GPS Handheld Units of 2017 - The Ultimate Buyer's Guide

I bought and field-tested all of the top-ranked handheld GPS units. Here is my list of the top handheld GPS units of 2017 to help you choose the right one!

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Why Garmin GPS Is King

Garmin GPS Units are king in the handheld navigation industry. Hands down. Here's why, and one alternative brand to consider.

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GPS Watch: Why You Need One

If GPS Watches were around when James Bond was alive, he'd have one. Here's why you need one for running, hiking, or golfing.

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GPS For Hiking – Lost in The Woods (No More)

gps for hiking

Buying a GPS unit for hiking could save your life. In 2012 there were over 2,800 search and rescue attempts made to rescue injured or lost hikers in the United States. Of those, 35 people died.

While statistics aren’t available on how many of those lost or seriously injured hikers did not have GPS or proper two-way communication, it certainly gives us something to think about when venturing into the wilderness.

There are some cardinal rules of backpacking that were perhaps broken to generate so many thousands of rescue cases, such as: hiking alone, hiking without proper gear, not notifying people of your route and expected time of return, deviating from marked trails, etc.

But it’s safe to say that getting lost must have been the main reason behind many of those rescue attempts and fatalities. And getting lost is easily preventable with some preparation.

That’s why I strongly recommend investing in getting handheld GPS for hiking use. There are so many affordable and awesome units out there, especially by Garmin, that there is really no reason not to have.

If you’re completely lost in the wilderness, a GPS unit will:

  • (Usually) Prevent you from getting lost in the first place
  • Allow you to pinpoint your position and identify important landmarks nearby to navigate to (roads and trails)
  • Send an emergency SOS signal to rescuers if injured and unable to travel (on select GPS for hiking units such as DeLorme’s nReach)
  • Allow you to communicate with the rest of your party in areas with no cellular coverage (on certain units like Garmin’s Rino series)

The first reason, not getting lost in the first place, is perhaps the most important. Having to activate an emergency beacon is embarrassing and costly at best and harrowing and deadly at worst. For you AND for the rescuers.

I have a strong opinion about this: if you are a negligent hiker, meaning that you break some cardinal rule recklessly, and need to be rescued then you are unfairly endangering the lives of rescuers. Helicopter pilots, crews, paramedic, and searchers are all risking their lives to save you in a preventable situation. Especially when buying GPS for hiking for a fraction of a paycheck could prevent getting lost in the first place.

Buy one, learn how to use it, and explore the outdoors responsibility.

 

Best Handheld GPS Units for Hiking, Skiing or Hunting Partners

best handheld gps

It was tough to narrow down the best handheld GPS units this year, because there are so many great options. In my flagship post, Best Handheld GPS Units of 2017 – A Complete Buyer’s Guide, I identified the top 5 units of this year. I still stand by that research and highly recommend reading it to identify which current model suits your needs.

However, what are the best handheld GPS units for people who travel into the wilderness in pairs? Whether it’s hiking, hunting, or skiing, there are some units that are really good for multiple people versus the solo adventurer.

What makes these models different from the average handheld GPS unit? Features like these:

  • Built-In Communication Functions (2-Way Radio)
  • User tracking on shared map
  • NOAA Weather Radio access
  • FM Radio
  • WiFi and Bluetooth sharing of data

Best Handheld GPS Units for Activity Partners

1.Garmin Rino 650T GPS Device

For all outdoor activities the Garmin Rino series tops the list as the best handheld GPS unit. The 650 is the most popular, and is reasonably priced within the Rino models. It was designed with the outdoorsman in mind, with great features like:

  • 2.5 inch color touchscreen
  • High-sensitivity GPS receiver
  • 5 Watt two-way radio (FRS/GMRS)
  • NOAA Weather radio
  • Worldwide map set

Click Image Below to Buy From Amazon (affiliate link charges you nothing, but helps me pay for hosting this blog):

2.Garmin Monterra Wi-Fi Enabled GPS Navigator 010-01065-00 (4″ Display, 8MP Camera, GPS, Google Play Apps,3D MapMerge)

What stands out on the Monterra is its massive 4 inch display. Also, its integration with Google Play apps and 3D MapMerge make it one of the best handheld GPS units for advanced software functions.

It features:

  • 8MP digital camera with geotagging
  • Waterproof microphone and speaker (built-in)
  • WiFi, Bluetooth, and NFC (near field communication) connectivity
  • FM Radio and NOAA Weather Alerts
  • Share data wirelessly with other users

While it doesn’t feature 2-way radio communication, it is a great GPS unit for groups to rely upon if they stick together.

