Best Handheld GPS of 2018

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 64stGarmin GPSMAP 64stCheck Price on Amazon
Garmin Foretrex 401Garmin Foretrex 401Check Price on Amazon
Garmin Oregon 600Garmin Oregon 600Check Price on Amazon
Garmin eTrex 30xGarmin eTrex 30xCheck Price on Amazon
Garmin eTrex 20xGarmin eTrex 20xCheck Price on Amazon
Garmin eTrex 10Garmin eTrex 10Check Price on Amazon

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.

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.

Recommended Features For Handheld GPS

Ease-of-use

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.

Color display

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.

Memory

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.

Geocaching features

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.

Battery life

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 GPSMAP 64st: the Hunter’s Helper

Garmin GPSMAP 64stThe 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

  • 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.

Bad

  • 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.
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Garmin Foretrex 401: the Soldier’s Choice

Garmin Foretrex 401The Garmin Foretrex 401 is one of the only GPS units out there capable of withstanding desert dust. That’s why more than a few US soldiers that have spent time in the middle east have given it awesome reviews.

Good

  • Incredibly tough. The Foretrex 401 resists massive temperature changes and dust better than any other GPS unit on the market today.
  • Tracks elevation changes. This unit’s elevation tracker allows you to get a more realistic picture of your journey.
  • BaseCamp / Google Maps compatible. Upload your waypoints to Google Maps once your journey is over to see exactly where you went.
  • No dropped signals. In addition to being tougher than most GPS units, the Foretrex 401 is also more reliable.
  • Small size. The Foretrex 401’s wristband allows you to take this GPS unit with you wherever you go.
  • Great battery life. You can get 20 hours of usage or more, depending on your settings.
  • No need to install extra software. The Foretrex 401 functions like a USB hard drive, which makes it very easy to access the files you need without the aid of extra software.

Bad

  • The manual is not well written. The wording is often unclear and typos are littered throughout.
  • If you have especially thick wrists, you may have a problem with the Foretrex 401’s wristband. It is not adjustable.
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Garmin Oregon 600: Super Easy to Use

Garmin Oregon 600Garmin is known for its intuitive GPS devices, but the Oregon 600 is especially uncomplicated. Many GPS units require you to sift through complicated menus, but with the Oregon 600 you can navigate with ease.

Good

  • Excellent reception. It only takes a few seconds for the Oregon 600 to grab your GPS position.
  • The display is easy to read. This device looks equally good at night and in direct sunlight.
  • Intuitive interface. Even if you’re not familiar with how GPS devices work, you’ll be able to figure the Oregon 600 in a matter of minutes.
  • USB charging compatible. You can charge this helmet using any USB compatible connection cord.
  • Fast scrolling. No lagging, skipping or stuttering.
  • Free maps are available. This helmet is 100% GPS File Depot compatible.
  • MicroSD compatible. The microSD slot accepts 32GB microSD cards, which is enough room to store a very large collection of maps.

Bad

  • The Garmin Oregon 600’s manual is confusing. It has very few pictures and the instructions are not worded very clearly.
  • The software is buggy and crashes often. The trip computer is probably the worst offender because it crashes before after and during almost every trip.
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Garmin eTrex 30x: Small, Yet Packed Full of Features

Garmin eTrex 30xDon’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.

Good

  • 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.

Bad

  • 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.
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