10 Best Handheld GPS Units (2022)
The outdoors can be beautiful, and bathing in this beauty is therapeutic and revitalizing, which is why people organize these trips to the middle of nowhere. Some people indulge in recreation while others do it as part of their work routine. The one thing they have in common is the fear of getting lost which is why navigators like GPS units are important.
Best Handheld GPS Units – Winners
Check out our quick recommendations here, or keep scrolling for detailed reviews:
- Overall Best Handheld GPS Units: Garmin GPSMAP 66i
- Best Minimalist Handheld GPS/Satellite Messenger: Garmin inReach Mini
- Best Budget Handheld GPS Unit: Garmin eTrex 22x
- Best Handheld GPS Unit with a Touchscreen: Garmin Oregon 700
- Best of the Rest:
Overall Best Handheld GPS Units
Weight: 8.1 oz. (with batteries)
Screen: 3” Transflective color TFT with a resolution of 200 X 400 pixels
Battery Life: 35 hours @10-min tracking, 200 hours @ 30-min tracking (Expedition)
- Enhanced location accuracy due to multi-GNSS support featuring GPS and Galileo satellites
- Impressive battery life capable of delivering up to 200 hours in Expedition mode
- Rugged military-grade construction to withstand punishment
- Preloaded TopoActive maps with Birdseye Satellite Imagery
- Not pocket friendly if you are on a tight budget
These GPS devices enable off-grid navigation and communication where there is no Wi-Fi connectivity or cell service. Your messages, SOS alerts, and tracking are successful because they are compatible with the Global Iridium Satellite Network.
A satellite subscription allows you access all inReach advantages like interactive messaging, interactive SOS alerts, location sharing, and inReach Weather. Two-way messaging lets you connect to people who matter regardless of where you are, while location tracking and sharing keep your loved ones updated on precisely where you are.
You get preloaded TopoActive maps of the United States and Canada to help you familiarize yourself with the terrain even before you get on it. The subscription-free maps are as pretty as a picture due to Birdseye Satellite Imagery without compromising the details.
The 3-inch sunlight-readable display allows you to enjoy the view. Position accuracy is enhanced because the GPS receiver has multi-GNSS support featuring US GPS and Europe’s Galileo satellites.
The button-operated units are built to military standards with adequate ruggedness to endure shock, thermal extremes, and better performance in water. They are MIL-STD-810 rated, meaning they have been tested and proved capable of withstanding all rugged conditions GPS units are subjected to. They come with an LED flashlight that can be used as a beacon to signal for help.
The 66i’s internal rechargeable lithium battery has an impressive charging cycle; it provides 35 hours in tracking mode and up to 200 hours in the power-saving expedition mode while using inReach technology.
They have multiple wireless connectivity options like Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and ANT, which enable you to pair the units with other devices to get real-time information, including weather forecasts. This keeps you constantly aware of your surroundings.
Best Minimalist Handheld GPS/Satellite Messenger
Weight: 3.5 oz.
Screen: 1.27” Transflective, monochrome MIP, 128 X 128-pixel resolution
Battery life: 90 hours @10-minute tracking, 24 days @30-minute tracking (power saving)
- Lightweight, compact design
- Rugged impact resistant and waterproof construction
- Off-grid global connectivity courtesy of the Global Iridium Satellite
- Wireless networking via Bluetooth and ANT enables connection with compatible devices
- Limited track logging on long trips due to a low internal memory compromises the accuracy of the track
The palm-fitting button-controlled GPS unit’s petite size may fool you into believing it’s fragile. Its military-grade construction makes it tough, durable, and impact-resistant, evidenced by its MIL-STD-810F rating.
It also has a high IP rating from independent 3rd party testing of IPX7, meaning it has above average resistance to water damage. The rechargeable internal lithium-ion battery provides up to 90 hours of service on default settings.
It comes with the standard inReach features like the interactive SOS, two-way messaging to SMS, email, and other inReach devices, location, and map sharing, compatible with tracking and the rest of the package.
Connecting to the Global Iridium Satellite network reduces reliance on mobile connectivity, providing location accuracy in remote places.
The inReach Mini is Bluetooth and ANT compatible, allowing you to wirelessly pair the unit with other compatible devices such as smartphones. This provides access to Garmin’s Earthmate GPS navigation and Garmin Explore apps, with which you can download maps and navigate without cell phone service or Wi-Fi connectivity. They provide a platform to trigger SOSs and send messages from your phone.
