Do you what’s the most dangerous mistake in outdoor actives like hiking? It’s not knowing your way back. Without right equipment and knowledge, most people may forget the path in the wild. A GPS device and knowing how to operate it would be your best companion in any outdoor activities in new terrains. Here are 10 Best Handheld GPS units and Buying Guide to choosing the best one suitable for you.
- 1 Best 10 Handheld GPS Units Reviews 2018
- 1.1 Garmin GPSMAP 64s – Editor’s Choice
- 1.2 Garmin Oregon 750t – Touchscreen
- 1.3 Garmin eTrex 20x – Budget Option
- 1.4 Garmin inReach Explorer+ – Text Messaging & SOS
- 1.5 Garmin Rino 750 – 2-way Radio
- 1.6 Garmin eTrex 10 – Simple GPS Unit
- 1.7 Garmin Monterra – Most Advanced
- 1.8 Garmin eTrex Touch 35
- 1.9 Bushnell BackTrack G2
- 1.10 Garmin Foretrex 401 – Wrist Model
- 2 Handheld GPS Unit Buying Guide 2018
Best 10 Handheld GPS Units Reviews 2018
Garmin GPSMAP 64s – Editor’s Choice
Garmin GPSMAP 64s is our top pick of the all other GPS units because of its reliability. 64S is not just good at positioning even in thick forest and deep canyons. Making it the most accurate handheld GPS tracker and also functions perfectly at freezing temperatures and in heavy rainfall. The next big factor other than reliability is its affordability as the price range is very decent compared to other GPS systems. The other important features to discuss about the 64s is it comes with barometric altimeter & electric compass. Mobile compatible Basemap allows you to organize and plan your trips and with Bluetooth, you can share your data with other devices. You can also connect the device with your smartphone to receive notifications directly on the unit.
GPSMAP 64S is also IPX7 water resistant which means it works even after being in the water at 1-meter depth for 30 minutes. The unit works with only AA batteries for up to 16 hours on one full charge, not able to use rechargeable is one major negative. 2.6” color display is sunlight readable which allows you to use comfortably. The 1-year free BirdsEye subscription provides you with much more detailed maps for your hiking or adventures trips. With an inbuilt memory of 4 GB and expandable memory of up to 64GB allows you to upload huge data of maps from a computer.
Garmin GPSMAP 64s is chosen as the best handheld GPS tracker because it comes with most required features, reliability, high-quality build and all of that at an affordable price. It could be used for almost all outdoor activities from hiking, cycling, skiing, motorbike, cycling, fishing and geocaching.
Other Models in the Series:
Garmin GPSMAP 64st – Comes with Preloaded TOPO 100k US maps. (Not preferred as they are not detailed and you could upload 24k maps on 64s for free).
Garmin GPSMAP 64sc – Added 8MP Camera with flash and automatic geotagging, also expensive.
- Quick Positioning.
- Best for freezing temperatures.
- IPX7 Water resistant.
- Share wireless & Smart Notifications.
- Basemap not so useful.
- Can’t use rechargeable batteries.
- Large & Heavy at 8.1 oz.
Garmin Oregon 750t – Touchscreen
Oregon 750t comes with a 2” sunlight readable multi-touch display and a camera with flash. The best part where the touchscreen is more useful than buttoned GPS units is functionality. It’s easier to use with a touchscreen as we can access options very easily. With the touchscreen, companies could provide more complex and useful applications that are not possible in the normal units. The device had dual orientation for portrait and landscape mode making easy to operate.
Coming to other features the GPS positioning uses GPS+GLONASS for more accurate positioning similar to many Garmin GPS models. Camera is a very useful feature allowing you to take pictures for waypoints and you can share them along with waypoints with other devices over the Bluetooth or ANT+.
Oregon 650t had one additional feature than Oregon 650 which is preloaded TOPO 100k maps for US or Canada which makes it easy if you are not so tech savvy. Although we prefer you to buy Oregon 650 as the maps are not so detailed or routable, instead, you could upload 24K maps from PC which are more detailed and free. Oregon 650t GPS unit comes with 4GB internal memory which could be extended with micro SD card.
It also comes with an electric compass and barometric altimeter making it best GPS tracker for hiking. We can use either two AA batteries or rechargeable lithium batteries and they work for up to 16 hours. Batteries are not provided with Oregon unit and if you have bought rechargeable batteries then you can charge them even when inside the device.
Oregon 750 comes without TOPO 100k US or Canada maps.
Oregon 700 is a base model that doesn’t have a camera and TOPO 100k US or Canada maps.
