The 5 Best Handheld GPS Systems

The Best Handheld GPS Systems

Either you're a travel guide, a full-time hiker, an explorer, a foreign spy or a new fan of Geocaching, you are here looking for the best handheld GPS system available on the market. First of all, you have to know that the choice is very hard. With the raising popularity of geocaching, and more generally using GPS devices instead of good old maps, came a huge boost to the entire market. There are now dozens of manufacturers with hundreds of models, and simply the sheer number of devices can make the choice very hard for the first time GPS buyer. Additionally, there are dozens of new features and mysterious abbreviations that show up in sales letters and catalogues. When I was going to buy my first handheld GPS, after reading a few tech sheets I was standing there even more confused than before. I had no idea what XMR, Dead Reckoning or WAAS meant. Okay, it's time to retreat and do some research - I said to myself. I'm the kind of person who's not fooled by sales pitches like 'Insanely accurate, high sensitivity GPS receiver!'. I won't pay 500 dollars for three extra features that I don't and won't ever need. 'Blazing fast USB 2.0 transfer!' - for $599.99? Come on...

So unless you're the spoilt child of a billionaire (in which case you should just buy the 10 most expensive GPS systems and pick the one you like the most - just don't forget to send me the other nine), I highly recommend you read this article before buying a handheld GPS.

I'll start with explaining some key features, and then move on to the five best handheld GPS models I've ever tried. Yes, I have tried MANY. I'm the annoying customer who asks a million questions before paying a single dollar. I'll mention both the pros and cons of the five systems I've selected.

A final note before we start: I'm not a salesmen, nor the representative of Garmin. However, I've found that Garmin is the ONE when it comes to handheld GPS. They produce the highest quality, sturdiest and most reliable systems.

Best Handheld GPS Systems - Key Features

Battery life

This one's simple. You don't want your GPS to die in the middle of nowhere. As a guideline, don't buy anything that has a battery life of less than 12-15 hours.

Map coverage

Some handheld GPS models don't show an actual map, but only coordinates and maybe the distance and direction of a waypoint. Geocaching might be a bit more exciting with these models, but I personally don't like them. I want to buy a handheld GPS so that I don't have to take a paper map with me. I want to see where am I, not just a mysterious number like 27°10'0N;78°2'60E. The maps usually come on SD or xD cards, but some models have built-in memory.

Number of channels

This number (usually 12-24) represents the number of satellite signals the handheld GPS system can track simultaneously. It's important in difficult conditions like under tall trees, or in a deep valley where you're surrounded by high cliffs. The more satellite signals you receive, the more precisely your position is tracked.

Tracks feature

Most GPS systems store the trail you've walked. More expensive devices can usually store multiple very long trails, which you can download to your PC as well. I like this feature, looking at a 30 km long trail at the end of the day gives satisfaction.

Weight and size

Since we are talking about handheld systems, weight and size is an important factor. Unfortunately, most of the weight is made up by the batteries. So a higher battery life means a higher weight as well. You have to consider these before buying. I actually don't really care about the weight. Even the heaviest handheld GPS system doesn't weigh more than a few hundred grams. Attached to your belt or your backpack, you can't feel that at all. As for size, my only criteria is that the device could be held in one hand comfortably. Just make sure the screen size is good for you, and you can read the screen easily.

High battery life, extendable map coverage, great trail storage capacity and small weight - these are the most important attributes and features of the best handheld GPS systems.

Keeping these factors in mind I've selected the following devices as the five best handheld GPS systems.

Best Handheld GPS Systems - The Top 5

I won't bother you with the technical details, since you can read about those in catalogues. I'll tell you what's not in the sales letters - both the good and the bad. As you will notice, all five models are from the same manufacturer - Garmin. The reason is, this manufacturer receives the best reviews and has really good prices. Also, all models store tracks and waypoints in the same format, and the files saved with older Garmin models are compatible with the newer ones.


