10 Best Handheld GPS: Definitive Review (2020)

From hiking to cycling, fishing to hunting, we’ve tested the top handheld GPS’ to suit every need and every pocket:
Whatever you do don't head out on your next adventure without one of these incredible pieces of kit.

Garmin GPSMAP 64st
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Garmin Handheld GPS (Etrex 20x)
topnotchoutdoor award

Garmin Foretrex 401 Waterproof Hiking GPS
27

Models Reviewed

170

Hours Of
Research

120

Field Test
Hours

56

Users
Surveyed

TopNotch Outdoor is independent – we research, test, and rate the top products to help you make the right buying choice. We sometimes use affiliate links and may receive a small commission on your purchase. Learn more…

This is a complete review and guide for handheld GPS’s in 2020.

In this new guide you’ll learn:

  • Which will be the right GPS for your needs
  • A Back to Back comparison: Battery Life, Screen Quality, Accuracy, Features etc.
  • Expert Buyers Guide
  • Lots more

Want to know why you need a quad-helix antenna? – you’ll discover soon enough…

There’s no denying the advantages a handheld GPS for hiking or hunting provides for an outdoor enthusiast. It’s most effective while moving through unknown terrains under poor light conditions.

We took 37 of the most popular handheld GPS units.

Our Goal?

To shortlist the best, so you can rest assured you’ll find what you’re looking for in this definitive review.

After a thorough test of 8 handheld GPS units shortlisted, we’re ready to provide our recommendations for the best handheld GPS units on the market.

The handheld GPS units are compact and easy to use devices that can provide a wide range of information. These include location displays, detailed maps and route navigation. Elevation above sea level, recorded mileage, compass, and other details are also displayed.

Some units…

Show any feature of the topography lying ahead that may impact your journey.

A quality handheld GPS is a dependable device that can be used for a wide range of activities like hiking, cycling, boating or mountaineering. It is also a self-contained unit that can operate independently.

No wonder it’s a key component of the equipment of an outdoor enthusiast.

Without further ado

Let’s go through our choices for the best handheld GPS unit in this article. We’ll also provide you with some effective tips about selecting the right unit.

Best Handheld GPS

1 – Garmin GPSMAP 64st

Editors Choice Award Winner
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Reception
8
Ease of Use
7
Display Quality
8
Speed
9
Weight and Size
8
Versatility
8
Overall Score
80
  • Manufacturer: Garmin
  • Display Size: 2.6 inches
  • Display Type: Transflective, 65K color TFT
  • Weight: 8.1 oz
  • Average Battery Life: Up to 16 hours

Bottom Line : This is a good choice for hunters and geocachers and is one of the top models from Garmin

Pros


  • Excellent reception even under thick vegetation.
  • A high level of accuracy
  • Has Bluetooth and cellular connectivity
  • Extremely durable
  • Fast boot-up time
  • Large buttons ensure easy handling

Cons


  • The unit comes without rechargeable batteries.
  • The user manual is not detailed
  • The battery life could have been better

The Garmin GPSMAP 64st stands out from the other best handheld gps units we tested for its accuracy and speed.

The unit uses USGS maps which have 10-foot topographical lines. This makes it capture elevation changes precisely. Even under thick canopies and in deep gorges, the reliability of the unit is very impressive.

Best of all:

Garmin did a great job of delivering a ruggedly built unit that can withstand abuse.  Fast boot-up time and an 8 GB internal memory are some other added advantages. But, the battery life of the unit is not a strong feature.

Garmin could have made this a more capable unit by using a rechargeable battery unit.

Nevertheless:

We loved it.

