10 Best Handheld GPS Devices Tested
There’s nothing wrong with getting a little lost when we run in remote areas exploring nature with no signs of people—but it’s important we don’t stay lost for too long.
This is where the best handheld GPS devices come into play. They will help you keep track of where you are and prevent you from going off trail. While there are several GPS watches that allow you to be hands-free, here we will focus on the best handheld GPS devices available to choose from.
Below you'll find our list of the top ten best handheld GPS devices!
In a Hurry? The test winner after 11 hrs of research
- Accurate reception
- World base map included
- 8 GB internal memory
- Takes MicroSD cards for additional memory
Top 10 Picks
1. Garmin GPSMAP 64st
- Accurate reception
- World base map included
- 8 GB internal memory
- Takes MicroSD cards for additional memory
- Battery life is not as long as previous models
- There are some complaints about the manual being less detailed in the operation than with other models
If you haven't noticed, throughout these reviews Garmin seems to dominate the market, as far as attainable handheld devices that perform exceptionally well. And, their GPSMAP 64ST keeps that ball rolling with the best in flawless function as well as a practical design with a fairly straightforward layout.Read more
This unit has a 2.6 inch (6.6cm) LCD screen, which is readable in bright sunlight, displays detailed maps at 160x240 pixels.
The preloaded map package obviously depends on the particular region in the world where it is purchased, but other maps can be downloaded to meet your specific mode of travel.
The GPSMAP 64ST also utilizes wireless Bluetooth connectivity.
For those who like to hit the deep trails or higher elevations, this unit is also equipped with a 3-axis compass with a barometric altimeter.
In general, the construction is of durable quality, with a smooth outer design that is free from extruding parts that will easily get broken. The overall size is quite manageable as well, easily fitting in a pocket or small pouch.
2. Garmin Foretrex 401
- Adaptable to many different situations
- Quite accurate in open environments
- HotFix technology improve reception in covered or rocky locations
- Compact and convenient to carry
- Tends to easily get snagged on things
- May struggle a bit with reception in canyons or deep rocky environments
Displayed as a dotted line on the screen, you be able to keep precise track of your traveled path, so you won't have to worry about getting lost while running those trails. Although the Foretrex 401 isn't as fancy as Garmin's GPSMAP 64, it is much more compact and convenient to take along. With its wristband, you'll have the luxury of keeping your hands free.Read more
This model operates with a high-sensitivity receiver, just like many other Garmin products. The Foretrex also features HotFix, which improves reception performance when moving through heavy woodland canopy, or even when traveling between rocks in a canyon type environment.
The display size is small, but the layout is pretty well organized. the user can view the dual position readout in several different formats. Some of the modes featured on this unit include sunrise/sunset times, electronic compass, barometric altimeter, trip computer and even fishing and hunting information if desired.
In addition to the normal stuff that a GPS unit does like tracking current location, travel routes, and waypoints, the Foretrex also supports a heart rate monitor, which can be purchased separately. Another useful tracking aid is Garmin's TracBack feature that allows the user to retrace the traveled path steps to find their way back.
This unit runs on two AAA batteries, which do not last as long as some might like.
As for durability, this product has been used in combat situations, standing up to most of the rigors. So, it's safe to say that it will make it successfully through your run.
As mentioned before, this model doesn't have all of the frills that you may find in another model but it performs exceptionally for what it was designed to do.
3. DeLorme AG-009871-201
Easy to set up
User friendly design
Detailed user guide
Some skipping and lagging reported
DeLorme, actually a Garmin brand, produces some pretty reliable products. One of those being their inReach SE handheld "Satelite Communicator". This isn't simply a map or a directional way finder like the other devices on this list, but a useful tool with critical, or even life-saving features that will absolutely come in handy if you find yourself lost or experiencing a problem in the middle of nowhere.Read more
Although the inReach SE does track your location, its key features go a whole lot further than a simple GPS. This device can be paired with a smartphone to download topographical map content, but its communication capabilities are what really caught our attention.
This unit features an SOS option, which alerts a monitoring center of your call for help and accurate grid location, with a push of a button. That certainly adds some extra confidence to an off-road run or hike.
Additionally, the inReach SE tracks your trip with data such as GPS coordinates, elevation, course heading and even speed of travel.
And a really cool plus, you can also send and receive text messages with this unit. This would be handy in a situation where you may somehow get separated from your travel buddy, or need to communicate important information in the event that you get seriously lost, and must be located.
The rechargeable internal battery will allow roughly 100 hours of continuous use when fully charged. That figure is based on tracking intervals of around ten minutes each in an open environment, with clear access to the sky.
