Security Spark Nano 7: Best vehicle GPS tracker
The BrickHouse Security Spark Nano 7 is purpose built for tracking cars. This is a super compact unit that is battery powered so can be placed in the car glove box or attached to its underside as needed. The optional magnetic and waterproof case is useful here.
The 4G connection means accurate and instant location on demand using the dedicated smartphone app. The Rapid Track mode is a nice feature that follows in even more rapid real-time for turn-by-turn clarity.
Battery life is good for 15 days in standby or continuous use for 15 hours at a time before needing a charge. Geofencing and custom alerts can be setup so you have peace of mind about the vehicle without the need to check up. A panic button is another useful feature, allowing it to be used by a person too.
Why buy a personal GPS tracker?
According to a 2020 report there were over 600,000 missing people in the US unaccounted for in the preceding year. A massive 448,000 of those were under 21 years of age. A GPS tracker is one step parents can take to prevent that number from being any higher.
Jeannie Callahan, a customer service representative for AngelSense, said she got involved with the company because her son has autism and she uses the product. She called the first time her son wandered off "the worst 15 minutes of my life."
"If you take it in a car it will tell you the speed," Callahan said. "It will tell you where it is and where it has been. Once you have some history in your menu you can always tap on a previous location and it will show you the exact route taken there."
Whether it’s AngelSense or any other GPS tracker, accuracy and consistency are important.
How much does a personal GPS tracker cost?
Our research shows the average GPS tracker costs $123 for the device alone, but service plans vary. You can often pay less overall if you buy more months of service at a time as opposed to buying month-to-month. Some GPS trackers do come with some service included, which is a great deal.
When looking at plans on some of our best trackers above we found that you can pay between $20 and $50 per month, depending on the features you use. That does add significantly to the cost of using the more feature-rich and specialized trackers.
How does a GPS tracker work?
GPS trackers work using cell phone, satellite and WiFi signals and the best ones will show you in real time where the tracker is on your desktop and smartphone. Bluetooth trackers like the Tile Mate work by sending a signal between the tracker and your phone or computer, so the range is going to be much shorter. Some GPS trackers can even use different WiFi signals within a large building to triangulate what room someone is in.
That being said, these little gadgets are handy but they’re not magic. If you live somewhere with poor cell phone reception, your GPS tracker reception will also most likely be poor. If that’s the case, you can opt for units that are better in the great wide open but know you’ll be sacrificing some of the detail and speed you get from trackers that perform well in urban areas.
Are they suitable for your business?
GPS trackers can be incredibly useful if you own and operate a business. They can help you keep track of your products, property and staff, all from the comfort of your phone or computer screen. There are a variety of trackers available to suit your business needs. We suggest picking a company that allows you to use as many trackers as possible at once. For example, the BrickHouse tracker we tested shows you where several trackers are at one time. Many companies, including BrickHouse Security, also make trackers specifically for vehicles.
These trackers let you know where your employees are, and you'll get an alert if the devices are uninstalled. The trackers tell you not only the vehicles' locations but also the speed at which the cars are traveling. However, our research indicates that these trackers are a little more difficult to install than regular GPS trackers. Trackers can also be useful for keeping an eye on valuable company assets or for making sure your employees have reached their destinations.
Just be aware that you may violate some state and Federal laws if you keep data on your employees' movements, so we strongly recommend consulting a lawyer before using GPS trackers for your business.
Tracking your child
Using a GPS tracker with your child can put your mind at ease, but there are several things you should keep in mind. GPS trackers with two-way communication mean you can listen to your what your child is doing whenever they’re wearing the device, but we strongly encourage you not to abuse this feature and constantly check the app. Instead, we recommend setting up predetermined safe zones so you’ll receive alerts when your child leaves that area. That way you’re not checking the app every five seconds and the device’s battery will last longer.
You can also work with your child’s teachers and school officials to come up with a plan for when it’s appropriate for the GPS device to be on at school. Just remember a GPS tracker is no substitute for good parenting. We encourage you to talk to your children about safety, avoiding strangers and when to dial 9-1-1.