Read Full Review: Garmin GPSMAP 64s Review

Best Budget Handheld GPS

2 – Garmin Handheld GPS (Etrex 20x)

Best Value Award Winner
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Reception
6
Ease of Use
8
Display Quality
7
Speed
6
Weight and Size
10
Versatility
7
Overall Score
73
  • Manufacturer: Garmin Ltd.
  • Display Size: 1.4 x 1.7 inches
  • Display Type: Transflective, 65K color TFT
  • Weight: 5.1 oz
  • Average Battery Life: Up to 25 hours

Bottom Line : A basic device that offers a no-frills design and reliable performanceergencies

Pros


  • An easy to use device
  • Connects with GPS and GLONASS satellites
  • A good display
  • Long battery life of 25 hours
  • Supports GPX files for geocaching
  • An affordable price

Cons


  • The screen size is small
  • Lacks an electronic compass and altimeter
  • No wireless features

Here’s the thing – the Garmin eTrex 20x is a great choice for those who are looking for a simple and effective GPS for hiking.

The affordable price tag is another advantage of the unit. Even though it’s small, the unit is fast and highly sensitive, even in tricky terrains.

What’s more

The buttons function effectively and the menu is easy to navigate.

The small size makes it easy to store and the unit can withstand dust, dirt, and humidity. It is versatile enough for outdoor activities like biking, backpacking, hiking, and fishing.

While the lack of compass and altimeter can be an issue – this gives the device a long battery life. A big advantage when you do not want to carry spare batteries.

Read Full Review: Garmin eTrex 20x Review

Best Waterproof GPS

3 – Garmin Foretrex 401 Waterproof Hiking GPS

Top Pick Award Winner
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Reception
9
Ease of Use
8
Display Quality
7
Speed
7
Weight and Size
10
Versatility
7
Overall Score
80
  • Manufacturer: Garmin Ltd.
  • Display Size: 1.5 x 2.5 inches
  • Display Type: Transflective color TFT touchscreen
  • Weight: 7.5 oz
  • Average Battery Life: 100 hours

Bottom Line : An affordable device that impresses with its accuracy and portability

Pros


  • A compact and lightweight GPS
  • Hands-free convenience
  • Good level of accuracy
  • Works with AAA batteries
  • Offers point to point navigation
  • TracBack feature to retrace your steps

Cons


  • The battery life is limited
  • Topographic maps cannot be added
  • Not compatible with rechargeable batteries

Most of our testers enjoyed using the Foretrex 401 as it packs the essential features in a compact and affordable package. The unit comes with a highly sensitive GPS chip that delivers superior accuracy.

The patented Trackback feature allows the user to view a mapped route and follow it back.

NOW:

The portability makes it a good choice for light backpacking trips. It’s ruggedly built and is ideal as a walking GPS or for use in wet conditions. One-handed operation is easy due to the ergonomic placement of the buttons.

While the lightweight convenience is undeniable, the inability to use detailed maps is one sacrifice the unit makes.

Read Full Review: Garmin Foretrex 401 Review

Go to Analysis, Comparisons & Ratings

Best Handheld GPS For Hunting

4 – Garmin Montana 680

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Reception
9
Ease of Use
8
Display Quality
7
Speed
9
Weight and Size
4
Versatility
7
Overall Score
73
  • Manufacturer: Garmin Ltd.
  • Display Size: 2 x 3.5 inches
  • Display Type: Bright, transflective 65k color TFT, dual-orientation touchscreen; sunlight readable
  • Weight: 10.2 oz
  • Average Battery Life: Up to 16 hours

Bottom Line : A powerful device with a large display that comes with many practical features

Pros


  • Fast and accurate reception
  • A large display
  • A superior 3 axis compass
  • IPX7 waterproofing
  • 8MP camera with automatic geotagging
  • A customizable home screen

Cons


  • The size is too large
  • The unit is bulky
  • A hefty price tag

This unit can be counted among the best handheld GPS hunting devices due to its impressive accuracy level.

It gets better:

Features like a camera, a track manager and mounting options lend it a lot of versatility. The big display with a responsive touchscreen is another feature that makes the unit easy to use.

The fast connectivity with GLONASS and GPS satellites makes this unit a reliable choice in remote terrains. It also has a speedy response time and the electronic compass operated without any lags.

