Whether in open water or deep in the backcountry, proper navigation is a must. When it comes to finding a geocache, recording tracks or route finding; there is nothing more durable than a good old handheld GPS. It may never fully replace a map and compass.
However, it allows you to plan, follow and even share your recent adventures. As you will notice from our picks of the best handheld GPS trackers, the market is dominated by Garmin.
No other brand comes close to the feature sets and mapping software that Garmin offers. DeLorme and Margela also offer good units. That said, here are reviews of the best handheld GPS trackers on Amazon.
Last update on 2023-04-01 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API
Best Handheld GPS: Our Top Picks
Make sure you pick the perfect product for your needs. Read our reviews below to help you make an educated decision:
A big hit with adventurers and hunters, the Garmin Montana 610 is an upgrade of the Montana 600. Some of its defining features include advanced navigation capabilities, tough build with a raised bezel, and a large 4-inch screen.
What is new in the new 610 model is a one-year subscription to Garmin’s support, a bump in the internal memory as well as GLONASS satellite support. The additional 24 satellites help improve overall accuracy as well as acquisition time.
It also comes with an internal memory of 4GB and accepts a microSD for storing additional data. It can be powered by three AA batteries (22 hours) or a lithium ion battery (16 hours). It only weighs a little over 10 ounces with the lithium-ion pack.
For us, the best quality of the Montana 610 is its screen size, which makes it ideal when space isn’t at a premium or for backcountry motorized activities. Our main misgiving when it comes to this gadget is that it’s a little pricey and the 4-inch screen makes it bulky.
If you are in the market for a budget handheld GPS, the Garmin eTrex 30X is a standout entry model. It comes with a 2.2 inch, 240 x 320-pixel display. While this is noticeably large, it does fare well in direct sunlight. Also included is a built-in basemap shaded relief.
It features an internal memory of 3.7 GB, which can be expanded with a removable microSD for added maps. It supports a built-in three-tilt axis that works both as a barometric altimeter and electronic to pinpoint precise altitude and track changes in pressure. This allows for better navigation and location identification.
The GPS receiver, as well as HotFix satellite prediction, allows the gadget to maintain a signal even when in deep canyons or heavy cover. It is one of the few handheld GPS trackers that work on both GLONASS and GPS satellites, meaning it’s able to lock to your location 20% faster than typical GPS trackers.
Garmin eTrex 30X comes with a free trip planning software, Garmin Adventures, that allows one to connect with friends and family to share their itinerary. It is powered by two AA batteries and can last up to 25 hours on a single charge. It features waterproof capabilities and can be submerged in water for half an hour.
Some of the benefits of swapping your smartphone for a handheld GPS tracker is a modern platform and user experience. And while no GPS has got it all figured out, the Garmin Oregon 600 comes pretty darn close. For starters, it’s delightfully small and comes with a large, bright screen that’s easy to see but still light and small enough to stuff in a pack.
Given the myriad of features it packs, its user-friendliness is a relief for owners. You can either dive deep into data collection and track your total ascent or keep simple with your route, tracks, and waypoints.
As it has been on the market for a few years, its internal memory isn’t very sufficient. the good news is that you can use a microSD to add BlueChart water or TOPO trail maps. The balance of usability and tech of the Garmin Oregon 600 is what makes this model one of the best handheld GPS trackers for hiking.
This is my preference when it comes to best handheld GPS for ski touring, mountaineering or any other activities where the reliability of push buttons in freezing weather supersedes everything. It features a big external antenna that allows for quicker and better reception than the most Garmin models.
This proves useful when stuck in a whiteout on the side of the mountain, deep slot canyons or thick forest canopies. The 16-hours battery life allows you to take long trips while the inbuilt 4GB memory allows you to store up to 200 routes and 5000 waypoints
Its wireless capability enables users to share trips, tracks as well as waypoints with compatible devices. You can also track pressure changes over time to generate a weather report. My favorite feature is the smart notifications that sync to a smartphone.
It comes pre-loaded with more than 250,000 geocaches. As for the disadvantages, the unit comes with a limited base map making it unreliable for big adventures unless you upload a topo map.
If you are in the market for a quality handheld GPS that offers value for money, the Garmin eTrex 20X is a sure bet. At 5.1 ounces, this unit is lightweight and very affordable. You get to enjoy ample internal memory of 3.7 GB, up to 25 hours of battery life and all the basic functions of a handheld GPS tracker.
It can hold up to 2000 waypoints and 200 routes. It utilizes both GLONASS and GPS satellite networks for an accuracy of nine feet in open areas, which is quite remarkable. It features a basic base map with the option to upload additional topo maps.