The Beginner's Best Travel Mate - Garmin eTrex Vista HCx

Small, light, waterproof and has a 32 hour battery life. The antenna is very good, it locks on to the signals very quickly, even inside buildings.It has a color LCD screen, which is a pleasant surprise considering its price. The menu is a bit weird for me , I had to look hard to find some of the functions. I'm pretty sure it can be learned though. A bigger problem is, that a map costs $100 - which is 50% of the GPS's price. So make sure you have that additional hundred buck before you invest in this. Still, it has a very high value for its price.

The World in Your Pocket - Garmin GPS 60CSx

This is the first handheld GPS by Garmin with a removable memory card. You can store half of the USA's maps on a single 512 MB microSD card! Very important feature for the real adventurers. Unfortunately the SD cards are only used to store maps - waypoints, routes and other stuff go on the built-in memory. Tracking is very precise, and the satellite signal is found in a blink - sometimes even inside a building! You can take this GPS, put it in your backpack and it will still track your route without problem. It's relatively cheap considering its wide range of features and its great overall quality. This one has the best value / price ratio among the top five.

An alternative - Garmin GPS 76CSX

This is at the same price level as the 60CSX, however it's a bit different. It has a barometer to measure your altitude, and a digital compass. Most GPS units show your direction only when you move. However, with a digital compass you always know which direction you're facing. A 128 MB microSD card is included, which is more than enough for a week's worth of hiking.

Touch me! - Garmin Oregon 300

Here comes serious awesomeness! The Oregon series has a touch screen and wireless transmission. You can share your maps and cache locations with other Oregon GPS devices nearby. The touch screen is a cool addition, makes it much easier to use than any other solutions I know of. The Oregon 300 comes with 850 MB of memory. There is a cheaper version, the Oregon 200, but that only has 24 MB memory and no wireless unit-to-unit transfer.

Choice of the Professional - Garmin Oregon 400T

This is the improved version of the Oregon 300. It's loaded with the full topographic map of the USA. It has a 3-inch color touchscreen. Comes with 4 GB of memory, of which the topographic maps take up 2.7 GB. There's a whole Wiki website dedicated to the features and functions of the Oregon series. This is the best handheld GPS money can buy - and it costs just a bit more  than 500 dollars. Given the fact that it's already supplied with maps, it's actually cheaper than some mid-level models on the market. I highly recommend you choose this model.

This concludes my top 5 of handheld GPS devices. If you are a representative of Garmin, please contact me and we'll talk about my share of your sales.

Seriously, I hope you enjoyed reading this review, and that it helped you choose the best handheld GPS system.

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Comments 23 comments

Duchess OBlunt 7 years ago

Great information.

I am writing a hub on choosing my next GPS and I will be including a link to this one.

Good work.


peterander profile image

peterander 7 years ago

These days there are GPS systems in buses and bus stops too. Nice post.


reza 7 years ago

Nice comparison, but I think you should include Garmin etrex legend in your top 5 list :)


ciidoctor profile image

ciidoctor 7 years ago

thnx


Dave  6 years ago

What about the Delorme PN-40? That should surely be on that list for soooooo many reasons.


Forrest 6 years ago

I really like the Oregon models. They seem a tad buggy; mine refuses to talk to my heart monitor fairly often, and there are a lot of things that will cause the unit to simply power off ( saving tracks with long names, displaying an elevation plot while navigating with a route ), but they make great data recorders, and the maps and other functionality can be wonderful. The touch screen interface is wonderful, and the fact that they're water proof means they can be used cycling ( in Seattle ) and kayaking.

I'm eager for the BirdsEye satellite data to be released in March.


best buy garmin nuvi 6 years ago

nice information.thank you..keep update...


fitman profile image

fitman 6 years ago from Ankara,Turkey

Battery life is crucial , thanks for the hub


gramarye profile image

gramarye 6 years ago from Adelaide - Australia

Your hub was recommended in the HubPages weekly, so I came to have a look. It is really well written, and an excellent model.


used pickup trucks for sale 6 years ago

Really you have good explanation about GPS System with nice presentation


hafeezrm profile image

hafeezrm 6 years ago from Pakistan

Good. informative and well-supported by basic details.

