What Is The Best Handheld GPS?

If you're something of an explorer or nature enthusiast, it is likely you've found yourself out and away from the comforts of civilization. Whether in the backwoods or out in the open sea, those of us with a taste for adventure enjoy traveling off the beaten path.

But any experienced explorer can tell you that being able to find your way back to the path is just as important as knowing when to step off it.

No matter where your journey takes you, proper navigation is essential for a safe and enjoyable journey. A reliable handheld GPS is the best tool one can have in the modern era, serving as a compass and map rolled into one device.

There's a huge amount of handheld navigation systems available on the market these days, and it can be hard to know which is reliable. Read on and we'll discuss the best handheld GPS systems available to buy.

What To Look For In A Handheld GPS

Before diving into specific recommendations, its worth considering what common traits and features make a good handheld GPS device.

As you probably know, Global Positioning Systems log and store spatial data based on the geographic location of the unit in question. This information is intended to guide you through uncharted or unfamiliar areas and keep track of where you've been in the past. They are typically built durably with the intention for outdoor use.

A good modern GPS will have a number of features intended to better the experience of the user. Some units will have cameras or topography maps to provide more information to the user of the device.

Handheld GPS Systems Vs. The Modern Cell Phone

Of course, many standard cell phones now feature GPS information and directions. And yet, having a separate handheld GPS unit is still highly advisable for adventurous souls.

Dedicated handheld GPS units are typically made of more durable materials, making them better suited for outdoor exhibition. They usually have longer lasting batteries, and drain much slower than a typical phone battery. They also have much better satellite reception than a traditional cell phone, which can lose signal easily in the backwoods or out at sea.

Any handheld GPS unit worth its salt will be able to perform better than a cell phone equivalent, and it's worth looking into these qualities when considering what model to buy.

It's also worth considering your personal preference when it comes to common variations between models. Is a compact, easy to carry version preferable over something with a larger screen? Do you want to spring for a faster touchscreen with a lower battery life, or stick with an old school version with buttons?

Considering these factors before looking into your options can help you determine what GPS unit will be right for you. The below navigation systems are some of our picks for the best models available on the market today.

Garmin GPSMAP 64st

It's no secret that one big name in GPS stands out above all others: Garmin. Garmin has had a major lock on the GPS industry for years, and their dominance doesn't seem to be slipping anytime soon.

The fact of the matter is, Garmin makes great GPS products that customers love. The GPSMAP 64st is no different.

Garmin's 64st is an amazing, rugged and multi-featured handheld GPS that excels in both use and design. Its 2.6-inch color screen is easy to use and reliably fluid when it comes to zooming in and out. This makes navigating direction and checking your surroundings easy and painless.

The 64st's 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. Even if you're exploring somewhere extremely remote, the 64st should be able to trace your location with no difficulty.

Even better, the navigation system has a whopping 16 hours of battery life. That's more than enough juice to power through an entire day's worth of traveling with room to spare.

Additional Features

The 64st also features 250,000 pre-loaded caching and 100,000 topographical maps, plus a one-year subscription to BirdsEye satellite imagery. Downloading additional maps is quick and easy, thanks to the 8GB of onboard memory the 64st allows. So if you want, you can pack this unit with even more topographical and detailed navigation information.

The 64st also allows you to share GPS information with other devices instantly and wirelessly.

You can share your waypoints, tracks, routes, and geocaches with other compatible devices. This means your friends can enjoy your favorite hike or cache without waiting for you upload info to your computer. All you have to do is press "send" to transfer your information to another Garmin handheld.

GPSMAP 64st also has a built-in 3-axis tilt-compensated electronic compass. This compass can show your heading even when you're standing still, without holding it level. Its barometric altimeter tracks changes in pressure to pinpoint your precise altitude, and you can even use it to help you keep an eye on changing weather conditions.

Garmin Oregon 650t

Another great GPS device from Garmin is their new Oregon 650t. Running at a light 7.4-ounces, the Oregon is an easy and effortless carry out onto our next adventure.

The 650t features a three-inch 400 x 240-pixel touchscreen display and a LED backlight. The touchscreen is weather-resistant and suited for multiple environments. It can even be used with gloves and does not require direct finger contact, making it a great GPS for potentially wet or cold adventures.

Additionally, the display self-adjusts depending on light around it. It can adapt to vivid sunlight or to shade, allowing 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. Like the other Garmin model, the Oregon 650t can run up to 16 hours on a single charge.

Additional Features

The 650t is great at pinpointing your exact location by utilizing both GPS and GLONASS satellite positioning.

Alongside a treasure trove of pre-loaded maps is 3.7GB of onboard memory, as well as expandable memory via a microSD card. You can easily add more maps and topographic information if you so choose.

