Whether you enjoy camping, hiking, boating or hunting, it’s a good idea to make sure you don’t get lost when you’re headed into the wilderness. That said, not everyone wants to carry around a heavy GPS system like the ones you may find mounted in a car.

The good news is, there are plenty of small GPS devices that are either handheld or can be worn as a watch. These options are much easier to travel with and can work well when you don’t have cell phone service available. Let’s take a look at some of the best handheld GPS choices out there!

 

Best Handheld GPS Reviews

Garmin GPSMAP 64

The Garmin GPSMAP 64 is an ideal option for those who want something small and easy to carry while still providing effective results. This handy little device comes at an affordable cost and is capable of tracking you even when you’re far from cell phone service and civilized areas.

Product Highlights

If you’re someone who likes heading out into the woods, desert or even the ocean, you’re going to need something to ensure you don’t actually get lost. The GPSMAP 64 is a great way to accomplish just that. It’s a small device with a screen just 2.6 inches big, making it small enough to carry and large enough to read.

Furthermore, this isn’t a device you have to worry too much about charging. Just make sure you have enough AA batteries available for your trip, and you’ll be ready to go. This little GPS can even provide you access to imaging from satellites using BirdsEye.

The Good

Those who try out this GPS find it to be quite intuitive and easy to figure out. Additionally, it’s able to hang in there for quite a while on just a pair of AA batteries. As a result, you won’t have to worry too much about your tracking device losing power while you’re out in the forest for days at a time.

The Bad

While there are a number of positive aspects to this device, there are some who have found that map downloads can be much slower than they had hoped. In addition, there can be some struggles with using the BirdsEye subscription offered with the GPS.

Pros

  • User-friendly
  • Long battery life
  • Works quickly

Cons

  • Slow map downloads
  • Garmin server errors
  • BirdsEye subscription problems

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Garmin Foretrex 601

Sometimes, the simplest option is all that’s needed in order to keep yourself from getting lost. The Garmin Foretrex is a fantastic choice for those who just want something easy to carry and simple to use. It also comes at an affordable price!

Product Highlights

Though it may be a simple device when it comes to features, the Foretrex is a GPS that is made to endure just about anything you can throw at it. Because it’s made to fit standards that would normally be reserved for the military, you’ll be able to trust that this device is a lasting one.

Additionally, it’s made to provide plenty of power. Depending on the mode you’re using primarily, the battery life on this GPS can last up to a month. Just keep in mind that this may not be something you’ll want as an everyday GPS, as it is a bit on the bulkier side and may look out of place.

The Good

For users who tend to need larger buttons, and a display that is easier to read, this is a fantastic choice. It’s also one with enough features to get you through a variety of situations. Finally, that long battery life can help to ensure you’re back to civilization before having to worry about it dying.

The Bad

In some cases, those who purchase this device can find that some of the buttons cease to work. Some may also experience large flaws in the GPS that begin to show up after the first year of use.

Pros

  • Large buttons/display
  • Long battery life
  • Plentiful features

Cons

  • Nonworking buttons
  • Missing elevation data

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Garmin Epix

Having your handheld GPS in the form of a watch makes it incredibly easy to move around with. If you don’t mind paying a bit more than some other options, the Garmin Epix offers a watch-style GPS that is small enough for daily wear, so you can take it anywhere.

Product Highlights

The Garmin Epix makes travel, navigation and even receiving notifications easy and compact. It offers a small, 1.4” screen with high resolution so you’ll still be able to read it just about anywhere. Furthermore, you’re unlikely to run out of memory quickly with an internal 8GB right there in the device.

If you like customization, then you’ll also enjoy the ability to keep control over the data shown on the device, the watch face and a whole lot more using the ConnectIQ application. Finally, things texts, emails and other notifications can easily be set up to go right to the watch.

The Good

Many enjoy the highly compact design of this GPS device, and the ability to have it with you without actually having to remember to carry it. Additionally, the design allows it to be easy to see, even when the sun is glaring and bright!

The Bad

While there are a number of great benefits to this watch, it’s also one that can have some issues with things like bugs and glitches. Some may also find that the accuracy of the location pinpointing isn’t as great as they had hoped for.

