10 Best Handheld GPS Devices Tested
Next time take a different trail and don’t worry about getting lost. Here is our guide on the best handheld GPS units on today’s market.
The days are now long gone when a trail runner or a long distance cross country runner had to carry a map set with coordinates and keep stopping to check the map and study the landscape.
Nowadays we can keep moving, check our position while still running by simply glancing down at a clear readable screen which will show us exactly where we are, show local land features, the distance we need to go, we can even check weather forecasts, near limitless maps, receive and send messages and much more.
Innovations regarding batteries also mean that you have a good long lasting source of power for a GPS, we can set off into the wilds filled with confidence and focus on a good running experience.
Just another amazing result of our strides in modern technology, one that many take for granted, is the fact that it is nearly impossible to get lost if you are equipped with the right gear.
Trail runs and hiking routes are really inspiring, for those of us that take a trail in more remote locations, it’s a very real possibility that we can go off track and spend a lot of time finding our way back to a familiar route. There’s nothing wrong with getting a little lost when we run in remote areas teeming with nature and no signs of people, in fact, its a bit of an adventure but we don’t want to be lost for too long.
Find your way to your best choice here.
- Garmin GPSMAP 64st
- High-sensitivity GPS and GLONASS receiver
- Garmin Foretrex 401
- Rugged, accurate and extremely portable unit
- DeLorme inReach SE
- SOS option for emergency monitoring and GPS location
There are quite a few options of how you can bring this technology along with you, such as GPS watches. However, today we are going focus on the best handheld GPS units that we could find readily available on the current market.
10 Best Handheld GPS Devices
1. Garmin GPSMAP 64st
The accuracy is pretty on point with the device's GLONASS receiver and highly sensitive GPS, working with an internal quad helix antenna, which tends to be the most popular choice for many products that are similar in design.
The preloaded map package obviously depends on the particular region in 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.
- 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
2. Garmin Foretrex 401
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 riggers. 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.
- 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
3. DeLorme AG-009871-201 inReach SE
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.
- Acceptable battery life for long treks
- SOS emergency response monitoring
- Send and receive text messages
- Downloadable topographical map content
- Mapping and navigation abilities are not the same as a unit dedicated to directional navigation
4. Garmin Oregon 600
The navigation runs with Dual-band GPS/GLONASS satellite positionin, and is also equipped with Garmin's HotFix. This is a saltelite 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.
- 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
5. Magellan Triton 400
This is a practical, rugged and waterproof design that meets IPX-7 standards. Although there are products listed on this page which have many more gadgets and fancy functions, this one works very well doing exactly what it was made to do.
The 2.2 inch screen displays your maps with clear graphics and excellent color. This may not seem like a huge deal to some, but it definitely matters when you are trying to navigate your surroundings.
Connect to your PC to download update, upgrades, add more well detailed maps and even managed your own custom generated content. All of this can be done to Magellan's VantagePoint software. There is also a slot for an SD card, allowing the ability for additional storage.
The accuracy is quite good, thanks to the SiRFstarIII chipset and integrated multidirectional antennae contained in the device. This allows accurate positioning within 3 meters.
The unit runs on two AA batteries. Similar to some other products that are powered by the same means, the battery life is shorter than many would like.
In all, this is a simple and easy to use design. Perfect for those who do need or want to spend the extra money on those extras that they may not use.
- Easy to use design and interface
- large screen with clear and colorful display
- rugged and waterproof
- SD card slot for additional storage
- Short battery life
- No wireless connectivity
6. Bad Elf 2200 GPS Pro
Technology has come forward leaps and bounds and that fact shows in this nice hand held GPS system. Let's take a look at it and you can decide if this is your next must have addition to your running kit.
Bad Elf 2200 GPS Pro certainly offers a good range of features, the first thing I note it is capable of sharing your location with up to 5 (iOS) devices and this pairing is done through Bluetooth tech. If this sounds complex, it isn't, its actually very easy. On a road trip one Bad Elf can connect and share data for all the family via their devices ( iOS) so they can view via Google Earth or Maps.
The user friendly LCD screen, gives clear vision day or night on your location, while providing a constant power readout so you know how many hours energy you have left to run the GPS.
The memory system is impressive and can store going on up to 100 hours data on previous trial runs which you have taken. Before setting off from home you have a 3 foot cable fitted with USB connector to power it up, this is done through the 24v-12 DC USB charger.
While running, hook up the GPS to the neck lanyard so that you are hands free while running. This rugged model works for runners, hikers, boaters, other outdoor activities, even pilots can use it with confidence in its performance.
You get 16 hours battery life while connected to an iOS device through Bluetooth with a GPS update rate of ten times per second which means pin point accuracy. While in Data logger mode free from Bluetooth your battery will last easily up to 35 hours.
