Are you looking for a best handheld GPS?
Do you camp, hunt or hike or enjoy the outdoors in other ways?
Do you want a backpacking GPS unit that will slide into your pocket or purse for easy portability?
If you answered yes to any of these questions, then a handheld GPS unit may be the device that will save you time and sanity.
Most of us know what a GPS is. However, not everyone knows that there are best handheld GPS units for people on the go.
These units are ultra-portable. Using satellite data, they can keep you apprised of your location, no matter where you are or how bad the conditions are.
There are many GPS units out there, so shopping for them can be very confusing, but don’t worry. By the time you’ve finished reading this article, you should know everything you need to know about these convenient pieces of tech.
If you still need help narrowing down your choice afterward, we will include a buying guide and FAQ at the end of the article. Now, let’s jump into the fascinating world of handheld GPS.
Table of Contents
- Best Handheld GPS For Hunting/Camping/Hiking – Comparison Chart
- Do You Need A GPS?
- Why Buy a Handheld GPS?
- Smart Phone GPS Apps
- Using Your GPS Effectively
- Top 7 Best Handheld GPS Reviews
- Buying Guide
- Frequently Asked Questions
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Do You Need A GPS?
That depends entirely on you. However, a GPS is an invaluable tool for anyone who loves the outdoors and spends a lot of time in unfamiliar areas.
These portable units operate just like the ones some people have in their cars. However, they are smaller and lighter and can let you know about bad weather conditions or other unpleasant things you’ll face before you face them.
Can A GPS Replace a Map and Compass?
The short answer to this question is no. Many hikers or other lovers of the outdoors swear by a map and a compass.
They will help you chart a route to take. Neither a map nor a compass takes batteries, meaning you don’t risk either of them becoming unusable because you forgot to bring extra batteries or accidentally dropped them.
However, a handheld GPS is useful, too. Since it is digital, it can help you to stay aware of anything unpleasant that might be going on in your area.
A GPS, in conjunction with a compass and a map, can ensure that you never get lost again, and nobody likes being lost, right?
Why Buy a Handheld GPS?
There are many good reasons that a handheld GPS can be useful. This section will introduce you what is the best gps to buy and give some of the reasons you might need a GPS for all your outdoor activities.
- Whiteout conditions can be dangerous. If you are hiking or skiing in winter and a whiteout happens suddenly, you may find yourself alone and unable to see. If you have a GPS, you can navigate back to your last-known waypoints.
- Handheld GPS units use coordinates from satellites. These signals are not easily lost, even in inclement weather.
- A handheld GPS can show you shortcuts to trails that won’t just peter out, leaving you in the middle of nowhere.
- With a best handheld GPS for hunting, you can set your to recognize the start of your trailhead, your most recent kill or even the location of your tree stand.
- Fishers can program a GPS to a nautical functioning and receive notifications of underwater hazards, incoming storms or even the best fishing spots.
- GPS are also useful if you plan on geocaching. This fun hobby involves finding “caches” hidden by other users and marked on a GPS map.
Smart Phone GPS Apps
If you have a smartphone, the chances are pretty good that it has a GPS app installed. However, there are some important differences between these apps and an actual GPS unit.
We will discuss the pros and cons of using a phone GPS vs. an actual handheld GPS below. That way you can tell which option is best for you.
Pros of using a smartphone app
- Good for daily activity tracking such as bike rides.
- Perfect for local hikes.
- Great for snapping photos while you’re out.
- Maps are much less expensive.
Cons of Using a Smart Phone as a GPS
- If you’re wearing normal gloves, you can’t swipe your phone.
- The screen washes out in direct sunlight.
- The batteries in stand-alone GPS units are easier to change.
Whether you use a smartphone or a dedicated GPS unit for your outdoor activities depends largely on what sort of activity you’re doing, and what you need your GPS to do. Smartphones can be great for local hikes, but cell signal in the backcountry is likely to be limited to nonexistent, rendering your smartphone useless.
Using Your GPS Effectively
No matter which type of GPS you use, there are tips to help you get the best out of the experience. In this section, we will showcase a few of these tips and teach you how to make sure that your GPS is working properly.
We will also show you how to get the most out of your battery life.
- Update your software regularly. Updates will make sure that you have the latest base maps and fix any bugs that might have come with the firmware installed from the factory.
- Don’t forget the batteries. Even if you just replaced your GPS batteries, make sure to bring an extra set or two. That way you won’t be forced out of the woods earlier than you meant to be by dying batteries or have to navigate without your GPS because you ran them down.
- Clear the track log if your GPS is low on memory. It’s always better to start from scratch before a hike than to run out of memory halfway through.
- Keeping the signal. Make sure your GPS has a clear view of the sky. Try putting it on the top of your backpack to give it a better view.
- When plotting waypoints, remember to number them. That way you don’t have to try to remember which waypoint comes next.
Top 7 Best Handheld GPS Reviews
What is the best handheld GPS to buy? Now that you know a bit more about GPS systems, you may be asking yourself this question.