Pros

  • Convenient watch design
  • Great resolution
  • Great for travel

Cons

  • Customer support issues

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Garmin Explorer+

If you’re searching for something with a plethora of features, the Garmin Explorer+ may be the ideal option for your needs. This is a device that not only allows you to keep track of where you are, but family and friends can find your location as well. That way, you’ll be better prepared if an emergency should happen.

Product Highlights

The Garmin Explorer+ is a top choice when it comes to safety. There are a variety of features built into the device alongside the GPS itself that allow you to stay safe and be found if something should happen. These include things like the ability to message family and friends and allow them to follow along as you move around, interact with a monitoring center available 24/7 in case you need to send out an SOS, and even receive a weather forecast.

As a result, this is a top choice for those who want to stay as safe as possible and be able to navigate well.

The Good

Thanks to the MapShare and SOS features, you will have an easier time contacting others when you’re in need of help. Additionally, if you aren’t able to call for help, loved ones will be able to locate your position on the map to send help to you.

The Bad

One of the largest problems customers have faced with this device involves activation. Some can find that no matter how many times they try, the GPS simply won’t activate correctly. Furthermore, some may struggle with texting, finding that it isn’t as reliable as they had hoped for.

Pros

  • MapShare
  • Easy SOS features
  • Ideal for areas without cell service

Cons

  • Difficulty activating
  • Intermittent texting only

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DeLorme inReach

Another top choice in the realm of safety is the DeLorme inReach. This handy little GPS can track where you are, allow loved ones to keep an eye on your progress and give you the opportunity to reach out for help when you need it.

Product Highlights

One of the highlights of this little device is that you can set it to automatically let loved ones know where you are on the map at intervals of your choosing. Whether it’s every ten minutes, hour or four hours, they will be able to receive updates on where you are and how you’re doing.

Additionally, this device includes the ability to communicate with a monitoring center that is available at all times. If an accident should occur, you will be able to let them know, ask for help, and receive updates on how long it will take for help to get to you.

The Good

You probably don’t want to have to pay for a service all year long, even if you may only use it three months out of the year. This device makes it easy for you to only pay for what you need, when you need it. Furthermore, it’s a nice option for those who want to be able to send texts even without regular cell service.

The Bad

While this is a device that is capable of sending texts, it’s nowhere near as convenient as typing on our modern cellphones. This is something worth keeping in mind, as you’ll want to keep texts short and to the point. Additionally, some customers have found that getting help through customer service can be a bit tricky at times.

Pros

  • Pay during use only
  • Text without cell service
  • Lightweight

Cons

  • Difficult to type
  • Subscription issues
  • Customer service problems

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Buyer’s Guide

Everyone has preferences when it comes to how they want their handheld GPS to work for them. This includes aspects like using buttons or a touchscreen, determining the best receiver type and much more. Let’s take a look into the features you’ll want to consider when buying a new handheld GPS.

Buttons vs. Touchscreen

There are benefits to both buttons and touchscreens, but your specific situation may dictate which one you need to use. Touchscreens can often be easier, especially for those who are used to them on tablets and phones. However, they don’t work as well when the screen gets wet or dirty.

Consequently, if you know these issues might occur, buttons might be the better choice. Just make sure that you familiarize yourself with what each button does before you head out on the trail so you can easily use the device as needed.

Readability and Screen Size

Another aspect worth considering is the size of the device you want, versus the level of readability it offers. This really is determined by what your needs and priorities are.

Often, those who are looking for a handheld GPS want something small and easy to travel with. However, some may need the screen and text to be large enough to read easily. If that is something you need, it’s worth keeping in mind as you compare all of the available options.

Receiver Type: WAAS and GLONASS

It’s worth keeping in mind that GPS devices can use both WAAS and GLONASS. To begin with, take note that the standard American GPS system is one that is commonly used for navigational purposes. The alternative to this is GLONASS, which is a GPS system alternative developed by Russia. When it comes to getting global coverage, you’ll want one of these two systems.

Additionally, WAAS is used to ensure both accuracy and stability for your GPS. It’s a great tool to use alongside GPS or GLONASS that can help your device to locate you correctly and get you to where you need to go.

Preloaded vs. Loading Maps

Often when you get a new GPS, it will come with some pre-installed maps available for you to use if you wish. Typically, these maps are going to be pretty basic. They can be useful if you’re working on a more general basis, but they may not be as accurate and as up-to-date as other options.