Note – The size and weight of the unit can be an issue for hikers who prefer to travel light.

Read Full Review: Garmin Montana Review

Best Handheld GPS For Hiking

5 – Garmin GPSMAP 66st, Handheld Hiking GPS

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Reception
8
Ease of Use
7
Display Quality
9
Speed
8
Weight and Size
8
Versatility
9
Overall Score
81
  • Manufacturer: Garmin Ltd.
  • Display Size: 1.5 x 2.5 inches
  • Display Type: 8.1 oz
  • Average Battery Life: 16 hours

Bottom Line : This is an extremely competent device that is suitable for professional users

Pros


  • Delivers excellent accuracy
  • Comes with digital topographic maps of U.S. and Canada
  • 16GB internal memory
  • Compatible with three different satellite systems
  • Big buttons for easy handling
  • IPX7 water-resistant

Cons


  • A heavy unit
  • An expensive option
  • Connectivity through Wi-Fi or Bluetooth can be an issue

Looking for a capable GPS device for hiking?

You’ll find this unit a dependable choice.

The device can connect through three different satellite systems at a time. Our testers found the accuracy highly reliable while navigating through a trek route in the Himalayas. It’s also very durable and can be used in rainy and snowy weather.

What’s the bottom line?

The unit comes with a touchscreen and most users will be satisfied by the display quality. It is also free from lags and a large memory makes it capable of storing enough data. While it does not come cheap, it is a reliable choice for professionals in the field.

Read Full Review: Garmin GPSMAP 64st Review

Best Handheld GPS For Fishing

6 – Garmin Oregon 700 Handheld GPS

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Reception
7
Ease of Use
8
Display Quality
9
Speed
9
Weight and Size
8
Versatility
6
Overall Score
78
  • Manufacturer: Garmin Ltd.
  • Display Size: 1.5 x 2.5 inches
  • Display Type: Transflective color TFT touchscreen
  • Weight: 6.8 oz
  • Average Battery Life: 16 hours

Bottom Line : This is a capable and easy-to-use device that is ideal for most outdoor adventures.

Pros


  • An accurate device
  • A good quality 3-inch touchscreen
  • Effective Wi-Fi and Bluetooth linking
  • Fast and lag-free performance
  • Customizable profiles
  • The compact size makes it easy to pack

Cons


  • It uses up batteries fast
  • Not suitable for cold weather
  • Only 3.4 GB inbuilt memory

The Oregon 700 is an affordable option from Garmin with a range of practical features. It offers Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, ANT+, and USB along with the advantage of live geocaching.

Here’s the thing:

The touchscreen display is bright and our testers found it clearly readable even under the midday sun.

The interface is easy to handle and the profile allows the ease of customization. While the reception quality is not lightning fast like the GPSMAP 66st, it’s fast enough.

BUT:

While testing this gps for hiking, we noted that the touchscreen is not easy to use while wearing gloves. Also, the alkaline batteries drained fast in cold weather.

Read Full Review: Garmin Oregon 700 Review

Best Handheld GPS For Backpacking – Navigation And Messaging

 7 – Garmin Inreach Explorer+Communicator

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Reception
8
Ease of Use
7
Display Quality
7
Speed
8
Weight and Size
2
Versatility
8
Overall Score
66
  • Manufacturer: Garmin Ltd.
  • Display Size: 1.5 x 2.5 inches
  • Display Type:  Transflective color TFT touchscreen
  • Weight: 7.5 oz
  • Average Battery Life: 100 hours

Bottom Line : A reliable GPS and an effective messaging device for hikers and backpackers

Pros


  • Offers two-way text communication
  • GPS tracking feature
  • Based on the reliable Iridium satellite network
  • A smooth smartphone app
  • A rechargeable lithium-ion battery
  • A special SOS button

Cons


  • It is a large and bulky device
  • Extra monthly fee is needed

This is an ideal device for adventurers who go beyond the range of cell phone towers. The well-designed SOS button is a lifesaving option that’s easy to use. The device also acts as a capable back and forth messaging tool.

