best handheld hiking gps
Hiking Gear

The 7 Best Handheld Hiking GPS

If you love outdoor activities as much as I do, I know hiking makes it on the top of your list. I just love exploring the woods and hiking.

When it comes to hikes, I want no setbacks and I know you don’t either. There’s nothing worse than a ruined journey.

Think about it, have ever had trouble deciding which trail to choose? Have you ever had problem getting to your destination? Have you ever chosen a path only to realize you had to return all the way back?

Well, you don’t have to worry about that anymore. One of the ways of avoiding all that trouble is by getting a Handheld GPS. Even I was unaware about the need of GPS until I had to suffer myself.

If you are thinking about hitting the trail, get yourself a GPS. It can help you find your destination and give you information about the trails. It makes the whole hiking experience so much better, convenient and safer

Well, you can either hike without hiking GPS and might lost your track, or you can make your adventure safer with one of these best handheld hiking GPS.

Best Handheld Hiking GPS in 2017 (Top 7)

Why Do You Need Hiking GPS?

First and foremost, Hiking GPS helps you when heading towards unknown territory.

What I found from my experience is that a GPS can help you navigate through unexpected conditions. It can also get you on the right track.

Furthermore, it solves the problem of getting a guide. If you want to hike on your own without the help of another person, GPS is the way to go.

GPS shows all the possible routes, the route you are in and your position. They are also built to withstand all weather condition.

Also, look at the bigger picture here. If you get into some kind of trouble somehow, it will be so much easier for the rescue team to track you down with the help of GPS.

When getting a hiking GPS, there are various factors you need to look into. Why are you getting the device? How much you’re willing to spend? What features do you need to focus on?

To answer these questions, I will walk you through all the necessities and features you need to look in to. I will also provide you with reviews of some of the best hand held GPS I’ve used.

How To Choose Hiking GPS?

Obviously, when you’re going hiking, you don’t want to buy a GPS intended for water navigation or car navigation. You want to make sure it comes with features that best suits your need.

So what are the things to look into before buying a handheld hiking GPS device?

From the multiple hikes I’ve been on, the most important factors that I’ve found are:

Battery Life

Your hike will probably be long and you don’t want your GPS battery to run out when you need it. An average handheld GPS should have

Your hike will probably be long and you don’t want your GPS battery to run out when you need it. An average handheld GPS should have battery life of around 10/15 hours.

Most use AA batteries. It can either have rechargeable batteries or lithium batteries to ensure longevity.

Construction

You’ll be carrying your handheld GPS around with you all the time through different conditions. So, a handheld GPS for hiking should be water resistance. Along with that, it should also offer shock resistance and be robust.

If it comes with buttons, it should be easy to use and see if they stick easily. In case of screen touch GPS, you’ve to make sure it doesn’t crack easily when dropped.

Display

The whole point of getting a handheld GPS is for the map. So, the display of GPS should be enough to offer a decent map overview. That is typically 2 inches with good resolution.

Additionally, a color screen is better because it makes reading data and maps much easier. The best kinds of GPS can also adjust the lighting according to the condition.

Weight

Hiking in itself is a tiring task. You don’t want to pack your bags too heavy so GPS devices should be light with around 300g of weight. This is important for hikers that like to pack light.

Barometric altimeter

Handheld GPS should come with barometric altimeter to keep track of changing weather. The barometric altimeter is better than regular GPS because operates independently of the satellite signal. It assists you to get accurate elevation reading even when you’re hiking in area with low signal.

Electronic compass

Electronic magnetic compass is a great tool for navigation and direction. It can get you the right direction even when you are standing still but it must be calibrated before use. A GPS device should have an electromagnetic compass for accurate navigation.

Tracks

This should be a feature of GPS. It is like a breadcrumb trail. It helps you track your trails and then get back where you had been.

You can also add waypoints to your trips. You can add coordinates of a trailhead, road or the point where you’re standing. This way, you will be able to point the route along which you’re headed.

Coverage

A GPS needs to accurately cover your location even if you are in the middle of nowhere. It provides much greater coverage than your average cell phone’s coverage.

Mapping

Most GPS units have a built in mapping service. They should support topographic, road, waterway mapping along with satellite images.

