Best Handheld GPS
Criteria Used for Evaluation
While some of these GPS’s have other functionalities, and some simply just have an internal GPS implemented, the main point of your GPS search should be finding the most accurate and fasted model possible. All the fancy design features and extra functions aside, this is what makes GPS’s so popular. When trying to decide, which ones have the best GPS, you can keep a few factors in mind.
First up, keep an eye out for models that sport a high-sensitivity GPS receiver. This is more than a fancy labeling gimmick and accomplishes more than just sounding cool. A GPS with a high-sensitivity receiver will use large banks of correlators and digital signal processing to produce signals as quickly and efficiently as possible. This makes the signal outdoors extremely fast, but also makes indoor signals useable. Due to the extra processing power, these handheld GPS’s can integrate weak signals into a position.
During this list, you also may have noticed some models sporting a certain number of channels. This can be very confusing and is so in-depth that you could write a paper on it. To save you time and sanity, here is a quick explanation. When a GPS has 66 channels, then it can track the location of that many satellites at the same time. Now, there are not nearly that many satellites in orbit so what is the point of going to a number that high? To speed up the process, as satellites must first be acquired when they come in view of the GPS, multiple channels can look for the same satellite.
The last two points are great to keep in mind for traditional GPS’s, but there are special versions out there. One on this list, in specific, is a GPS that will track your vehicle or children. Models such as these will be used in an entirely different way, such as for tracking your vehicle in heavy populated areas or making sure your teenager is not out partying.
With technology devices like GPS receivers, a key factor that always comes into play is the battery life. That and what type of battery design is implemented. For example, is there an included battery that comes with it, is it removable? Or, do you have to put AA or AAA batteries inside? For pure performance, you will not need to concern yourself with which type of battery is utilized. But, some people may prefer one method over the other.
Let’s start with GPS’s that require AA or AAA batteries. The most obvious problem with this method, for some people, is that you are required to add and remove new batteries when needed. Plus, if they die and you do not have replacements, you can’t operate it unless you buy some new batteries. However, there are a lot of options at your disposal with this method. For example, it is your preference to either buy cheap batteries (such as Alkaline) or premium batteries (such as Ultimate Lithium). This will have direct implications on how long the GPS will last.
What about models that have a built-in battery? Mainly, the best aspect is the ability to charge it anytime you, please. If it runs out, if you have the means to charge it, you can still use it. Most will do so via USB, so if you are on the road you probably could charge it in your vehicle. If the battery is not removable or not a universal design, though, the biggest issue can be if it reaches its shelf life. At this point, you may have to buy a new GPS (if there is no way to get a new battery). As far as how long they will last, in general, most will last several hours before needing new batteries or a charge.
This will weigh differently from one person to the next, as the display will not affect the performance in any way. But, for some, it could be a deal-breaker. Much like a smartphone or laptop, for some, the resolution and clarity is the most important aspect. After all, it is beneficial for you to see the GPS information that is in the palm of your hands. While it is very rare for GPS’s do not have a display at all unless they are designed for special purposes or to be connected with an additional source, some sport better ones than others.
As they are small in nature, the amount of space the display takes up is a factor to consider. Thankfully, it is not difficult to find this out as all you need to do is look at a picture of the interface. Some will have a half screen and half buttons, while others will have a full display with touchscreen controls. Speaking of a touchscreen, that is another factor. If you prefer keys, then avoid GPS with a full-screen display.
Proper backlighting plays another role and allows you to use the device at night. But, in the daylight, a backlit screen may reduce battery life so you could also look into ones with dimming control. Lastly, some versions of the handheld GPS will have a monochrome display. Meaning, either a black and white display or one that focuses on one central color.
This is where handheld GPS navigation devices transform themselves into more than what they were designed for. Most will just expect a GPS to be a logical way for them to receive directions and understand where they are at all times. But, they can do so much more than that with their wireless and Bluetooth functionality. Not all of them will possess both, or even one, but the models that do hold enhanced value. Especially, for those that utilize Bluetooth technology.