- Multi-Touch sunlight readable color display.
- Easy to use and customize.
- 8MP camera.
- Good battery life.
- Share wirelessly.
- TOPO 24k maps are much useful.
- Don’t work well in cold temperatures.
- Sensitive touchscreen.
Garmin eTrex 20x – Budget Option
Garmin eTrex 20x is the most affordable option with good no of features required for a GPS unit. The unit comes with 2.2” sunlight readable color display and it’s very compact in size and light in weight. This device not only uses GPS for positioning but also uses GLONASS for much more accurate positioning even in dense forests. With an internal memory of 3.7 GB users could upload a good number of maps on to the device and if additional memory is required you can add a micro SD card. Automatic routing provides turn by turn directions, provided detailed maps like TOPO 24K maps. Paperless geocaching allows you to find unlimited fun wherever you go. By connecting to BaseCamp software you can plan your next trip with routes, tracks and waypoints. The unit works on 2 AA batteries which could provide power for almost 25 hours highest in the range. IPX7 water resistance allows the device to run even in water for 1-meter depth for more than 30 minutes.
Overall for the price you are paying no other device or brand could provide you a GPS unit with all the features you will be getting on a Garmin eTrex 20x. So, if you are on a budget and doesn’t go out to trips or outdoor sports much then Garmin eTrex 20x is the best handheld GPS under 200 dollars. Garmin eTrex 20x is one of the most preferred as hiking GPS device.
- Low Price tag.
- Compact and lightweight.
- GPS + GLONASS reception
- Expandable memory.
- Ability to upload maps.
- IPX7 waterproof.
- 25hrs battery life.
- Only 2.2” screen.
- No 3-axis compass, barometric altimeter sensors.
- Only AA batteries compatibility.
Garmin inReach Explorer+ – Text Messaging & SOS
Do you have someone back home who is worrying about your adventures or you feel having an option to send messages or alert emergency services while hiking in the middle of a forest? If so then you must know about Garmin inReach Explorer+. This advanced and lifesaving GPS system will send messages to your loved ones or alert emergency services with a dedicated SOS button.
Garmin inReach Explorer+ uses a network of satellites similar to GPS called Iridium which provides 100% global coverage to send or receive messages. SOS button will send your location to GEOS an organization that receives emergency SOS messages and alerts the nearest rescue authorities to help you 24/7 anywhere on the globe.
Display is 2.3inch transflective color TFT display, Users can pair with smartphones or tablets with Bluetooth and sync data or upload more data through its apps, use all the features on inReach device directly on the smartphone which has much easier functionality. It also comes with a digital compass, barometric altimeter sensors with full-fledged GPS compatibility on par with other Garmin GPS units. The device is also IPX7 water resistant, it comes with an internal rechargeable Lithium battery and battery life of the devices is exponential with 100 hrs at default mode and up to 30 days on power saving mode, which is 4 to 5X more than most of the Garmin handheld GPS units.
With Garmin inReach Explorer+ in hand your family and loved ones would have peace of mind knowing you are safe. We would say it is a must have for frequent adventures especially for those who go on dangerous and long trips. The combination of communication and navigation can’t be seen in any other devices. Also you need to get a subscription for the messaging and SOS to work, click here.
Garmin inReach SE+ had similar features like inReach Explorer+ except it doesn’t have preloaded TOPO maps which are available for free and barometric altimeter and electric compass sensors.
- Send and receive messages.
- Dedicated SOS button.
- GPS positioning.
- 100 hours’ battery life.
- Must have a subscription plan.
- Difficulty in typing.
Garmin Rino 750 – 2-way Radio
Garmin Rino 750 is a two-way radio communicator by voice and text messaging with other Rino devices for up to 20 miles. Ability to communicate is very useful for outdoor activities like when hunting in teams. Also, Rino not only sends your messages but also share your location with other devices in the channel.
The 3” sunlight-readable touchscreen is very comfortable to use even in broad daylight. GPS+GLONASS satellite reception provides very accurate location and the display had dual orientation like your smartphone. 3-axis compass & barometric altimeter sensors provide you with more useful information. With dual battery systems, you can use AA batteries for up to 18 hours or lithium-ion battery pack for up to 14 hours. Built-in NOAA weather radio supports Specific Area Message Encoding which means Rino 750 will receive weather alerts for the area.
Users can share your data wireless with Bluetooth with suitable devices, also receive notifications when connected to Smartphone with Smart Notifications. Availability of 1.7GB internal storage allows you to upload more maps like TOPO 24K maps, also users can expand memory with micro SD for up to 64GB.
