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Buyers Guide & Information

Best Handheld GPS Trackers Reviewed

Be confident in navigating terrain out of mobile phone range with these top products for hunting, hiking, fishing, golf and more.

by PITeam

Buyers Guide & Information

Best Handheld GPS Trackers Reviewed

Be confident in navigating terrain out of mobile phone range with these top products for hunting, hiking, fishing, golf and more.

by PITeam

by PITeam

Not only have paper maps been replaced by digital ones stored in your car’s navigation system, but handheld positioning devices have also become popular amongst hikers and adventurers. This portable equipment uses geographic technology – the Global Positioning System or GPS – and helps you get your bearings in an easy to read format.

Now there’s no need to bury your nose in a map to understand where you are. Your handheld GPS will do the job by using the satellites positioned above you in space.

So if you want to invest in a handheld GPS before your next trekking, fishing or camping trip, read through our guide to select the best one for you.

Image

Product

Screen Size

Battery Life

Check Price

Garmin GPSMAP 62SC Handheld Navigator

Garmin GPSMAP 62SC 

2.6 inches

20 hours

Garmin inReach Explorer+, Handheld Satellite...

Garmin inReach Explorer+

2.3 inches

Up to 100 hours

Garmin Approach S20, GPS Golf Watch with Step...

Garmin Approach S20

0.9 x 0.9 inches

8 hours

Garmin Astro 430

Garmin Astro 430

2.6 inches

15 – 20 hours

Garmin GPSMAP 64st, TOPO U.S. 100K with...

Garmin GPSMAP 64st

2.6 inches

16 hours

Garmin eTrex 10 Worldwide Handheld GPS Navigator

Garmin ETrex 10

2.2 inches

25 hours

Garmin GPSMAP 66st, Handheld Hiking GPS with 3”...

Garmin GPSMAP 66st

3 inches

16 hours

Garmin GPSMAP 78sc Waterproof Marine GPS and...

Garmin GPSMAP 78S Marine GPS

2.6 inches

20 hours

How Handheld GPS Units Work

GPS connects with the Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS) which comprises of 33 satellites orbiting the earth, using microwaves. This network can read the signals being emitted by your handheld device and triangulate the position of its source.

Typically, a GPS device needs to contact at least three satellites to be able to pinpoint your location with a degree of accuracy.


Benefits of Handheld GPS

Handheld GPS trackers are used by Geocachers, trekkers and hunters alike because of their precision in locating and tracking the source of the signal.

They can be used to mark waypoints to determine a set location – for example, the location of your car or campsite. This makes it easier for you to navigate back to it and minimizing the chances of getting lost in the wilderness.

It can also:

  • Track routes
  • Make notes
  • Save locations etc.

But perhaps one of the best things about these GPS units is their compact size that allows them to fit inside pockets or be worn around the neck easily.


Choosing A High-Quality Handheld GPS

Construction & Design

When buying a handheld GPS device, ensure that it has a shock and abrasion-resistant design with durable material. Looking for water-resistant units is also imperative as this allows them to be used during rain and for fishing etc.

Look for an IPX7 water-resistant rating, as it means the device can withstand submersion of 1 meter for up to 30 minutes.

Display

Touch screen GPS units have become fairly popular due to their compact size and superior technology. They eliminate the need for buttons, which means that there is more screen space – this makes the device easier to read.

It’s also important to note that touchscreens use up battery faster than traditional screen GPS devices. They are also more challenging to use while wearing gloves, during rain and in cold weather.

So before you buy a unit, determine your use to find a suitable option for your requirements.

GPS Receiver Type, Positioning Technology

In addition to the Global Positioning System, some handheld positioning devices also support the Global Navigation Satellite System (GLONASS). Devices with this dual compatibility offer accurate positioning in all types of terrains, especially in high altitudes because of the positioning of GLONASS satellites.

In addition to this, the accuracy and signal strength can also be improved using the WAAS (Wide Area Augmentation System) feature. This provides GPS signal corrections for a more precise geo-location.

Maps

While some GPS units come with preloaded maps and may seem to offer an advantage over others, it is imperative to ensure that they have good quality maps of relevant terrains. If the prime use of your device will be for hiking, then pre-installed street maps will be of no use to you.

Before purchasing a unit, make sure it has high-quality topographic maps. Also, look for devices which come with a planning software; these allow you to create waypoints and routes using your PC or Mac, which can be transferred to your handheld unit.