Since, network isn’t always available data connection is not required to download mapping. They should come with internal maps, which have most of the required details about roads. You can also buy more detailed maps, which will be just one time cost for you.

Memory

GPS needs to have internal as well as external storage for storing map data, waypoints, routes etc. The built in storage are more faster and external ones more durable.

The external memory facilitates extra multimedia features like photo view, music player.

Wireless data transfer

This feature comes real handy when hiking with friends. You can share geocaches, waypoints, routes and tracks between compatible units wirelessly. It allows communication between your GPS and a compatible GPS unit or other devices within a 10-foot range without using cumbersome cords or cables.

Camera

The best thing the camera GPS has is the geo-tagging feature. The pictures you take on these GPS don’t only show you the picture but also show where is it on the map that you shot the picture.

Geocaching

With GPS in your hand, you’ll not have to go through the trouble of printing out the cache. That data gained from geocache will have cache’s description, trails, terrain, difficulties etc.

Two-way communication system:

Some of the GPS now come with two-way satellite communication system. It can help two compatible devices communicate even in areas with no reception.

Sensitivity

A highly sensitive GPS can calculate a position from a weak signal and give accurate, precise location.
So, these are some of the essentials for a hiking GPS. Along with this, you’ll also have to think about interface, using the feature only when you need it so that you don’t suck up the battery and taking print out maps for emergencies.

I tried various hand held hiking GPS and with all the features in mind, I have narrowed it down to 7 of the best handheld hiking GPS.

The 7 Best Handheld Hiking GPS

1. Garmin 3″ Garmin Rino 755t

Garmin Rino 755 is my top pick and I will tell you why. When I got this for the first time, oh it felt like Christmas. It had almost everything a hiker could possible ask for. Initially, I had doubts because it seemed relatively more expensive but trust me, it has all the right features you need.

It is a combination of FRS/GMRS radio and touch screen handheld GPS. It’s great for hiking. It is pretty hefty but it is rugged and waterproof. It can survive 1-meter deep water for upto 30 minutes without any damage to it. So, don’t worry about the device when you are out there during a good pour.

Talking about the display, it is color touch screen. Don’t worry about the touch screen though. It is glove friendly and you won’t have any difficulty using it.

It is built with a two-way radio that has 5 watts of power, which will provide up to 2 miles on the FRS frequency band and up to 20 miles on GMRS. So, when the rino units communicate with each other, they begin sharing location to one another making it visually easier for others to see as well.

This device is the one you go for if you want to go on hikes in group. I say this because I used it. The radios actually came handy when me and a couple of my friends went hiking but reached the destination at different times.

It also has built-in barometric altimeter, which provides more elevation data, and predict weather changes by showing short-term trends in air pressure. The 3 axis electronic compass enables you to find direction even without moving.

Rino 755t provides detailed Topographic for the US as it is preloaded with topo mapping. Includes information such as digital topographic maps, road content etc. For further map storage, it also has an external storage facility.

Along with that, it comes with a one-year subscription to BirdsEye Satellite imagery to provide users with detailed satellite maps. It has dual battery with battery life of around 14 hours, which is pretty good.

Wait! It just gets better. It has zooming features, which helps to pin point the location more accurately. You will have no problem pinning where you are and sharing it with your friends.

This is the perfect device whether you hike alone or in group.

Features I like:

  • GPS along with radio.
  • Easy to communicate with other hikers in the group.
  • Rugged.
  • Waterproof.
  • Glove friendly color touch screen.
  • Three axis electronic compass

 

2. Garmin Montana 680

The highlight of Garmin Montana 680 is the 8 megapixels camera. The photos are automatically geotagged with coordinates, which is useful when you have to navigate back to the same place.

You don’t want to take your gloves off every time you have to use the device. This model makes sure you don’t have to face that problem.

It comes with glove friendly display with 4-inch dual orientation. This makes it so much easier to enjoy the view and have better access to maps. It also includes 1-year BirdsEye Satellite Imagery subscription.

It is great for hiking because it has improved positioning, faster fixes, high quality resolution and is also water resistance. This means, you don’t have to struggle with device for too long and can enjoy the outdoor better.

