GPS Handheld Units of 2017 – The Ultimate Buyer’s Guide

Shopping for a handheld GPS unit can be a daunting task. After all: if you’re the type of person in the market for one, then you spend a significant amount of time outdoors and/or you travel to places where getting lost can mean the different between life and death. It’s not a purchase decision to make lightly!

Rest easy, because I’ve done the research for you. As an avid outdoorsman, I became very interested in the different types of handheld GPS units available when planning for an elk hunting trip this year. I decided to purchase and test several units before deciding on the one that I liked best, returning the others. I climbed some mountain peaks here in Idaho, trudged through canyons full of thick foliage, read every user manual front to back, and optimized the settings on each unit to get the full experience on each unit.

When shopping for a handheld GPS Unit, you want to take into account the following critical factors. I’ll get into more detail at the end of this guide on each one of these factors if you’re curious why I chose them:

  1. Ease of Use
  2. Reception Quality
  3. Battery Life
  4. Waterproofing
  5. Maps

1. Garmin Oregon 600 3-Inch Worldwide Handheld GPS

Why it’s the best:

  • 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 outdoor enthusiasts, 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. It isn’t too clunky or heavy like some other models, and 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):

2. Garmin Montana 680 Touchscreen GPS/GLONASS Receiver, Worldwide Basemaps

Why I would march off into the wilderness any day with this unit:

  • Best reception of any handheld GPS unit on the market
  • Large display
  • Camera (8 megapixels!)
  • Dual orientation screen
  • Wireless communication capabilities
  • Electronic Compass
  • Waterproof
  • Compatible with many different mount options

The Garmin Montana 680 is a beast. Yes, it’s heavy and large for a handheld GPS unit. But, there are good reasons for it: it’s packed full of the awesome features listed above. Really, the only cons are its size. Other than that, it is a flawless GPS navigation unit. If you are a serious outdoorsman, especially if you are into mountaineering and long-distance hiking or hunting, then I highly recommend spending a little bit of extra money on this awesome piece of technology from the global leader in GPS navigation.

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

3. 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.

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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, DeLorme has created a very impressively user-friendly suite of software and a website that makes for a supreme option for navigation as well. This unit has the best of both worlds: GPS navigation features as well as a satellite communication device. When you’re stuck deep in a ravine with a snapped ankle and no cellular reception, this is exactly the device you want to have.

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

4. Garmin GPSMAP 64SC

Another unit that blends the best commo features with superb GPS navigation performance. Check it out:

  • 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 another unit I’d buy in a second if I were planning a through-hike of the PCT or Appalacian Trail. Or just to own anyway! This is a rugged handheld GPS unit stocked full of every feature you could ever want. Like the DeLorme InReach Explorer unit listed at #3, this unit from Garmin combines the best of communication features along with GPS navigation. The preloaded maps cover the entire planet. It has 16 hours of rechargeable battery life. The birdseye camera subscription makes you feel like you’re in the NSA. It’s so cool!

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

5. Garmin eTrex 20x TOPO GPS Bundle (100K Topographic Card, Carry Case, Belt Clip), Upgraded Version of Garmin eTrex 20 bundle

Once again, Garmin is where it’s at for GPS units with this solid unit I ranked fifth. This compact, rugged navigator includes:

  • Preloaded worldwide map set
  • WAAs-enabled GPS receiver
  • GLONASS support for excellent signal and positioning
  • 3-axis electronic compass
  • Barometric altimeter
  • Compatible with road and marine maps
  • Powered by two (2) AA batteries
  • Waterproof to IPX7 standard (splashes and rain, basically)

Why I like this unit is that it is rugged, simple, and has all the features you’d want in a straight-up handheld GPS navigation unit. It is compact, waterproof (to the degree that you’d need, won’t survive full immersion, though). It has automatic routing, so you can get turn-by-turn directions on roads. You can build custom maps, add new maps to the unit’s software, and log waypoints and tracks as much as you want (10,000 waypoint capacity and 200 track limit, which is more than plenty unless you’re the next Magellan).

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

The Factors I Took Into Account for This Ranking of the Best Handheld GPS Units of 2017:

  1. Ease of Use  – A lot of people struggle with the settings and features of handheld GPS units. Buying a unit with a ton of features only means a steeper learning curve on using those features. For that reason, I valued ease of use rather high. Not being able to use all of the great features of a unit makes them a waste of money.
  2. Reception Quality – This is obviously critical when using GPS. Poor reception quality negates any cool features, and what you’re left with is an expensive compass if you have no signal.
  3. Battery Life – There’s nothing worse than needing your navigation unit to last all day and then it dies. Having a full day (16 hours) worth of battery life is, to me, mandatory because sometimes that’s how long I am away from camp.
  4. Waterproofing – A fried unit is worthless if you’re lost. So at least a basic level of waterproofing is important. Never submerge your units if you can help it, even if they are rated for it. You never know…
  5. Maps – Preloaded maps save you a ton of time, and the ability to create new maps, with waypoints and tracks, are wonderful for people who explore new routes and want to not get lost!