The Best Handheld GPS of 2024

The Best Handheld GPS of 2024

While smartphones and GPS watches are indeed useful for navigation, they can’t match the interactive and detailed capabilities of a handheld GPS. We’ve been tromping through the woods for close to half a decade now putting the best units to the test, and have pulled together eight of the winners that’ll get you where you’re headed — no questions asked.

Compared to a smartphone, a handheld GPS has some major advantages, including superior durability and much longer battery life. Simply put, no other kind of device on the market can take the place of a good handheld GPS. While we do still recommend bringing a map and compass as an analog backup in case technology fails you, the products on this list are high quality, and we stand by each one.

Our suggestions aren’t one-offs, either — we’ve hit the dirt with these units in hand, connecting waypoints, navigating by dead-reckoning, and tracking our trips. We’ve compared GPS tracks down the mere feet in order to seperate the worthy from the weak. You’ll notice this list is dominated by Garmin products. We don’t have a special relationship with Garmin, nor do we have an inherent preference for the brand. Simply put, Garmin has a firm grasp on the handheld GPS market, and its products are top-notch.

Scroll through to see all of our recommended buys or jump to the category you’re looking for. At the end of our list, be sure to check out our comprehensive buyer’s guide, as well as our comparison chart. And if you have some questions, take a look at our list of frequently asked questions.

Editor’s Note: We updated our Handheld GPS guide on March 15, 2024, to add the Garmin eTrex Solar — a new generation device that can sustain itself indefinitely with solar charging — and the Garmin Foretrex 801 — a Rambo-ready wrist-mounted unit.

The Best Handheld GPS of 2024


Best Overall Handheld GPS

  • Battery life
    180 hrs. in standard mode; 840 hrs. in expedition mode
  • Battery type
    Internal Li-ion rechargeable battery
  • Weight
    8.1 oz.
  • Memory
    16 GB with expandable memory
  • Screen size
    3″ diag.
  • Rating
    IPX7, MIL-STD-810
  • Connectivity
    USB-C, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, ANT+
  • Sensors
    GPS, Galileo, QZSS, Beidou, IRNSS / Barometer altimeter + compass

Product Badge
The Best Handheld GPS of 2024


  • Incredible updated battery life over previous model

  • Large, bright, easy-to-see display

  • On-board messaging capabilities

  • Waterproof rating of IPX7

  • Expanded global navigation system and multiband technology


  • More expensive than other options

  • User must also carry a battery pack or solar panel to recharge the device on longer trips

Best Budget Handheld GPS

  • Battery life
    24 hrs.
  • Battery type
    800 mAh internal
  • Weight
    1.9 oz.
  • Memory
    Unpublished
  • Screen size
    2.2″ diag.
  • Rating
    IPX7
  • Connectivity
    Micro-USB, Bluetooth
  • Sensors
    GPS, GLONASS, Galileo + Barometer + Temperature

The Best Handheld GPS of 2024


  • Easy setup 

  • Compass, temperature, time, barometric pressure, and elevation displays

  • Durable rubber exo skeleton

  • Waterproof IPX7


  • No built-in maps

  • Very tiny, could get easily misplaced

Best Minimalist Handheld GPS

  • Battery life
    200 hours in standard mode; up to 1,800 hours in expedition mode; unlimited with solar
  • Battery type
    Internal rechargeable lithium ion
  • Weight
    5 oz.
  • Memory
    28 MB
  • Screen Size
    2.2”
  • Rating
    IPX7
  • Connectivity
    USB-C / Bluetooth
  • Sensors
    GPS, GLONASS, Galileo, QZSS, Beidou, RNSS + Compass

The Best Handheld GPS of 2024


  • Solar cells in screen powers device indefinitely in direct sunlight

  • Multiband GPS reception

  • Real-time weather imported from phone


  • Notifications don’t go away on their own

  • Black and white screen

Best Handheld GPS for Satellite Messaging

  • Battery life
    Up to 336 hrs. (in 10-minute tracking mode)
  • Battery type
    Rechargeable internal lithium-ion
  • Weight
    3.5 oz.
  • Memory
    Can save up to 1,000 waypoints
  • Screen size
    0.9″ diag.
  • Rating
    IPX7
  • Connectivity
    USB-C, Bluetooth, ANT+
  • Sensors
    GPS, Galileo, QZSS + compass + Iridium