The Wireless feature is just so incredible. You get to share your waypoints, tracks, routes and geocaches wirelessly with other compatible Garmin GPS users. With the high sensitivity it has, you will have precise and accurate location. This device will have your back even in the deepest of woods.

You’ll not have to struggle with this device because it is so easy to use. You can navigation with ease as it has three axis tilt compensated electronic compass and barometric altimeter. By now, you already know how important those are right?

You can always insert External SD card for more storage so that you can store maps, photos, etc. Moreover, its one of a kind battery gives you the option of using the rechargeable lithium ion pack or traditional AA batteries.

To sum it up, you will want to make this device your hiking partner if you want a hike with no glitches.

Features I like:

  • Glove friendly display
  • Built in 8 MP camera
  • Waterproof
  • Large display
  • Easy navigation
  • Good reception
  • Dual orientation

 

3. Garmin Oregon 650 t

What is so great about Gramin Oregon 650t you ask? Well lets start with this unique feature it has – 8 megapixel auto focus, digital zoom camera with flash/torch and sunlight readable touchscreen display.

It is like a hiker’s dream come true. The camera is perfect for geo tagging . The screen is strengthened for impact resistance, with multi-touch and dual orientation view that can be used with gloves on. The touch screen is pretty strong-featured and it would be perfect even for situations that are harsh.

I used it for years and what I found was that it could be one of the best outdoor GPS handhelds for hiking. It comes with built in storage of 4 GB. It is compact, rugged, light, and water resistant. Just perfect for outdoor situations.

It features dual battery system. You’ll have the option of using the internally rechargeable or traditional AA batteries. This basically means you will get to double your power.

Sharing of waypoints, tracks, routes etc is so much faster with this device. Plus, you also get to share large files which is a feature not every device provides.

Oregon 650t has a built-in 3-axis electronic compass with accelerometer tilt compensation to show where you’re heading even when you are not moving. The barometric altimeter tracks changes in pressure to pinpoint your precise altitude. You will get precise information about the weather with this.

You don’t have to worry about not being able to go the depths or getting lost as long as long as you have this device with you. It has high sensitivity, which precisely and accurately locates your position.

Features I like:

  • Light weight
  • Built in 8 MP camera
  • Sunlight readable touchscreen display
  • Dual battery system
  • High sensitivity

 

4. Garmin eTrex touch

To keep up with the dominance of smart phones, we have here touchscreen hand held device eTrex tiuch 35t.

Garmin eTrex 35t as great endurance and toughness, it will stand strong against dust, dirt, humidity and water. It even has scratch resistant screen. It is very light so great for light packers.

It has 2.6 inch color captive touch which is a little small compared to other devices. It is very convenient and easy to use which comes with features that let you stay connected when you’re on the go.

The electronic compass it has shows your heading even when you are standing still without holding it level. It will give smart notification and connectivity. The barometric altimeter tracks changes in pressure. Meaning, it pinpoints your precise altitude, which will eventually help to keep track of weather.

It comes with battery life of around 16 hours and that should suffice an average hike.

You know how sometimes you want to go away from the hustle and bustle of your life but still stay notified? Well, problem solved.

Etrex touch 35 has wireless feature which lets you share your way points, tracks, routes and geocaches. It has smart notification features so that you wont miss out on important stuff even when you are on the go.

Another thing that is really great about this device is that it comes with 4GB memory so that you can install and manage your own outdoors maps. You can also add your own BirdsEye Satellite Imagery.

eTrex touch saves you so much of time as you don’t have to manually enter every information. It already stores and displays key information, including location, terrain, difficulty, hints and descriptions.

Features I like:

  • Compact, rugged and light
  • 3 axis compass
  • Barometric altimeter
  • Durable and waterproof
  • Stay connected
  • Great endurance
  • Have fun with geocaches

 

5. Garmin GPSMAP 64st

This is one of the most accurate and reliable GPS unit I’ve tested so far. This is handeld gps with push buttons. It is fast and accurate and best for remote hiking.

GPSMAP 64st comes with a worldwide basemap with shaded relief and is preloaded with TOPO 100K. Plus it includes a 1-year BirdsEye Satellite Imagery subscription. All very important for hiking.

It is convenient as it is light weighted, weighing 230 grams. The built in memory is 8 GB with usable memory of 5 GB. This allows you to get a lot more waypoints, favorites and locations.