Click Image Below to Buy From Amazon (affiliate link charges you nothing, but helps me pay for hosting this blog):

3.Garmin 3″ Garmin Rino 755t

This higher end model of Garmin’s popular Rino series makes the list at number three. It has some very advanced, perhaps the most advanced, features in the list of best handheld GPS units; this advanced technology is reflected in its higher price, though. If you spend a considerable amount of time outdoors, especially working in a team, and can afford it: then it is worth it.

The Rino 755t is superb. It is packed full of technological wonders beyond what the Rino 650 has, such as:

  • Large 3 inch touch screen
  • 3-axis tilt compass, barometric pressure gauge, and accelerometer
  • 8MP digital camera with flash
  • Bluetooth audio headset compatibility
  • Smart Notifications
  • Automatic uploads to the Garmin Connect network

Click Image Below to Buy From Amazon (affiliate link charges you nothing, but helps me pay for hosting this blog):

 

GPS Reviews – Which Handheld Unit To Buy Depending On Your Sport: Hiking, Hunting, or Long Distance Backpacking

gps reviews

Handheld GPS units come in all types. They range from basic units to ones with all kinds of bells and whistles (with accompanying thick manual). What many prospective buyers don’t consider is matching a unit to the activity that they do the most. Meaning, if you’re buying  a unit for weekend day hikes then you certainly don’t need the features that somebody through-hiking the Pacific Crest Trail would need. Here are my GPS reviews for handheld units, by activity:

GPS Reviews for Handheld Units By Activity

Weekend Day Hikes and Short Backpacking Trips:

Garmin Oregon 600 3-Inch Worldwide Handheld GPS

Why it’s the best for casual hikers:

  • Affordable price
  • Touchscreen of smartphone quality
  • Customizable menus make it very user friendly
  • Very long rechargeable battery life
  • Super fast map redrawing
  • Ability to upload maps
  • Compact dimensions
  • Dual-orientation Screen

For most people who dabble with hiking on the weekend, the Garmin Oregon 600 fits the bill. It has all of the features you’d want in a handheld GPS unit, without breaking the bank because of advanced features that you’d never use. Its ease-of-use is so refreshing in a world of thick product manuals and confusing settings.

Click Image Below to Buy From Amazon (affiliate link charges you nothing, but helps me pay for hosting this blog):

Long Distance Backpacking:

DeLorme AG-008727-201 InReach Explorer Two Way Satellite Communicator with Built in Navigation 

If I were planning a through-hike of the Pacific Crest Trail or Appalachian Trail, I’d buy this unit from DeLorme in a heartbeat. Here’s why:

  • Integrated website allows you to plan a route ahead of time, including waypoints, that can be shared with family or friends
  • Digital compass
  • Digital Barometric Altimeter
  • Digital Accelerometer
  • Ability to trigger an SOS signal in emergencies, which could easily save your life or the lives of others, in extremely remote wilderness areas.
  • Ability to send and receive text messages (up to 160 characters) with GPS coordinates to anybody’s cell phone or email address. Also: post updates to social media.

gps

The base model does not include navigation features, so it should be noted that this technology was initially developed as an SOS beacon for backcountry emergencies rather than a navigational tool. However, this unit has superb navigational functions too. Its the best of both worlds: GPS navigation features coupled with a satellite communication device. When you’re stuck deep in a ravine with a broken ankle and no bars on your cell phone, this is exactly the handheld GPS unit you need.

Click Image Below to Buy From Amazon (affiliate link charges you nothing, but helps me pay for hosting this blog):

Hunting:

Garmin GPSMAP 64SC

For hunting trips, the 64SC from Garmin is my top recommendation, easy. It’s what I use. It’s main features are:

  • GLONASS receiver with Quad Helix Antenna
  • High-sensitivity GPS
  • 3-Axis digital compass with barometric altimeter
  • Wireless connectivity via Bluetooth or Ant+
  • 1-year subscription to birdseye satellite imagery
  • 8 megapixel camera with automatic geotagging

This is a rugged handheld GPS unit made with the hunter in mind. Like the DeLorme InReach Explorer, this unit combines communication features along with GPS. The preloaded maps cover the entire planet. It has 16 hours of rechargeable battery life. The birdseye camera subscription is particularly useful when scouting a new area to hunt.

Click Image Below to Buy From Amazon (affiliate link charges you nothing, but helps me pay for hosting this blog):

Garmin GPS Navigation In Your Hand – How it Works, What GLONASS Is, and Why Garmin Units Are the Best

garmin gps navigation

Using Garmin GPS Navigation while driving in an unfamiliar area is something most people have had the pleasure of experiencing. The technology is extremely helpful for navigating roadways in countries all over the world.