The Best Handheld GPS of 2024


  • Custom messaging capability

  • Lightweight and compact

  • Two-way messaging capability

  • IPX7 water-resistance rating

  • Passive tracking mode allows others at home to track your position


  • Limited navigation and mapping features

  • Paid subscription is required for all communication features

  • Difficult to navigate in-device

Best Wrist-Mounted GPS

  • Battery life
    100 hrs. in standard mode; 1,000 hrs in expedition mode
  • Battery type
    2 AAA (lithium, NiMH, or alkaline)
  • Weight
    3.8 oz.
  • Memory
    500 waypoints, 100 tracks, 50 navigation routes
  • Screen size
    2.2”
  • Rating
    MIL-STD-810 + IPX7
  • Connectivity
    USB-C / Bluetooth / ANT+
  • Sensors
    GPS / GLONASS / GALILEO / Baro + Alto / Compass

The Best Handheld GPS of 2024


  • Compact, durable, easy-to-understand interface

  • Minimal interaction is needed in the field to get the info you need

  • That battery life is out of this world


  • This could be overkill for folks walking around their local dog park

  • The band that it comes with is all right, but there are much better options

Best of the Rest

  • Battery life
    25 hrs.
  • Battery type
    2 AA
  • Weight
    5 oz.
  • Memory
    8 GB
  • Screen size
    2.2″ diag.
  • Rating
    IPX7
  • Connectivity
    Mini-USB
  • Sensors
    GPS, GLONASS

The Best Handheld GPS of 2024


  • Simple, easy-to-use interface

  • Lightweight and compact

  • Great reception for the price

  • Easy to mark and save waypoints


  • Lacks barometric altimeter and three-axis compass

  • Interface feels antiquated

  • Battery life
    18 hrs.
  • Battery type
    Rechargeable lithium-ion battery
  • Weight
    1 lb., 7.3 oz.
  • Memory
    16 GB and compatible with micro-SD cards
  • Screen size
    5″ diag.
  • Rating
    IPX7, MIL-STD-810
  • Connectivity
    Micro-USB, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, ANT+
  • Sensors
    GPS, Galileo + barometer altimeter + compass

The Best Handheld GPS of 2024


  • Huge, high-resolution display

  • Integrated satellite messaging and SOS capability

  • Rugged construction with Gorilla Glass screen

  • Lots of internal memory


  • Heavy and bulky

  • Cannot be used with gloves on

  • Expensive

  • Battery life
    2 AA batteries last up to 25 hrs. before needing replacement
  • Battery type
    2 AA
  • Weight
    5 oz.
  • Memory
    8 GB, micro-SD card compatible
  • Screen size
    2.2″ diag.
  • Rating
    IPX7
  • Connectivity
    Mini-USB, ANT+
  • Sensors
    GPS, GLONASS + barometric altimeter + compass

The Best Handheld GPS of 2024


  • Clear and bright color display

  • Built-in compass and barometric altimeter

  • Combines GPS and GLONASS for widespread and reliable reception

  • Easy-to-press large buttons


  • User interface takes some practice to learn

  • Battery life isn’t the longest

Handheld GPS Comparison Chart

Handheld GPS Price Battery Life (Standard Mode) Weight Sensors Rating
Garmin GPSMAP 67i $600 180 hrs. 8.1 oz. GPS, Galileo, QZSS, Beidou, IRNSS + barometric altimeter + compass IPX7, MIL-STD-810
Bushnell BackTrack Mini GPS $105 24 hrs. 1.9 oz. GPS, GLONASS, Galileo + barometer + temperature IPX7
Garmin eTrex Solar $250 200 hrs. 5 oz. GPS, GLONASS, Galileo, QZSS, Beidou, RNSS + compass IPX7
Garmin inReach Mini 2 $400 Up to 336 hrs. 3.5 oz. GPS, Galileo, QZSS + compass + Iridium IPX7
Garmin Foretrex 801 $250 100 hrs. 3.1 oz. GPS, GLONASS, Galileo + barometric altimeter + compass IPX7, MIL-STD-810
Garmin eTrex 22x $180 25 hrs. 5 oz. GPS, GLONASS IPX7
Garmin Montana 700i $700 18 hrs. 1 lb., 7.3 oz. GPS, Galileo + barometric altimeter + compass IPX7, MIL-STD-810
Garmin eTrex 32x $300 25 hrs. 5 oz. GPS, GLONASS + barometric altimeter + compass IPX7
Garmin GPSMAP 66i and inReach Mini 2 GPS Devices
Big and small — there’s a GPS device that’ll fit any trip you’ve got planned; (photo/Nick Belcaster)