Pairing with cell phones and downloading the maps you need is easy through the Earthmate app.

The reception quality of the device is very reliable in most scenarios.

But wait – there’s more…

It offers on-screen GPS routing along with a built-in digital compass. A barometric altimeter and accelerometer are also included. It’s also designed to resist impacts and offers IPX7 water resistance.

The overall size and weight are not ideal for the best handheld GPS for off roading.

Read Full Review: Garmin inReach Explorer Plus Review

Why Trust Us?

We put together a team of expert hikers and a few novice friends who tested these GPS units in a variety of settings and conditions. Three different destinations were chosen for our team. These were the Glacier National Park in Montana, the Mark O. Hatfield Wilderness in Oregon and the Gokyo Lake trekking trail in Nepal. Our team used these devices while trekking, backpacking, kayaking and mountain biking.

Note:

Before composing the handheld GPS reviews, these units were used in a variety of weather conditions including rain, hail, and snow. 

In the past few months, we compared the devices based on various parameters for deciding the final scores. We judged their accuracy, speed and durability, and other important aspects.

Navigating

We also consulted…

…veteran users to gather their valued feedback about the products. The ultimate aim is to provide you with the most reliable and comprehensive hiking GPS reviews through this article.

Skip Buyer’s Guide – Go to Analysis, Comparisons & Ratings

Buyers Guide:

How To Choose The Best Handheld GPS​

Easiest Handheld GPS 04

It doesn’t matter if you can’t read a map – you’ve absolutely no excuse for getting lost anymore. With a GPS (global positioning system) you’re sweet — whether it’s on your smartphone, or a handheld stand-alone.

But you’re probably wondering:

What to Consider When Buying a Handheld GPS

Do you want to pinpoint your exact location in the wilderness without depending on a map and compass?

Then a dependable hiking GPS is definitely the best option for you. Before choosing the device that will best suit your needs, these are the few factors you need to keep in mind.

Buttons or Touchscreen?

With the rise of smartphones, touchscreens are the popular choice for most users. But the button system offers an intuitive interface that comes at a lower cost.

The button-operated devices have the distinct advantage of being glove-friendly. They are also more effective in adverse weather. The lack of a touch screen also allows your hiking trail GPSto save more power.

In most cases

…GPSs with a touchscreen delivers faster performance. A touch screen also makes viewing the maps and zooming in much easier.

However:

The sensitivity of touch panels varies depending on the model. You might find a few units highly sensitive and others somewhat slow.

Any buttoned GPS unit usually feels more rugged while a touchscreen can get damaged from a drop or a sharp edge. If you’re a first-time buyer looking for a user-friendly device, a buttoned GPS can be a good choice. Buyers looking for fast performance and a better display may be better with a touchscreen GPS.

In the end

The key factors come down to personal preference and your budget.

Handheld-GPS

Screen Size

One of the primary requirements of the best handheld GPS for fishing or hiking is that the display should be comfortably readable. Hence, choosing a unit with a big screen that makes the details more visible is a better option.

However, hikers or backpackers often choose a smaller and lightweight unit due to the portability factor.

For activities like geocaching, a mid-sized screen with dimensions of around 3 inches should be a good choice. No matter the screen size, the brightness and the readability under sunlight are important factors to consider.

For viewing high-quality topographical maps, a high resolution colored screen will be needed. Backlighting is also an important feature for using the device during the night.

While choosing the best Garmin hiking GPS, striking the right balance between screen size and portability is important. For handheld devices, smaller screens will provide more ease of handling. They also come at a more affordable price. While the choice of screen size depends on your personal preference, the kind of outdoor trips you go for is also a factor.

Size and Weight

Those who prefer to pack lightly should choose a compact backpacking gps that serves the purpose. But the lightweight models may not offer all the features that you’re looking for.