Garmin Rino 750 GPS + Radio communicator is a unique device and buy one if you think it is needed for your outdoor activities. This is best handheld GPS for hunting in groups. We don’t recommend this product to everyone as it is very expensive and at this price, you could get much better GPS units without radio communication.
Garmin Rino 755t comes with additional 8 MP camera and preloaded TOPO 100k maps for US & Canada.
- Communicate with voice & text.
- 20 miles’ communication range.
- GPS+GLONASS reception.
- Dual battery system.
- NOAA weather radio support.
- Effects GPS of nearby smartphones.
- Only 14hours battery life.
Garmin eTrex 10 – Simple GPS Unit
Garmin eTrex 10 that costs less than 100$ is one of the simplest handheld GPS unit that’s good for few outdoor activities. 2.2” monochrome display reminds you of the old Nokia phones but easy to use. GPS + GLONASS combination for positioning and navigation is 20% faster than using GPS alone and the positioning quality is on par with high-end units. With 2 AA batteries, it could work for 20 hours non-stop and starts where you have left after replacing batteries. The unit had IPX7 rating which means it can stay in 1-meter depth water for almost 30 minutes. Adventurers could save up to 1000 waypoints, 50 routes, & 100 saved tracks. Paperless geocaching provides you with unlimited fun on your trips and outdoor activities.
Overall it is good starters, small outdoor actives like cycling, geocaching or when going on a trip ingroup and want to be secure. Garmin eTrex 10 is the best GPS tracker if it suits your requirement.
Other Models in the Series:
Garmin eTrex 20x: This model is similar but comes with a color display which provides you ability to see real maps.
Garmin eTrex 30x: eTrex 30x is the much-advanced device when compared with eTrex 10x as it comes with an electric compass, barometric altimeter sensors, and wireless features.
Garmin eTrex Touch 35: This device has all the features of eTrex 30x with an added touchscreen on a larger display.
- Sunlight readable screen.
- High quality build for outdoor.
- IPX7 water rating.
- Good battery life.
- Quick positioning with GPS + GLONASS.
- Unable to add maps.
- Tiny B&W screen.
- Can’t see maps just routes.
Garmin Monterra – Most Advanced
Garmin Monterra advanced GPS unit you could ever find; it comes with Android OS which makes it the easiest to use GPS unit. The ability to add apps on to your handheld GPS provides more possibilities to use. If you find any app that could make your trip easier then you can install it just like on your smartphone. The Android OS in the unit may be much older than present Android versions but it is way better than what in-built Garmin OS could provide. You can find plenty of GPS apps for smartphones for outdoor activities apps here.
Now let’s talk about features other than OS, the 4’ sunlight readable multi-touch screen display make it easy to use the device. GPS + GLONASS satellite reception provides 20% quicker positioning and had IPX7 water rating. 3d Map Merge allows you to merge different maps, for example, if you had Birdseye subscription you could combine it with maps in device for more details. The dual battery system helps to use 3 AA batteries or Lithium-ion battery pack and work for up to 22 hours. You can expand the memory of the device to up to 64GB with micro-SD along with up to 6 GB internal memory. Monterra comes with preloaded TOPO 100K maps which are actually not so useful when compared with TOPO 24K maps which are much detailed and available on the internet for free.
The camera is another modern feature in the Monterra, the 8MP camera allows you to take photos directly on the unit. Users can add a photo to the waypoints, and make them memorable to watch when you complete the trip. The 1080P HD video recording is not available in any other GPS units. Navigation sensors include the barometric altimeter and 3-axis compass and an additional UV sensor for sun damage. Wireless sharing and smart notifications when connected to your smartphone.
If you are a heavy GPS user and would like to take advantage of Android OS and large screen GPS by adding helpful apps, then this is a good option. The features in Monterra GPS unit are very advanced and much more than you could find in a normal GPS unit.
- Android OS.
- 3D map merge.
- 4” Multi-touchscreen display.
- Easy to use OS.
- 8MP camera with 1080P video.
- Good Battery life.
- Very Old Android OS.
Garmin eTrex Touch 35 is similar to eTrex 30x with added touchscreen display which makes it easy to use. The 2.6” touchscreen display is not only easy to use but also readable in sunlight. Satellite positioning is very good with the dual reception from both GPS and GLONASS. Navigation sensors include an electric compass for quick directions and barometric altimeter for elevation calibration.