How We Tested Handheld GPS

The GearJunkie team is made up of hikers, cyclists, hunters, anglers, expeditionary explorers, and much more. GPS devices are essential tools for many of the activities that we love. Over the years, we have tested many different handheld GPS units, and this list comprises the best of the best.

Testing these units is a time-consuming process. You can’t just go outside and run around in circles to get acclimated to each GPS unit. You need to go on an adventure with them. In fact, we recommend multiple adventures for our gear testers — a month’s worth, at minimum. While testing handheld GPS devices in the field, we assessed durability, connectivity, ease of use, weight, and battery life.

And our testing team is certainly up to the task. Austin Beck-Doss dove headlong into the wilderness of Wyoming to test the majority of these GPS devices — and made it back out to report his findings. To say he’s proficient in these gadgets is an understatement. The same can be said of Berne Broudy, who we’re certain hasn’t been in cell range for years. She’s not only an expert in the field, but she relies on GPS units in her day-to-day life. Who better to identify the pros and cons of these complex units than someone who really needs them?

Finally, our most recent testing comes from contributor Nick LeFort, who knew little about the Garmin Foretrex 801 and eTrex Solar when we tasked him with testing them out. So, he spent a month getting lost — on foot and in his truck — all over New England to see what GPS was all about. Now he won’t stop talking about the positive impact these GPS units can have on you — to the point where he believes they’re an asset.

Buyer’s Guide: How to Choose a Handheld GPS Device

Garmin InReach Mini 2 TracBack
The compact Garmin inReach Mini 2 is more often touted as a sat messenger, but when paired with a phone it makes an admirable GPS unit; (photo/Berne Broudy)

Though handheld GPS devices have been available for several decades, recent developments have vastly improved the capabilities of the options available on the market in 2024.

Some of the devices on this list focus strictly on providing quality GPS mapping and position tracking. Other options also offer a long list of additional features such as Bluetooth and Wi-Fi connectivity, touchscreen displays, satellite messaging, emergency features, altimeters, compasses, and more.

With so many available features and lots of high-quality options, it can be difficult to navigate the market and figure out which handheld GPS best suits your needs. Remember, the ideal device is the one that will add the most benefit to your life and your navigational pursuits.

Before you purchase, consider your needs. It may even be helpful to make a list of features that are non-negotiable for you. Determining your budget before you begin shopping may also help, as devices on the market vary wildly in price from $100 to over $700.

We recommend every device on this list. Through careful research and product testing, we have compiled a list of well-made, high-quality handheld GPS devices. Our guide for how to choose aims to explain various features and terminology you’re sure to encounter as you shop for a handheld GPS.

Handheld GPS User Profiles

Garmin GPSMAP 66i Satellite Reception
The multi-band capabilities of the Garmin GPSMAP 67i allow it to access not only multiple different satellite systems, but also different generations of those satellites, providing a very high fidelity for location; (photo/Nick Belcaster)

The Backpacker & Hiker: Camp should be right over the next pass — right? Bringing along a GPS for hiking or backpacking can aid in keeping you on trail, or in getting you back to it after some bushwhacking or scrambling. Choosing a device with extended battery life is key here, as well as one that has the on-device mapping abilities to aid in on-the-ground navigation.

The thru-hikers among us rave about the compact abilities of the inReach Mini 2 from Garmin, which is low-profile enough to toss into nearly any pack. On-device navigation here is quite limited, but improves greatly when used with the Garmin Explore app. And if you’re looking for a do-it-all hiking device, the Garmin GPSMAP 67i has onboard topos and downloadable satellite imagery.