Battery

It doesn’t matter how expensive your unit is or what the brand is – the fact of the matter is that your battery will eventually die. It is wise to invest in products that offer a good battery life to make sure your trip is not affected.

Instead of buying a device with rechargeable batteries, opt for one that uses replaceable ones as out in the field, you might not have access to electricity. Simple AA batteries are relatively cheap and can be easily swapped when they run out.

Another great idea to save money is to get multiple sets of rechargeable batteries, so you don't need to throw the old ones out.

Wireless & Radio Capability

Wi-Fi or Bluetooth compatible devices are also essential features to look for. These offer good communication with other GPS units, especially if you're traveling in a group. Specifically, with this technology, you can share routes, waypoints, and points of interest with your companions to stay connected.

Looking for devices with the ability to act as two-way radios or communication devices is also good, especially if you intend to take a trip in bad weather or to remote areas. This can help you establish a connection with compatible radio devices if you require emergency aid.

Some devices also come equipped with NOAA weather broadcast which helps you determine and avoid bad weather.

Reception Quality, Ease Of Use

Most GPS devices can give accurate bearings to at least 10 meters, while devices that use WAAS can be valid up to 3 meters. Look for units that use DGPS (Differential GPS); this is a distance correcting method that uses antennae and beacon receivers to improve accuracy.

Remember that accuracy is affected by poor reception due to tall buildings, trees, and hills, so look for devices that offer precision bearings in the environment that you intend to visit.

Versatility/Extra Features

Extra features like altimeters, barometers, etc. help you determine your altitude and atmospheric pressure which can be handy, especially if you're a hiker.

Additionally, a 3-axis compass which does not require a specific orientation – unlike 2-axis compasses – can be used to get an accurate bearing of your surroundings and is a great feature. Having an integrated electronic compass means that you won’t lose your way even if there’s no GPS signal.

Dimensions & Weight

If you’re hiking, trekking or mountaineering, you require a lightweight device so it can be carried around without hassle or adding to your load.

While larger and heavier devices could offer extra features, they are inconvenient to carry, which defeats the purpose of portable GPS units. So make sure that the device you purchase can fit into your pocket or a side backpack pocket, and isn’t too heavy to carry along with other equipment.

Price & Warranty

While you can find an entire range of products on the market – from costly units to very cheap ones – opting for either isn’t the best decision. Your product’s price needs to be justified with its features. If it has many options that you don’t require, then it is not a good idea to an expensive device.

Also, check for the manufacturer warranty to see the return policy and features come under the warranty – this is crucial as handheld GPS units are subjected to harsh weather conditions which can lead to malfunctioning or excessive wear and tear.


8 Best Handheld GPS Devices Reviewed

1. Garmin GPSMAP 62SC Handheld Navigator

Our Top Pick

Screen Size

2.6 inches

Weight

9.28 oz.

Battery Type

AA Batteries; NiMH

Battery Life

20 hours

Memory

3.5 GB

Warranty

Yes – 1 Year Warranty

The first product on our list is the Garmin GPSMAP 62sc, and it holds this position for a good reason.

This device is very accurate in determining your location owing to its WAAS integration and HotFix prediction, regardless of the terrain. This essentially means that whether you’re up on a mountain or down in a canyon, you don’t have to worry about losing your way.

It also comes with the ability to wirelessly share your waypoints, routes, geocaches, and points of interest with other compatible Garmin devices.

What about areas that have weak signals, no matter how good the device? Well, thanks to its 3-axis electronic compass and barometric altimeter, you can locate where you are and how high the altitude is easily. This feature also helps you predict weather changes by assessing the varying pressure.

It comes with a 5 MP auto-focus camera that lets you record your journey with bright pictures and automatically geotags them to make it easy for you to share them – or navigate back to a particularly scenic spot in the future.

Another great added feature of this device, which has landed it the number one spot, is its compatibility with your computer. You can use this to load new maps and topographic features onto your unit for better navigation.

And if that wasn’t enough, this model comes with the ability to connect to the internet. This means that you can connect to social sites such as Facebook and Twitter to access maps and share your experiences or view your activities using Google Earth.

Pros

  • 5 MP auto-focus camera
  • Internet connectivity
  • 3-axis electronic compass

Cons

  • The unit is only available in English which might be a problem for non-English speaking users

2. Garmin inReach Explorer+

Best Rated Handheld GPS

Screen Size

2.3 inches

Weight

8 oz.