For a brief explanation of what Bluetooth technology is, it allows you to sync data from devices that have it enabled. So, both devices need to have the technology in order for information to be synced. With GPS’s that have it, you could connect them to your laptop, smartphone, and tablet. Some models will have more use for it to upload your data on different types of applications, while others will utilize it for you to navigate through more free maps.
With wireless capabilities, some GPS’s will track and map with Google maps over the internet (doing so in real-time). Then, there is Garmin Connect. With all the entries on this list, Garmin proves that they are a frontrunner in GPS technology. One of the reasons why is their products utilize Garmin Connect, including their handheld GPS’s. With this software, you can get a detailed analysis of your activities, send tracks to your outdoor device, upload data and view it on other devices, and share routes and geocaches between units.
Of course, as with the display, you can make the claim that these types of features are not prevalent in the overall performance of a GPS (at least for the versions that do not require Bluetooth). But, this type of technology can make a good product a great one.
Top Ten Handheld GPS Units
1. DELORME INREACH SE
The DeLorme inReach SE will definitely adapt to a wider amount of people and works very strongly as a GPS.Read more
With this satellite tracker, you can send and receive 160-character text messages with GPS coordinates. Tracking intervals from 10 minutes to four hours provide you access for tracking your trip.
A brilliant built-in rechargeable Lithium-ion battery can last for days.
For the most part, while not amazing, the LCD display is adequate enough to read.
Through Bluetooth, you can track and navigate using free maps and charts that come equipped with your exact coordinates.
In the case of an emergency, you can have a two-way conversation with GEOS, which is a search and rescue monitor center.
2. GARMIN ETREX 30X
This is an updated version of Garmin's eTrex, and it boasts a brand new color display and is waterproof. Let's find out some more details on what makes the Garmin eTrex part of our top ten.Read more
According to those who have used this device and love it, one main gripe was that the pre-loaded maps were not that great, so opted to add their own.
This GPS on a fully charged battery will last 25 hours, which is more than enough to get you through a weekend in the wilderness. Great battery and one that you can rely on when you are away from civilization and only have your GPS equipped.
This GPS comes with a 2.2" color display, which may seem small, but is highly accurate. Testers liked that it was a good balance between power efficiency and fantastic visibility. To take full advantage of the smaller screen, TOPO 24k maps are great high definition topographic maps that many hikers tend to use.
And of course, in our modern age, this device is wirelessly compatible with other's devices to share tracks and routes. If you come across a special spot and meet other hikers on the way, you can simply direct them to the spot by sharing it through your eTrex 30.
3. GARMIN 64ST
This is another great product from Garmin and will allow you to track your trail on your next adventure. Like any Garmin product, it comes with a variety of extra features and if you decide to go ahead with this GPS, you will see that it is built with quality and accuracy.Read more
This GPS comes loaded with maps and is preloaded with full topographical maps of the US. Great for climbers, hikers, or anyone planning on spending some time in the wilderness this summer.
The battery life on this GPS is 16 hours which is great for day trips but if you are planning on going on a couple of day excursion in the woods, you might want to make sure that you can charge the GPS or will have to turn it off to check your position and then off to save battery.
This handheld GPS has a great colored screen to allow you to see every part of the map clearly. It is easy to read and will give you a modern feel.
This GPS device will connect through Bluetooth, to allow you to have the best connection and up to date information.
4. GARMIN OREGON 650T GPS
Back to Garmin again, this time with their Oregon 650T GPS. In some ways, it is just as efficient as superior models.Read more
Much like the Garmin models that have preceded it, Oregon comes equipped with a high-sensitivity GPS receiver with HotFix for great performance.
There is no battery pack available, just AA batteries. It works best with lithium batteries but can last around 10 hours.
A huge 3”, readable, color, and touchscreen display enhances clarity.
Between multiple units, you can share routes, waypoints, and geocaches.
With the microSD card slot, you can insert a MapSource card with detailed street maps. When doing so, you will be provided with turn-by-turn directions to your intended destination.
