Best Handheld GPS Reviews

Updated September 1, 2020

Most of us are familiar with the convenience that a GPS system in our cars can offer, and frequently consult our mobile phones to find our way to a location such as a shop or restaurant on foot.

However, there are many times when a mobile phone isn’t the right navigation tool for the job, and that’s where handheld GPS devices come in.

A portable GPS device offers the same brain power as a satnav in your car, but on the go. Handheld GPS units are a great tool for walkers who like to venture off the beaten track, allowing them to quickly identify their location and plot their course.

It’s a modern update on a traditional map and compass, that can prevent you becoming lost in unfamiliar or challenging terrain, help you navigate an unfamiliar city, and may even be used for geocaching.

If you’re considering buying a handheld GPS but you don’t know where to start, check out our roundup of some of the best outdoor GPS devices.

Best Handheld GPSes

#PREVIEWProduct
1 Garmin - GPSMAP 66st Handheld Hiking GPS
Best Overall
Garmin GPSMAP 66st Handheld GPS
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2 Garmin inReach Explorer+ Handheld Satellite Communicator Garmin inReach Explorer+ Handheld GPS
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3 Garmin - Montana 610 Garmin Montana 610 Handheld GPS
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4
Best For Higher Budgets
4Garmin Foretrex 601 Handheld GPS
Garmin - 010-01772-00 Foretrex 601
Best For Higher Budgets
Garmin Foretrex 601 Handheld GPS
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5 Garmin - eTrex 30x Handheld GPS Navigator Garmin eTrex 30x Handheld GPS
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6 Garmin - Oregon 600 3-Inch Worldwide Handheld GPS Garmin Oregon 600 Handheld GPS
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7
Best For Low Budgets
7Garmin eTrex 22x Handheld GPS
Garmin - eTrex 22x Rugged Handheld GPS Navigator
Best For Low Budgets
Garmin eTrex 22x Handheld GPS
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1. Garmin GPSMAP 66st Handheld GPS

Highlights
  • Altimeter, barometer and compass sensor capabilities
  • Large, 3” sunlight-readable colour display
  • Preloaded Topo maps and direct to device downloads of BirdsEye satellite imagery give photo-realistic views of your route
  • Can be paired via Bluetooth to a compatible mobile phone to receive real-time forecast information
Best Overall
Garmin - GPSMAP 66st Handheld Hiking GPS

This Garmin GPS has a large 3” colour screen that makes it easy to see your location and navigate even in sunlight.

Multiple Global Navigation Satellite Systems and ABC (altimeter, barometer, compass) sensor capabilities help you to track your journey. Direct-to-device downloads of BirdsEye satellite imagery provides photo-realistic views of your route. The device is also preloaded with US and Canada Topo maps.
Pairing this GPS to a compatible smartphone will enable you to receive real-time weather updates. This is a receive only device so it can’t be used for communications, but there’s an LED flashlight and SOS beacon to signal for help if you need to.

Specifications

Range:
Receive only device (does not transmit)
Battery Type:
2x AA batteries
Battery Life:
16 hours in GPS mode, 1 week in expedition mode

Pros

  • Multiple Global Navigation Satellite Systems (GNSS) allows you to track your travels in more challenging environments than GPS alone
  • SOS beacon can be used to signal for help
  • LED flashlight function
  • Up to 16 hours battery life in GPS mode

Cons

  • Some users report issues with bugs and glitches
  • Can be difficult for experienced GPS users to navigate to some of the main functions

2. Garmin inReach Explorer+ Handheld GPS

Highlights
  • Garmin’s Iridium satellite coverage enables you to text from anywhere in the world.
  • An automatic SOS feature can send your location to a global search and rescue team that is available 24/7. 
  • The Explorer+ provides access to topographical maps, weather information, and GPS routing to help you gather more information about your environment. 
  • This device has a powerful rechargeable lithium battery which can last for 30 days in power saving mode.

This is another one of the best satellite communicator options from the Garmin brand. It is a very robust satellite communicator with a durable design and a lengthy battery life. It uses Iridium satellite coverage to enable you to send and receive text messages anywhere in the world. 

You can use bluetooth to pair this satellite messenger with your computer or your smartphone, so you can text even when you don’t have cell service. This device also has the 24/7 SOS feature, which you can use to send your location to a search and rescue team as needed. 