4. Garmin Oregon 600
- Wireless connectivity
- Able to load third party and custom maps
- Holds a ton of geocaches
- 3 inch sunlight readable screen
- Short battery life
- Customer complaints of the device freezing
Here's one from Garmin. The Oregon 600 has a slightly larger screen when compared with other handheld models of this type. This is a great piece of gear to help you navigate your way through deep trails, or even a hike through the hills.Read more
Getting right into it, the Oregon 600 operates with a 3 inch (7.62cm) display that doesn't get washed out under bright sunlight. Its multi-touch capability allows faster data entry and searching.
The navigation runs with Dual-band GPS/GLONASS satellite positioning and is also equipped with Garmin's HotFix. This is a satellite prediction technology that allows quicker and more precise location of the unit's position.
Connect the unit to your PC and set up your upcoming trip or route with 2D and 3D maps. Plus, the Oregon will hold just about all of the geocaches that you can download.
Like almost all Garmin GPS devices, you can add more maps to the unit's database. In addition, you will be able to share your tracks, routes and waypoints with other wirelessly compatible Garmin devices. You can even send larger files like custom maps and images. You can do it all, just by pressing send.
The Oregon is powered by 2 AA batteries or a rechargeable NiMH battery pack. There is a bit of feedback stating that the battery life doesn't last as long as many would like.
5. Magellan eXplorist 100
Backlight for night view
Compact and durable
Might sometimes temporary lose signal
If you are looking for a GPS system that is portable, easy to use, durable, and full of great features then your search is over because the Magellan eXplorist 100 has everything you want for a hand held GPS!Read more
This GPS system comes with proven TrueFix technology which includes an impressive 14 parallel channel range as well as an WAAS/EGNOS-enabled GPS receiver. You also get a GPS that is reliable and easy to use with an easy read screen and simple button layout. It also stores up to 500 waypoints, 20 routes, and five track logs!
Simple battery power sources gives you up to 14 approximate hours and is perfect for longer hikes and runs and exploration treks. The easy access makes changing out batteries while on the go a fairly simple process as well with the Magellan eXplorist 100.
The Magellan eXplorist 100 GPS is a durable device that is made to take everything you throw at it. It is made for rugged trails and outings and is great for people who are always on the go who feel the call of the rugged path and the road less taken. Don’t worry about drops and jostling with this GPS either as it takes a licking and keeps on ticking!
The devices is designed to update often so you get arcuate tracking and location updates and know where you are where you are headed at all times! It is very responsive and will help you keep track wherever it is you are headed.
6. Garmin eTrex 30x
Easy to use set up
Light and easy to carry
Upgraded screen display
Uses GPS and GLONASS satellites for precise location
Some customers don't like that it isn't a touch screen
Some say the screen is too small
Garmin's newly updated eTrex 30x has an updated display screen with 65k color with increased resolution 240 x 320 pixels. It is easily readable even with the sun shinning brightly above you. You can load more maps on this device with a 3.7 GB of internal memory with a microSD slot so you can store even more onto it. This has a built in 3-axis tilt electronic compass and a barometric altimeter which tracks any change in pressure to ensure you have precise altitude levels. You can even use it to plot barometric pressure over time. It's compatible with many other devices so you can share with other devices, and make sure you don't loose any previous maps or data by uploading from previous devices. You can share any waypoints, tracks, and routes all wirelessly. Use it for hiking, kayaking, traveling, and geocaching with its high sensitivity WAAS-enabled GPS receiver, and Hot Fix satellite prediction. It used GPS, and GLONASS satellites simultaneously so you will never loose your GPS signal no matter where you are.Read more
The Garmin eTrex 30x is easy to use with its 2.2" display screen with excellent color and pixels. The whole device itself is lightweight and easy to carry weighing only 5 ounces. It's measurements are 5.4 x 10.3 x 3.3 cm.
It has 3.7 GB of internal memory with a microSD slot to hold up to 64 more GB. With all this room you can upload as many maps as you wish, and never have to worry about getting lost, or losing a signal. It comes with a pre-loaded base-map that is worldwide with shaded relief. You can download any map you wish such as TOPO 24K, HuntView, Birdseye Satellite, and many more. The picture quality is good so you can see precisely where you are, or what is coming up ahead.
You can wirelessly share maps, routes, waypoints, geocaches, and tracks with this device. You can also plug it in to your computer if you would prefer.
