10 Best Handheld GPS Devices Tested
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 to 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
- Garmin GPSMAP 64st
- Garmin Foretrex 401
- DeLorme AG-009871-201
- Garmin Oregon 600
- Bad Elf 2200 GPS Pro
- Garmin eTrex 30x
- Garmin Foretrex 601
- Magellan SporTrak
- Magellan Meridian
- Garmin Montana 680
- Criteria Used for Evaluation
- Other Factors to Consider
- Frequently Asked Questions
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. Bad Elf 2200 GPS Pro
Can pair up with 5 iOS devices
Backlight for night view
100 hours of 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
Ready to head off for a run? Take a Bad Elf with you or more precisely take a Bad Elf 2200 GPS Pro, head out on the long trail, forget about the possibility of getting lost, just focus on enjoying your run.
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.Read more
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 of battery life while connected to an iOS device through Bluetooth with a GPS update rate of ten times per second which means pinpoint 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 apps available in the App store.
Nice compatibility with all iPAD models, iPhones 6, 5, 4, 3GS and 3G, and iPODs 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 device 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.
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. Magellan Meridian
A military grade reference system
Accurate by 3 meters or left
Long battery life
The Magellan Meridian is easy to use as well as one of the more affordable devices to choose from. It features a colored pixel display screen and its backlighting features allows you to easily see it at night or when it's dark out. This one also utilizes WAAS tech to ensure the map provides you with the most accurate directions--it is actually accurate by up to 3 meters or less. Its 16MB built-in memory provides you with a thorough mapping of North America and can be expanded with no limit.
It has an excellent battery life--two AA batteries will run continuously for up to 13 hours. Ut quickly finds your location, so you don't have to worry about waiting around for your location to pop up. It is waterproof and comes compatible with several languages so you won't have to update or change anything if you require something like this. Overall, it has a map. compass, speedometer, 12 built-m coordinate systems. and a military grade reference system.
10. Garmin Montana 680
Has a camera
Logs your location
connect IQ system
wide array of interesting functional features
Exoensive and too techy for some users
The Garmin Montana 680 is on the pricier side but worth it if you want something you can rely on and that is easy to use. This one is easy to get accustomed to and is pretty self-explanatory--unlike some other GPS devices out there.Read more
This handheld GPS device is small, lightweight, easy to carry, and easy to use. It features 250,000 pre-loaded geocaches from all over the world--so you have a large selection readily available upon purchase of the device. When you purchase it, the GPS will also come with a one-year subscription for Birds Eye satellite imagery--which will allow you take have a birdseye view of everything around you. After the year is up, you can choose to continue your subscription if you found it useful. o
This GPS also uses WAAS tech to ensure it accurately and quickly finds your location. This means it can pinpoint where you are no matter how deep in the woods or mountains you are located. Its track manager is also able to organize and navigate your routes and track where you have been--and you can choose when to record and when not to record all of this information. The most unique feature this one offers is its camera--so you can snap pictures and stay on track with just one device.
Criteria Used for Evaluation
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.
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?
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?
Though the devices are handheld can they be carried on running clothing or attached to backpacks?
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?
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 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
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.
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.
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.