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Best Overall: Garmin GPSMAP 64st at Amazon
"A top-notch, rugged and full-featured handheld GPS that excels in all the right places."
Best Budget: Garmin eTrex 30x at Amazon
"One of the first consumer-grade handheld GPS trackers that operates on both GPS and GLONASS satellites."
Best Splurge: Garmin Montana 680 at Amazon
"Offers some of the best reception available on today’s handheld GPS devices."
Runner-Up, Best Overall: Garmin Oregon 650t at Amazon
"The touchscreen is ideally suited for multiple environments and can even be used with gloves in freezing or wet elements."
Best Battery Life: DeLorme inReach Explorer at Amazon
"Its 100 hours of battery life make for an exceptional unit."
Best for Versatility: Magellan eXplorist 310 Summit Series at Amazon
"You’ll get detailed road work, water features, and even insanely remote rural mapping."
Best Display: Garmin Oregon 600t at Amazon
"It's multi-touch enabled, so you can pinch and slide to find the exact location you’re looking for."
Best for Water Conditions: eTrex 10 Worldwide Handheld GPS at Amazon
"Meets IPX7 standards of waterproofing and can be immersed in one meter of water for 30 minutes."
Garmin’s 64st is a top-notch, rugged and full-featured handheld GPS that excels in all the right places. The 2.6-inch color screen is very fluid when it comes to zooming in and out, which makes navigating direction easy and painless. The notable helix antenna features both GPS and GLONASS technology and allows for an additional signal boost in difficult environments. The 64st can find your position quickly and can maintain your signal even in heavy cover or deep canyons. With 16 hours of battery life, there’s enough juice to power through an entire day’s worth of traveling with room to spare.
When it comes to navigation, the 64st features 250,000 pre-loaded caching and 100,000 topographical maps, plus a one-year subscription to BirdsEye satellite imagery. Adding additional maps is easy, thanks to 8GB of onboard memory that allows for even more topographical and detailed navigation information. Additionally, the Garmin features a three-axis tilt-compensated electronic compass.
The Garmin eTrex 30x is a standout handheld GPS entry with a 2.2-inch, 240 x 320-pixel display (sure, it isn’t notably large, but it fares very well in direct sunlight). Included with the eTrex 30x is a built-in basemap with shaded relief, plus an additional 3.7GB of onboard memory and an expandable memory microSD slot for added maps. To make navigating and location identifying easier, the eTrex 30x supports a built-in three-axis tilt that works as an electronic compass and barometric altimeter to track changes in pressure and pinpoint precise altitude. Speaking of identifying your location, the GPS receiver and HotFix satellite prediction helps maintain a signal even if you’re in heavy cover or deep canyons.
As one of the first consumer-grade handheld GPS trackers that operates on both GPS and GLONASS satellites, the eTrex 30x identifies or “locks on” to your location approximately 20 percent faster than just standard GPS. And planning your next trip is a breeze, thanks to free trip-planning software that allows you to connect with other friends or family that utilize Garmin GPS devices to share your plans and itinerary with Garmin Adventures. Beyond travel planning, the eTrex can store up to 200 routes and 2,000 waypoints to make your next trip even easier to plan before you head out on the trail or over the water. Running on two AA batteries, the eTrex runs up to 25 hours on a single charge. With an IPX7 rating, the device is water-resistant and can be submerged up to one meter for around 30 minutes.
If it’s bells and whistles you want, the Garmin Montana 680 is the best way to spend your money on a handheld GPS that’s built for all kinds of activity. Capable of picking up both GPS and GLONASS networks, the Montana offers some of the best reception available on today’s handheld GPS devices. At 10.2-ounces, it’s slightly heavier than most of its competition, but, with a large four-inch dual-orientation and glove-friendly touchscreen display, it offers a large view of the world around you. There’s just one button on the side for power, while the rest of the functionality is all handled on the display itself (although it lacks multi-touch, which means operating the display requires just one finger).
In addition to an eight-megapixel camera, Garmin pre-loads more than 100,000 topographical maps, 250,000 worldwide geocaches, as well as includes a one-year subscription to Birdseye satellite imagery. Add in a three-axis compass, barometric altimeter and automatic geotagging of photos and you’ve got a bevy of options beyond just the standard GPS tracking. Additionally, Garmin adds extras like trip pre-planning with their basecamp software, so you can share it with friends or family. Battery life is around 16 hours.
If you’re looking for a handheld GPS that’s packed with features, the Garmin Oregon 650t is calling your name. At just 7.4-ounces, the 650t features a three-inch 400 x 240-pixel touchscreen display with multi-touch capability and a LED backlight. The touchscreen is ideally suited for multiple environments and can even be used with gloves in freezing or wet elements that are not suited for direct finger contact. Additionally, the display itself adjusts for both vivid sunlight and shade so that it allows the same accuracy in both types of lighting conditions. Powering the display and the rest of the IPX7 waterproof body are two separately purchased AA batteries or an included NiMH battery pack that offers 16 hours of life on one charge.
The 650t excels at pinpointing your exact location utilizing both GPS and GLONASS satellite positioning along with a three-axis compass, accelerometer and barometric altimeter for additional sensor information. The inclusion of 100,000 pre-loaded topographical maps with shaded relief pairs well with the multi-touch interaction capability. Alongside the pre-loaded maps is 3.7GB of onboard memory, as well as expandable memory via a microSD card for a slew of additional maps, including topographical information or turn-by-turn routing on roads. Add in an eight-megapixel camera for capturing the wild and Bluetooth for sharing maps with friends and the Oregon 650t is well worth the price of admission.