Best Budget Handheld GPS Unit
Weight: 5 oz. (with batteries)
Screen: 2.2” Transflective 65K color TFT, 240 X 320-pixel resolution
Battery life: 25 hours
Memory: 8GB internal, max 32GB microSD card external
- Enhanced position accuracy due to a combination of GPS and GLONASS signals
- Multi-sensory navigation with a compass and barometric altimeter boosts terrain awareness
- Support paperless geocaching
- High capacity memory; 8GB expandable
- Affordable on a tight budget
- Difficult to use for real-time turn-by-turn trail decisions as you can’t get the full picture at once
The eTrex 22x features a multi-frequency GNSS receiver that captures signals from US GPS and Russian GLONASS satellite navigation systems. This significantly augments its position accuracy and improves tracking and navigation under deep cover. A 3-axis compass and barometric altimeter ensure you are aware of the direction you are moving towards
The units come preloaded with TopoActive maps on which you can map your routes, enabling you to plan ahead and find your way even when off-grid. They show boundaries, natural features, and other points of interest that may serve as landmarks on the trail.
With a small subscription, the maps can be enhanced using BirdsEye satellite Imagery so you can get a realistic representation of your surrounding with real-time images. Their 2.2-inch 65K color sunlight-readable displays give you a courtside view of the terrain.
They support paperless geocaching, allowing easy transfer of information between units and computers to share waypoints, tracks, routes, and other vital geographical information. An eTrex 22x affords you the capacity to participate in these fun activities.
Their impressive 8GB internal memory can be expanded to ensure the unit can save your tracklog as you move, leaving breadcrumbs that you can use on your return or share with like-minded people. It also increases the capacity to add more maps.
A unit uses 2 AA batteries which provide a battery life of up to 25 hours in GPS mode.
Best Handheld GPS Unit with a Touchscreen
Weight: 7.4 oz. (with batteries)
Screen: 3” Transflective color TFT, 240 X 400-pixel resolution, touch screen
Battery life: 16 hours
Memory: 3.4GB internal, max 32GB microSD card external
- Multilink wireless connectivity; Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, ANT
- Dynamic, rugged dual orientation 3” sunshine readable color touchscreen display
- Multi-frequency GNSS receiver with GPS and GLONASS signals improves accuracy
- ABC sensors with a TracBack function keep you constantly aware of your bearing
- The owner’s manual is too shallow for the vast array of features
This outdoor GPS unit has a dynamic sunlight-readable 3-inch color touchscreen with dual orientation for switching between landscape and portrait views. It has been factored in the unit’s IPX7 rating, meaning it can handle exposure to water, and you can keep using the GPS whether it rains, snows, or is subjected to splashes.
Its 240 by 200-pixel resolution is sufficient to support mapping options like the Garmin City Navigator, which provides roadmaps and points of interest for your GPS with turn-by-turn directions, and Garmin BlueChart g2 HD, offering marine maps with clear labeling so you can plot your route on water. The display can be further customized using free downloads, apps, widgets, and data fields from the Garmin Connect IQ online store.
There is a heightened level of precision for this Garmin handheld due to the combined accuracy of a multi-frequency GNSS receiver with access to GPS and GLONASS satellite navigation systems and ABC sensors that retain your bearing and altitude whether you are moving or stationary.
The sensors include a built-in altimeter for altitude, a barometer for air pressure, and a 3-axis electronic compass for a sense of direction. The Oregon 7 also has the TracBack feature that guides you back the way you came to avoid getting lost in unfamiliar territory.
Thanks to an expansion in wireless networking options, these GPS units can easily connect with other units and Garmin compatible devices. They are ANT, Wi-Fi, and Bluetooth capable, so it is easier to share tracks, maps, and overall communication. They also support geocaching so you can participate in fun communal expeditions.
They are powered by 2AA batteries or Garmin’s NiMH battery pack.
Best of the Rest
Weight: 7.7 oz. (with batteries)
Screen: 2.6” Transflective 65K color TFT, 160 X 240-pixel resolution
Battery Life: 16 hours
Memory: 8GB internal, max 32GB microSD card external
- High position accuracy due to multiple sensors combining ABC and multi-frequency GNSS signals
- Ability to choose between disposable batteries, rechargeable battery pack or both
- Preloaded TopoActive maps with a possibility of satellite imagery enhancement
- Sufficient wireless connectivity for sharing and collaboration across devices
- It has an outdated USB interface
It can be powered by the optional rechargeable Garmin NiMH battery pack or 2AA batteries (Garmin recommends lithium or NiMH for these). You have the option of slotting in your backup AA batteries if you run out of charge on the trail. A battery cycle lasts 16 hours on GPS mode.