The Explorer+ has a design that is lightweight and sleek, but has a relatively large screen that is bright and easy to read. This means that the device is a good one to use on its own if you can’t connect to a separate computer or phone. 

This device comes with Garmin’s free Earthmate app, which you can use to browse and download a wide range of maps as well as charts from NOAA. The Explorer+ also comes preloaded with helpful weather and navigational features, including a digital compass, GPS routing, a barometric altimeter, and an accelerometer. It also has a number of topographical maps preloaded onto the device.

Specifications

Range:
Global satellite coverage with unlimited range
Channels:
n/a, uses satellite connectivity
IP Rating:
IPX7
Battery Type:
Rechargeable lithium ion battery
Battery Life:
100 hours in default mode, 30 days in power save mode
Warranty:
1 year

Pros

  • The Explorer+ has a wide range of navigational features built in to help you stay safe and informed on your travels.
  • A reliable satellite network makes it easy to communicate with your loved ones and share your location, no matter where you are.
  • This device has a durable design that is highly waterproof and has a long battery life, suitable for rugged outdoor conditions.
  • Large, bright screen is easy to use if you choose not to connect to your personal smartphone.

Cons

  • The satellite coverage requires separate subscription.
  • After turning the device on, you will need to wait a short period of time for it to sync your GPS location.

3. Garmin Montana 610 Handheld GPS

Highlights
  • Tracks both GPS and GLONASS satellites for improved positioning
  • 3-axis compass with barometric altimeter
  • 4” dual orientation touchscreen can be used whilst wearing gloves
  • Free BaseCamp trip planning software

This Garmin device has a 4-inch dual orientation display, and tracks both GPS and GLONASS satellites to pinpoint your location quickly and accurately, even if you’re amidst tall trees.

It has a three-axis compass to help you set your direction whether you’re holding the device level or are on the move. You can also track the altitude and barometric pressure to anticipate any weather changes.

The free BaseCamp software lets you create plans to share with travel companions or friends, and the first year of the BirdsEye satellite imagery subscription is included, although you will need to pay for maps. We like the fact this device is IPX7 rated meaning it’s humidity and water-resistant.

Specifications

IP Rating:
IPX7
Battery Type:
Rechargeable lithium-ion or 3 AA batteries
Battery Life:
Up to 16 hours (lithium-ion) Up to 22 hours (AA batteries)
Warranty:
One year limited warranty

Pros

  • Compass is tilt-compensated so it’s accurate whether you’re standing still or moving
  • 250,000 preloaded worldwide geocaches
  • Includes 1 year BirdsEye satellite imagery subscription
  • Users report good GPS reception off the beaten track

Cons

  • Maps need to be added to the device, at additional cost
  • Some users report that the interface is not intuitive

4. Garmin Foretrex 601 Handheld GPS

Highlights
  • Durable – built to military standards
  • Works with 3 satellite navigation reception networks for accuracy
  • Barometric altimeter
  • Battery life of over 48 hours in navigation mode, up to 1 month in watch mode
Best For Higher Budgets
Garmin - 010-01772-00 Foretrex 601

This wrist-mounted device is constructed to military standards to offer a durable device which is resistant to shock, water and low temperatures.

It utilises three satellite systems (GPS, GLONASS, Galileo) for accurate positioning, and the three-axis compass, three-axis accelerometer and the barometric altimeter also help you navigate your way through a variety of terrain.

If you have a compatible smartphone, this device can also receive emails, text and alerts so you can easily see this on the move. The long battery life of over 48 hours in navigation mode is a great feature of this device.

Specifications

IP Rating:
IPX7
Battery Type:
Lithium Polymer
Battery Life:
48 hours in navigation mode 1 week in UltraTrac mode 1 month in watch mode
Warranty:
One-year limited warranty

Pros

  • Wrist-mounted for easy use on the move
  • Device can receive emails, texts and alerts
  • Compatible with night vision goggles
  • Clock features include military time format, alarm clock, stopwatch and timer

Cons

  • Wrist strap is not as durable as the device
  • Some users report satellite reception issues

5. Garmin eTrex 30x Handheld GPS

Highlights
  • Can track both GPS and GLONASS satellites
  • 3-axis tilt compensated compass
  • Barometric altimeter
  • Rugged and durable

This durable and rugged handheld device has a 2.2’ colour display with great resolution, making it easy to view the screen even in sunlight.