It stores and displays key information like location, terrain, difficulty hints, and descriptions if you are using it for geocaching. No more manually entering coordinates and using paper printouts. It makes geocaching much easier so you can focus on having fun.
It has high sensitivity WAAS-enabled GPS receiver and Hot Fix satellite prediction so eTrex can locate your position quickly and precisely. It maintains your location even if your up in a hot air balloon, or out exploring caves deep in the jungle. It is able to do this because it tracks GPS, and GLONASS satellites simultaneously. GLONASS has been shown to be about 20% faster than GPS alone so that is how it gives you your location so quickly.
It is also built to withstand the elements. It has water proof technology built into it so, even if you get caught up in the rain it won't ruin the navigation system. It is built with its legendary toughness to withstand dust, dirt, humidity, and water. You can use it on ATV's, boats, bikes, hot air balloons, or whatever your outdoor needs are.
There are also many accessories available that are compatible with this device. It requires 2 AA batteries and lasts up to 25 hours before they will need to be replaced.
7. Garmin Foretrex 601
Military grade GPS system
Thermal, shock, and water proof
Has 3-axis Accelerometer compass
Some issues reported during set up
Some users found it a bit cumbersome
This version of Garmin's Foretrex 601 is extremely durable. It is made with military grade standards and is compatible with night vision goggles as well. It also has all the military accessories such as thermal, shock, and water performance. Jumpmaster works effectively when calculating high altitudes while detecting the moment your feet leave the ground. One of the greatest features is that it is hands-free. It sits on your wrist just like a watch does. This device receives smart notifications such as text messages, emails and other alerts right on your GPS system on your wrist. It uses three different satellites to give you precise location quickly, and precisely. It has a long lasting battery life, that will last a week in navigation mode.Read more
The Garmin name is on this list multiple times, but they have built many quality GPS devices, and have set the bar for handheld GPS system. This is a durable, strong military grade navigation system. It includes thermal, shock, and water protection. It is compatible with night vision goggles, and applied Ballistic Elite. With the ballistic elite features you can use it to calculate aiming solutions for long distance shooting. It also has Jumpmaster technology that calculates high altitudes while detecting how high up you are the moment your feet leave the ground. ItGLONASS, and Galileo.
One of the best features on this device is that it is hands free, which leaves your hands free to do what you please. It also has a great battery life which exceeds 48 hours, a week if you have it on navigation mode.
It provides precise location by using three different satellites GPS, GLONASS, and Galileo. You will always know where you are whether you are deep in the woods, up in a hot air balloon, or cruising on a boat. You can also just use it as a watch.
The products dimensions are 0.9 x 2.9 x 1.7 inches, and is lightweight at only 3.2 ounces. This device has a lot of accessories so if you just needed a basic GPS model you should go with something a little cheaper because this does have a little higher price tag because of all the extra gadgets on it. Like most of the other products this uses 2 AA batteries.
You can automatically upload to Garmin Connect online fitness community online so you can look at a map, and your routes no matter where you are. You can create and save all kinds of maps, track your routes, and waypoints.
8. Magellan SporTrak
- Water resistant.
- Great for hikers.
- Battery is easily accessible
- Clip isn't as reliable over time
The Magellan SporTrak is one of the more affordable and easy to use options to choose from. It comes with a handy carrying case that clips to your belt and makes it easy to take with you wherever you go. It is really durable and has a clear vinyl window that clearly displays everything and won't shatter. The battery panel is easily accessible and utilizes water-resistant neoprene so you don't have to worry about any water damage.
This one is perfect for backpackers and hikers who need to make sure they always know where they are going and don't want to risk getting lost if they end up going off trail. It's a little bulky looking but lightweight and easy to use.
9. goTele GPS Tracker
Short battery life comapred to others
The goTele GPS Tracker is a great option for any runners out there who are searching for a reliable handheld GPS that will hold up to rugged trails and intense runs and hiking or biking excursions. Check it out for yourself!Read more
Track all of your trails and treks with a reliable update and memory space. Get detailed location and GPS location service without any annoying network or membership fees. Sync to your phone and get the best tracking system available for a mid line GPS handheld system! It has been shown that the goTele GPS Tracker is reliable and is a popular choice among runners of all skill levels.
1 Lithium Polymer batteries required for this GPS system and you get over 12 hours of tracking and GPS location service which is enough for the average runner hitting the trails.
The goTele GPS Tracker system is designed to be very durable and is resistant to static, impact damage, and is water proof to rain and splashing from puddles. It is a perfect choice for runners and athletes and explorers who need to know where they are at all times!