This portable GPS has excellent location precision because its quad helix antenna receives satellite signals from GPS, GLONASS, and Galileo. It has ABC sensors to back it up with altitude and direction.
The 64xs features preloaded TopoActive maps with routable streets and trails allowing you to navigate off-grid with enhanced awareness of your surroundings. The maps include physical features as well as points of interest which make great landmarks.
With a small subscription, you can also incorporate BirdsEye Satellite imagery to get real pictures of the terrain on your sunlight-readable 65K color display.
These outdoor GPS units are equipped for wireless connectivity via Bluetooth and ANT technology. You can share waypoints, tracks, routes, and geocaches with other GPS units and compatible devices. You even receive emails, texts, and alerts from your paired devices. You can stay connected without exposing your smartphone to the elements.
Weight: 14.5 oz. (lithium-ion battery pack included)
Screen: 5” Transflective WVGA dual-orientation, touch 400 X 800-pixel resolution
Battery life: 18 hours in GPS mode, 330 hours in Expedition mode
Memory: 16GB internal, max 32GB microSD external
- Subscription-free BirdsEye Satellite Imagery
- High memory capacity of 16GB with the option of an additional 32GB
- Large touchscreen with a full QWERTY keyboard for easy operation
- Off-grid communication capability via inReach global 2-way messaging and interactive SOS
- It is heavy on the pocket
These GPS tracker units come with preloaded topographical maps of the US and Canada, capturing all-terrain contours, water bodies, and other physical features. You have access to a display of federal public land boundaries so you can avoid trespassing.
The preloaded City Navigator street mapping facilitates a seamless transition to road navigation from the trail with turn-by-turn directions.
A preloaded Wikiloc Trails app lets you download hiking, cycling, and other trails set by other outdoor buffs. You can enhance the experience with realistic satellite views courtesy of BirdsEye Satellite Imagery which requires no subscription with the Montana 700i.
There is more than adequate space to download more detailed maps like the BlueChart g3 for water navigation thanks to their 16GB internal memory, which is expandable by up to 32GB
They have standard military ruggedness that has met the MIL-STD 810 rating for thermal, shock, and vibration endurance coupled with a water resistance rating of IPX7 despite the large dual-orientation touchscreen display.
The WVGA screen displays quality visuals at a respectable 400 by 800 resolution. It has a full QWERTY keyboard for you to type messages and search locations. Multi-frequency GNSS reception from GPS and Galileo systems and ABC sensors ensures their readings are accurate.
The Montana 700i is imbued with inReach technology, which opens up several functional benefits. By subscribing to the 100% global Iridium Satellite network, you ensure your messages, SOS, and tracking will be transmitted even when you are out of service range.
You are backed by a professional 24/7 global monitoring and response center. The service is powered by Garmin’s International Emergency Response Coordination Center (IERCC). You can communicate with other inReach devices in the field, exchange tests, and post on social media while off-grid.
You get access to the inReach weather forecast, updated directly to your GPS unit or any paired device. It has ANT+, Bluetooth, and Wi-Fi connectivity for wireless networking.
Weight: 3.5 oz.
Screen: 1.27” Transflective monochrome MIP, 128 X 128-pixel resolution
Battery life: 90 hours @10-minute tracking, 24 days @30-minute tracking
- Customized for use on water with ruggedness and vessel mount
- Flexible subscriptions for off-grid satellite support
- Access to cloud-powered Garmin Explore website increases capacity
- Off grid-interactive SOS alerts and 2-way messaging
- Limited memory capacity with no expansion option; you rely on cloud storage
The marine bundle has been customized for water navigation. The rechargeable lithium-ion battery gives up to 90 hours in its default state, and if you have a charging point on your vessel, you can use it indefinitely.
It has a water rating of IPX7 and has an above-average capability to handle splashes and exposure to water. It has a screw-down mount with which you can secure the GPS to your helm and a 12-volt power cable that allows you to keep it charged.
Garmin offers flexible subscriptions for satellite packages ranging from annual to monthly payment plans so that you can access inReach benefits, which optimize the marine bundle. You can explore offshore out of cellphone range and still get accurate location reading, share this location, communicate with your loved ones, and send interactive SOS messages if you get in trouble.
This unit has free access to the cloud-powered Garmin Explore website, which complements its performance and covers the shortcomings. Your routes are synced to your Garmin explore web account and saved in the cloud, with unlimited storage within cellular range.
You can locate the data and review your waypoints, download detailed maps, and create new routes from your PC or smartphone. You can also compose preset messages, so you don’t need to type on your device.