This GPS unit is very well built to sustain drops, pressure and even water as it had IPX7 water rating. It works using 2 AA batteries for up to 16 hours and had 4 GB of internal memory for uploading maps to the device. Users can save 4000 waypoints, 200 routes and 200 tracks which are essential for long trips. Wireless sharing allows you to share data like waypoints, and tracks easily with compatible Garmin GPS devices. By connecting to your smartphone you can receive notifications directly on the GPS unit eliminating to open your smartphone frequently.
Garmin eTrex Touch 35 is best for people who don’t like to use buttons or need an easy to use GPS unit with a modest price tag. It comes with all the necessary features one needs for their outdoor activities and adventures.
- GPS + GLONASS reception.
- IPX 7 Water rating.
- Easy to use & read touchscreen.
- 4 GB internal memory.
- Wireless sharing & Smart Notifications.
- Bad resolution.
- Only 16hrs battery life.
Bushnell Backtrack G2 is a simple handheld GPS that shows directions to a predefined location. This device is mainly useful for city navigation where you could forget directions to your hotel, parking lot, and similar. It can store up to 3 locations and shows you the direction with an arrow mark on the screen to the location you need.
Bushnell BackTrack G2 is the only device on our list that isn’t a Garmin and also doesn’t expect it to be a Garmin alternative. The device is very compact and light in weight and can carry in your pocket. It works with 2 AAA batteries and also water resistant.
This is a very simple, low cost and best handheld GPS and doesn’t have many useful features if you think the device satisfies your needs then go for it.
- Compact and lightweight.
- Easy to use.
- Water resistant.
- Only three locations storage.
- Limited usage.
Garmin Foretrex 401 – Wrist Model
Garmin Foretrex 401 is another GPS unit from Garmin which is not so features and had a tiny 1.6” display in black & white. However, it had very useful features for your outdoor activities like point to point navigation, electric compass & barometric altimeter sensors. Real-time breadcrumb trail allows you to find the route to your camp or starting point, & users can save up to 500 waypoints, 20 routes & 10,000 points. The heart rate monitor feature isn’t available with any other similar Garmin devices and helps with your fitness.
Foretrex 401 can send and receive data like waypoints, & routes with other Garmin devices that have wireless technology. Trip computer helps you with tracking distance, elevation, average speed and much more data. The 2 AAA batteries provide up to 17 hours of power for the device and ability to off GPS extends the battery life.
It’s a good device to use for cycling, hiking, and other outdoor actives and going on trips as a group. This device is not preferred for heavy users, solo and dangerous trips as you could find much more advanced units. However, it would do all the provided functions perfectly and used even for serious trips if you know what you are doing.
- Electric compass & barometric altimeter.
- Real-time breadcrumb trail.
- Heart rate monitor.
- Trip computer.
- Doesn’t show maps.
- Tiny screen.
Handheld GPS Unit Buying Guide 2018
GPS devices are essential for people going on adventures like hiking, skiing, cycling, fishing, and hunting. There are a lot of features and advantages to know in GPS devices and everyone buying a new GPS unit need to know them. So, we have written this Handheld GPS Buying Guide to provide you more information and features of handheld GPS.
GPS vs Map & Compass:
One thing I don’t like the most about electronics or software is they trouble me many times when I need them the most. Handheld GPS devices are just like any other electronics that could run out of power, get broken or worse just malfunction. If that happens to you when you are in the middle of a nowhere alone, you would probably get stuck there until someone finds you. So having and knowing how to use a map and compass is very essential. Especially when you are in a dangerous terrain or small group. So, there is no “Vs” between GPS and Map & Compass just a combination of both and they don’t weigh much.
Handheld GPS vs Smartphones Vs GPS Watches:
Handheld GPS, Smartphone including GPS watches the reliability by handheld GPS outweigh the smartphones or watches. This is because handheld GPS is made specifically for outdoor use like hunting, hiking, fishing and similar outdoor usage. Smartphones when running GPS and internet consumes a lot of battery and wouldn’t last more than half a day. GPS watches are too tiny and work best with the combination of smartphones. There are very few GPS watches that are similar to GPS units with good features. If you are not planning to go deep wild and vast inhabitant places, then your smartphone would suffice. Also, I would always carry a power bank and a map and compass as an insurance. Overall it depends on why you need a GPS device, if for hiking, hunting, fishing, and skiing then handheld GPS units are preferred. However, for running, exercises, activity tracking, and minor adventures Smartphones and GPS watches are sufficient.