The casing is rugged, durable, splash proof and shock resistant, ideal for running rough weather trails and it's compatible with the requirements from Apple-MFI programming, working fine with all location based App's available in the APP store.
Nice compatibility with all iPAD models, Iphones 6,5,4, 3GS and 3G and iPOD's from the second generation upwards. The model comes with up-gradable firmware which is a really nice feature, as tech progresses, the Bad Elf can keep up with it.
Internally it has MTK GPS chipset for 66-channels. this devise is really built to serve your needs
The carry weight is 3.2 ounces which translates into 90 grams and the dimensions are 61.5mm x 17.5mm by 76.5mm.
Available at an affordable price and certainly packed with useful features, a good investment.
Can Pair up with 5 iOS devices.
Back light for night view.
100 hours - data logging
Long battery life 35 hours.
Compact and durable.
Might sometimes temporary lose signal compared to other models available through the market..
Sometimes a bit slow responding to direction changes.
7. Magellan CX0310SGXNA eXplorist 310 Waterproof Hiking GPS
This GPS system targets what you want for hiking or trail running and does not offer a broader range of features which you might not actually use and because of this the price is reflected to match what you get.
An impressive GPS model, a waterproof case, it's claimed water proof integrity can last 30 minutes when the model is submerged, so if you drop it in a puddle or small stream while running you will be happy to know that it can be rescued and it will still work.
The memory holds all major global roads and finer details for North American and European road networks, along with features for calling up points of particular interest and Geocaches.
This GPS comes with a balanced 512 MB of free memory capacity. The model is fitted with a USB link for downloading.
In the map screen feature you can move to the iconographic menu and this puts you into the full range of the Explorist 310 selection of features in an easy to access format. Call up stored previous runs on popular trails which you have used before.
As a runner or hiker you will encounter the POI system which can call up features such as rivers, lakes, parks and town centers, if you want to update you can do so from Geocaching.com.
This GPS locks on nice and quick as it's fitted with the SiRF-star III GPS receiver and power supply is good through a battery source produced by two lithium batteries.
Carry feature for this is through a lanyard or you can even use the rugged plastic loop to hook it to a cord on your clothing or your backpack.
Summing up: This GPS has all the wanted core features which are useful for running, hiking and other outdoor activities but keep in mind it does not have a micro SD facility which can be a hindrance when or IF you want to install extra maps, though for most of us this will not be an issue, the offered maps are plenty.
This above middle range model will not offer the premium style features offered by for example Garmin Dakota 10 or 20 but generally there are those of us that are not looking for more features while running or hiking.
This GPS gives you features you want while keeping the price within a comfortable budget level.
The price is very comfortable, a nice functional GPS system with good features.
Waterproof. and durable.
Good GPS features for runners and hikers.
Offers 512MB memory.
Absence of Micro SD slot.
Smaller screen than more expensive models.
8. Magellan eXplorist 510
Fits well into the hand and offers a nice range of high performing features.
We can find quality GPS watches and we can also find quality fitness watches and here is one of my favorite hand held GPS units.
This GPS system comes with a user friendly manual and uses Vantage Point, the software is easy to install, when looking closely at the hardware we find:
A hefty device suggesting durability, comfortable to hold and not heavy, you get Sirfstar 111 chip-set technology so the consistency and accuracy are really good with an accuracy range of around 3 to 5 meters. A nice touch is that it has MSAS/EGNOS and WAAS comatability.
A nice 3" touchscreen which is sensitive enough to be used while wearing gloves, though it has to be said that the screen perform best when you hold it away from direct sunlight and key touch-point features are located at the bottom of the screen.
Using Eneloop rechargeable batteries you get 4 to 6 hours of power or you can use 2 AA batteries to get 16 hours. Remember that in strong sunlight conditions you mat well want to increase background lighting and this will of course impact on the life span of power from your batteries.
Here we see the 3.2 mega pixel camera which offers reasonable tech-specs and while using the camera be creative with regards to the light conditions. The sound recording capability engineered into the GPS model will perform to meet your recording requirements and you will need to figure out your own comfortable distance while recording your voice, check it out and when you first try it, record your own voice till you find what works best for you.
The eXplorist firmware is really nice for geocachers and can hold thousands of geocaches comfortably on the SD card, if you want an SD card this will be an additional but useful purchase. Overhall the cache management system has been very well designed and is a very good feature which includes over twenty different characteristics for each cache which allows ample filtering and sorting. This model gives great service especially with the macro GSAKs method for uploading cache images in conjunction with spoilersync software.
The firmware lets you input coordinates and text though you will need a little patience when loading way-point coordinates as it's not as fact as some other alternative models available on the market.
Keep these firmware performance points in mind while using this model.
Waypoint projection must be done from where you are standing, do not enter from a waypoint on the map.
