If you spend a lot of time outdoors hiking, boating, camping or doing other activities which take you away from civilization, a handheld GPS is an essential gadget for convenience and safety. It can also be useful for driving if your vehicle does not already include a built-in GPS unit.
Shopping for a handheld GPS, but not yet sure what you need? In the table below, you can compare features and prices are popular and highly-rated handheld GPS models.
|Garmin GPSMAP 64st|
|Garmin Oregon 600|
|Garmin eTrex 10|
|Garmin eTrex 20x|
|Garmin eTrex 30x|
|Garmin Montana 680|
Still not ready to pick out the perfect handheld GPS? Read on to learn more about these useful devices and to identify features you need.
What is a Handheld GPS?
A handheld GPS is exactly what it sounds like; it is a device which helps you to pinpoint your exact location at any one time and which can fit in the palm of your hand or in your pocket.
GPS stands for “Global Positioning System,” and was created by the U.S. Department of Defense. Originally, GPS was only available to the military, but it is now accessible to the general public for commercial or private use.
How Does Handheld GPS Work?
GPS technology relies on a network of satellites in orbit around the Earth. These satellites are continuously transmitting information regarding their position and the time. The receiver is able to use the information from several different satellites to triangulate your exact position below. With a handheld GPS, you can always see your exact coordinates. This enables GPS to be used for precision activities like geocaching.
Questions to Ask When Shopping for a Handheld GPS
GPS models can range widely in terms of features and pricing. For that reason, before you start shopping for your first handheld GPS, you should ask yourself a few important questions:
Do you even need a handheld GPS receiver?
Before you head out and purchase handheld GPS, you should first begin by asking yourself whether you need it. A lot of people can actually get by using nothing more than their smartphone as a navigational aid. For casual occasional use, there really is no reason to go out and purchase a separate device. If however you will be using your GPS a lot or under harsh conditions (as in the backcountry), a GPS app on your smartphone simply isn’t going to cut it. You need a more durable device with longer battery life and more features, which makes a standalone GPS a worthy purchase.
What will you use your GPS for?
There are so many different applications. GPS can be handy in your car, it is also great for a whole score of outdoor activities: cycling, running, hiking, skiing, climbing and much more. There are also specialized activities which require GPS such as geocaching. Different uses require different features. For example, if all you are going to be doing with your GPS is driving, you do not need specialized bells and whistles for geocaching.
Do you need a lot of bells and whistles?
On that note, there are an abundance of different optional features included with the more upscale models of GPS. You will have to decide whether these additional features are worth a higher price.
What kind of battery life do you need?
One drawback of extra bells and whistles is that they tend to chew up power. If you plan on taking your GPS receiver out on backpacking trips, you may decide that longer battery life is more important than certain extra features.
What types of maps do you need?
Different GPS devices come preloaded with different types of maps; examples include topographical maps, street maps and nautical charts. You can also download additional maps from the web or purchase them on an SD card or DVD-ROM. Pay close attention not only to the type of map, but also the scale of the map. Make sure that you get the level of detail that you need.
What type of mapping software do you require?
This is related to the question above. Handheld GPS units typically come with one of three different types of mapping software: proprietary mapping software, third-party mapping software or waypoint management software. It is best to study the features of each of these types of mapping software in-depth before you decide on a receiver to purchase.
What kind of memory do you need?
This depends on how you will be using your GPS. If you are going to be storing a lot of routes, or you are going to be taking pictures, then you probably should look for a device which offers you plenty of storage space. Otherwise, you may not need as much. Note that your data will be held in flash memory, which means that even if you have to change your batteries while you were out in the field, your data will stay protected.
Features and Add-Ons to Look For When Shopping for a Handheld GPS
As with any other device that you use often, ease-of-use is important to look for. Some models even allow you to customize your menus.
Most GPS receivers include color screens, but some are black and white, which reduces their cost. It is much easier to read maps on a color display.
If you will need to store a large amount of map data, routes and waypoints, then you will want to look for a device with a high memory capacity.
Additional navigational aids
Some more advanced models of GPS include additional navigational aids such as a barometric altimeter (which can tell you your altitude) and an electronic compass (which can tell you which direction you’re facing).
Additional sensitivity tools
If you want the best reception, you can purchase a model which features a high-sensitivity chipset and a quadrifilar helix antenna. You may find these features helpful if you will be using your GPS in particularly remote locations.
Extra bells and whistles
Some higher-end GPS receivers include support for mapping software, wireless data transfer, a digital camera, or even a two-way radio fully integrated. As these features can increase price while draining your battery, we recommend you only purchase a device with these extras if you really need them.
If you do a lot of geocaching, you might want to consider a handheld GPS which can download all the data and display it for you. This prevents you from having to print it out or write it down by hand. Ultimately, it will save you a lot of time.
Look for a receiver which will offer you long battery life, or even the option to choose between rechargeable and disposable batteries. If you require a device which includes power-draining extras, remember to disable those features when they are not in use. This will prolong your battery life.
