So you’re considering the idea of heading into the backcountry for a good old hike, but have you got the best handheld GPS?
Say what you want, but having proper navigational tools can mean the difference between a rocking story to tell and an epic disaster you never want to repeat.
In this post, we’ll show you what the best handheld GPS looks like, and we’ll show you why you need it in your life. We’ll also provide you with a buyer’s guide so that you’ll be able to make a properly informed decision when you’re out purchasing a trekking GPS.Simply put, handheld GPS devices are superior when it comes to recording tracks, finding the geocache, and route finding. They’re also the leaders in their class as far as durability and ruggedness are concerned.
|Garmin GPSMAP 64s||5.0||$$|
|Garmin Oregon 600||3.9||$|
|Garmin eTrex 20x||3.7||$$|
|Garmin Montana 610||3.9||$$$|
Buying Guide: What to Keep In Mind When Purchasing Handheld GPS Devices
While handheld GPS devices will probably never replace the good old map and compass, they do a rocking job at navigating hikers through the toughest and wildest terrains on earth. Some of the sport watches and apps galore, while others are baseline models, offering you pure navigational assistance. In this section, we’ll be showing you what you need to keep in mind before making the final buying call.
Do You Want Touch Screen or a Buttoned-GPS?
Touchscreen GPS units have become somewhat of a trend these days, and it’s not hard to understand why with the world in smartphone frenzy and all. GPS devices that have touch screens are smart devices, they’re intuitive, easy to use, and they can be operated in either landscape or portrait orientations.
Even with modern technological advances, some of the best GPS’s for trekking remain the golden oldie style models, the ones that feature buttons.
Well, because smart-GPS devices are nowhere near as smart as the latest iPhone, which means they don’t offer consistency, and they often can’t stand up to the worst weather situations. Also, who wants to battle with a touchscreen if it means removing your gloves every time before you map a new route?
The other thing that you’ll have to keep in mind is the matter of bulk. That’s something that buttons definitely do add to the picture, and it’s not necessarily something you’ll love dealing with.
Buttons are best for folks that need to navigate quickly between screens, and folks that often hike in colder weather. Touch screens – more importantly, the ones that have adjustable sensitivity settings – are best for hikers that prefer high-tech gadgets, something which will allow them to do everything with just one piece of gear.
How Big of a Screen Will You Need?
Screen size and readability is a major determining factor which you will need to consider before purchasing a handheld GPS. Newer models tend to have larger screens and much better readability than some of the older models. Backpackers will need something light and easy to use, something like the Garmin eTrex 20X, but fishers and hunters, who need to see clear detail, those folks need larger screens, sported on GPS devices such as the Garmin Oregon 600.
Remember to keep the screen brightness in mind, not forgetting about readability in direct sunlight. Most new handheld GPS’s come with anti-glare screens, though, and they also boast powerful backlights and contrasts which make readability in sunlight very good.
Different Types of GPS Receivers
There once was a time where GPS devices were compatible with any GPS satellite. Not anymore.
Garmin GPS units for instance work with GLONASS satellite systems. This type of satellite improves the unit’s performance, even throughout the heaviest cover, and accuracy is always impeccable if you’re in the northern hemisphere.
Then there are also units which work with WAAS-enabled receivers, Wide Angle Augmentation Systems. These satellites were originally designed for the aviation industry to make up for the problems they often encountered with their GPS systems. WAAS comprises of various satellites and ground-based stations to ensure accuracy and efficacy of the device.
Do You Need a Unit With Maps, or Will You Purchase Them Later?
Most modern handheld GPS units come with the option of purchasing them with preloaded 100k maps. These units cost more than the ones without preloaded maps, and the honest truth is that you can skip right past them.
You can simply go ahead and purchase the maps you’ll need and they upload them to your device via your computer. There are even various free maps online which you can use. You’ll probably prefer the more detailed 24k maps in any way, which should make the choice effortless for you.
Consider Battery Types and Life
Most GPS devices (the handheld type in anyway used to run on standard AA batteries, but that’s not the case anymore. The great thing about the older battery preference was that it was cheap to maintain, they had good battery life, and they could be swapped out when they ran out.
The problem was this: AA batteries weren’t reliable for anything more than a day’s worth of hiking. They required extra batteries, which weighed more and meant more fuss.
Luckily most GPS manufacturers have looked to the future, and they have instead turned to the good rep and reliability that lies in rechargeable batteries as an alternative.
The great thing about rechargeable batteries is that they can be charged while you’re on the go. All you need is a solar panel and a charger, and you’re good to go. The downside to lithium-ion batteries is that they’re a lot more expensive than their AA counterparts, but their functionality just makes so much sense.
Learn the GPS ABC’s
Your handheld GPS’s Altimeter, Barometer, and Compass are the ABC’s we’re referring to here. Most GPS devices that cost in excess of $250 sport barometric altimeters as well as 3-axis compasses. Electronic compasses allow you to read directions no matter which way you’re holding the device, which is much more user-friendly than standard compasses which have to be read held a certain way.