The same system has been applied to handheld units for when you forego wheels and venture into the world on your own two feet. Garmin GPS Navigation handheld units are just as helpful for hiking in the wilderness as their automotive counterparts are for trying to find that new Chinese place everybody is talking about.

But, have you ever wondered how it all works? Like the internet, it’s easy to use the technology without ever understanding the underlying function. But, it’s actually really interesting to learn how the technology has been developed to allow us to not get lost in this vast, and often wild, planet.

How Garmin GPS Navigation Works

GPS stands for Global Positioning System, and was developed originally by the U.S. military. The system consists of 31 satellites orbiting earth, all inclined 55 degrees to the equator for maximum coverage of the earth’s surface.

Russia has its own system too, called GLONASS, which stands for…forget it, its in Russian. It’s basically the same thing, a global satellite positioning system. Most modern GPS units actually tap into both the U.S.-made GPS, and Russian GLONASS.

While it can be complex and detailed, the basic way that a GPS unit (handheld or otherwise) knows where it is on the earth’s surface is because it receives a signal from multiple GPS satellites. The signal contains a timestamp, meaning the exact moment the signal was sent. Based on the amount of time that the GPS unit in your hand calculates that it took the signal to reach it, it can pinpoint with very fine accuracy where on the earth’s surface the unit is located.

The unit needs 4 satellites to be very accurate. It should be noted that the 31 satellites in earth’s orbit that are part of the Global Positioning System are spaced in a way that 6 are always within view from almost all places on earth.

Garmin GPS Navigation units are very effective at pinpointing their location to within a few meters. Most of their handheld models come with a metric displayed on the screen called EPE, which is an accuracy figure. It will say how many meters of accuracy the location is within (typically 3-10 meters).

How cool is that? Now you know just how modern Garmin GPS navigation units work. Now, go out and get one for yourself. See my guide on the Best Handheld GPS Units of 2017.

Garmin. Look No Further When Shopping for a Handheld GPS Unit

garmin

Garmin! I need you!

Let me tell you a little story about something that happened to me before I found the world of Garmin.

I was doing a solo backpacking trip in the Sawtooth Mountains in Idaho. I had my route all planned out, a pack full of supplies, and a week to complete a 40 mile circuit that I had mapped out.

I brought maps with me. Topographical, of course. And I set out. Part of my route was on trails, but I wanted to be hardcore and drew my circuit to include some back country hiking.

Well, it turned out that I miscalculated how good I was at reading topographical maps. On the third day, I descended a valley and expected to see a large lake and was met with a dry ravine. Uh oh.

Garmin! How I Could Have Used You.

I then tried to figure out where I was by analyzing the maps, and narrowed my location down to two possible places. I guessed which one I was in and used that as my reference point to get back on track.

Well… I guessed wrong on that too!

When all was said and done, I ended up staying out about 3 days longer than I meant to. Food ran way low. I was hungry all the time. And I worried my family quite a bit once they realized I had been gone too long.

After that, I researched alternatives to maps that could aid me in backcountry hiking and learned about Garmin products. Their handheld GPS units and GPS watches are a god-send. I now swear by Garmin. I’ve never been lost since.

I might even name my first born child “Garmin”. Regardless of gender!

The point is: when venturing into the wilderness, especially alone, it is downright irresponsible to not have a handheld GPS unit. If I had fallen and broken a leg, I’d be dead. Especially when I had no way of communicating with the outside world.

I’m sorry for not discovering you sooner, Garmin!

Garmin GPS Watch Guide – Which Model Is The Best? I’ll Help You Decide Today.

I’m hooked on my Garmin GPS watch. As somebody who loves data and charting all of my activity, I don’t leave home without it. Unless I’m dressing up, in which case I’ll go with a more appropriate wrist piece.

garmin gps watch

I’ve written about GPS watches before, and I am still adamant that Garmin is the best brand for both navigational watches and handheld GPS units.

However, choosing which model can be a tough one! I tried a few before settling on my favorite. Here are the considerations I recommend thinking about when in the market for a Garmin GPS watch:

  1. What’s your budget? The range of options are between $50 and $200.
  2. Identify your must-have features?
  3. Which features aren’t necessary, or ones that you would never use?
  4. What kind of style do you like best?

With all those considerations, I recommend comparing the best three Garmin GPS watches below and making a decision. I won’t tell you which one I went with, because I don’t want to influence you into buying the model that maybe isn’t necessary or doesn’t fit all of your needs!

Garmin GPS Watch List I Recommend:

Garmin vívosmart HR Activity Tracker Regular Fit – Black (Certified Refurbished)

I recommend this watch first because of its affordability as a certified refurbished product. It has all of the features you’d want in a GPS watch, and has a really sleek and high-tech looking design. I can’t recommend it enough (it’s what I use).