Hence a compromise is needed when you buy…

…keep in mind the battery life of the GPS unit you choose, as any extra batteries will increase the weight of your pack.

Travelers looking for a basic unit with simple features will find the lightweight options more suitable. Those looking for advanced functionality will need to choose a bigger and heavier unit.

We found the touchscreen units to be lighter than the buttoned ones.

Before choosing a small unit make sure that it doesn’t compromise the readability.

Lastly, a handheld GPS for hiking should also feel comfortable in your hands. So the ideal size of the GPS will also depend on the size of your hands. You need to make the right choice for the type of outdoor adventures you prefer.

Handheld-GPS

Frequently Asked Questions

Q. Does a handheld GPS give your location as a Grid Reference?

A : Yes, it does and you can know it in a few simple steps. The grid reference system of the unit provides the necessary grid values. This can be found selected in the Settings Menu under “GPS Settings”. You can change the settings if you need to follow some other system.

You can find the grid reference of your location displayed on the screen from the “Position info” menu. This figure will depend on the location of the cursor on the map. You can also find the grid location from the “GPS Status” menu and it is usually listed under the “Location (last known)” header.

Q. How accurate is a handheld GPS?

A : Most modern GPS units use a parallel multi-channel design to provide a high level of accuracy. Under normal atmospheric conditions, users can expect an accuracy level of 16 to 33 feet from the best Garmin handheld GPS units.

The accuracy also depends on the quality of the GPS receiver and antenna. The number of satellites it can connect with simultaneously is also important. Units that use the dual frequencies connect with both GPS and GLONASS satellites. The vertical accuracy of these units can be 2 to 3 times that of the horizontal accuracy.

Q. Which is more accurate GPS or Glonass?

A : For the best levels of accuracy, we’d suggest you use both. Note that the best handheld GPS units using such technologies will come with a high price tag. At present, GPS has 31 satellites in orbit while Glonass has 24. While GPS offers better coverage, Glonass offers better accuracy at higher latitudes.

It’s true that in the last decade, the coverage of Glonass has improved but it’s still not in the same league as GPS. Presently Brazil and Antarctica have the most number of Glonass stations. But, the GPS stations are distributed all across the world. So if you need to choose between the two, GPS is still the better choice.

Q. What affects GPS accuracy?

A : Structures like buildings, mountains, bridges, and trees tend to block satellite signals. Apart from that, indoor or underground use can also affect signal strength. In some cases, signals are reflected from nearby structures. This can result in a multipath error. Radio interference and solar flares can also affect GPS accuracy levels.

For the most accurate reading, the GPS should be placed under a clear and unobstructed piece of sky. Unfortunately, that is not possible in many outdoor conditions. You can try placing the hiking or camping GPS unit in the outside pocket of a backpack or on in a handlebar mount while cycling. This can help in better signal acquisition.

Q. What is the most accurate handheld GPS?

As per our test results, the Garmin Montana 680 is the most accurate among the best hiking gps units in the market. The high-sensitivity receiver makes it very reliable. The unit connected with the GLONASS and GPS networks consistently. The location data that it delivered was highly accurate even in deeply shaded areas.
It also offers a track manager feature that uses a waypoint system. This makes GPS navigation for hiking very accurate. Both the tilt-compensated electronic compass and the barometric altimeter deliver high accuracy. Simply put, if precision and accuracy are what you are looking for, then you won’t go wrong picking the Montana 680.

Q. Does wind affect GPS accuracy?

A: Weather conditions like wind, clouds or snow do not affect handheld GPS accuracy levels. The only disturbance that the GPS signals face is from adverse space weather conditions. This happens when the signals pass through the ionosphere. So severe geomagnetic storms can reduce the accuracy of a GPS unit.

As per standard calculations, the total loss in GPS signal due to weather conditions is very rare. So this has no effect on the accuracy levels of the unit. Try to make sure that the antenna of any GPS devices for hiking is not covered by snow as that will affect the signal quality.

