If you are into hiking, camping, backpacking, fishing, hunting, or other outdoor activities, then a high-quality handheld GPS can be a lifesaver. The best handheld GPS devices are lightweight, compact, and feature a long-lasting battery. Depending on your budget, a handheld GPS can be loaded with a variety of special features, including mapping capabilities, storage for additional maps, voice prompts, a hands-free Bluetooth headset, an external antenna connector, an external power connection, an internal compass, and an altitude sensor. Some handheld GPS models can even help you navigate the most remote locations, like caverns, caves, and deep canyons.
Whether you are looking for durability, versatility, reliability, great value, or a user-friendly option, we took a look at the best handheld GPS units available on the market today. Read on to see which product is the best fit for your next outdoor trip.
If you’re looking for a high-quality, versatile product, the Garmin GPSMAP 66sr may be the best overall GPS on the market today. This GPS features a large, three-inch sunlight-readable color display for convenience and easy viewing in any type of weather. Multi-band technology and expanded GNSS support provide optimal accuracy in caverns, deep canyons, forests with dense trees, and other remote locations. This model includes ABC sensors, an altimeter for elevation data, a barometer to monitor weather, and a three-axis electronic compass. Birdseye satellite imagery allows you to download high-resolution photo-realistic maps directly to your device, even without an annual subscription. When paired with your compatible smartphone, you can get real-time forecast information and live weather radar. There are preloaded TopoActive United States and Canada maps that show you terrain contours, topographic elevations, and more.
One downside of the Garmin GPSMAP 66sr is its reliability. Some customers have reported issues with their GPS working properly upon delivery. If you have any immediate issues with your GPS, reach out to Garmin regarding a potential refund or replacement product.
The Garmin eTrex 10 Worldwide Handheld GPS is one of the best budget-friendly options. This product is available at an excellent price point, and it is a great option if you are looking for just a basic model. It has a preloaded worldwide basemap and a 2.2-inch monochrome display. This GPS features an IPX7 waterproof rating to hold up in tough conditions, including rain, sleet, hail, snow, and more. It requires two AA batteries, which can provide up to 20 hours of power. If you are on a long trip, it might be a good idea to carry an extra set of batteries with you. This model allows you to see high and low elevation points or store waypoints along a track. You can easily estimate time and distance between points on the map.
One issue with the Garmin eTrex 10 Worldwide Handheld GPS is that it does not contain any special features. It is just a base model, so you can’t add any new maps. But if you are shopping on a budget or just looking for a basic handheld GPS, then this is still a quality option for you.
Although it is priced at a premium, the Garmin Rino 755t GPS is another extremely versatile product. This GPS features a two-way radio with an extended range of up to 20 miles. It allows you to communicate by voice or by unit-to-unit text messaging. There is a three-inch sunlight-readable touchscreen with a dual orientation that can be read in landscape or portrait view. This device can be powered for up to 14 hours via the lithium-ion battery pack or up to 18 hours with a pair of AA batteries. The GPS features both GPS and GLONASS satellite reception, allowing your location to be tracked in more challenging environments like caverns and canyons. This product comes with a number of special features, including over 100,000 preloaded U.S. topography maps, as well as an 8-megapixel autofocus camera with LED flash.
One downside of the Garmin Rino 755t GPS is with its screen. Compared to other handheld GPS units on the market, this device’s screen resolution is not quite at the same level. Despite this issue, it is still a very functional GPS.
The Garmin Montana 680 GPS is another premium priced model. This handheld GPS comes preloaded with a number of maps and has a lot of special features. It includes 250,000 preloaded worldwide geocaches from Geocaching.com. It also includes a one-year subscription to Birdseye Satellite Imagery with each purchase. This model has a battery life of about 16 hours when using the rechargeable Lithium-Ion one battery, and it can last up to 22 hours on two AA batteries. The GPS can easily locate and pinpoint your position by utilizing a WAAS-enabled GPS receiver, Hotfix satellite prediction, and GLONASS support. This allows the unit to work functionally even under heavy cover and in deep canyons. It has an 8-megapixel digital camera to capture higher-quality images with great resolution. The full touchscreen model is very lightweight and can easily fit into your pocket while traveling.
