When going out for a hike or a trek, navigation is of the utmost importance. Nature is very alluring, and when admiring its beauty, we sometimes go off track or wander into an unknown path. This is where Handheld GPS comes into play. They not only allow us to return to our trail and not get lost but can also help chart an efficient path and record tracks, among many other things. In this buyers’ guide, we will show you the 11 best handheld GPS for hikers in 2021 so you can go out, have an adventure, and return home safely.
Important Points To Consider:
As with all products, there are a few important points you should be aware of:
With the advancement in technology, a lot of products have incorporated the use of touchscreens. This is the same with Handheld GPS. They can be a touchscreen, or if you prefer to go old school, they can be with buttons as well. Touchscreens allow for a larger display and quick response, but they do have trouble in cold or wet weather. In contrast, buttons are more reliable, long-lasting and although they are not as fast, they do get the job done.
Size & Weight
Handheld GPS come in all sizes and shapes, and what size might attract Person A might not be what Person B thinks is suitable. The larger the product, the more features it will have. However, this does come with the drawback of being less portable and heavier. Therefore, before buying such a unit, you should decide how many features you want and if a smaller-sized GPS is sufficient for you.
In handheld GPS, the battery is of two types. The trusty AA is the most commonly used as they are cheap, light, and easily replaceable. However, the drawback here is that if you’re planning to go on a long journey, then carrying replacements may increase your weight and make it more inconvenient. The other type is rechargeable batteries. These are mostly used in high-end devices owing to the lithium-ion. The main benefit of rechargeable batteries is that they are less cumbersome, and over time, the cost savings add up. With the help of portable solar panels and power banks for recharge, there are very few downsides to these types of batteries.
Memory is particularly crucial for GPS devices. With memory, you can save not only maps, but also waypoints or coordinates for a specific location you want to save for future use. Many GPS units have preloaded basic maps or the option to upload more later on, provided you have sufficient space. However, if you plan to save waypoints from multiple trips all at once, or if you want to be able to store lots of maps and satellite images on your device, then there should be plenty of storage space present in your GPS device.
If you are in the mood for a long journey, then it might be more suitable to buy a waterproof GPS so that it doesn’t get damaged in storms. The IPX rating will help you see how much water your GPS can handle, with 0 being none and 8 being complete submersion.
Satellite Messaging And Emergency Features
Satellite messaging is becoming one of the most integral features of GPS devices. For obvious safety reasons, this feature is a must-have for areas where cellular reception is not available. Paired with a subscription, this tech allows you to connect in areas without cell service, including sending and receiving texts, posting to social media, sharing your location, and communicating between GPS devices.
All GPS units have a standard GPS receiver that includes a network of U.S.-owned satellites. However, some additional receivers can add convenience when you’re traveling.
- Galileo: With Galileo, your position is provided by an independent European-owned satellite network. This is GPS in Europe.
- Wide Area Augmentation System/ WAAS: WAAS corrects data errors received from GPS satellites and gives you an accurate location within 3 meters, 95% of the time, instead of the standard 10-meter accuracy offered by most GPS units.
- EGNOS: EGNOS is similar to WAAS but was developed in Europe to improve location accuracy and correct position errors.
- GLONASS: If you get a device with GLONASS, you can pinpoint your location about 20% faster than a standard GPS. This improves performance when surrounded by dense trees or in a deep canyon, thanks to additional satellites.
- Iridium®: You’ll want Iridium® if data communication, voice, and S.O.S. features are important to you.
List of the Best Handheld GPS for Hikers in 2021
Best Overall GPS Device
- Weight: 8.1 ounces
- Screen: 3 inches
- Battery Life: ★★★★★ – 35 hours (200 in power save mode)
- Memory: ★★★★★ – 16 GB (accepts microSD)
- Pros: Satellite messaging & SOS, Top of the line features
- Cons: Not as accurate, Expensive
As always, Garmin takes the lead with its premium GPSMAP 66i. This newest model not only has many new and improved features, but it also has the most important ability a hiker needs, i.e., satellite messaging and SOS. For people who want to brave areas with no service, this item is of invaluable importance, having the means to send and receive messages, share a track, access weather forecasts, and initiate rescues.
The 66i was built for adventure and created with military thermal, shock, and water performance standards. It is fitted with the best available hardwire in the GPSMAP lineup. It has a high-resolution 3-inch screen, impressive battery life (200 hours in power save mode), 16 GB of memory, and Wi-Fi connectivity. However, along with many benefits, it has a few drawbacks, such as not being as accurate unless it has expanded satellite support. Some people may prefer the convenient AA batteries instead of having to charge the lithium-ion the 66i has. Still, 66i is an impressive tool, and its most important feature of satellite messaging and SOS sets it apart from the competition and sets a new milestone in handheld GPS. It is by far the best handheld GPS in 2021.