It can track both GPS and GLONASS satellites to find your location more quickly and precisely. There’s also a 3-axis tilt compensated compass which will help you to navigate even if you’re not holding the device level, and a barometric altimeter to give your altitude.

There’s an impressive 3.7GB of internal memory as well as a microSD card slot, but you will need to purchase topo maps separately which will add to the initial outlay for the device.

Specifications

IP Rating:
IPX7
Battery Type:
1 Lithium Ion
Battery Life:
25 hours
Warranty:
One-year limited warranty

Pros

  • Wireless functionality to share routes and tracks with other devices
  • Free BaseCamp trip planning software
  • 3.7GB internal memory and microSD card slot to load plenty of maps
  • 2.2” sunlight readable display

Cons

  • Topo maps need to be bought separately
  • Some users report finding the device not user friendly

6. Garmin Oregon 600 Handheld GPS

Highlights
  • 3” touchscreen display with dual orientation views
  • Tracks both GPS and GLONASS satellites
  • 3-axis compass and a barometric altimeter to track your altitude and anticipate weather changes
  • ANT or Bluetooth technology to wirelessly share routes or geocaches with compatible devices

This device has a 3” strengthened screen, with dual orientation views. The touchscreen can be used whilst wearing gloves and the colour display is easy to read even in sunlight.

It tracks both GPS and GLOMASS satellites to more accurately pinpoint your location and the 3-axis compass will keep you on track even if you’re on the move. The barometric altimeter can also determine your altitude and help you be aware of upcoming weather changes.

It can hold an impressive 4 million geocaches, but bear in mind that you will need to buy and load maps separately.

Specifications

IP Rating:
IPX7
Battery Type:
2 AA batteries (optional NiMH battery pack can be purchased)
Battery Life:
16 hours
Warranty:
One-year limited warranty

Pros

  • Reflective display technology makes it easy to see the screen in sunlight
  • Dual battery system can use 2AA batteries or purchase the rechargeable NiMH battery pack)
  • Can hold up to 4 million geocaches
  • Free BaseCamp trip planning software

Cons

  • Some users report software glitches
  • Topo maps need to be bought separately

7. Garmin eTrex 22x Handheld GPS

Highlights
  • Rugged, sturdy design
  • Tracks both GPS and GLONASS satellites
  • 8GB internal memory and microSD card slot
  • Up to 25 hours battery life in GPS mode
Best For Low Budgets
Garmin - eTrex 22x Rugged Handheld GPS Navigator

The rugged design of this handheld GPS makes it a durable choice for hiking and outdoor activities. The 2.2” colour display is easy to read even in sunlight, and a joystick sits just above the display screen to navigate around the device’s functions.

It’s preloaded with TopoActive maps and tracks both GPS and GLONASS satellites to precisely identify your location. There’s an impressive battery life of up to 25 hours and a microSD card slot so you can add additional maps.

Specifications

IP Rating:
IPX7
Battery Type:
2 AA batteries
Battery Life:
Up to 25 hours
Warranty:
One-year limited warranty

Pros

  • 2.2” sunlight-readable colour display
  • Preloaded with TopoActive maps
  • 3-axis compass and barometric altimeter
  • Supports BirdsEye Satellite imagery (needs subscription)

Cons

  • Some users find the display outdated
  • Joystick navigation may not suit all users

Handheld GPS Buying Guide

Smartphone vs GPS 

Smartphones can perform a huge variety of tasks, including helping you pinpoint your location and give directions to your destination. You may be wondering why you’d need a handheld GPS when a smartphone can do the job. 

However, there are many times when a GPS delivers where a smartphone can’t. Most importantly, a GPS device will work in areas where there’s no cellular coverage. 

If you’re venturing far off the beaten track or into mountainous or wooded areas, you may find that your phone signal is intermittent at best or non-existent at worst, and your smartphone isn’t available when you need it. A handheld GPS device will give you location information wherever you are. 

Using map apps on your smartphone can also drain the battery quickly, where a handheld GPS is designed to last for a full day’s hike or longer. Other advantages of a GPS over a smartphone can include a larger screen size for a larger map display and a more robust and durable design.