The way this GPS is set up, it is very responsive and offers great updating power and a reliable system that will keep you in the know at all times. If you want a GPS that will respond to your wants and needs and be there when you need it then you can count on the goTele GPS Tracker!
10. Garmin eTrex10 GPS
Has a camera
Logs your location
connect IQ system
wide array of interesting functional features
Exoensive and too techy for some users
The Garmin eTrex10 GPS is a reliable hand held GPS tracking system that is designed for runners, hikers, and nature enthusiasts who love spending time in the great outdoors but who do not want to get lost while they are out enjoying nature.Read more
This GPS device has many great features to consider. It comes with plenty of preloaded worldwide basemaps and has an easy to read 2.2-inch monochrome display. This GPS also comes with WAAS-enabled receiver as well as HotFix and GLONASS support for a reliable signal and fast update and tracking of current positions. It is also water resistant against rain and splashes from puddles and boating trips!
The Garmin eTrex10 GPS is powered by two AA batteries and can last for 20 -24 continuous hours with new batteries. The battery housing is protected against splashes and minor water intrusions to guard against water damage and shorting out.
This handheld GPS device is great for those who love spending time out in nature and who love exploring off the beaten path. It is designed to handle bumps, and drops and minor impacts and will serve your well even on the most rugged of trails!
The Garmin eTrex10 GPS is a smart choice for beginners as well as experts as it is a very responsive and reliable system that will keep tracking your position with frequent updates and reliable positioning status updates.
Criteria Used for Evaluation
When looking for the best handheld GPS devices it is really important that you take a good look at what each GPS on our list has to offer. First and foremost, you need to figure out exactly what you are looking for in a handheld GPS device and what your needs and preferences are. If you want to ensure that you get something that will fit your needs, you will need to apply our process and consider your own specific needs.
The first thing we took a looked when considering the best features each GPS has to offer, we first took a look at how easy each one is to get accustomed to and how simple it is to access all of the features. We also took a look at how accurate its location was calibrated and considered whether or not the screen was a touch screen or not. Some of you may prefer a touch screen while other my prefer the durable LCD screen options.
We made sure to take a look at Geocaches, waypoints, and tracking capabilities as well. We also considered whether or not your location can be tracked online by your family—just in case a worst-case scenario ever unfolds. Many of the GPS devices we choose also feature anti-glare features so you can easily read the screen no matter how bright and sunny it is outside.
Power source is another important factor to consider because when it comes to these devices it is especially important that you have something that you can count on and that won’t die on you when you need it the most. If you want a more versatile GPS device that you can use when you drive as well as outdoors you will have different power source requirements, then those of you who specifically want something that you only use to drive or only outdoors.
If you are an outdoor enthusiast or avid hiker, you will need to make sure that your GPS device will hold enough charge while you are out—this may also mean it will have fewer features. We also took a look at how quickly these devices will charge as well as whether or not they will back up your locations without draining your battery.
Many of these GPS devices have preloaded maps that you can access—but not all of them will allow you to access them without depleting your battery life. So, when we considered the power source for each of our products, we also took a special look at the battery capacity and how long it is should last before it dies out on you. Overall, you need to make sure that you take your needs into consideration and get something that will keep you safe and won’t die out on you when you need it the most.
Durability is an important factor to consider whenever we are going to invest in any devices—and this especially rings true when you are looking for one of the best handheld GPS devices. Not only do you need to make sure that you are getting something that is built to last but you also want to make sure that it can hold up to anything that will come your way. This is why we took a look at what real life reviewers had to say about the products on our list—so we could get a better gauge about what to tell you to expect in terms about durability.
When we looked at the durability of each product, we took a look at how shock resistant and abrasion resistance each one is. We also considered how easily each one could possibly shatter—which means that the touch screen options were typically less durable. The hand-free GPS devices can be small enough to slip in your pocket and many also come with additional accessories so you can clip them onto your belt loop or pack.
We also took into consideration whether or not the GPS device was waterproof or water resistant. This is especially important for those of you looking for a handheld GPS device to take with you on your hikes or runs. The last thing you needs while you are out in the great outdoors is something that will shatter or break just when you need it the most.
The quality of graphics displays on the screen, how clearly is the surrounding terrain shown, is it realistic or looks like a cartoon? Which devices employed Satellite Bird’s Eye view tech for a very real-time view?
Is the device “ user-friendly” can it be operated easily or is it difficult and time-consuming?
Were any devices capable of being updated to keep up with technological advances?