Now you should be ready to shop for a handheld GPS receiver. Think about the features which are most important to you, then scroll back up to the top of the page to check out our comparison chart for top products.
Garmin eTrex 10 (Base Model): Perfect Bargain GPS Unit for Hikers
The eTrex 10 was definitely designed with hikers in mind. Its batteries are super efficient and its lightweight body and small size won’t weigh you down on the trail.
- Excellent value. The Garmin eTrex 10 is very reasonably priced, yet it also offers a range of impressive features.
- Fast performance. You can grab your GPS position in just a few seconds with this device.
- Energy efficient. The eTrex 10 only requires 45 milliamps of electricity to operate.
- Comprehensive map. The eTrex 10’s map offers even more detail than the New York Times Atlas of the World.
- Super accurate. If you have trouble getting an accurate GPS reading, just activate WAAS and GLONASS to get a super accurate position.
- Lightweight and durable. This unit won’t bust apart or crack if you ding it or drop it.
- Small size. Measuring in at just 1.3 x 4 x 2.1 inches, the eTrex 10 won’t take up a whole lot of room in your backpack.
- The eTrex 10’s functional but very old school black and white screen is a bit of a turn off.
- There’s no way to load a map onto this device. However, you can export your waypoints to Google Maps.
Garmin GPSMAP 64st: the Hunter’s Helper
The GPSMAP 64st can grab a GPS signal in the most remote locations. Also, the screen looks sharp in both sunlight and low light environments. It also has a nifty built-in hunting/fishing calendar.
- Good for hunting in cold weather. Thanks to its button-centric interface, it’s easy to operate the GPSMAP 64st while wearing winter gloves.
- Screen looks good in low light. The 64st’s screen looks good in both direct sunlight and low light conditions.
- Excellent battery life. You can get up to 16 hours of intense use out of a single charge, which is more than enough to get you through an all day hunt.
- The map is super detailed. Even small country roads appear on the map.
- Built-in hunting/fishing calendar. If you’re unsure about the beginning of hunting or fishing season, just check the calendar.
- Great signal strength. The 64st has no trouble grabbing a GPS position in dense forest environments.
- Surprisingly accurate. Some handheld GPS units only give you an approximate location, but the 64st is always on point.
- The 64st’s small screen packs a lot of info into a small space, but it’s not for everyone.
- The menu system is more cumbersome than it needs to be. You often have to go click through several menus just to perform one simple task.
Garmin eTrex 30x: Small, Yet Packed Full of Features
Don’t be fooled by the eTrex 30x’s tiny size. This diminutive device brings a lot to the table: awesome reception, loads of internal memory, wireless data transmission, microSD compatibility and more.
- MicroSD compatible. The 32GB capacity MicroSD slot makes it easy to find and download maps using your computer.
- Small size. The eTrex 30x is super light and small enough to fit in the palm of your hand.
- Long battery life. You can easily get 24 hours of continuous operation out of a single charge.
- Survives water immersion. eTrex 30x can survive for up to 30 minutes underwater.
- Great reception. Even a thick canopy of trees won’t prevent you from getting a GPS position.
- Lots of internal memory. If you don’t have a MicroSD card, you can use the eTrex 30x’s 4 GB of built-in memory instead.
- Wireless data transmission. Press send to transmit info to any compatible Garmin electronic device.
- The eTrex 30x’s interface is sometimes a bit clumsy. In particular, it’s hard to change your route if you don’t like the one the computer comes up with.
- The buttons are tiny, stiff and hard to push, especially if you’re wearing gloves.
Garmin eTrex 20x
The biggest improvement in this version of Garmin’s eTrex is its display. Measuring in at 2.2 inches, eTrex’s screen is much bigger and brighter than it used to be. Also, the eTrex’s data storage capacity has grown as well. Now it’s got 3.7 gigs of internal storage plus a SD card expansion slot, giving you the ability to save very large, detailed map files.
- Super display. The eTrex 20x’s great looking 240×320, 2.2 inch screen is a massive upgrade.
- Tons of memory. With 3.7 GB of built-in storage and a microSD expansion slot, you’ll have enough space to download all the maps you could ever want or need.
- Pinpoint accuracy. With HotFix and GLONASS support included, you’ll be able to get a GPS fix from virtually anywhere on the planet.
- Rugged rubber shell. The eTrex 20x’s tough exterior allows it to survive accidents that would cause other GPS units to crack open.
- Read geocache hints. Unlike some older handheld GPS units, this one can read and open geocache GPX files.
- Free software. The latest version of eTrex is still compatible with the popular free trip planning software known as BaseCamp.
- Batteries included. With its preloaded map and bonus set of batteries, eTrex 20x is ready to use right out of the box.
- Garmin updated the eTrex 20x with lots of new hardware, but its clunky, user unfriendly menus are still pretty much the same.