To entering new wapyoints is easy saving and navigating takes a few more clicks.
Do not enter Stages of multi caches inside a cache. Instead, you must go several clicks from the existing waypoint through to the cache description and then do a return.
Sorting and filtering capabilities are very good.
Be aware the firmware will at times reboot, with the aim to improve performance and expect up to 4 minutes for this process.
In summing up: This model has impressive software which you will need to work with it from a viewpoint where you are familiar with it. A durable GPS for use in rugged conditions, mud and water wont stop its reliability and accuracy.
Not a bank breaker, the price reflects the features but you get it at an affordable purchase cost.
- Nice reception even in challenging terrain.
- Nice touchscreen.
- Record your runs or hikes.
- Reliable battery life.
- Avoid situations where you can scratch the screen or case.
- GPS firmware could be a little faster.
9. DeLorme Earthmate PN-60 GPS
Taking steps forward into the future with a broad selection of new features to further empower your navigational skills while you are out and about running, hiking or exploring, you wont get lost with this great GPS system by your side. The features are user friendly and waiting for you to try them out.
Lets go straight into the features held by this robust and comfortable to hold model.
If it's useful functional features that you want then this will serve you really well.
On the screen you are met with a very friendly interface list of icons, which means navigating the system is very easy. The visual provides top quality color through PN 60 in conjunction with USA TOPO 9.0 mapping. US GS paps and clear eye friendly color satellite and aerial imagery.
The battery system is enhanced for long life span while you produce field logs inclusive of tracks,, geocaches and waypoints as GPX files onto your SD card. View your location and map your routes through DeLorme Topo USA & street maps, you also get satalite imagery in color, USGS quad, everything you want is there for you to use.
Your GPS unit comes pre-loaded with global highways and road base maps which can be over-laid and zoomed in on for a better view. The software gives you fully vectored topographics for street view desk top mapping so that you can pre-plan trips.
Earthmate PN-60 lets you upload maps, waypoints, routes, and even view the same which you have created on your home desktop. You can plan driving or hiking routes through uploading mapped areas. 3.5 GB worth of internal flash memory and with an SD card thise increases up to 32GB, store as much mapping as you want.
No problem with screen viewing it performs perfectly well in all light vectors including at night, you get high resolution through a superb trans-reflective 2.2" color screen.
High performance, ultra sensitive, top notch signal retention, pin point accuracy along with an NMEA 32 channels reception ensures a strong signal hold even in very challenging terrains.
Durable and waterproof, this GPS will still function if you drop it into water and retrieve within a reasonable time.
To sum up we can confidently state that this system is a high performing product packed full of features which will provide all the functions that you want. It compares very favorably with other GPS system on the market.
When taking into consideration the functionality, durability and performance, this GPS hand held unit is very good value for money.
Full of quality functional features.
Robust and durable
Great screen visuals.
Great signal reception.
Pre-loaded with lots of useful maps.
A little higher in price than the standard DeLorme models.
10. Garmin Rino 750 GPS/2-Way Radio
High tech GPS/GLONASS sat-reception qualities and a powerfully engineered FRS/GMRS radio, stay in contact while you are out and about in those far off places.
At 12.3 ounces this GPS unit can be hands free while you are hiking or orienteering.
This is a top end GPS system with bags of features, you get a GPS system with high sensitivity characteristics, if your in more challenging environments, satellites are tracked via the GLONASS system, so that you stay connected to GPS. You also stay connected via a powerful radio at 5 watts FRS-GMRS, this 2 way system allows text messaging and voice calls. The wireless headset works through Bluetooth and ensures stable and consistent voice communication.
A very good touch-sensitive color screen, nice visibility even in strong sunlight with dual orientation tech.
A great feature is the built in three axis compass which also offers barometric altimeter sensing and an accelerometer. Along with this we have Ongoing active weather forecasting and a nice visual animated weather tracker feature so that you can be prepared for weather changes through the NOAA weather radio built into the quality GPS system.
You are connected to Geocaching.com and fed regular live connects for any caches you want to accept while you are on the move. If you find yourself in trouble, the position reporting system will alert other Rino GPS holders about your situation, the GPS will let you know the location of your potential rescuers.
Two choices for batteries, you get 18 hours with four AA batteries or 14 hours via rechargeable lithium ion batteries.
The connect IQ system allows you to customize apps, widgets and data fields while the smart notifications program sends automatic uploads to Garmin online and ensures you stay connected.
When other Garmin users are in the area you can transmit geocaches, waypoints and tracks to those people. A good sized 1.7GB memory capability which can be enhanced through inserting a micro-SD card which will allow you to carry more mapping. Open the BirdsEye app for real time views of the terrain and feel comfortable that your GPS is protected within a durable rugged and water resistant casing.