A Close Second Place
- Weight: 8.2 ounces
- Screen: 3 inches
- Battery Life:★★★★★ – 36 hours in standard mode and 450 hours in expedition mode
- Memory: ★★★★★– 16 GB with expandable memory
- Pros: Waterproof rating of IPX7, Expanded global navigation system, and multi-band technology
- Cons: User must also carry a battery pack or solar panel to recharge the device on longer trips, Expensive
As you can see, Garmin takes the second position as well, with the amazing 66 series, this time with the 66sr. The 66sr is quite similar to the 66i despite it being a lower version. It has the same size screen, memory, battery life, and is waterproof up to 1 meter deep for 30 minutes. What makes it unique is that it’s the first outdoor GPS unit to utilize five satellite systems. A simultaneous combination of GPS, GLONASS, Galileo, QZSS, and IRSS dramatically improves the accuracy of the device’s mapping capabilities. The multi-band technology helps you track your route in particularly challenging environments such as narrow canyons and dense forests. Its Bluetooth connectivity allows you to share your tracks, geocaches, and routes with other devices. Despite it not having the satellite messaging and SOS, its utilization of 5 satellite systems makes it far more accurate. However, this does require the user to carry a charging device due to battery drain.
Best Budget Handheld GPS
- Weight: 5 ounces
- Screen: 2.2 inches
- Battery Life: ★★★★☆ – 25 hours
- Memory: ★★★★☆ – 8 GB (accepts microSD)
- Pros: Variety of features for a budget price
- Cons: It costs another $100 to get a 3-axis compass and barometric altimeter.
If budget is an issue, but you don’t want to sacrifice quality, go with the Garmin eTrex 22x. The device is simple to use, comes with 8 GB of internal memory, 25 hours of battery life, and tough, water-resistant construction. It’s geocache-friendly, has a hunting/fishing calendar, has sun and moon information, and holds 2,000 waypoints and 200 routes. In addition, it supports the GPS and GLONASS satellite systems and is preloaded with TopoActive maps. Expensive GPS devices offer an overwhelming number of features, and so for those who want an affordable device without any unnecessary features, the eTrex 22x is simple the best option.
Additional Recommended Handheld GPS Devices
- Weight: 5 ounces with batteries
- Screen: 2.2 inches
- Battery Life: ★★★★☆ – 25 hours
- Memory: ★★★★★ – 8 MB
- Pros: Affordable, Easy-to-use interface, can be operated with gloved hands, Waterproof rating of IPX7
- Cons: Lack of detailed mapping capability, Low memory
In terms of budget and paperless geocaching, the eTrex 10 is the best handheld GPS device. The interface has vastly improved, with the screen being accessible even while wearing gloves, and a worldwide base map is included. Its lightweight and compact device add little to your weight. Although it lacks the GPS capabilities of more expensive options from Garmin, it performs its basic tracking and waypoint-marking duties extremely well. For a baseline unit, it has great reception and has an IPX 7 rating. The only major downside is that it is not capable of mapping. The preloaded map is not very useful, and you have to use your own common sense when navigating the terrain. However, for users who want a simple, easily affordable device that can save and track waypoints for geocaching or simple navigational excursions, the eTrex 10 is the way to go.
- Weight: 3.5 ounces
- Screen: 1.3 inches
- Battery Life:★★★★★ – 90 hours (24 days in power save mode)
- Memory: ★★☆☆☆ – 6.5 MB
- Pros: Huge battery life, easily carried, GPS and satellite messaging, Waterproof rating of IPX7
- Cons: Low memory, Limited navigation and mapping features, Paid subscription required for all communication features
Although the inReach Mini is not technically a GPS, with it being a communication device first and a navigation device second, its plethora of features and extremely lightweight design makes it very popular with users. Its primary function is satellite messaging and SOS, but it also pairs with a smartphone to offer rudimentary navigation on preloaded maps. In this age of minimalism, the Mini fits right in and, with its subscriptions, offers you to always stay in touch with your loved ones.