If you are, then this section is for you. This is the section where we will provide you with the top ten best handheld GPS reviews.
That way you can narrow down your choices more effectively, and get a quick overview of the best handheld GPS for 2019.
Garmin eTrex 10
The Garmin eTrex 10 is sturdy and rugged. It features a 2.2-inch monochrome display, making it easy for you to read in any light. The battery life is also a phenomenal twenty-five hour on two AA batteries.
- Paperless geocaching. Never worry about printouts and manually entering coordinates again. This is the perfect GPS for geocaching.
- Worldwide base map. This GPS will work anywhere in the world.
- Faster positioning with GPS and GLONASS satellites. When using GLONASS satellites, your eTrex locks on 20% faster than with regular GPS satellites.
- No maps are included. You’ll need to download those from the Garmin website or find free ones online.
- Documentation is lacking.
- No clip or lanyard included.
Garmin GPSMAP 64st, TOPO U.S
The Garmin Map 64th is the perfect hiking GPS. It is a large-screen GPS with a quad-helix antenna for added range, and as with all Garmin models, this one is rugged and built to last.
- GPS and GLONASS combined into one receiver.
- 2.6-inch sunlight readable screen. You won’t have to shield your eyes from glare with this model.
- 8 gigabytes of internal memory and an SD card slot for expanding the capacity.
- Preloaded 100K topographical maps of the US.
- One-year subscription to BirdsEye Satellite imagery.
- Includes electronic compass.
- Battery life may not be as good.
- Manual has only the most basic information.
- May occasionally offer spurious waypoints and wild odometer readings on some units.
- Comes with maps only for the US.
Garmin GPSMap 64S
The 64S from Garmin is ready to take all the punishment you can dish out. This rugged GPS will handle drops, falls and moisture with ease.
- 2.6-inch color display.
- High-sensitivity GPS and GLONASS combined. Your GPS will connect faster and more reliably than ever.
- Wireless connectivity via Bluetooth or ANT sensors.
- Three-axis compass with a barometric altimeter.
- The software could be more user-friendly.
DeLorme AG-008727-201 InReach Explorer
The InReach from DeLorme is more than just a GPS. It is a satellite receiver/transmitter.
Use it to navigate, plot waypoints, send text messages and much more. This is the best GPS for hunting, as it also offers an interactive “SOS” function.
Using this two-way functionality, you can contact the search and rescue monitoring center, GEOS
- Farthest-reaching satellite constellation of any GPS, anywhere in the world. No coverage gaps, fringe or weak signal areas.
- Two-way communication.
- Can send text messages.
- Can be paired with your mobile phone for loading of maps.
- There is a monthly cost for the use of the service associated with this unit.
- Lack of an onboard map display.
Garmin eTrex 20X
The Garmin eTrex 20X is a more advanced model of the eTrex series from Garmin reviewed above. It features an easy-to-read 240X320 pixel display and expanded memory to hold more maps while still keeping the rugged design of the earlier eTrex models.
- Can be used not only while walking but on ATVS, bicycles, cars, boats and hot air balloons making it truly versatile.
- High sensitivity.
- 2.2-inch color display.
- Worldwide base map with shaded relief.
- Best handheld GPS for backpacking.
- May have a steep learning curve for some first-time users.
- Additional maps can be expensive to purchase.
Garmin Montana 680T
The Montana 680T has a rugged design and a dual-rotation, color touch display that you can use while wearing gloves. It also features preloaded topographical maps and an eight-megapixel digital camera that can geotag pictures with coordinates.
- 4-inch, easy-to-read display.
- Tracks both GPS and GLONASS satellites.
- High sensitivity.
- Some units have altimeters that are vastly off.
Garmin eTrex 30X
The Garmin eTrex 30X is the latest Garmin handheld GPS in the eTrex series. It features a display that is vibrant and easy to read in both sunlight and darkness.
The rugged design means that it will take a beating.
- Supports geocaching and the download of GPX files straight to the unit.
- High sensitivity. Locates and maintains satellite fix even in trees and deep canyons.
- Track both GPS and GLONASS satellites simultaneously.
- Waterproof to a depth of one meter for thirty minutes.
- Topographical maps aren’t preloaded. You will need to purchase them from Garmin.
All right. Now that you have some reviews of the best handheld GPS, you may be tempted to run right out and buy one. Hold up. Put down the credit card for a second.
Before you purchase a handheld GPS, there are some things that you need to consider to ensure you aren’t left in the lurch with a unit that doesn’t fit your needs.
In this section of the article, we will discuss everything you will need to know before you plunk down your hard-earned dollars for a new GPS unit.
Types of Handheld GPS Units: Basic vs. Two-way Communication
The first thing you should consider before making a GPS purchase is what type you will need. There are several different types of GPS units that all do different things.
Not all of them will fit your needs.
Basic Handheld GPS
Handheld GPS systems are extremely portable. Most weigh only a few ounces and can easily be put into your backpack or stuck into a pants pocket.