For summing up we note that this is a high tech versatile GPS with a very wide array of interesting functional features for those people that are far out in the wilderness and want to be safely guided and stat in constant contact.
Your going to pay a higher price for this but its an very good investment, you get a lot for your money.
top end GPS system
dual orientation tech
NOAA weather radio built into the GPS system
connect IQ system
wide array of interesting functional features
Higher than average price due to wide array of features
11. Columbus V-1000 GPS
Running, cycling, hiking, car, plane, wherever you go this GPS will be very useful. Wear it securely with a high-quality NATO style watch-band.
Constant full tracking time and all types of weather Point Of Interest -navigation with 16 directional arrows and 16 pieces POI.
With 6 user-friendly logging-modes. Car, Plane, User defined, Running and walking.
The OLED - screen displays at 1.5 inches and is visually very user-friendly.
Initiate running tracks with a one-touch button.
Multiple formats are interchangeable.
Retain tracking file formats GPS, GPX, and CSV.
USB rapid reading layout/design.
Date and time are shown on all tracking-files.
Suits all digital cameras.
Barometric/temperature sensor, will measure altitude more precisely.
Time-Album-Pro track tool which works with Mac OS, Linux, and windows.
GPS- chipset-MTK3339 with Enhanced- Position- System.
100,000 years equals a seconds deviation.
The price is ok, you pay for good performance.
Full tracking of all weathers
Retain tracking file formats
Can be worn safely and securely
Screen displays at 1.5 inches
Six logging modes
No significant cons reported as of yet
Global positioning is now a part of many modern devices, including smartphones and watches, serving several different purposes. The most important of those is the ability to locate and keep track of one’s whereabouts.
GPS has played a big role in the way runners can now move outside of their familiar territory, with the confidence of being able to find their way back. This has especially been a huge plus for those who like to take their run off-road, allowing them to even leave the trail when they want.
Our Criteria For Evaluating the 10 Best Handheld GPS
For our evaluation looked at a broad range of features covering the different GPS handheld units. What are they required to do by the user? Does the user get extensive features or the basics?
The first thing to look at was how well the actual devices positioning works, how accurate it is in terms accurately identifying the exact location of the user.
Does the unit stay connected or are interruptions happening which are known in some particular models, for example, if a hiker, runner or traveler enters a ground depression such as a valley or canyon will the Satellite be able to connect with the GPS UNIT?
What was the average memory capacity provided with various models?
Pre-loaded with plenty of maps, some units are and some are not, we also wanted to know if an SD card can be used to increase memory and store more maps and data?
Can a route be planned on a computer and the route loaded into the model, what Bluetooth capabilities it has, is the screen appropriately touch sensitive?
What are the Geocaches, Waypoints and tracks capabilities for the model? Anti-glare or clouding factors for viewing the screen, how much direct sunlight or nighttime effects the quality of the view screen?
How durable is the device, is it shock resistant, is it likely to break or stop functioning if it takes a hard knock?
Is it easy to carry? after all its a handheld device but can we carry it “hands-free” on some models yes we can as they have been designed to attach to cords or loops. Some models are small enough to slip safely into a small pocket.
Waterproof factors were important because out in the wilds during hiking it could be dropped into a stream or deep puddle and the device will need to survive this and continue to function.
The quality of graphic displays on the screen, how clearly is the surrounding terrain shown, is it realistic or looks like a cartoon? Which devices employed Satellite Birds 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?
We looked at the cost in relationship 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.
The Ancient way before the GPS
Nowadays to find our way around we can get a GPS and feel confident that we wont 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.
Compare this to switching on your hand held GPS. Latitude: 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 is 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. If you’re feeling that your directional navigation’s might not be on target you can feel comfortable knowing that the north star remains with one degree of the constant of the celestial north pole. 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.
Better still, purchase one of the handheld GPS systems which runnerclick have reviewed here for you, it’s a lot more convenient.
Next time I switch on my GPS I will certainly appreciate it a whole lot more.
Q: Does a GPS ever disconnect when you don’t want it to happen?
A: Yes but it depends on the amount of tech built into the GPS. If you buy cheap you might experience disconnections if your in very sheltered terrain such as a canyon.
Q: Can we purchase a smart phone with built in GPS capabilities?
A: Yes, there are phones with high tech GPS and radio phone capabilities which puts them close to be called “smart phones”
Q: Can we use our smart phones for GPS purposes?
A: Yes you can download a GPS program onto a smart phone, for example WAZE, but your GPS connection is going to get you billing charges from your phone services provider because you are connected.
Q: How did we avoid getting lost before we could own a GPS?
A: Good old fashioned maps and good old longitude and latitude navigating.
Q: Are their any down sides or places where our GPS wont work?
A: Yes, if your below the Earth surface for example in a deep canyon or cave.
Q: Do hand held GPS systems have other uses?
A: 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.