One of the coolest features of the Oregon is the built-in 8-megapixel autofocus digital camera. This camera can take high-quality photos with the click of the button, meaning you can leave your extra bulky digital camera at home. Each photo is geotagged with the location of where it was taken, allowing you to navigate back to that exact spot in the future if you'd like.

Photos can be stored on a microSD card inserted into the Garmin. You can even view photos stored on microSD cards that were taken on other devices using the 650t's picture viewer.

Photos can be shared via USB with all your friends through Garmin Adventures, Garmin's online sharing community. They can also be sent easily and wirelessly to other Garmin devices using the 650t's Bluetooth functionality.

DeLorme inReach Explorer

Garmin isn't the only name in GPS, and this model from DeLorme is well worth looking into.

Unlike Garmin's traditional GPS units, DeLorme offers features that extend beyond typical GPS navigation. Many of these are focused on safety. Two-way satellite messaging and SOS tracking capabilities connect to a search and rescue center, meaning you're always just one button away from help.

With inReach, message confirmation lets you know that your SOS alert has been received and help is on the way. GEOS works with local authorities to coordinate the proper response. GEOS will send messages to the GPS unit, keeping you informed of important information such as ETA.

Additionally, the DeLorme acts as a GPS tracker and can send location transmissions at 10-minute to four-hour intervals.

If there's one questionable factor of the DeLorme, it's the display. Running at just 1.8-inches, it is relatively small in comparison to other handheld GPS units available. But what it lacks in screen size it more than makes up for in battery life.

The inReach Explorer has an absolutely insane battery which can last up to one hundred hours without needing a new charge. That's far and away the best battery available of any GPS unit on the market. It literally eliminates the odds that you'll run out of juice at any point during your adventures.

Additional Features

Beyond the battery, the standard fare of GPS navigation is all here. This includes the ability to create and view routes, drop waypoints and navigate with an on-screen map. Additionally, you can easily find details such as distance and bearing to your location using the inReach Explorer.

DeLorme also offers Bluetooth pairing with your smartphone. You can download the EarthMate mobile app which provides additional statistics, as well as unlimited topographic downloads to your smartphone.

The inReach Explorer also has a digital compass, barometric altimeter, and accelerometer for even more navigation support.

Magellan eXplorist 310 Summit Series

Another great handheld GPS unit is this excellent new unit from Magellan.

It's a small light model with a 2.2-inch screen that should be easily readable even in harsh sunlight. Though it doesn't have battery life comparable to the inReach Explorer, the eXplorist still has an impressive lifespan of 18 hours.

That's better than most models today, and it runs easily off of two AA alkaline batteries. These batteries are included with purchase, so the unit is ready to use right out of the box.

The eXplorist comes pre-loaded with the World Edition map from Magellan. This includes major roads of the world and a complete road network in the United States, Canada, Western Europe and Australia.

The eXplorist is a great handheld GPS if you're interested in geocaching. It allows for easy and paperless geocaching downloads. There's a geocaching feature that allows you to pull new maps and coordinates even when you're not connected to the outside world.

Even better, the eXplorer has been shown to get within a three-foot accuracy of coordinates when looking for a geocache, much better than the traditional 10-15.

At a light 1.5 pounds, it's an easy carry out into the wilderness. It's also made of highly durable materials and has a waterproof rating of IPX-7, meaning it can survive through a lot out in the backwoods or on water. Though it's a little less user-friendly than some of the other handheld GPS options, this little unit is still well worth considering.

Additional Features

The main selling point of the Magellan eXplorist is that the unit comes bundled with a large amount of curated topographic maps. The 'Summit Series' is the flagship bundle of maps from Magellan.

This bundle gives you a detailed set of topography throughout a variety of popular hiking mountains around the world. We find this to be better than a blanketed, one-size-fits-all topography approach.

Magellan offers different versions of the eXplorist with different map sets to meet your needs and interests. In addition to the Summit Series bundle, you can also purchase the eXplorist with the 'Fishing Hotspots' or 'Waterproof Hiking' bundles for more personalization.

The eXplorist does feature only a small amount of space outside its pre-loaded map sets for new downloads. If you're looking to download more of your own topographic maps to the device, there are about 500 megabytes of space for new downloads. But with the incredible bundles already provided, you likely won't need to add much more.

Get Out and Get Exploring

With a reliable handheld GPS in hand, any adventurer can feel confident in their navigation and their safety when exploring the world. A proper navigation system can make a trip away easy and safe and is an essential tool for any hike, camping trip, or boating voyage.

If you're looking for a great GPS unit, all of the above options should do the job and more.

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