The Hunter: Everyone has got that secret spot, you’ve just got to be able to find your way back to it. Hunting with a handheld GPS ensures that navigation is secondary to the real reason you’re out here, and quick accessibility will keep you from messing around

If your hunting consists of tromping out to the blind or tree stand, a simple unit like the Bushnell BackTrack is a low barrier of entry way to get you there and back without a hiccup. Tracking your quarry? Going wrist-mounted like the Garmin Foretrex 801 will keep your hands free should a can’t-miss opportunity present itself.

(Photo/Nick LeFort)

The Geocacher: If you’ve never stumbled across a hidden treasure out in the woods, it’s high time you give it a shot. Geocaching is a global phenomenon, with small containers known as caches hidden, and GPS waypoints given to those looking to find them. Geocaches are typically hidden quite well, so having the highest fidelity GPS unit you can get your hands on will help pinpoint the booty.

Leaning on a unit with Multi-Band GNSS technology, like the Garmin GPSMAP 67i, will aid the satellite receiver in seeking out signal in historically difficult areas, such as beneath tree cover or inside canyons. And certain units, like the eTrex Solar, are designed specifically with geocaching in mind, and host a “Live Geocaching” functionality that downloads cache coordinates and descriptions directly to your device.

The Overlander: Your rig can go just about anywhere, granted you know where it is you’re going. Going with a GPS with good mounting options will keep it close at hand, and having routable topographic maps will key in on trails and roads to plot a route to where you’re trying to get to.

For all of our overlanding, we reach for the Garmin Montana 700i, which has a broad touchscreen for easy nav while bouncing around. This unit also can be rigged up with a powered AMPS Rugged Mount that keeps your GPS going by keeping it on the cord. If you’re in a smaller rig like a side-by-side UTV, the inReach Mini 2 from Garmin can also be mounted using an adapter, and makes for a quick connection to your phone for messaging other drivers.

Garmin inReach Mini Clipped
The right tool for the job can make all of the difference; (photo/Nick Belcaster)

Reception

The positional accuracy of handheld GPS devices has improved steadily over the decades. Now, high-quality devices such as the ones on this list can pinpoint the user’s location within a margin of 10 meters or less.

According to Garmin, the manufacturer of multiple devices on our list, units that are equipped with the Wide Area Augmentation System (WAAS) can be accurate to 3 meters or less. Most GPS units are limited to the L1 frequency of GPS. With plans to have a majority, if not all of our satellites running on the L5 frequency, units like the Garmin eTrex Solar and Garmin GPSMAP 67i which can access both bands simultaneously, are ready for the future.

Global Navigation Satellite Systems

(Photo/Nick LeFort)

While GPS (Global Positioning System) has become synonymous with satellite navigation devices, this is only one orbiting satellite system in a constellation of systems that are known as GNSS, or Global Navigation Satellite Systems.

With more than 30 satellites in operation today, the United States Global Positioning System is easily the world’s most utilized system based on the amount of people in the United States who use products with GPS technology. It is joined by the Russian GLONASS (24), Chinese BeiDou (35), the European Union’s Galileo (30), and the regional Japanese system QZSS/Michibiki (4). In general, the more GNSS systems that a GPS device is capable of receiving, the greater the location fidelity. This is often denoted as ‘Multi-GNSS Capable’.

In recent years, GPS devices have begun to incorporate chipsets that take advantage of the different generations of satellites within individual satellite systems. These systems are constantly being updated, and new satellites are launched annually, so there are several different sets of satellites that a GPS can key in on. By broadening data collection, new GPS devices can eke out even more satnav horsepower.

As this type of technology becomes more widespread and adopted, you’ll see fewer and fewer people reaching to the sky in an attempt to find a connection. In landscapes both urban and undeveloped, large features such as canyons and skyscrapers can degrade your signal and decrease the accuracy of your GPS device. But the chances of you holding on to a signal are a lot better than they were even just a few years ago.

App Integrations

Garmin GPS Device App integration
Synching your GPS with your phone can boost its useability and functionality in the backcountry, giving you a broader interface to work with; (photo/Nick Belcaster)

This is where things get interesting. When out in the field, you’re relying on your GPS. But when you get back home or even to camp, you can download an app to upload your tracks, waypoints, and everything the GPS recorded during your trip. 

Most GPS units can pair with your smartphone and even have the capability to connect via Bluetooth. This is especially beneficial with smaller units like the Garmin inReach Mini 2, where you can connect to your phone and use the bigger buttons on your phone to communicate two ways. 

