ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel
  • »
  • Technology»
  • Consumer Electronics & Personal Gadgets

The 5 Best Handheld GPS Systems

Updated on August 16, 2009

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.


    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    • MreGarminGPS profile image

      MreGarminGPS 5 years ago

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

    • profile image

      baradam 7 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...

    • mhajnal profile image

      mhajnal 7 years ago


      I wish I was sponsored by Garmin...

    • profile image

      meatwad01 7 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.

    • jeffuli755 profile image

      jeffuli755 7 years ago from China

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

    • profile image

      yaseen$0 7 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.

    • profile image

      David S 7 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.

    • profile image

      Pruney56 7 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

    • profile image

      Andrew M. 7 years ago

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

    • FashionFame profile image

      FashionFame 8 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.

    • Entourage_007 profile image

      Stuart 8 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

    • funride profile image

      Ricardo Nunes 8 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 :)

    • hafeezrm profile image

      hafeezrm 8 years ago from Pakistan

      Good. informative and well-supported by basic details.

      Thanks for sharing.

    • profile image

      used pickup trucks for sale 8 years ago

      Really you have good explanation about GPS System with nice presentation

    • gramarye profile image

      gramarye 8 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.

    • fitman profile image

      fitman 8 years ago from Ankara,Turkey

      Battery life is crucial , thanks for the hub

    • profile image

      best buy garmin nuvi 8 years ago

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

    • profile image

      Forrest 8 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.

    • profile image

      Dave  8 years ago

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

    • ciidoctor profile image

      ciidoctor 8 years ago


    • profile image

      reza 8 years ago

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

    • peterander profile image

      peterander 8 years ago

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

    • profile image

      Duchess OBlunt 8 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.


    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at: ""

    Show Details
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the or domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)