If you subscribe to the 100% global Iridium satellite network, you can add inReach benefits like satellite location tracking, access to your phone contacts for messaging off-grid and sending interactive SOS directly from the app.
Weight: 3.1 oz. (with batteries)
Screen: 2” high resolution 4-color grey 200 X 128-pixel resolution
Battery life: 48 hours in GPS mode, 1 week in UltraTrac mode
- Durable, rugged military standard construction; MIL-STD-810G
- Multi-GNSS signal reception comprising GPS, GLONASS, and Galileo
- ABC sensors which feature a barometric altimeter and 3-axis accelerometer, and compass
- Hands-free wrist mounting for comfort
- It does not have track archiving
These tough, wrist-mounted GPS devices are built for the military with tactical features like the jumpmaster mode for skydiving, which tracks your descent, altitude, and visibility with night vision goggles. They also have the military rating of MIL-STD-810G for thermal and shock, and water endurance.
They are multi-GNSS receivers supported by GPS, GLONASS, and Galileo, improving accuracy and continuity. Their altimeter, barometer, and compass (ABC) sensor capabilities ensure you don’t veer off the track by monitoring your elevation, providing bearing, and even anticipating short-term weather conditions.
This hiking GPS has smart notifications with which you can receive alerts for texts and emails straight to the unit. You can share your location and let other hikers follow you by initiating LiveTrack on the Garmin Connect Mobile app.
Weight: 5.2 oz.
Screen: 2.2” Transflective color LCD 240 X 320-pixel resolution
Battery life: 18 hours
- Rugged IPX7 waterproof construction
- Preloaded detailed World Edition map covering diverse regions
- Accurate GPS tracking up to 3 meters
- Sunlight readable Transflective LCD color screen
- It takes too many steps to navigate to some important screens
It is preloaded with the World Edition map, which features complete road networks for the US, Canada, Western Europe, and Australia. The detailed map also shows water bodies, rural and urban land use, towns, and many other features.
They use a SiRFstarIII GPS tracking chipset which narrows down on your location to as close as 3-5 meters. Their Transflective LCD color screen is easily readable even in direct sunlight, allowing you to get to the exact spot you are navigating towards without struggle. It is powered by 2 AA batteries to provide up to 18 hours of normal usage.
The map allows you to view your track and leaves breadcrumbs throughout the trail so you can navigate back to your starting point. You can customize the screen to display navigation data that you feel is more relevant, like bearing, altitude, and distance covered.
It supports paperless geocaching and can store up to 10000 geocaches. You can download more than 20 unique characteristics for each of these.
10. Garmin epix
Weight: 3 oz.
Screen: 1.4” Transflective MIP 205 X 148-pixel resolution
Battery life: 24 hours in GPS mode, 50 hours in UltraTrac mode
- High-resolution sunlight-visible touchscreen display
- Preloaded with a Basemap and topographic maps of the US and Canada
- Rugged military-grade design
- Instant notification for texts and email
- Pricey in comparison to other units in the category
They use a highly sensitive EXO antenna which takes a short time to receive a strong signal. It uses HotFix to receive multi-frequency GNSS signals from GPS and GLONASS satellites. It has a host of navigation features that enable you to record your track and leave breadcrumbs for your return trip. It has ABC sensors to back up the satellite signal for a more accurate reading
The epix GPS watch has a rugged design featuring a tough mineral glass lens and PVD coated surfaces which are durable, corrosion, and rust-resistant. It has a water rating of 50 meters, and it can withstand a lot of punishment.
It uses Garmin’s Connect IQ platform to get the software, including apps, widgets, watch faces, and data fields and customize the watch. You can receive instant notifications for texts and emails from your Bluetooth-compatible smartphone once paired. With LiveTrack, you can share your location and favorite trail with the community.
Handheld GPS Buying Advice
Touchscreen vs Buttons
Touchscreens are efficient and intuitive. You can zero in on the specific spot on a map you are interested in and zoom in or out. They also enable you to navigate between menus and type faster than you can using buttons. Panning around the maps using buttons is a pain, and it will take forever to type a small message.
Touchscreens also need more power and drain the battery faster. They need your hands to be dry as well as the screen; otherwise, they won’t work. They tend to freeze up in cold weather, and using them with gloves is a hassle on its own. This is why button GPSs are still all the rage as much as touchscreen technology is evolving. They are more rugged, durable, and reliable. It all boils down to convenience and individual preference.
Display: Screen Size and Readability
The larger the screen, the easier it is to read the maps and make sense of them. Touchscreen GPSs are advantaged because they don’t need to make space for buttons, and the screen can take up most of the front-facing surface.