Garmin has put a considerable amount of effort into its Explore App (Apple, Android). When paired to your smartphone, it allows you to enter your waypoints, plan your routes, and stay connected by being able to receive text, incoming calls, and other notifications that you have set up on your phone already. 

Our testers often rely on this option during downtime in a tent when there’s blustery weather — much better to type on a phone instead of on a small screen.

Satellite Navigation on Your Smartphone

As smartphones improve year over year, many backcountry users have taken to utilizing navigation apps such as Gaia GPS, CalTopo, or Avenza Maps to find their way. The benefit is that your phone often has a stout processor and expanded memory, which can make in-device navigation a much more enjoyable experience.

While many smartphones incorporate a rudimentary GPS chip for location finding, this is often augmented with cellphone tower pings to better triangulate your location. When you leave the coverage of cell towers, you lose this ability and with it, some accuracy. For those who don’t require pinpoint navigation, this level of information can often be adequate. But in many circumstances, having the additional data that a full GNSS receiver provides can keep you on track when it matters.

Ease of Use

Garmin GPSMAP 66 Location Map
Generally, the larger the device, the easier it’ll be to operate; (photo/Nick Belcaster)

Every handheld GPS device has a unique user interface you’ll have to learn as the device’s operator. Some devices, like the Garmin eTrex Solar, are operated using a small number of simple buttons, while others, like the Garmin Montana 700i, rely on a large color touchscreen display.

No matter the configuration of your device, we recommend spending some time reading the user manual and practicing navigating with your device before you head out into the backcountry.

Additionally, Garmin has a whole video Learning Center that is dedicated to getting you dialed into your new GPS device without having to read a complete manual. These videos focus on the things you need to get you up and running.

Displays and Buttons

Foretrex 801 - Fresh From the Box
The tactile buttons on the Foretrex 801 add to the redundancy factor — no glitching touch screens here; (photo/Nick LeFort)

Large touchscreens tend to offer a shorter learning curve thanks to their large, bright, and colorful displays. These kinds of devices are quick to learn for people familiar with smartphone use, but they also come with some downsides.

Most notably, touchscreen handheld GPS devices are difficult to use when the weather is cold or wet. While out hunting, fishing, or hiking, it’s likely that you’ll be wearing gloves. Simply put, you can’t operate a touchscreen without touchscreen gloves, which renders high-end devices like the Garmin Montana 700i warm-weather-specific.

For a super easy-to-use handheld GPS that utilizes buttons instead of a touchscreen, we recommend the simple and affordable Garmin eTrex Solar.

To deal with the issue of glare and sunny-day readability, Garmin’s new models have been engineered with antiglare screens that make maps and data easy to decipher — even in the direct sun.

In-Device Navigation

Garmin inReach Mini 2 Navigation Mode
You won’t get much in the way of a map with the inReach Mini 2, but for dead-reckoning to a bearing, it’s a simple device to use; (photo/Nick Belcaster)

Out of the box, most GPS devices come with a very simplistic map that displays little detail about the terrain. Some high-end devices come with multiple maps preloaded, each displaying certain information and landmarks such as roads, trails, and lakes.

Many devices allow you to purchase additional maps and upload them to the device. Some sources, such as the United States Geological Survey (USGS), offer free spatial data that can be added to your device.

Generally, the more data and information about the terrain that your device contains, the easier it will be to navigate using the mapping function of the device.

Satellite imagery, which is essentially aerial photos of Earth that have been stitched together, is usually difficult to see and utilize on a handheld GPS device. However, some devices with larger displays like the Garmin Montana 700i are more capable of making use of satellite imagery during navigation.

Most makers of handheld GPS devices have created their own software that’s used to organize and display the tracks and waypoints that you have saved using your device.

BaseCamp from Garmin is an excellent platform that provides everything you need as a GPS user. For example, using BaseCamp, you can overlay your waypoints and tracks onto Google Earth. This is especially helpful for devices unable to utilize satellite imagery on their own.

Battery Life

The integrated rechargeable battery of the Garmin GPSMAP 67i gives it a long life in the field, as well as the ability to recharge on the go; (photo/Nick Belcaster)

Many handheld GPS devices still rely on AA batteries, which are cheap, quick to replace, and easily accessible. However, if you’re heading out on a long expedition where access to a store is out of the question, you’ll have to bring a potentially annoying quantity of fresh batteries to keep your device working. While AA batteries remain an option, some manufacturers are now making devices with rechargeable battery packs — and even solar — as a practical alternative.