5. GARMIN MONTANA 680T
The Garmin Montana features a glove-friendly touchscreen that is both color and dual orientated. And what sets this one apart, is that it includes an 8 Megapixel camera. Let's find out some more details about this rugged GPS.Read more
The Garmin Montana is a fantastic addition to your outdoor adventures. It comes pre-loaded with TOPO U.S. maps, and for one year, a Bird'sEye Satellite addition is included as a bonus.
This GPS has a battery life of 16 hours which is good for a day trip but if you are going for multiple days, you may want a device with an extra battery or you can turn on and off throughout the trip to check position and save battery.
It features a color four-inch-dual-orientated touchscreen that is also glove-friendly, which is great in the colder months.
The Montana tracks both GPS and GLONASS Satellites to keep you firmly on the right path.
With this handheld GPS, you also get a TrackManager, which will help you to organize and navigate through different tracks and routes.
6. DUAL ELECTRONICS BLUETOOTH
While this is a terrific GPS, for optimal results you will need another device alongside with it. If you have one that features Bluetooth, this will not be an issue.Read more
For reliable GPS coordinates, there is an implemented Wide Area Augmentation System.
The battery will last around 8.5 hours, but an included USB charging cord will charge it back up.
There is no LCD display present and your other device provides that for you.
In a matter of seconds, this GPS receiver will connect to any devices that have Bluetooth enabled.
Past general GPS functionality, you can choose to track your fitness and even find restaurants and stores near your area.
7. BAD ELF 2200
The Bad Elf 2200 GPS Pro is the perfect example of a GPS that works more like a multifunctional device. As a handheld, it is the best of its kind.Read more
A standalone GPS data logger will store over 100 hours of tracking data and can log at one-second intervals.
If you are just logging data, this can last up to 35 hours. But, if you are using other functionalities then it may be reduced to 16-20 hours.
A large LCD, backlight screen provides an easy way to see the display (even at night).
With Bluetooth functionality, you can connect up to five devices at a time. It is also compatible with the iPad, iPad mini and iPhone 5.
If you download the Bad Elf Utility App, which is free, you can transfer your data from the GPS Pro to any handheld device of your choosing.
8. STANDARD HORIZON HX870
The Standard Horizon HX870 is much more than a GPS and can even come in handy during life-threatening situations.Read more
A 66-channel WAAS GPS receiver offers a wide range of locations.
It comes equipped with a long-lasting 1800 mAh Li-ion battery and an Alkaline battery tray.
The display can be both great and a hindrance, as it is oversized and provides a full dot matrix display. But, the white LED display, when on, can make it hard to see during peak brightness.
This features the ability to continuously track and display position information of up to nine pre-selected vessels.
If needed, the receiver allows the radio to transmit a DSC distress call. Also, it has a noise-canceling function when you are transmitting audio.
9. GARMIN FORETREX 401
Garmin makes its first entry on this list, but not it's last. Their finest model is the Foretrex 401 GPS, with only one small gripe bringing it down.Read more
It features a high-sensitivity GPS receiver with HotFix that provides excellent reception in heavily-covered areas (forest, underground). Plus, the Foretrex keeps track of routes, tracks, and waypoints.
Requires two, AAA batteries and will last approximately eight hours (which will vary depending on the type of battery you use and how often you use it).
A large LCD display enables an easy to read interface, while the back-lighting assists in darker environments.
Using Garmin Connect, you can get a detailed analysis of your activities and also send tracks to your outdoor device.
Besides the basic GPS functions, this features a TracBack feature that will retrace your steps, sunrise and sunset times, hunting and fishing information, and a heart rate monitor.
10. YAESU HANDHELD
This thrives in being a VHF transceiver and has built-in GPS capabilities, but could be a little too complex for some people.Read more
A 66 channel GPS receiver is included for reliable navigation and there is the capability of programming up to 200 memory channels.
It comes with a Lithium-ion battery pack, but an Alkaline tray is also included which takes six AA batteries.
A display dimmer, backlit keypad and full dot-matrix LCD screen provide a great display.
For USA versions, you can access the NOAA Weather Channel and Weather Alert.
The Airband transceiver provides VOR and ILS navigation on the “NAV’ band and full communication on the Aircraft communications band.