The screen should be bright enough to view in different lighting situations and also protect from glare. It should be readable in bright sunshine.
Global Navigation Satellite Systems (GNSS)
This is the constellation of different satellites signaling from space to transmit positioning and timing data. Multi-frequency GNSS receivers calculate position, velocity, and time using satellite signals from different navigation satellite systems, which boosts accuracy compared to GPS-only positioning.
The combination of signals from different angles focuses on your exact location. There is an improvement in success rate even when deep under cover, like in dense forests or canyons. The different frequency bands increase the signal robustness enough to counter interference. It enables consistency and continuity.
Mapping and Memory
To maximize user experience, your GPS unit requires space to continuously save your tracklogs as you move and accommodate any additional maps you may want to incorporate. User space might be limited because the preinstalled maps take up a sizeable chunk of the integrated memory.
Look at the available options for memory expansion. Several GPS units come with microSD card slots through which you can expand their capacity.
Satellite Messaging and SOS
Especially handy if you find yourself in areas without cell coverage. The service usually requires a subscription, and you need to know the different available packages before you enroll. An annual subscription makes sense if you will constantly be making trips out of cell coverage regions.
Otherwise, you can wait and pay when the time comes for the period you will need the service.
Battery Type and Battery Life
Rechargeable batteries are common with every electronic device nowadays; they last longer and are safe for the devices because the same manufacturer produces them.
However, if you are on a long hike, camping, or hunting for several days, you might be significantly challenged to find a charging point. This is why several handheld GPS units that have embraced rechargeable batteries still maintain their disposable battery options.
It is much easier to pop in your backup batteries when the old ones are used up.
Ensure the voltage listed on the battery does not exceed the voltage requirement of your handheld GPS as listed in your owner’s manual, as this may cause irreversible damage. Lithium batteries are more powerful and last longer in cold weather environments than alkaline batteries.
Some units require changing the battery type setting when switching batteries, say from alkaline to lithium or NiMH.
Tracking Mode and Expedition Mode
Tracking mode relies on GPS for positioning, and this consumes a lot of power. While it may reduce power consumption, turning off the GPS makes the device less sensitive to your location, and it will take longer to realize you veered off track in unfamiliar territory.
Expedition mode records your activity or track while all non-essential functions are shut off to prolong the battery life. The screen powers off, and Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, and ANT connections are disabled. Tracklog details are reduced, and the system determines the logging intervals based on your movement and other factors.
To get the best of both settings, you can switch from power saving to GPS at regular intervals to confirm if you are where you are supposed to be. This way, you can check yourself before you are too far off course.
Altimeter, Barometer, and Compass (ABC)
These three have symbiotic functionality in navigation, and a GPS with all three sensors narrows down exactly where you are on the map and in which direction you are headed. The altimeter provides elevation data, ensuring you are constantly aware of whether you are descending or ascending.
The barometer measures atmospheric pressure, which affects the weather. Low atmospheric pressure is associated with cloudy, rainy, or windy weather because there isn’t enough pressure to push clouds or storms away. High pressure pushes the clouds away, bringing in cool and dry air. Atmospheric pressure can also indicate altitude because air density becomes lower as altitude increases and vice versa.
The ideal compass for navigation is a 3-axis compass because they are tilt-compensated, allowing them to give accurate readings regardless of how they are held. They also don’t need to be triggered by your movement to point you in the right direction.
Dimensions and Weight
The bigger the GPS unit, the more it weighs, and the faster you want to put it down on a hike. Big GPS navigator devices also come with the added advantage of a user-friendly screen, so it is not always a negative. This is especially true if you are going to mount it somewhere, like on a boat or bike. The appropriate dimensions are therefore pegged on the utility of the device.
Handheld GPS vs Smartphone GPS Apps
Smartphones have higher memory capacities than GPS tracker units and will store more tracking information geocaches and maps. They also have better interfaces with excellent resolution for easy viewing. You can navigate through screens faster on them than the outdated GPS user interfaces.
The simple layout of the GPS interface, however, contributes to the extended battery life. They are also designed to take a beating and don’t need the controlled pristine conditions that smartphone require.
They compensate for the low memory with external memory cards and cloud storage. As long as they can be paired with other devices to achieve the desired results, they will always be the preferred GPS receivers.
There is no universally superior handheld GPS device because needs and preferences vary for everyone. Sometimes you will have to sacrifice convenience for durability, but you don’t need to do it if you know the device will not be subjected to extreme conditions. Your budget also has a significant impact on the bells and whistles you can afford.