Rechargeable batteries can reduce weight and save money over time. Many outdoor professionals and recreationists carry battery packs or solar panels, which are compact ways of recharging a handheld GPS in the field. Many models have rechargeable batteries that are also compatible with AA batteries as a backup. A unit like the Garmin eTrex Solar allows you to leave the solar panels at home; relying on a rechargeable Lithium battery and a built-in solar reception.

Depending on the length of the trips you’ll be taking with your device, aim for a handheld GPS that has a long battery life while in active GPS-enabled modes. Typically, one of the trade-offs of large touchscreen devices is that they tend to have a shorter battery life than button-operated alternatives.

The Garmin Foretrex 801 boasts a battery life on two AAA batteries of up to 1,000 hours. It’s hard to fathom that number for anything battery-powered, but it’s doable if you create a routine. This particular unit offers different modes that may require less energy to maintain. None of these units are set-it-and-forget-it devices. They all take a little time to get used to, but once you do — you’ll find yourself creating routines that keep you informed, and powered.

Weight

Bushnell BackTrack Mini GPS
Devices like the Bushnell BackTrack Mini easily slip into a pocket when not in use. Just don’t lose them in the snow; (photo/Justin La Vigne)

Depending on where you’re going with your GPS and how you plan to get there, weight may be an important consideration. Some handheld GPS devices, like the Garmin inReach Mini 2 and Bushnell BackTrack Mini GPS weigh under 4 ounces. Others, like the Garmin Montana 700i, weigh over a pound.

Oftentimes, smaller devices will need to leave some features out in order to hit the profile they’re aiming at. When we are considering a GPS, we often weigh the ability of the GPS on its own, as well as consider if our phone will be needed to take full advantage of all of its features. A small GPS plus phone combo can be a powerful team, but many may instead opt for an all-in-one device, like the Garmin GPSMAP 67i.

Memory

Most information saved to handheld GPS devices comes in the form of routes or coordinates for a specific location you want to save for future use. For most trips, only a few waypoints are necessary.

Devices on this list are capable of saving between 500 and 10,000 waypoints at any given time, which should be more than enough — especially if you plan to clear this data or move it to another device between trips.

However, if you plan to save waypoints from multiple trips all at once, or if you want to be able to store lots of maps and satellite images on your device, look for options with plenty of storage space. High-end models often hold up to 16 GB of information, and many are also compatible with micro-SD memory cards for additional storage capacity.

Mapping

Garmin GPSMAP Navigation
The mapping functionality of the GPSMAP series is dense, with most models coming preloaded with Garmin’s TopoActive maps; (photo/Nick Belcaster)

Every handheld GPS comes with a basic map, which is essentially a blank screen that includes the most noteworthy local features and nothing more. Many modern Garmin products come with a preloaded base map with contour lines that convey elevation, points of interest, and major trails and roads.

On most devices, maps can be added to improve on the default base-level map to create a more detailed layout of the terrain around you. Remember, additional maps take up memory, so be sure your device isn’t full if you want to add more maps.

Some simplistic devices like the Garmin Foretrex 801 aren’t able to accept new maps. Others, like the Garmin Montana models, can be thoroughly customized. The fewer map features on a GPS unit may mean more time pre-planning your next adventure. But the more features might create bloat that you don’t need. It’s important to find balance.

Satellite Messaging and Emergency Features

Garmin inReach Mini 2 Location
The satellite messaging functionality of the Garmin inReach Mini 2 really is the star of the show, but it does an admirable job with navigation as well; (photo/Nick Belcaster)

Satellite messaging devices have the ability to send (and sometimes receive) messages in areas where cellular devices don’t have reception. Now, many handheld GPS devices have been built with this capability to create a class of all-in-one backcountry navigation and communication tools.

To use these messaging features, a paid subscription is usually required which allows a limited number of messages to be sent and received each month.

For those who wish to communicate with others while out of cellphone range, this is an invaluable feature that can quell worry from afar and keep everyone in the loop. Some satellite messaging devices can be programmed to automatically send out predetermined messages at regular time intervals.