How Heavy and Big Are You Willing to Go?
The screen size of your GPS will probably correspond with its size and weight. The smaller the device, the smaller the screen and the lighter the unit, and vice-versa. Consider what you have in mind for your handheld GPS as this should dictate what size and weight you’d be comfortable with.
What About Media Options?
Some GPS units come with media features such as a camera, microphone, and even voice recorders. These media applications can be used to make your journey that much more memorable, plus it can also be used to share your location with friends, which is great if you have overly-concerned family members.
GPS Units & Wireless Sharing
The top-notch handheld GPS’s out there have amazing sharing features, not to mention smart notifications. They come rigged with Bluetooth tech, complete with receivers that will send track and waypoint markers wirelessly to other devices. This kind of tech also allows you to sync your GPS with your phone, which makes it easy to receive messages and call alerts without even having to reach for your phone.
Why a Smartphone GPS App Just Won’t Do
The truth is this: even though we have ‘smart’ phones, our GPS’s just have better satellite reception, they have stronger navigational features, and they have MUCH better battery life than our phones will ever have.
Features of the Best Handheld GPS
What sets one apart from another is a handheld GPS unit’s features. If you’re looking at investing in the best out there, your handheld GPS unit has to sport the following features:
- Maps (with the ability to upload new maps)
- Compass, whether it’s electronic differential
- A Trip Computer
- Geocache Options
- Photo Viewer
- Waypoint Marker
- Waypoint & Track Manager
- Profile Options
- Route Planner
- Sun & Moon Rise Indicator
- Area Calculator
- Proximity Alarm
- Nearby Locations
- Points of Interest
Now that we’ve got the basics out of the way, it’s time we showed you what the market’s leaders look like. Take a look at our review section below to see how they measured up!
Review of the Best Handheld GPS Units for 2018
Garmin GPSMAP 64s
Weighing in at 8.1 ounces, the Garmin GPSMAP 64s has a screen size of 2.6 inches and boasts full-color display. It boasts a battery life of 16 hours as well as 16 GB of internal memory. As far as a great price and functionality are concerned, the Garmin GPSMAP 64s does the job perfectly, striking just the right balance. It’s not the most feature-rich handheld GPS out there, but all of its features work. This device is able to pair with your smartphone, and with its barometric altimeter and electronic compass, it’s a very tempting deal
- Very accurate
- The buttons aren’t everyone’s cup of tea
- The antenna is quite bulky
Garmin Oregon 600
For about $100 more than you’d pay for the GPSMAP 64s, you can invest in the Garmin Oregon 600, which offers you a larger screen, a bit more weight, and a bunch of extra cool features. Although this model doesn’t come with as much memory as the 64s (only 1.7GB here), the Oregon 600 is brilliant in a few ways. This si about as close as the game comes to a smartphone disguised as a GPS. With a nice, readable screen, a lot of useful features, as well as an easy to use a system, and the ability to save and share data, this is a great option.
- Loads of features
- Has a high-quality touchscreen
- Very accurate
- Since it’s big, it’s odd to use on the go
Garmin eTrex 20x
A hiker’s dream…well, that’s what most call the eTrex 20x from Garmin. This handheld GPS is perfectly balanced. It offers a total weight of 5 ounces, sports a 2.2-inch color screen, and has a whopping 25 hours of battery life on offer. With 3.7GB of internal memory, this is a great handheld GPS. If you’re not big on the idea of having a-thousand-and-one features, the eTrex might be your sweet spot. We love the eTrex 20’s accuracy and the fact that it’s constructed with durable and rugged materials just makes the deal that much sweeter!
- Offers an easy to use system with usable features
- Very reasonably priced
- Rugged and durable
- Doesn’t come with a 3-axis compass
- Doesn’t have a barometric altimeter
Garmin Montana 610
Coming in as the most expensive of our picks, the Garmin Montana 610 will set you back, but it may just be well worth every cent you spent. This GPS has an overall weight of 10 ounces (thank the lithium-ion batteries for that added weight), but it has a 4-inch color screen and a combined battery life of 28 hours, thanks to the combination of lithium-ion and AA battery usage compatibility. The 610 has a 4GB internal memory capacity and has advanced navigation, operating on GLONASS satellite support.
- Has a large screen
- Easy to read
- Feature rich
- The touchscreen seems inferior and may be too bulky for some folks
Final Thoughts:- If we had to single out one of these great handheld GPS devices from Garmin as our winner for this post, it would have to be the Garmin GPSMAP 64s. It offers the perfect balance between functionality and durability, and to make the deal even better, it’s priced right on point. It might be a bit bulky thanks to the buttons, but we prefer old-school reliability over bulky tech in any way.
We hope that you have found this post helpful and that it has armed you with all the information you could ever need in order to make a well-informed choice regarding the purchase of your next handheld GPS. Remember that your intended use for your GPS device will be one of the most influential factors, so be sure about precisely how you’ll be using your device. That should give you all the pointers and instincts you’ll need to make a solid choice!