One downside of the Garmin Montana 680 GPS is with its price point. Although it is one of the most expensive models on the market, this GPS comes with some of the best features and more preloaded geocaches than almost any other product on the market.
If you’re looking for a multi-use product that can be used in a variety of situations, the Garmin inReach Explorer+ GPS may be the most versatile GPS on the market. This unit can be used as a GPS and a communicator, which means you can use it to text and send messages from virtually anywhere with a satellite subscription. It includes a high-quality rechargeable internal lithium ion battery and has a waterproof rating of IPX7 for use in all types of weather conditions. The GPS can be paired with mobile devices using the free Garmin Earthmate app for access to downloadable maps. There are preloaded topographic maps with on-screen GPS routing, as well as a built-in digital compass, barometric altimeter, and accelerometer. In case of an emergency, you can also use inReach to trigger an SOS to the 24/7 monitoring center.
One issue with the Garmin inReach Explorer+ GPS is that the text feature is not always functional. Some customers have reported that the text and messaging features work only sporadically, depending on your location and satellite signal.
The Garmin GPSMAP 64s Worldwide is another one of the most reliable products on the market. This GPS is extremely versatile, and it is available in a number of different styles, ranging from a base model to one with an antenna, Bluetooth, and United States topography. It can be used with two traditional AA batteries, or you can use a rechargeable NiMH battery pack, which can even be charged while inside the device. The handheld GPS features a sunlight-readable 2.6-inch color display and an expanded internal memory of 4GB. Weighing just over eight ounces, this GPS easily fits in your pocket while hiking, fishing, hunting, or biking. This model allows you to upload data wirelessly to Garmin Connect and view it on your smartphone, as well as share activities as they happen with Live Track.
One downside of the Garmin GPSMAP 64s Worldwide is with the download speed. Downloading maps can take quite a long time with this model, so make sure you are prepared before heading out on your next trip.
The Garmin Oregon 700 Handheld GPS is another high-quality touchscreen option. This GPS features a large three-inch touch screen that is extremely easy to read. It has a long battery life of up to 16 hours. The ergonomic, rugged design is built to hold up in all types of conditions and has a waterproof rating of IPX7. The Connect IQ feature allows you to customize the GPS with data fields, widgets, and other apps. Another great feature is the ABC sensors, three axis tilt-compensated electronic compass with barometric altimeter sensors, and accelerometer. This handheld GPS makes a great choice for climbing, hiking, biking, fishing, hunting, and more. It also includes Active Weather support with animated radar overlays, and a one-year BirdsEye Satellite Imagery subscription is included with each purchase.
One issue with the Garmin Oregon 700 Handheld GPS is that it does slow down in extreme temperatures. Some customers have reported that this model takes quite a while to load while outdoors in extremely cold winter weather.
The Garmin inReach Mini is perhaps the best compact handheld GPS on the market. This model has a screen size of just 1.27 inches and can easily fit inside your pocket while hiking, backpacking, camping, fishing, or hunting. With a subscription, it allows you to send and receive text messages, track and share your journey, and you can even trigger an SOS alert to contact the GEOS 24/7 emergency response team if needed. You can access downloadable maps, U.S. NOAA charts, color aerial imagery, and more by using the free Garmin Earthmate app. The optional inReach weather forecast service provides detailed weather updates directly to your GPS or paired device. Despite its compact size, this GPS is heavy-duty, durable, impact-resistant, and weather-resistant with a waterproof rating of IPX7.
One downside of the Garmin inReach Mini is with its battery. Compared to other handheld GPS units, this model does not have as long-lasting of a battery. On power saving mode, it supposedly has up to 20 days of battery life. Many customers have reported that their battery drains rather quickly and does not last that long, so make sure to carry a spare battery or charger with you on long trips.
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Types of handheld GPS
There are two main types of handheld GPS units. Each type of GPS offers its own unique set of features and advantages. Depending on your individual preferences and where you will be using your GPS, you may require a different type of handheld GPS to best fit your needs. Make sure to familiarize yourself with all of the different types of handheld GPS devices before making your final purchase.