Garmin Forerunner 230 – Black/White

If you’re willing to spend more, the Garmin Forerunner 230 is the best GPS watch out there. With its large screen, long battery life, Smart notifications, and nuanced activity tracking, this watch is a data-junkie’s dream.

Garmin vivofit 3 Activity Tracker, Regular fit – Black 

The Vivofit has the slickest looking design of all of the Garmin GPS watches I’ve seen, with many of the same great features. The screen size is smaller, but a smaller footprint is what some runners prefer with a watch. It has one year of battery life before it needs to be recharged! Also, it has innovative new features such as Auto Sync with the associated smart phone app so that you can focus on running as your data is always updated wherever you view it.

GPS Navigation System…On Your Wrist?

As I’ve written about before, I’m a huge fan of GPS watch technology. Having a GPS navigation system strapped to your wrist is something straight out of a science fiction movie from the 80s.

gps navigation system

Straight out of the book “Dune”…a GPS navigation system and insane looking watch all-in-one.

Especially for avid runners, walkers, hikers, and even golfers: having a GPS watch is a really helpful technological aid that can actually encourage you to work harder at whatever activity you do on a regular basis.

There’s something about metrics that drives us to improve. If I go out for a run, and set a vague goal like “run for 30 minutes a day”, then during that half hour I could run anywhere between 3 and 5 miles, depending on how hard I am trying. (5 miles is cooking, I know! Haven’t done that in a while).

However, if I use a GPS navigation system strapped to my wrist, that counts my steps, mileage, elevation gain, heart rate, route, and comparison to my last personal record then I know what target(s) I need to meet or beat in order to improve.

That’s why I think purchasing a GPS watch is worth it.

GPS Navigation System for Your Wrist That I Recommend:

Garmin vívosmart HR Activity Tracker Regular Fit – Black (Certified Refurbished)

I recommend this watch first because of its affordability as a certified refurbished product. It has all of the features you’d want in a GPS watch, and has a really sleek and high-tech looking design. I can’t recommend it enough (it’s what I use).

Garmin Forerunner 230 – Black/White

If you’re willing to spend more, the Garmin Forerunner 230 is the best GPS watch out there. With its large screen, long battery life, Smart notifications, and nuanced activity tracking, this watch is a data-junkie’s dream.

Garmin vivofit 3 Activity Tracker, Regular fit – Black

The Vivofit has the slickest looking design of all of the Garmin GPS watches I’ve seen, with many of the same great features. The screen size is smaller, but a smaller footprint is what some runners prefer with a watch. It has one year of battery life before it needs to be recharged! Also, it has innovative new features such as Auto Sync with the associated smart phone app so that you can focus on running as your data is always updated wherever you view it.

Magellan GPS and Why You Should Consider Buying Their Products. Garmin Isn’t the Only Player in the Game!

magellan gps

Although I’m clearly a Garmin fan for almost all handheld, GPS watch, and auto navigation products, Magellan GPS technology deserves some consideration for anybody considering purchasing navigation equipment.

Magellan GPS technology is extremely well developed. The company holds over 200 patents in GPS technology, and makes some darn good products.

Originally formed in Taiwan, their headquarters is now in California. They’ve been in business since 1982, and have repeatedly innovated in the world of GPS technology. Their innovations and competitive drive have helped spur companies like Garmin to step up their game. So Garmin can thank Magellan GPS engineers in part for their own need to create excellent handheld GPS units.

Here are my favorite Magellan GPS products, which I can confidently recommend after field testing them:

Best Magellan GPS Unit for Driving

Magellan GPS Navigator – 7.0″ – RoadMate 9616T-LM

My favorite feature on the Magellan Roadmate is the huge screen. Lots of GPS units for cars have screens in the 4-5 inch range. The wide, large screen makes for excellent visibility.

I also really like the multiple destination feature, where you can plug in an itinerary for the day without having to re-enter your next stop.

A money-saving feature on the Roadmate is the Traffic Camera Alerts by Phantom, which will warn you of traffic cameras. Just one ticket prevented by this feature will pay for the unit. Think about that!

Best Magellan GPS Unit for Hiking/Outdoors

 Magellan CX0310SGXNA eXplorist 310 Waterproof Hiking GPS

While the eXplorist line of handheld GPS units from Magellan doesn’t get the same love from consumers as Garmin’s products do, it really should. The eXplorist has a solid, weather-resistant piece of technology that I would gladly take into the woods any day of the week.

The eXplorist’s strengths are:

  • Bright screen, readable in sunlight
  • User-friendly navigation settings and menus
  • Detailed road network, rural land, water features, and urban mapping
  • 18 hours of battery life
  • Excellent paperless geocaching software features