Battery Type

Internal Lithium-Ion

Battery Life

Up to 100 hours

Memory

12 GB

Warranty

Yes, 2 years

If you’re looking for a device with good battery life on a single charge and has exceptional cost saving, then the inReach Explorer+ is what you need. While it may seem expensive at first glance, its accuracy, improved technology, and additional features make it worth the investment.

So, what does this device have that makes it stand out?

In addition to preloaded maps, onscreen routing, built-in digital compass, an accelerometer to measure speed and a barometric altimeter to determine altitude, this device can also accurately predict the weather. Equipped with NOAA, it provides access to weather broadcasts, charts, and color imagery, so you're not blindsided by poor terrain or bad weather.

Its ISN (Iridium Satellite Network) compatibility means that you can send text messages and emails to anyone anywhere, without causing GPS signal interference. In case of emergencies, you can also use your GPS device to reach a GEOS monitoring center for assistance, search and rescue, and disaster management.

The smartphone connectivity feature means that you can link your device to your phone to:

  • Access contact lists
  • Use the MapShare portal to show your followers your location
  • Make communication (texting/emailing) easier

Additionally, its IPX7 water rating makes it safe to use during rainy weather and allows submersion of about 1 meter for 30 minutes.

Pros

  • Waterproof
  • NOAA enabled
  • Smartphone compatible

Cons

  • Might seem expensive to some buyers

3. Garmin Approach S20, GPS Golf Watch with Step Tracking

Best Handheld Golf GPS

Screen Size

0.9 x 0.9 inches

Weight

1.6 oz.

Battery Type

Lithium-Ion

Battery Life

8 hours

Memory

56.8 MB

Warranty

Yes, One-Year Consumer Limited Warranty

If versatility, portability, and style are your main concerns, then the Garmin Approach S20 is for you!

Are you a regular golfer? Or are you just getting into golfing but have trouble measuring how far away you are from the green?

We understand that you neither have the time nor the space to carry a pocket-sized handheld GPS to try and find your location. Even if you did, the lack of accuracy in yard measurement could potentially threaten your game.

This is where Garmin’s GPS enabled golf watch comes in. What looks like a sleek, modern watch on your wrist – and does indeed tell you the time – can double as your very own GPS positioning device.

This smartwatch comes with Garmin Connect app compatibility; Connect is an online golfer community that allows you to compare and compared your rounds with previous records to measure improvement. 

Combined with its auto-shot feature, the watch can measure the distance of shots with auto-recording and update your Connect account. The TruSwing sensors help you improve your golf swings so you can make better holes and earn points consistently.

With enhanced stats tracking, you can keep account of fairway hits, putts per round and greens in regulation for in-depth game analysis. With its high resolution and clear readability in sunlight, this product qualifies as the best handheld golf GPS unit.

Pros

  • TruSwing compatible
  • Green view display
  • Good battery life

Cons

  • Some people might find the memory to be less

4. Garmin Astro 430

Best Handheld GPS For Hunting

Screen Size

2.6 inches

Weight

9.6 oz.

Battery Type

AA Batteries

Battery Life

15 – 20 hours

Memory

-

Warranty

Yes, One Year Consumer Limited Warranty

If you’re a dog owner and especially use your dogs for sporting, then this is the first thing you need to invest in. Before we get into the device’s features, here’s how it works.

The unit is compatible with Garmin T5 and T5 mini collars (separately sold) which you can put on your dog(s). These transmit a live signal to your handheld device with a buffer of only 2.5 seconds.

The clear display of the Astro 430 allows you to see your dog’s location along with an indication of the trail they took.

One of the bestselling features of this device is its ability to connect with up to 20 collars at the same time, allowing you to track multiple sporting dogs within a 4 to 9-mile range. This feature can also help you determine your dogs’ hunting patterns and behaviors.

The device is compatible with both GPS and GLONASS satellites, increasing its accuracy in a wide range of environments and terrains. With this device, you can also view the individual status of each of your dogs to see when one is on target or if it has been "Treed." You can also configure the unit to receive bark alerts.

The best part is that you can wirelessly set up your Astro 430 with other compatible devices to receive and share data consistently.

Pros

  • Preloaded maps
  • Multiple dog tracking
  • GPS and GLONASS enabled

Cons

  • Some people might find the collar to be an additional expense

5. Garmin GPSMAP 64st

Best Garmin Handheld GPS

Screen Size

2.6 inches

Weight

8.1 oz.

