The 5 Best Handheld Hiking GPS Units in 20186 min read

By Ben Griffin

Hiker Extraordinaire

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

As hikers, we know that getting lost is a real possibility, especially if you are “off the beaten path”.

In light of that reality, I started carrying a small, portable GPS unit. It’s for my own peace of mind as well as that of my family.

This article will give you the scoop on five handheld GPS units.

Ready? Let’s go!

The Shortlist The 5 Best Handheld GPS Units

Hiking GPS Best Feature My Grade
Garmin 3" Rino Large touch screen and electronic compass. I personally use this GPS unit A🏅
Garmin GPSMAP 64st Two battery options, rechargeable and regular A-
Garmin GPS eTrex Touch Color display B+
Holux Bike GPSport 260 Great Value B
Garmin eTrex 10 Worldwide mapping B

^^Below, I’ve written more detailed reviews, but you can click the links above to see current prices or read customer reviews on Amazon.

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

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.

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