While Garmin typically dominates the handheld GPS industry, DeLorme’s inReach Explorer and its 100 hours of battery life make for an exceptional unit. Unlike Garmin’s traditional GPS units, DeLorme offers a host of features beyond typical GPS navigation, including two-way satellite messaging and SOS tracking capabilities that connect to a search and rescue center. Additionally, the DeLorme acts as a GPS tracker and offers 10-minute to four-hour intervals for location transmission. If there’s one limiting factor on the DeLorme, it’s the display, which at 1.8-inches, is relatively small for today’s GPS. But, it’s worth overlooking for the longest-running battery life on this list.
At just seven ounces, the DeLorme doesn’t add or remove anything that would alarm a handheld GPS shopper. Beyond the battery, the standard fare of GPS navigation is all here, including creating and viewing routes, dropping waypoints and navigating with an on-screen map. Additionally, you’ll find route details such as distance and bearing to your location. DeLorme also offers Bluetooth pairing with your smartphone for the Earthmate mobile app, which provides additional statistics, as well as unlimited topographic and US NOAA chart downloads to your smartphone. DeLorme also includes a digital compass, barometric altimeter and accelerometer for additional navigation support.
Tthe 310 Summit Series caught our eye because it brings to the table a variety of expanded maps and functionality that you shouldn’t ignore when you’re in the market for a dedicated hiking GPS. What are those features? Well, the flagship inclusion in this pack is the bundled-up topographic map set that Magellan calls their Summit Series maps. This gives you a detailed set of topography throughout a variety of popular hiking mountains throughout the world, which is better than a blanketed, one-size-fits-all topography approach.
In addition, you’ll get detailed road work, water features and even insanely remote rural mapping. The brilliant, sunlight-readable 2.2-inch display is on-par with many of the Garmins, and there’s even a paperless Geocaching option that lets you pull maps for use and reference when not connected to the outside world. The user-friendliness isn’t quite as tried and true as Garmin, but that’s to be expected. It’s the bundled up topographical maps that set this GPS apart from the rest of the Magellan line.
The Oregon line is somewhat known for its screen quality as they all feature full, super-bright (as in fully sunlight readable) displays that are all three inches. And the Garmin Oregon 600t is no different. It's also multi-touch enabled, so you can pinch and slide to find the exact location you’re looking for. The 600t comes with ANT and Bluetooth functionality for some additional connectivity, and there are topographical maps to go with your location-based scouting to ensure that your climbs go to plan.
Now, there is a 650t, but as best as we can tell, the only major difference here was the inclusion of an 8MP digital camera in the 650t. If you’re hiking, chances are you’re bringing your phone with you which almost certainly has a better cam, so you want your hiking GPS to focus on doing what it does best: positioning you on a map. So, going with the 600t, because you’ll get into Garmin’s gorgeous Oregon line for a lower price point than the 650t without the arguably unnecessary digital camera.
The rugged Garmin eTrex 10 Worldwide Handheld GPS meets IPX7 standards of waterproofing and can be immersed in one meter of water for 30 minutes. So you know it won’t be harmed by either rainfall or heavy splashing that you might experience while roughing it in the great outdoors.
The Garmin eTrex 10 Worldwide Handheled GPS weighs 9.1 ounces and measures 1.4 x 1.7 x 2.2 inches with a 2.2-inch monochrome display face. It features 50 routes (200 with its eTrex 30x version) and has a 20-hour battery life with two AA batteries. Users can save over 10,000 points and 200 saved tracks in its logging system, allowing them to re-visit old sites. Its GPS receiver is WAAS-enabled with HotFix and GLONASS support, so you’ll always have fast positioning and a reliable signal in the middle of nowhere. It comes with a one-year consumer limited warranty.
Our writers spent 10 hours researching and testing the most popular handheld GPS trackers on the market. All of this research adds up to recommendations you can trust.
Battery life - Considering you’ll likely be relying on your handheld GPS tracker to navigate — as well as help you find your way if you’re lost — battery life is incredibly important. The type of battery is important, too; rechargeable batteries can be more convenient, but swappable batteries mean you can carry an extra set on the go.
Map features - It may seem like mapping software is pretty standard, but you’d be surprised how many features you can add on. Do you want topographical maps? What about built-in geocaching information? If you spend a little more, you can get a really nice set of maps for your device.
Weight - When you’re hiking, you want to carry as little as possible so as not to be overburdened. That extends to your handheld GPS. Most of these devices are pretty lightweight, but you want to make sure you’re making proper tradeoffs. A tiny device might have too small a screen to be able to see in bright sunlight.
Quickly establishes user location
Intuitive to use
Pre-loaded maps too simplistic
Dies quickly with AA alkaline batteries
Garmin computer software not user friendly
Our testers loved this device’s bright, easy-to-read screen. Plus, according to one reviewer, it was very sensitive: “It quickly locates satellites and accurately establishes user location,” he reported. Also, it was intuitive to use. “The menu is easy to navigate and it's not difficult to select a destination and start hiking,” one tester explained. “The GPS also has shortcuts that you can scroll through if you want to look at a compass, elevation map, or find a nearby geocache. I thought this was convenient.” The downsides? Our testers felt that the pre-loaded maps were too simplistic, that Garmin’s computer software (to update your device) wasn’t user friendly, and that the tracker had poor battery life on AA alkaline batteries: “The GPS tries to save battery power by turning off the screen's backlight when not in use,” one tester said, “but it still ate through my batteries. I would definitely invest in heavy-duty rechargeable AA batteries to save money.”