Loading maps tends to be more updated, but you may have trouble getting them to load in some cases. However, you can also often find downloadable maps for areas you’ll be traveling in that can provide a happy medium between the two.

Battery Life

Think about the length of time you typically spend out away from cell service. Typically, you’ll want to make sure that you have more than enough battery life to last you the entire trip. If you can arrange to have a great deal more than enough, you’ll be better off.

You never know when an accident might occur that leaves you stuck in the wilderness for longer than intended. It’s best to stock up on extra batteries or carry a battery bank so that you can have access to navigation and SOS features if needed. It’s far better to be safe than sorry.

Handheld GPS FAQ

What to do about GPS reception problems

When you’re trying out a new GPS, it’s a good idea to test the reception and navigation on some shorter trips before taking it out for days at a time. That way, you can start to get a good view of any issues that may occur. One of these may include problems in the process of reception.

If you’re finding these issues on your GPS, it’s a good idea to look for a spot where it can easily view the open sky and allow it to rest for half an hour. Within that time, it will typically be able to reach a satellite. After that, just give it time to get the almanac downloaded and the issues should resolve.

For those who find that the problems are continuing, it may be a good time to contact customer service to get some further tips.

Do you need a GPS with an electronic compass?

Generally speaking, having an electronic compass on your GPS is a highly useful factor. It’s a great tool for making sure that you’re pointed in the right direction, even when you aren’t moving. That way, you can keep a sense of your direction no matter where you are or what you’re doing.

On the other hand, the GPS itself is only useful for providing any sense of direction when you’re actually moving around. This is worth considering when you’re going to be spending time in one place in the wilderness.

Additionally, keep in mind that this additional feature can bring down the battery life in the GPS, and cause it to be more expensive! This factor is worth considering when you want something that will be useful and lasting on your trips.

Isn’t a smartphone GPS sufficient?

When you’re trying to make your way around a city or town, smartphone GPS is typically all you need. However, the same isn’t true when you’re in an area that has little to no cellphone service. The GPS your smartphone maps typically use are connected to that service, and maps won’t load well when it’s absent.

As a result, it’s wise to have a backup option when you’re going to be out of the range of your normal cell service. GPS devices tend to use different satellites and programs than your cellphone, allowing them to function more easily out in the wilderness.

Unless you know you’re going to have plenty of cell phone service wherever you’re going, it’s best to bring along a GPS-enabled device that will work where cellphone service and internet are not present.

In situations like these, it’s better to be safe than sorry. No one wants to risk getting lost when their cellphone cannot connect or runs out of battery when you’re away from civilization.

How often are maps updated?

The answer to this can really vary depending on the brand and model you choose. When you’re looking for a new GPS, consider the age of the model you’re interested in as you may find that some may no longer have access to new updates for maps.

However, for newer models, the maps should be relatively new as-is. Additionally, you will often be able to connect your GPS to a computer in order to download maps that are even more recent. That way, you can stay up to date on all the maps you need for your outings.

Just make sure to check in regularly, especially before heading out on a trip where you may not have access to internet or cell phone services. When you do this, your GPS will be ready to navigate you where you need to go with the latest maps without worry for losing service.

How accurate is a GPS system?

The accuracy you’ll find on a GPS device can vary based on a number of different things. This might include the age and brand of the device, the type of receiver you’re working with, and whether the maps are loading or pre-loaded. Each of these factors can make the accuracy a little different.

That said, there are reasons why big names in GPS technology exist, such as Garmin. Many have found that they are quite useful tools, great for allowing them to navigate and remain safe in the wilderness. Wherever you decide to use a device, it’s a good idea to make sure the GPS you choose has everything you need to avoid getting lost.

While you’re shopping, you can also look into the reviews left by previous users for the different devices out there. They are a fantastic location for finding out just how useful each model or brand is in different situations.

Final Verdict

Among all the choices in this list, the Garmin Foretrex 601 offers the best value overall. It comes at an affordable price, provides a larger screen with easy buttons to select and includes a number of different functions. As a result, it’s going to be the ideal option for those who want something reliable on the go.

That said, keep in mind that the other choices provided here certainly aren’t slackers! Depending on your needs, you may find that any one of them can provide you with exactly what you’re looking for. Make sure to compare them all well to find the best option for you.