Expert Interviews & Opinions
Although all of the GPS devices listed here are reliable and shouldn't run into any problems, it's still highly recommended that you invest in some kind of backup strategy if you plan on taking these out on any long hikes or backpacking trips. Either a backup GPS device or a physical map would be effective in this capacity.
Some wireless products, including these GPS devices, are either water-resistant or waterproof. The difference between these two terms is important: water-resistant means it can withstand brief exposure to water without malfunctioning, and waterproof means that it can withstand full immersion for an extended period of time.
Other Factors to Consider
Navigation has come a long way in the last 100 years and now thanks to the features in modern GPS devices, we can do in seconds what would have taken half an hour or more to do years ago.
Nowadays to find our way around we can get a GPS and feel confident that we won’t get lost, but it’s not always been that easy. Imagine if you were at sea a hundred years ago. You would need the following just to start your trip with a reasonably accurate idea of where you are going.
A Marine Chronometer so that you could figure out time.
A Sextant so that you can figure out which angle to travel.
You would need an Almanac to figure out the schedules for the coordinates of stars.
A full set showing sight reduction tables so that you can figure out azimuth and height computations.
Finally, you would need a map of the region you intend to travel in.
A trusted compass.
A pencil/pen and paper/notebook.
To travel around on land or sea without getting lost we needed to understand latitude and longitude.
The modern GPS is so much easier to use. Before GPS devices were available widespread, we had to figure latitude and longitude calculations by hand. To work with this so you knew where you are and where to go you first needed to measure the Sun altitude ideally at mid-day (noon). If not this way then simply measure the altitude of any convenient celestial body while crossing the meridian at its maximum altitude when due south or north, while constantly measuring to keep track of the north star, providing the star is visible, which it isn’t in the southern hemisphere.
Once you have taken these measurements you take out your tables of almanac corrections which will let you figure out your current latitude to around a fraction of a mile. Remember to make sure your longitude angles are measured from the horizon, though it’s possible to take a measurement from the zenith directly above you that can only be done if the weather is not hazy. When you are using the horizon to take measurements, if it’s a hazy day, simply use an artificial horizon by using a pan of reflective fluid, preferably mercury.
Ok, having done this and feeling ready to go for a nice long run ( or a trip) quickly figure out your longitude.
It’s done in much the same way providing you get your measurement angle via Polaris, which creates a similar measurement to the star nearest to the west and east horizons, if you do this you have your needed longitude. Be aware of a possible problem, the planet rotates at 15 degrees per hour, so if you base your measurement on the same calculations you made yesterday, you will be wrong and you will get lost. So you must factor in the time difference in relation to the rotation of the planet. Right, you are now ready to set off and I hope you marked all your information onto your map and you have also brought your compass.
Things are so much easier now thanks to the usability and conveniences of the GPS!
We looked at the cost in relation to what the GPS device offers? Generally, pricing for units came over as realistic in fair when comparing cost against the features provided. The rule was consistent, the more you pay the more you get.
The conclusions we came to are that some systems are designed with basics in mind and that this meets a good market niche, middle range units have a substantial market niche and high-end devices are very specialist and serve for conditions or environments which are much more demanding.
No one likes paying a lot of money for things but when it comes to something as important as your GPS investing more upfront in a quality unit is an investment that will more than pay for itself in the long run.
Frequently Asked Questions
q: Will my family members have anyway of locating my last location if I were to get lost?
If you are an outdoor enthusiast that likes to go off the path, you know just how important it is to ensure you get something that won't let you get lost--but what if you do get lost? Fortunately, many of the options on our list offer a login option, so you can log in and see all of your history. If you allow your family members to have this login information, then they will be able to log in and see where you were last--this is especially important just in case anything were to happen--and you never know when something will.
q: Does a GPS ever disconnect when you don’t want it to happen?
Yes but it depends on the amount of tech built into the GPS. If you buy cheap you might experience disconnections if you’re in very sheltered terrain such as a canyon.
q: Can we purchase a smartphone with built-in GPS capabilities?
Yes, there are phones with high tech GPS and radio phone capabilities which puts them close to being called “smartphones” However it is not advised to rely on phones for GPS as they are limited tot heir fucntion and memory and often have issues with connection and service in remote areas where the phone's service is limited. Also, keep in mind your GPS connection is going to get you billing charges from your phone services provider because of how you are connected and using your data.
q: Do handheld GPS systems have other uses?
Some do, you can record yourself on video, record your voice, plan hiking routes. In fact, GPS technology is growing to include many additional functions. Many allow you to upload reports and information about your walks and runs to your computer so you can view your porgress and print off reports.