Battery Type

AA Batteries; NiMH

Battery Life

16 hours

Memory

8 GB

Warranty

Yes, One-Year Consumer Limited Warranty

Along with the quintessential features that come with almost all standard Garmin devices – electronic compass, wireless connectivity, barometric altimeter, and preloaded maps – this model also offers stand-out features that make it the best handheld unit.

For one, Garmin GPSMAP 64st has smartphone connectivity which means that you can view your waypoints, track your route, and save your location through your phone. It is also a Bluetooth smart device which can connect to compatible devices for transfer and sharing of data with your partner or fellow hikers.

This device is the ultimate tool for geocachers with up to 250,000 preloaded caches with descriptions and hints from geocaching.com. With this feature, you can go paperless in your hunt and not only conserve the environment but also improve efficiency – the device is loaded with coordinates, maps, locations, terrain, and other relevant information.

The Basecamp planning software allows you to put together trips, set waypoints, decide routes and tracks and even loads them directly to your device from your PC.

Even better, it allows you to view topographic maps in 2D and 3D with elevation and contour lines. Pairing this feature with a BirdsEye Satellite Imagery subscription can add a new layer to your planning experience.

Once the map is organized, you can share it with your friends, family, or group of explorers.

Pros

  • Basecamp software
  • Suitable for geocaching
  • Smartphone connectivity

Cons

  • Some people might find it pricey

6. Garmin ETrex 10

Best Cheap Handheld GPS

Screen Size

2.2 inches

Weight

5 oz.

Battery Type

AA Batteries

Battery Life

25 hours

Memory

8 MB

Warranty

Yes, One-Year Consumer Limited Warranty

If you're looking for a functional GPS unit in a budget, the Garmin ETrex 10 is one of the best cheap handheld options in the market. This is a superior device in a small size and a fraction of the cost of the larger devices – without compromising on the make and durability.

The unit is both GPS and GLONASS enabled, which allows it to interact with a more significant number of positioning and navigation satellites to precisely pinpoint your location. This dual compatibility also makes its results quicker compared to other devices on the market.

Its high sensitivity sensors further enhance the accuracy of the device, and HotFix and WAAS enablement. The 2.2-inch monochrome display provides a clear indication of elevation points and contour lines.

This is an excellent device for beginner level geocachers and hikers, as it has all the great technology that is the hallmark of Garmin – without overwhelming the user with complicated features.

You can plan a free trip or set up a small hunt with the Basecamp software which allows the user to view maps, set waypoints, organize tracks, and find routes.

Pros

  • Basecamp integrated
  • GLONASS and GPS enabled
  • Equipped with WAAS and HotFix

Cons

  • Some users may find the memory to be less

7. Garmin GPSMAP 66st

Best Handheld GPS For Hiking

Screen Size

3 inches

Weight

8.16 oz.

Battery Type

NiMh

Battery Life

16 hours

Memory

-

Warranty

Yes – 1 Year Warranty

The next product on our list is the Garmin GPSMAP 66st – and it’s referred to as a hiker’s best friend for a good reason.  This device prepares you for everything that you might come across during your hiking trip, from tough terrain to weather with its accurate signal and superior reception quality.

The unit is easy to use, with a 3-inch screen and lightweight, which means that there's barely any additional weight you have to carry. Also, by pairing it with a smartphone, you can load maps, weather prediction, and save waypoints.

You can even load and save additional maps to the device – Don't have space? Just pop in an SD card to get all the memory you want.

What's more, is that you can geocache during your hiking trip! So no matter where you are, with the connect app or Wi-Fi, the unit can automatically update your location to give you access to any caches nearby, complete with hints and descriptions.

But perhaps the best feature of this model is its utility in bad conditions and emergency situations. Besides being military-grade thermal and shock resistant, its battery life is exceptional – 16 hours in GPS mode and up to 1 week in expedition mode.

In case of trouble, you can benefit from the SOS beacon to call for help or use the built-in flashlight to see in the dark.

Pros

  • SOS beacon
  • LED flashlight
  • Night-goggle compatible

Cons

  • Might seem expensive to some buyers

8. Garmin GPSMAP 78S

Best Handheld Marine GPS For Fishing

Screen Size

2.6 inches

Weight

7.7 oz.

Battery Type

AA Batteries

Battery Life

20 hours

Memory

1.7 MB

Warranty

Yes, One-Year Consumer Limited Warranty

The final item on our list is the Garmin GPSMAP 78S Marine GPS which is perfect for your fishing trips.