It is perfect for navigating backcountry when hunting or fishing. The main downside is that it lacks advanced features like barometric altimeter, electronic compass and wireless sharing technology that are found in higher-performing GPS trackers
While it is not an actual handheld GPS, this device is worn as a watch and has one of the smallest screens on this list. However, what sets it apart as a remarkable piece of technology is that it packs many handheld navigations as well as functionality into something that can be worn day to day
You can easily access topo maps right on your wrist instead of reach for a separate device. In addition, the touchscreen display is easy to read and colorful. But that is as far as its vibes go. Despite having a 2-inch frame, the screen is a mere 1.4 inches which are small for today’s handheld GPS trackers.
Navigation is a mess while the user interface has an illogical design and unusable features. These factors combined with its high price tag pushes the Garmin Epix down the list of best handheld trackers. Nevertheless, it is undoubtedly a sign of cool things to come but it’s best suited for things to come.
While Garmin handheld GPS trackers can serve multiple purposes, the eTrex Touch 35T especially includes activity profiles. That said, it offers easy-to-use navigation for various activities including hiking, fishing, geocaching, biking, hunting, mountain climbing and more.
With a weight of just 5.6 ounces, this device can be easily locked in place on a boat or bike. It utilizes more than 100,000 pre-loaded topographical maps for accurate navigation. The body is both waterproof and rugged. It uses both GLONASS and GPS signals received through a hotfix antenna to allow for pinpoint GPS accuracy.
Other notable features include a barometric altimeter and electronic compass. The navigation is handled on a 2.6-inch touchscreen that offers clear visibility regardless of the weather conditions. It has a battery life of 16 hours, which is standard for handheld GPS trackers. Additional accessories include an external thermometer, food pod, and heart rate monitor.
Factors To Consider When Buying A Handheld GPS
Since the days when GPS navigation was invented, mankind has been exploring this feature which is now available on handheld devices as well as smartphones. When it comes to the purchase of handheld GPS trackers, not many people have a clue as to how they should go about it.
While reviews of the best products in the market may have provided some ideas, they certainly didn’t give you all the information. That said, there are additional factors to consider when shopping for a handheld GPS.
Preloaded GPS Maps And Updates
Additional software can increase the price of a handheld GPS significantly. Ensure that the model you purchase comes with preloaded maps. Check the manufacturer’s website for information to see how often they update software.
If you want to use your handheld GPS in another country, check for availability of maps as well as the cost of purchase. On the other hand, if you want your device for multiple uses like hiking and sailing, go for units that are suitable for various purposes.
A handheld GPS is nothing if it doesn’t have good accuracy. The device should be accurate up to 15 meters. If you want an accuracy of 1-3 meters, a differential GPS is best.
The real-time location is very important when it comes to navigation and a unit that doesn’t have this capability should be avoided. Customer reviews will provide reliable information as to whether the chosen GPS operates well enough to meet one’s needs.
Touchscreen Or Buttons?
The touchscreen is quite advantageous in that they are faster to operate compared to traditional screen. On the downside, they use up more battery than normal screens. In addition, they don’t work well with gloves and often freeze up in cold weather
Buttoned units, on the other hand, can be used with gloves, work in extreme temperatures and the batteries last longer. And while they lag in speed and take longer to type in waypoints, they are more reliable. That said, your choice of either of the two comes down to personal preference.
Electronic Or Differential Compass?
An electronic compass shows you the direction without movement and this is a great advantage for some. Many of those hiking to mountain tops prefer devices with electronic devices as they come in handy for situations when they need to figure out directions without moving. A GPS unit with an electronic vs. differential compass allows for faster and easier navigation.
This is another feature that differentiates low and high performing GPS devices. Altitude reading in handheld GPS trackers is usually less accurate compared to latitude – longitudinal readings.
A device that uses barometric altimeter calculates altitude more accurately. These altimeters also track weather patterns. This is particularly useful if you are in the backcountry and don’t have access to weather reports.
The addition of a voice recorder, microphone and camera is a cool add-on that allows you to document your adventures. If you are using the same route with friends, they can use your pictures to ensure they are following the same track.
Smart Notifications And Wireless Sharing
With technological advancements come innovations like smart notifications and wireless sharing. Some handheld GPS trackers come with Bluetooth technology that allows you send waypoint and track files wirelessly to compatible devices.
This feature is particularly useful for those intending to share track information with others. The smart notifications feature allows one to sync their smartphones to GPS devices and receive social media updates as well as messages on the unit
Handheld GPS devices are designed to log and store spatial data as you hike, fishing or backpack in the wilderness. They are built to withstand rough weather conditions and come with features that help you know where you have been and where you are headed.
With so many models in the market, it has proven difficult to prove which ones perform exceptionally and which ones don’t. Before buying your next handheld GPS, consider what you need to use it for as well as how much you are willing to spend. More importantly, ensure that you understand the information provided in this guide as it will make the difference between a good purchase and a bad choice.