GPSMAP 64st also has a built-in 3-axis tilt-compensated electronic compass. It shows your heading even when you’re standing still, without holding it level. Its barometric altimeter tracks changes in pressure to pinpoint your precise altitude, and you can even use it to plot barometric pressure over time, which can help you keep an eye on changing weather conditions.

The camera it has is also pretty good that automatically geotags photos. It has wireless facility to share your waypoints, routes and geo caches with other compatible devices.

The location is gets is very accurate, fast and precise as it has high sensitivity receiver. The advantage is, when other devices fail to help you out, GPSMAP 64st comes to rescue.

It also has dual battery system. Two traditional AA batteries or optional rechargeable battery pack that is rechargeable.

It doesn’t have a touchscreen. So, it is easier to use even in extreme condition like rain or snow and you can use it even with gloves on. Moreover, it has super bright LCD display fit for both bright and dim lighting.

Features I like:

  • Accurate
  • Fast Tracking
  • Better Reception
  • Bright Display
  • Push buttons
  • High sensitivity GPS receiver

 

6. Garmin eTrex 30x

When I used it, I found that Garmin eTrex 30x was more accurate, faster and has the ability to use larger Micro SDcards. This feature is for adding detailed mapping along with 3.7 GB internal memory.

It comes with Worldwide basemap, 2.2″ 65K color and sunlight-readable display.
This is a feature you want in your device.

It supports bird eye satellite imagery and is geocache friendly. It stores and displays cache information such as location, terrain, difficulty, hints and descriptions. This is to ensure that you don’t have to go through the trouble of taking printouts with you.

It also has a 3-axis tilt-compensated electronic compass. It shows your heading even when you’re standing still, without holding it level. Its barometric altimeter tracks changes in pressure to pinpoint your precise altitude, and you can even use it to plot barometric pressure over time, which can help you keep an eye on changing weather conditions.

It has wireless sharing of waypoints, tracks, routes and geocaches. With this benefit, your friends will also be able to enjoy your favorite hike.

For me, it gave battery life of more than 20 hours. So, with this, running out of battery will be the least of your concern.

Overall, it’s light, small, provides great value, has long battery life. Also, is compact, the external feature is solid and the screen is quite good.

Features I like:

  • Accurate
  • Faster
  • Can have larger Micro SD card
  • Light and small
  • Battery life
  • Detailed mapping

 

7. Garmin etrex 20x GPS

This device has comparatively higher resolution and extra memory. It also comes with a subscription to Birdseye satellite Imagery. I used to use the older version but this upgraded version is so much better.

If you are new to this whole thing, this is the one you go for. This device is easy to use with buttons instead of touch screen. It locates your position with efficient and accurate information. Also, helps to get on the route you want and navigate in all kinds of condition.

I like this because it is one of the lightest GPS I’ve tested so far. It has 2 AA batteries and has a great battery life.

Garmin eterx 20x also facilitates wireless data sharing and a-axis electronic compass. So, it provides accurate information about the navigation.

It has good battery life of more than 20 hours and I never had to get extra batteries when I used this.

One of the best things about this device is that it is relatively cheaper. Just because it’s cheap doesn’t mean its not good. It still comes with the features that any average GPS device should have.

Overall, it is affordable, has excellent battery life, easy to use and light.

Features I like:

  • High resolution
  • Buttons instead of touch screen
  • Great battery life
  • Affordable
  • Easy to use

 

THE VERDICT

GPS is a miraculous piece of equipment every hiker should own. If you’ve gone through all the products and are still wondering which hand held GPS to use; think about your needs and what features you need to focus on.

For me, Rino 755t works the best. I have been using that device for months and it’s just great. Initially, I had my doubts regarding the price but it seemed totally worth it after I started using it.

None of the products I used came as handy as Garmin Rhino 650T did. The radio and communication feature it has is very useful.

Go ahead! Grab a GPS device that best suits your need and get the best out of your hiking experience.

About Author

Neil Ferriss

Hey! I am Neil. Since I quit my job in 2015, I’ve traveled to several countries and have completed some thrilling items from my adventure bucket list. This blog is about sharing entertaining travel stories, useful travel tips and thrilling adventures with you from my non-stop adventure around the world.

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