What makes it ideal for this purpose is the IPX& certified rating which means that the unit can survive 30 minutes of submersion, up to 1 meter below the water. But that doesn’t mean the device will go that deep in case it falls off your boat; thanks to its light weight, it can easily float on the surface of the water.

This rugged and durable device is equipped with a 3-axis electronic compass that allows you to keep your bearings while the built-in barometric altimeter measures pressure changes to determine your altitude.

With a microSD card slot, you can increase the memory to load more maps, set waypoints, and save old locations so you can return to them in the future. The Connect app – through your phone or the internet – allows you to interact with a community of anglers to share favorite spots, find maps, and analyze the game.

It has a WAAS enabled highly sensitive receiver which can be paired with the HotFix prediction system to pinpoint accurate locations to give you precise bearings.

Pros

  • WAAS enabled
  • Waterproof
  • Additional memory card slot

Cons

  • Some users might find the internal memory to be low

Garmin: The Leading GPS Brand

While many brands have emerged in the industry, Garmin is still considered an industry leader.

The brand owes its popularity to some quintessential features that it offers in all GPS units, such as:

  • Durable quality
  • Intuitive design
  • Good user interface
  • Portable units
  • Reliable navigation system
  • Easy to install
  • Equipped with basecamp planning software

Smartphone GPS Vs Handheld GPS

Here’s the deal; while your smartphone can double as any other device you could need, including a GPS, that's not its primary function. For example, instead of using satellites to determine your location, phones use triangulation between cell towers.

This is a handy feature if you’re using your phone to navigate within the city or areas with good cell reception, but that is probably not where you hike. Hilly or desert areas do not have reliable cellular support which means that your phone’s GPS sensors will probably fail.

In comparison, GPS units are specially designed to work in different environments such as remote areas and are more resistant to weather elements such as rain or desert storms.


How To Use Handheld GPS Trackers

While the handling and use of each device vary, there are general steps to follow when using your unit, such as setting a waypoint.

Waypoints are identifying markers that help you to navigate to specific points easily and can act as breadcrumbs when finding your way back on a trail.

To set up a waypoint, simply:

  • Turn on the device and wait for a few minutes for it to get good satellite signals
  • Angle your device at 45 degrees to get the best reception
  • Check satellite geometry to determine the accuracy
  • Click on the “Mark” option to create a waypoint of your current coordinates
  • Save the location as any name (camp/car/oak tree etc.)

Common Handheld GPS Issues & Fixes

  • Issue #1 GPS Fails To Turn On
    What we're about to say may seem glaringly obvious, but is, in fact, a reason that most people think their device is not working – dead batteries.If your GPS device isn’t turning on, it might be time to replace the old batteries with new ones. This will hopefully get your unit working.
  • Issue #2 Unresponsive Touchscreen
    If you’re clicking on your screen and nothing is happening, it doesn’t necessarily mean that the device is broken – sometimes it just needs calibration.Re-calibrate your screen and wait for a few minutes, the screen will hopefully start responding.
  • Issue #3 Un-Calibrated Touchscreen
    Turn the device on and in the "Menu," find "Calibrate/Calibration" under "System."Select the option to calibrate your GPS touchscreen.

Frequently Asked Questions

What Is A Mapping GPS?

While you may think that all GPS are mapping units – they all use maps, right? – This may not be true. Older GPS technology was only suitable for setting waypoints and marking spots without providing any information about the terrain (mountains, streets, lakes, etc.). With mapping GPS devices, there is an overlay of a map on the screen that shows you what your surroundings look like.

What Is Geocaching?

This is a relatively new activity that resembles a scavenger hunt. It requires players (geocachers) to use GPS units to look for hidden treasures by using an app (Geocaching).

How Do I Load A Map On My Handheld GPS Unit?

You can load maps on your Garmin GPS device by using the Basecamp planning software from your PC or Mac. Here’s a detailed, step by step guide on how to do this.

Where Is The Best Place To Buy GPS Handheld Units?

You can find a large selection of handheld GPS devices through online retailers like Amazon.  


Conclusion

With our buying guide, you can invest in a top of the line handheld GPS without worrying about losing your money on an unreliable product.

While all the products on our list are equipped with great features, the Garmin GPSMAP is the best handheld GPS we could find during our reviews. It is durable, waterproof, and comes equipped with the latest technology to make your adventures fun and memorable.

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