4 Best Handheld GPS Systems

GPS stands for Global Positioning System. A handheld GPS unit helps you to log and then save spatial data wherever you may be in the world. It is very helpful if you are having an adventure such as camping or trekking. The GPS unit can withstand all types of weather conditions. Its features can help you in determining the places you have been and where you are.

There are plenty of GPS units in today’s market. But there are ones that remain simple while there are others that have extra features. Before you buy your handheld GPS unit, think about where you will be using it and also how much your budget is. For adventurers who like exploring the outdoors, it can be a very helpful and practical device. It helps you to navigate unfamiliar territory.

While outdoors, you may encounter a lot of issues that will make it difficult for you to move to your next point. It can be poorly marked paths, trails that have been washed out, or bad weather that reduces visibility. Snow, rain, and fog can also present numerous problems when it comes to looking for the right trail that will safely lead you to your next destination. With a handheld GPS, you can navigate your way even if the conditions become worse and you can be sure that you will get home safely.

Handheld GPS units are very reliable, but it doesn’t mean that you can leave your map and compass behind. They are still the best method to get around in unfamiliar places. It is still advisable that you carry with you a map and compass along with your handheld GPS when you go to unfamiliar terrain. GPS units are very useful combined with the map in determining locations using longitude and latitude. The great thing about the old school map and compass is that they won’t run out of batteries or break when you drop it. These two are a fail-safe backup to the GPS unit that you have. Make sure to keep your map safe and dry especially if they are not waterproof maps. Below we’ll take a look at some of the best ones, so read on.

4 Best Handheld GPS Systems

Garmin eTrex 30x

The eTrex 30x and 30 are both really good handheld GPS units. Even on a thorough search for scathing material, we were not able to find any flaws or serious complains from the customers. Our own experience was very smooth, almost too good to be true. We share our findings and more in our review, so read before you make a decision about buying a GPS navigator

Garmin 64st

Garmin GPSMAP 64st, popularly known as only the 64st, is from the upper range of GPS navigators when you need more than the basics. The 2.6″ display is so far the best thing about the 64st. The rest of the features are pretty much what you would find in this price range, and sometimes higher price range as well.

Garmin Oregon 650t

The best thing about the Oregon 650t is perhaps its multi-touch 3″ sunlight-ready screen. Further, the 650t comes with added connectivity and sharing options. To top it all up, Garmin gives an 8 megapixels camera with LED flash, autofocus, digital zoom, and automatic geotagging. Powerful, elegant, and efficient by all benchmarks.

SATMAP Active 12

SatMap Active 12 is the stellar successor to the heavily appreciated Active 10. It builds up on the already amazing features of the Active 10. One of the premier GPS navigators in the UK, it’s gaining a hold in the US market as well. The added features include a larger screen, Bluetooth, support for heart rate and bike speed/cadence sensors, and a barometric altimeter.

Why a handheld GPS is important?

A handheld GPS can give you vital location-based information that you won’t be able to determine with just your eyes. An example of this is the marine GPS device that has charts that can show the depth of the water and any hazards underwater. What’s most important is that the device can display the position of the user in case of poor visibility.

Even the lobster fishermen use GPS units in plotting their traps’ location so that they will be able to still fish when there is whiteout snow, heavy rain, or dense fog. Also, hunters use GPS units in marking their kill’s location, trailhead, and tree stand. For mountain guides, they use the GPS unit in marking the routes on the mountains. There are even guides who share their descent routes via Bluetooth with other guides who are still going up. As you can see, the handheld GPS unit has so many uses, and they have been proven to be very helpful. When it comes to outdoor recreation, handheld GPS units are very useful in providing you information about your location relative to your origin or destination. Other methods may not be able to determine this but GPS units can.

You may be wondering why you need a handheld GPS unit when your smartphone already has an app for that. It is true that we can use our smartphones’ GPS applications, but a handheld GPS unit performs better in terms of the satellite reception, navigation features, and battery life compared to the GPS applications of our smartphones. Handheld GPS units are also more ideal when it comes to off-trail navigation and when you encounter conditions where there is low visibility.

If you are going to travel on trails that have already been established such as along rivers, a smartphone app is sufficient, and you may not be needing a handheld GPS unit for that. There are plenty of GPS apps to choose from as well. Just read the ones with the best reviews so that you know you’re getting the best performing app. But for more unfamiliar places, a handheld GPS unit is necessary so that you can arrive at your destination safely.

What to look for in a handheld GPS?

When looking for a handheld GPS unit, you have to know the features that you want to use as well as your budget. Handheld GPS units are very reliable and are multi-functional devices that are designed for logging spatial data. These units can provide you will altitude profiles, geocache, make notes, route tracking, marking waypoints, and so much more.

These GPS units are small, and you can carry them around your neck or put them in your backpack. Commonly, handheld GPS units are utilized for on-land functions. They are great because they are reliable and won’t run out of batteries quickly. You can also be sure that they can withstand all kinds of weather conditions. Let’s take a look at other features that you should look for when choosing a handheld GPS unit.

  • Tides Information
  • Points of Interest
  • Location of cities nearby
  • Proximity alarm
  • Satellites
  • Stopwatch
  • Calendar
  • Alarm Clock
  • Calculator
  • Area Calculator
  • Sunset and Sunrise
  • Route Planner
  • Profile Options
  • Waypoint and Track Managers
  • Mark Waypoint
  • Photo Viewer
  • Geocache Options
  • Trip Computer
  • Compass
  • Maps

Buttons or touchscreen?

Another big decision you have to make is if you want a unit that has buttons or is a touchscreen unit. Touchscreens have its advantages because they can give you faster operation as compared to traditional screens. However, these units use up more battery and may freeze up in colder conditions. You may not also be able to use them well if you are wearing thick gloves.

Buttoned GPS units are better because you can use them even if you are wearing gloves. Their batteries also last longer, and you can expect them to work in any kind of temperature. These units are also more reliable. One downside of buttoned GPS units is that they have the tendency to lag and you may find that it takes quite awhile to type in the waypoints. In the end, between these two types, it’s up to you and your preference. Do you like a unit that is more modern and can operate quickly or do you want one that is more reliable? It’s really up to you and your needs.


Now you know some of the basic information about handheld GPS units. What you need to do now is to determine the features that you need for your adventure and how much you are willing to spend on purchasing the unit. Remember that handheld GPS units are very helpful in many ways especially during your adventures in unfamiliar places. By using it well, you can be sure that you will get to your destination and get back home safely.

For more familiar routes, smartphone GPS applications are sufficient. But for other routes that you are not very familiar with, a handheld GPS unit is a must. You must also remember to carry with you a map and a compass so that you have a backup in case the unit runs out of batteries or if for some reason; it doesn’t function as expected.

Once you have your handheld GPS unit, make sure to read the manual and get yourself familiar with how to use it properly so that you will be ready when you are going to use it outdoors. It can help you greatly, and you won’t have to worry about getting lost if the tracks become unreliable or if the weather conditions are bad.

Before you go off to your adventure, check that you have sufficient batteries for your handheld GPS unit and that you bring some extras in case you run out of batteries along the way. Also, check that the unit is functioning well so that you won’t encounter any problems while you are already outside. When everything is ready, and you have set up your unit, you are good to go. You will have a great time in your adventure knowing that you can track your origin, where you are, and where you are heading.