Features

The features you prioritise in a handheld GPS device will be partly determined by how you plan to use it. Weekend or occasional hikers may be more concerned with ease of use, where a more accomplished hiker may be looking for additional features. Here are some of the fundamental features you should look for in any device. 

Accuracy

Since navigation is the primary purpose of a handheld GPS device, you want a device that’s going to correctly identify your location. GPS devices usually aim for accuracy to within a certain range of your position, for example within a margin of 15 meters. 

Accuracy can make all the difference when you’re navigating in challenging terrain, or trying to identify the right path to take given several options. 

Speed

If you’re out on the trail and have a lot of ground to cover, you don’t want to waste time waiting for maps to load. The speed with which a GPS device can present you with information makes the difference between a smooth and swift walking pace and a stop-start one.

Display Quality

The quality of the display on a GPS device is important to help you quickly and accurately read information. A larger display will be easier to use, and make it easier to move between menus and functions. 

Most devices have a colour display, which also helps with interpreting imagery and topographic maps. Many GPS displays can also be read even if there’s sun shining directly on the screen.

Waterproof

Hiking can mean experiencing all kinds of weather conditions, and it’s not practical to find shelter anytime you need to refer to your GPS. Look out for a waterproof handheld GPS that can cope if you get caught in a downpour.  

Geocaching

Geocaching is a type of worldwide treasure hunt, where participants use GPS devices to navigate to a set of coordinates in search of a geocache, or container, hidden at that location. 

It’s a way of exploring the great outdoors with a set goal or mission in mind, and is enjoyed all over the world. Handheld GPS devices are a great tool for geocaching, as they’re more reliable than a mobile phone in areas of limited signal. 

Barometric Altimeter

A barometric altimeter is a useful feature on a handheld GPS device as it calculates your altitude by measuring air pressure. Air is thinner at higher altitudes, so as the altitude increases, air pressure decreases. As well as giving you information such as your elevation, a barometric altimeter can also help warn of changes in weather conditions, with falling pressure a sign of worsening weather.

Uses

Whilst hiking might be the first use for a handheld GPS that springs to your mind, there are many outdoor activities that can benefit from having a trusty GPS at your fingertips..

Hiking

If you’re a keen hiker and like to head out into the countryside to explore, a hiking GPS will give you access to the information you need on the go. A handheld GPS is a more reliable option than depending on your smartphone, and saves the need to buy paper maps. 

Backpacking

A backpacking trip often involves spending time in both cities and the countryside, and a GPS for backpacking can help you navigate both. If a map for your chosen destination isn’t preloaded to the device it’s usually simple to download and add it, meaning your device can travel all over the world with you.

Hunting & Fishing

If you’re keen to try your luck in different locations, a handheld GPS for hunting or fishing can help you navigate through unfamiliar terrain. Once you’re struck upon a particularly good spot, saving your route information to your device will mean you can easily find it again in the future. 

Marine & Boating

A marine handheld GPS is a great tool to help track your route whether close to shore or further out in unfamiliar waters. As well as pinpointing your location so you can find your way to your next destination or back to port, it can be invaluable in case of any emergency.

Size

If you’re looking for a handheld GPS to take on outdoor trips, chances are you’re looking for a small GPS device that’s easy to store in a pocket or in your backpack. Most handheld devices are of a similar size or a little bigger than a mobile phone, often with a rugged casing to protect them.

Pricing Range

How much you’re prepared to invest in a GPS may depend on how you’ll use it and the features you expect. Prices can range from under $100 for a cheap handheld GPS to $500 and above for one with additional features and an array of preloaded maps.

Our Verdict

A handheld GPS device is a great piece of kit for any outdoor enthusiast, whether you’re a hiker, geocacher or avid traveller. It offers a more reliable way to navigate than relying on your mobile phone alone, and some models are packed with extra features to satisfy the most adventurous explorers.

If you’re looking for an entry-level model, we like the Garmin eTrex 22x which is a good price point and preloaded with TopoActive maps.

More experienced hikers may like the wrist-mounted Garmin Foretrex 601 which is built to military standards and compatible with three satellite navigation systems to accurately pinpoint your location, as well as a host of other features.