- Weight: 7.4 ounces
- Screen: 3 inches
- Battery Life: ★★★☆☆– 16 hours
- Memory: ★★★☆☆– 3.4 GB (accepts microSD)
- Pros: Feature-rich with a high-quality touchscreen, Lightweight, Easy-to-learn interface, rarely lags
- Cons: Screen is inoperable while wearing gloves, More expensive than similar options
The Oregon 700 is by far the best, easily operable handheld GPS with a touch screen. Not only is it light and compact, but its touchscreen is of the highest quality, with its resolution being top of the line. Its interface is very user-friendly and is quick to respond to all touchscreen commands. It has dual GPS, and GLONASS satellite reception and its redesigned antenna improve reception and performance. Overall, the Oregon 700 is a high-quality device that combines technological luxury with a compact size, a good value, and many practical features.
- Weight: 14.5 ounces
- Screen: 5 inches
- Battery Life:★★★☆☆– 18 hours (330 in expedition mode)
- Memory: ★★★★★
- – 16 GB (accepts microSD)
- Pros: Huge, high-resolution display, High durability, Large memory, which can be further enhanced by microSD cards.
- Cons: Large, bulky, expensive
With a whopping $ 700, the Montana 700i is the most expensive device on this list. However, its tank-like durability, large and high-resolution touch screen, and the expanded memory make it one of the best handheld GPS devices. Multiple global navigation satellite systems are enabled on the 700i, and it can interface with other smart devices using both Bluetooth and Wi-Fi. Adding to its already vast list of features, the 700i is also capable of satellite messaging and SOS. Its large size and high-resolution screen make it bulkier and battery draining than the rest, but despite these little drawbacks, it is undoubtedly one of the most advanced GPS units and a great addition to any journey.
- Weight: 7.5 ounces
- Screen: 2.3 inches
- Battery Life: ★★★★★ – 100 hours (30 days in power save mode)
- Memory:★★★☆☆– 2 GB
- Pros: Most affordable inReach-equipped GPS device here, huge battery life, Waterproof rating of IPX7
- Cons: Heavier and more expensive than the inReach Mini; middling GPS features
For those who don’t want premium gadgets but want to go on a trip and still be connected with your friends and family, this is the most affordable unit you can get with the added feature of satellite messaging and SOS. Unlike the Mini above, the inReach explorer is a real-deal GPS device featuring a color display, on-screen navigation, and the added accuracy of a barometric altimeter and 3-axis compass. It also comes equipped with 24K maps of the U.S. and Canada, and the 100-hour battery life outpaces every other design here. Although it cannot compare to the 66i and Montana 700i in terms of accuracy, storage, and features, its price is more well-adjusted. For $450, you get a solid piece of technology capable of helping you navigate every terrain easily.
- Weight: 10.2 ounces
- Screen: 4 inches
- Battery Life: ★★★☆☆ – 16 Hours
- Memory: ★★★☆☆ – 1 GB
- Pros: Touchscreen, 8-megapixel camera
- Cons: Screen resolution is not good
This little gadget is all touchscreen along with having an 8-megapixel camera that automatically lets you geotag photos. It supports both GPS and GLONASS satellites, is a WAAS-enabled receiver, and is equipped with HotFix® satellite prediction. Along with having a 1 GB memory, it also can add additional maps via a microSD card. This nifty little is perfect for everybody who doesn’t want something premium and has the most bang for their buck.
- Weight: 5.2 ounces
- Screen: 2.2 inches
- Battery Life: ★★★☆☆– 18 hours
- Memory: ★★★☆☆– 2 GB
- Pros: Great price, Screen has good visual, Waterproof rating of IPX7
- Cons: Interface is not as smooth, dated
Despite Garmin being the leading company for the best handheld GPS, there are other options. The Magellan has all the basic features that a GPS unit should have, create and follow routes, mark waypoints and show your trip progress with tracks. In addition, it has an IPX-7 waterproof rating, and a 2.2-inch screen is color and reads reasonably well even indirect light. However, it is far from being the best handheld GPS. Despite its reasonable price, its software is outdated, and the interface is clunky.
- Weight: 3 ounces
- Screen: 1.4 inches
- Battery Life: ★★★★★ – Up to 50 hours
- Memory: ★★★★☆– 8 GB
- Pros: On-the-wrist navigation
- Cons: Difficult to use, and the interface is not very polished.
This particular Garmin item is at the lowest because it’s not specifically a handheld GPS. It is more akin to a watch, but it does pack various navigation features such as maps, and the screen is bright and easy to read. However, it has many disadvantages, with the foremost being a very messy interface. Its small screen is also a point of discomfort, and despite the long battery life, the drawbacks, along with the high price, place it at the bottom of the list.
That is it for today’s article about the best handheld GPS. You can go back to all articles about the best hiking equipment or read our hiking and camping beginners guide. If you feel like I have missed an important handheld GPS or have any questions feel free to leave a comment.