Touchscreen handheld GPS units are the most modern type of handheld GPS. This type of GPS is typically easy to use, featuring a large screen for typing and reading your location. A touchscreen handheld GPS can be used in both portrait and landscape mode. It is easier to travel with this type of GPS because it is easy to store and fit in your pocket. The one downside of the touchscreen is that it can be difficult to use in cold weather when wearing gloves. This type of GPS is available at a variety of price options, depending on the number of special features you prefer or want to be included with your device.
Handheld GPS devices with buttons are the most common and original type of handheld GPS. Many of the more premium and highest-rated models still feature buttons. A GPS with buttons typically functions better than touchscreens during inclement weather conditions or extremely cold weather. Handheld GPS units with buttons are bulkier than touchscreens, so if you are looking to carry your GPS long distances inside your pocket, then a touchscreen may be the better option. This type of handheld GPS is available at budget-friendly options, as well as premium-priced products, depending on the number of special features you prefer and where you will be using your device.
What to consider when buying a handheld GPS
For this article, we extensively researched and tested a wide variety of different types and brands of handheld GPS units. These included GPS with buttons and others of the touchscreen variety. The devices were all tested for reliability, durability, ease of use, and versatility. They were all tested in a number of different conditions, remote locations, and in a variety of weather conditions.
The results of this thorough research and testing can be found throughout this article. Make sure to familiarize yourself with the different types, brands, and features of each handheld GPS before making your final purchase to best fit your individual preferences.
The advantages of owning a handheld GPS
There are several key advantages to purchasing and using a handheld GPS. The most obvious benefit is that you are able to navigate in remote locations where there is no regular cellular reception. Most handheld GPS units are typically lightweight, built from weather-resistant and rugged materials. Your handheld GPS can come with a number of special features, like weather forecast technology, and the ability to send and receive text messages when paired with your device.
Most handheld GPS devices are durable, versatile, and user-friendly, including a number of preloaded maps, topographic features, and advanced compasses for navigation. Some handheld GPS units include even more advanced technology that allows you to navigate in the most remote locations like caverns, deep canyons, or areas with dense tree coverage.
- One of the biggest advantages to using a handheld GPS is with its reception. Using advanced satellite technology, most handheld GPS units are able to pinpoint your location, even in the most remote locations. Handheld GPS devices are quite reliable, able to work in almost any weather condition, clouds, or storms.
- Handheld GPS units are extremely user-friendly. Whether they are of the touchscreen or button variety, these devices are generally easy to use. Many handheld GPS units have apps that can be downloaded to allow compatibility with your smartphone, computer, and other devices.
- Another obvious benefit to using a handheld GPS is its size. Handheld GPS devices are generally quite compact and extremely lightweight. They can easily fit within your pocket or be stored within your backpack or luggage with ease. Despite their small size, these devices usually usually quite durable and feature long-lasting batteries to hold up on long hiking, camping, fishing, or hunting trips.
Pricing ranges for handheld GPS
- Under $200: Handheld GPS units in this price range provide excellent value. These devices typically do not include any special features, but are still extremely functional and available at a great price point. Make sure to do your proper research before making a purchase in this price range to ensure that it includes the features you need.
- $200-$400: This is the most common price range for handheld GPS units. Products in this price range are available as a touchscreen GPS or a GPS with buttons. They often contain several advanced features, and are typically quite versatile and durable.
- Over $400: Handheld GPS devices in this price range are priced at a premium. Despite their price, these products typically feature a number of special features, accessories, and are the most rugged of all handheld GPS units. If you will be using your GPS in the most remote locations, you may want to consider a purchase in this price range.
How we chose our top picks
When reviewing new outdoor products, we much prefer to go the hands-on route, but sometimes a lack of resources may prevent us from trying out the outdoor equipment in person. To make sure we don’t let you down, we take the time to thoroughly research and review other professionals who have hands-on experience with the equipment, combing through extensive reviews on Amazon, professional publications, outdoor enthusiast blogs, and more to bring you the best information available. For this review, we found the information at Switch Back Travel, Outdoor Gear Lab, and Gear Junkie to be extremely helpful when shopping for the best handheld GPS device for your next outdoor adventure.
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