In the event of an emergency, you must be able to quickly signal for help. Some devices have an SOS button that can instantly trigger a response from local emergency medical services. On this list, the Garmin inReach Mini 2 has more communication features than navigation features, but it’s a great little device.

Geocaching

(Photo/Nick LeFort)

Geocaching is an increasingly popular outdoor activity that utilizes navigational tools to search for cool treasures that have been hidden all over the world. Most GPS units are suitable for assisting enthusiasts in this hobby, and some are even designed specifically for geocaching adventures.

The Garmin eTrex Solar is a simple and excellent personal GPS tracker that serves as an affordable entry point into the exciting world of geocaching. It receives automatic cache updates from Geocaching Live, and allows you to upload your successful finds directly to your Geocaching profile from within the device.

Barometric Altimeter

Most handheld GPS devices include a barometric altimeter. When navigating, it’s often highly important to be aware of your current altitude with an accurate barometer. Using pressure sensors, an altimeter can also help you track weather patterns and trends, which is important information to have — especially in the mountains.

Compass

A three-axis compass, which is included in most midlevel (and up) handheld GPS models, allows you to read direction no matter how you’re holding the device. It’s a handy feature, though it’s not strictly necessary because it’s a good idea to carry a standard compass as a backup anyway.

What About GPS Watches?

Flagship GPS watches, like the Garmin Fenix 7 Pro, boast fast processors that make wrist-mounted GPS nav possible; (photo/Matthew Tangeman)

In recent years, GPS watches have become smaller, faster, and more powerful than ever — now rivaling many of the functionalities of handheld GPS units. The same satellite navigation chipsets are used across both styles of devices. While a dedicated device will almost always be quicker, a GPS watch can have impressive tracking capabilities, especially if it is Multi-GNSS capable.

While those who are drawn to the more all-in-one GPS offerings — like the Garmin GPSMAP 67i or Montana 700i — likely won’t consider a GPS watch as a viable alternative, those who are looking into a smaller device that relies on a phone for expanded navigation capabilities may find them to be a possible alternative.

If you land in this camp, consider that a GPS watch will often have a shorter battery life compared to a small GPS unit. Also, their antennas are much smaller than a purpose-built device. This can mean a longer wait time when seeking out a location lock.

FAQ

All of the handheld GPS devices on this list are high quality. We recommend each one for different reasons. Of these options, determining which one is best is all about figuring out what your needs are and which device best suits them.

If you’re looking for a device that has a large color screen but is also compact and lightweight, the Garmin GPSMAP 67i is an excellent choice. If you’re looking for a packable device that can reliably communicate via satellite, the Garmin inReach Mini 2 would be a great buy.

With a clear signal, many modern handheld GPS devices can pinpoint your location with a margin of error of just a few meters. This level of accuracy is great for emergency scenarios, reliable waypoint setting, and geocaching. Integrated altimeters and three-axis compasses in handheld GPS devices are also more accurate now than ever before.

Keep in mind, however, having a compass or map in your pack is still recommended, as they are a sure thing that doesn’t rely on a battery or satellite to get you out of a jam.

For accurate navigation in regions where cellular service isn’t available, handheld GPS devices are certainly better than smartphones for reliable mapping and positioning. Purpose-built GPS devices also tend to hold up much better to the elements than smartphones.

Though smartphones can be helpful navigational tools, their short battery life, reliance on cellular service, and general fragility mean they just aren’t the best option for proper expeditionary navigation.

Additionally, their GPS accuracy is within 5 meters — or roughly 16 feet. Though this number continues to improve as smartphones get upgraded to newer models, the fact remains that GPS units like the one in this guide are too. With dedicated GPS handhelds already ahead of smartphones in terms of accuracy and reliability, we have no reason to believe that’s going to change.

While some geocaching locations can be navigated with a smartphone, a handheld GPS device like the Garmin eTrex Solar is really the best tool for geocaching. With a handheld GPS, you can enjoy geocaching sessions without cellular service and save waypoints so you can return to specific locations over and over again.

Geocaching, arguably the largest and most popular geocaching databases on the planet, can pair with most handheld GPS units. It’s also available as an app for smartphones, but once you pair your handheld GPS with their desktop site, you may never need to use the app again.

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