Handheld GPS Features:
- Battery Life and Type
- Compass type
- Route Planner & Waypoints
- Trip Computers
- Built-in Memory
- Build Quality
- Camera and media
- Mapping Software
- Proximity Alarm
- Area Calculators
- Stop Watch
- Tidal Data
- Wireless Sharing & Smart Notifications
Buttons or Touch Screen:
Both buttoned and touchscreen GPS units have their advantages and disadvantages. One major advantage touch screen had over buttoned GPS units is they can be operated pretty fast. However, the disadvantages are plenty they drain the battery fast, could freeze in rainy and cold weather, hard to operate with gloves and are expensive. Also, don’t expect the touchscreen quality like your iPhone as they are old tech except for a few models. On the other hand, buttoned GPS units are well tested over the years and are as tough and reliable as old Nokia Phones. If you are going to use them in temperate and normal regions you could opt for touch screen units but if you are going to a cold or rainy place, then buttoned units are preferred.
Battery Life & Type:
Most of the GPS units have a battery life of 16hr to 25hrs depending on the model of the unit and battery type. Garmin inReach Explorer+ with 100 hours battery life on normal mode is the highest in a GPS device and can go as high as 30 days in power saving mode.
Even though AA batteries are the most commonly used in GPS unit’s new models are coming with Li-ion batteries or models that work with both. While both have their pros and cons if the place you are going could provide electricity then rechargeable Li-ion batteries are preferred. Use AA batteries if you are unable to recharge Li-ion batteries. Even if you use Li-ion batteries have a set of AA batteries as a backup. Get a solar panel if the region gets good sunlight.
Electronic or Differential Compass:
The only difference between an electric compass and differential compass is electric compass doesn’t need to be moved or rotated to get the direction. Differential compass needs to be moved and place horizontally to get the direction. Well, the electric compass is definitely better one but that doesn’t mean you need to have it. It is an advantage for only a few occasions where you wouldn’t be able to move like on the edge of a cliff. If you aren’t a heavy traveler or hiker, then this isn’t a concern to you.
Share Wireless & Smart Notifications:
As with any electronics with advancements in technology more features would be added with the same comfort. Wireless location sharing and smart notifications are two of the features seen in the latest GPS models. Wireless location sharing is useful to share waypoints and other similar information among the friends or with guides. You can send the location to your smartphone and share it with others and let them know your precise location.
Smart notification allows you to see your mobile notifications directly on your handheld GPS unit. This way you never miss a notification on your smartphone or take it out frequently. This is a very helpful feature for many people and saves a lot of energy.
Proximity alarm could be a lifesaving feature if you are venturing into a wild or rocky territory or climbing a mountain where life-threatening is high. You can create a geofence in the GPS unit and whenever you are outside the area it will alert you.
Trip computer saves various types of data like your speed, distance, traveled, time taken, change in altitude and much more. This way it could guide you to your destination or the next waypoint.
Messaging & SOS:
Sending a text message to your family & friends on a long tour in the wild could be relaxing for you & your family knowing you are safe. Garmin inReach devices are the only GPS devices with this feature and they use a constellation of satellites called Iridium similar to GPS. These satellites connect with the device and allow you to send a message when you need along with your location.
SOS is another safety feature available in Garmin inReach devices which lets you send a distress call. GEOS an organization that receives SOS messages with your location and sends a team to rescue you by contacting nearest emergency center.
2-way radio is a feature that allows you to connect two GPS devices through radio frequency and send voice & text messages. This feature is helpful for people hunting in groups, & other outdoor activities. Garmin Rino devices are the only model that comes with 2-way radio feature allowing you to connect for up to 20 miles radius.
Camera & Media:
Having a camera with a GPS unit is a good advantage especially for people like guides and tourist companies who take people for trips. With a camera, users can take the pictures of waypoints and share it with others on the trip. This way other would know they are on the right path. This is also very helpful for land and scientific surveyors where they require media as a proof and to store the correct information. If you are a traveler and adventurer you can document most of your journey by taking photos and recording voice. You can also check all the adventures and enjoy them after you complete your journey. Overall it is a very good feature for anyone who needs to take pictures or if you are okay with shelling more money.
Maps Preload or Add later:
Garmin the leader in the handheld GPS systems had many models with different features and specs. Preloaded Maps is one feature seen in models that end with a “t”, preloaded maps have a huge collection of maps. Of course, it comes with an extra 50 bucks when compared with a similar model without preloaded maps. However, it is an advantage only when you have changed plans or sudden plans. Otherwise, it isn’t much of a helpful feature as the free options like Google Earth, GPS File Depot allows you to upload maps whenever needed and they are much more detailed on the terrain. Finally, you can add maps for free that are provided by Garmin or any other company, so skip it and save the amount. Also always choose GPS unit that had the option to add maps later, there are some old and low budget units without this feature.