Furthermore, most of these take regular AA batteries. This makes it a cinch to change them while you are out on the trail, hunting or backpacking.
Handheld GPS also tend to be rather rugged. Some are even water-resistant.
This means they will be able to withstand a lot of drops, bangs, or falling into the water. This GPS feature helps moving digital maps and collect several forms of data including position information and altitude.
They also mark waypoints, plot routes and save geocache information.
Some handheld GPS also feature digital cameras. This allows you to take pictures while you are on the trail that then can be labeled with your coordinates.
Two-Way Communication Systems
Most handheld GPS units are simple receivers. They cannot transmit messages or data to the satellites they are using, or to rescuers if you get lost.
However, some handhelds are two-way communication systems.
A two-way communication system not only receives data such as your position but also allows you to communicate to the outside world, including sending texts to your contacts or calling for help if you need it.
Though fitness watches are not GPS units, some do feature some basic capabilities. They are often used by runners, hikers, backpackers and some mountain guiders.
Though they are very basic, they can offer some rudimentary navigation in a pinch. However, they should not be used as a replacement for stand-alone handheld GPS units.
The second factor you must decide on when buying a handheld GPS unit is the feature set you want. These models go from basic to very high end.
Before we talk about extras, it is important to know what features come preloaded on a basic handheld GPS.
- All GPS units have the ability to upload maps.
- Every GPS has some compass functionality. The differences will be discussed below.
- A trip computer is also included on every GPS. This little gadget logs your speed and position as well as your waypoints and tracks.
- The ability to mark waypoints and create tracks is an important feature of every GPS.
- Profiles that allow you to have data presented in a way you prefer.
- Information on how many satellites are triangulating your position at a given moment.
- Calculator, alarm clock, and calendar.
- Proximity alarm to show you when you’re near a waypoint.
- Data on closest cities and points of interest.
Other Feature Considerations
Now that we have the basics out of the way, we can discuss some other feature choices you’ll need to consider when buying a GPS.
To Touch or Not to Touch
The next question to ask yourself is whether you want a touch screen or not. Most people would probably say that they want a touch screen.
However, take into account that if you are wearing gloves, most touchscreens will not work properly. This means you’ll have to take off your gloves to use your GPS unit.
For that reason, units with buttons are a better bet for most people. After all, you don’t want to have to take off your gloves when the temperature is below freezing, do you?
Type of Compass
The type of compass on your GPS is important. There are two types of compass, electronic and differential.
Electronic compasses are quicker to operate and don’t require you to move around to pinpoint your direction.
That said, the compass on a basic GPS unit is a differential. However, if you don’t plan to be in areas of low visibility, a differential compass may be all you need.
Type of Altimeter
If you are going to be hiking in the backcountry, a barometric altimeter can be a lifesaver. Not only are GPS units with them better at gathering altitude data, but they can also be used to track weather patterns, possibly saving you from getting lost in a whiteout or other low-visibility situation.
Some GPS units feature a camera. This allows you to snap photos on the go and send them to friends.
If you do this, the people you share the pictures with will be able to know exactly where you are. If you have a two-way communication system, you could send pictures of your surroundings to rescuers.
It’s also way easier to snap a picture with your GPS than to dig out your camera from the backpack.
Maybe it seems strange, but the appearance of your GPS unit is also a good thing to consider before you buy. GPS units come in all colors, styles, and sizes.
Pick the one that best fits your personality, but only after you’ve confirmed that all your other criteria are met.
Frequently Asked Questions
Even though you now have all the information you need to buy your GPS unit, it is still a good idea to check your knowledge and understanding.
If you have questions, this section may prove useful to you.
Q: What is GPS?
A: GPS stands for Global Positioning Satellite. GPS units receive signals from a constellation of satellites up in space and use that information to track your position on Earth using a process called triangulation.
Q: How do I charge a GPS unit? What kind of batteries does it take?
A: Some GPS take AA batteries which are easily changed. Some are rechargeable via a USB port on your computer.
Still another type offers the option to use either rechargeable NiMh batteries or AA batteries depending on which you have on hand.
Q: Will a cloudy day hamper the performance of my GPS?
A: No. Unlike satellite TV, GPS satellites do well during cloudy weather. However, forest canopies and buildings can all make it harder to connect to the satellites.
You may have more problems connecting if you are in very deep woods for example.
A: No. Handheld GPS are meant for hiking, backpacking, hunting and geocaching.
There is auto GPS for use in your car. If you have a smartphone, that likely has a GPS app.
If it doesn’t, there are many free ones available. Those apps make fabulous auto GPS.
GPS units can be very important for hikers, bikers, golfers and any sports enthusiast who will be out on the trail or in places where cell signal may be limited. Though a GPS will not replace a paper map and compass, it is still a vital tool that should be used in conjunction with these older forms of navigation.
There are many handheld GPS systems out there. Now that you have read this article and had a list of the best handheld GPS units, you know everything you need to know to purchase one for yourself.