Thanks for sharing.


funride profile image

funride 6 years ago from Portugal

I also found this hub through HP weekly newsletter.

I own a Garmin Edge 705 GPS which it´s more a bicycle trainer but it works just fine as a GPS too.

It changed the way I ride :)


Entourage_007 profile image

Entourage_007 6 years ago from Santa Barbara, CA

Great hub, I've been using the ipad for GPS now that I finally got one... However the one downside is I did not get the ipad that has internet wherever i go... only WIFI... But WIFI is expanding rapidly... So the extra hundred dollars seems like a waste of money for the ipad internet... PLUS you have to pay 15 a month for internet, even though you can get internet for free using wifi.... soon WIFI will be available everywhere though


FashionFame profile image

FashionFame 6 years ago from California

Informatory hub!! I love traveling and a GPS System is must have. Joining your fan club and would like to invite you too.


Andrew M. 6 years ago

nice articles. thank you..keep update...


Pruney56 6 years ago

I am looking for an inexpensive GPS for when my husband goes hunting and needs to find his way back and for tracking him


David S 6 years ago

I agree with one of the earlier posts. The Garmin eTrex Legend HCx needs at least an hourable mention. Tough, accurate, great battery life. Expandable by microSD. Does everything you need.

The eTrex Summit has a barometric altimeter included.

The Oregon series seems fantastic, I intend on buying one as my next unit.


yaseen$0 5 years ago

There are many reasons why having a handheld GPS device is something that you will find handy. With this GPS, it comes with a 4 MB memory card, but you can other maps for a variety of uses.

This device has automatic route generation, recalculation if you get off route and turn by turn directions with alert tones, and icons to indicate areas of interest. This GPS can save 10,000 points, which you can use on 20 different tracks of 500 points each. There are also built-in tables to help you with the best times to hunt and fish, plus sun and moon calculations.

For any person that does a lot of walking or just wandering the outdoors, this is a great device to have, as no one likes to get lost or have to ask directions. But if you ask your Garmin, no one else has to know that you asked.

If you want a device to use in the outdoors, this is a great device to get. Fits well in the hand, and has many features for the hiker. If you need something to use in your vehicle, you will want to look at one of the other devices, as with some ingenuity, you can mount this one, but it will be easier to buy one with that purpose in mind.

There are many different types of GPS units, and knowing your purpose before you buy will help you to make the best selection you can make. When you have made a decision, make sure you buy your Garmin GPS online, as you likely can find a better deal online.


jeffuli755 profile image

jeffuli755 5 years ago from China

Very nice! Will buy the Garmin Oregon 300 at Amazon.


meatwad01 5 years ago

I take it this review was sponsored by garmin since there are no other brands on display here. I have nothing against garmin in fact I own an etrex. Right now I run a Delorme PN-40, mainly because for 29 bucks a year I can get satellite, aerial, USGS, and other views of the areas that I might explore. The USGS maps are useful for finding old roads or trails and gravel pits in my area that dont always show on the stock topo's. Those are some of the best gps listed above but not necessarily top five in my book.


mhajnal profile image

mhajnal 5 years ago Author

@meatwad01

I wish I was sponsored by Garmin...


baradam 5 years ago

Interesting, I've had three of the units or at least a close model too of those listed units and the PN-40 too. I'm using a 550T but I have to admit if it is not information held onboard the Vista HCx is by far the best unit listed. When it comes to battery life, reception and screen brightness/color you cannot do any better. As I moved up in cost to settle my search for satisfaction it always seemed my old Etrex that my wife uses was right on the money for location. This still seems to smolder under my hide thinking I got a $300 more expensive unit and it still grabs a better signal. Now if your looking for custom maps, profiles, onboard data then some down the list provides that but again if it is battery life look to the top of the list...


MreGarminGPS profile image

MreGarminGPS 3 years ago

Thanks for the information you provided. Thinking about getting the Nuvi.

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