There you have it. You now have all the knowledge you need to buy that all-important handheld GPS with confidence. We want you to know you’re buying the right GPS for your needs and to short cut this process we’ve also included the Top 10 choices to satisfy you. We’ve included links to the Top 3 both at the beginning and the end of this review. You really are choosing from the best of the best – we know – we did the research.

Handheld-GPS

Our Analysis, Comparisons & Test Results

Here’s the thing – our team of reviewers went along three different trails to test these units. They subjected the models to various conditions of use and operation. To select the best handheld GPS unit we did a comparative study of the models. We then rated the products based on the selected criteria.

Our experienced testers have years of experience in handling various GPS units including some of the best handheld GPS for military use. They analyzed the key differences between each unit under each category.

The inexperienced members of the team were able to provide some unique insights from the viewpoint of a first time user.

To sum up:

We used various methods to test the limitations of these units. The team navigated through remote trails and backtracked through tricky terrains. They also tested the durability of the units through some innovative ways.

The hard work of our team determined a score for each of the units. This helped to highlight the best handheld GPS unit for each set of needs and circumstances.

Ready to see how they performed?

Reception

Reception is a major feature that determines how good a GPS really is on the field. The entire system is based on receiving the satellite signals clearly. A unit that fares particularly badly in this metric is not really worth buying. A reception also allows the unit to effectively capture the signal from shaded or guarded terrains.

Handheld-GPS

Reception Rating

Garmin Montana 680 Touchscreen GPS/GLONASS Receiver, Worldwide Basemaps
9
Garmin Foretrex 401 Waterproof Hiking GPS
9
Garmin GPSMAP 66st Handheld Hiking GPS
8
Garmin GPSMAP 64st
8
Garmin in Reach Explorer+, Handheld Satellite Communicator
8
Garmin Oregon 700 Handheld GPS
7
Garmin eTrex 20x, Handheld GPS Navigator
6
Garmin etrex Touch 35
6

Among the products, the Garmin Montana 680 and the Garmin Foretrex 401 excelled in all situations.

Turns out that these two units were the favorite choices for our team in shaded areas and deep canyons. The high level of sensitivity makes them a solid performer in every terrain.

Either one can be a good choice as the most accurate handheld gps for surveying.

The Garmin GPSMAP 66st and the 64st did not lag far behind. They effectively captured three different satellite signals from all types of terrains. The units also come with highly sensitive quad-helix antenna that improves accuracy. We found them a reliable choice in a wide variety of trails.

But look:

The Garmin in Reach Explorer+ also impressed us with the ability to send and receive messages with ease. The reception quality of the in Reach Explorer+ was also reliable. The Oregon 700 performed well in most scenarios by capturing the GPS and GLONASS signals effectively. It is only under dense tree covers that these units struggled slightly.

Both the Garmin eTrex 20x and the Garmin etrex Touch 35 are accurate devices. However, the overall receptivity is not on par with the high-end units. They lack the high-quality quad-helix antenna in their design. Hence the reception suffers under covered areas or in a canyon.

Ease of Use

Ease of use is an important factor for the not so tech-savvy ones among us. The fact is that ease of use can vary depending on the features that a unit carries. Whether you’re looking for the best hiking GPS or one for hunting, an easily operated unit is always a good choice.

Handheld-GPS

Ease of Use Rating

Garmin Oregon 700 Handheld GPS
8
Garmin Montana 680 Touchscreen GPS/GLONASS Receiver, Worldwide Basemaps
8
Garmin eTrex 20x, Handheld GPS Navigator
8
Garmin Foretrex 401 Waterproof Hiking GPS
8
Garmin GPSMAP 64st
7
Garmin in Reach Explorer+, Handheld Satellite Communicator
7
Garmin GPSMAP 66st Handheld Hiking GPS
7
Garmin etrex Touch 35
6

The top four handheld GPS for hikers that we have listed for ease of use are very good choices for first-time users. With a quality touchscreen, the Oregon 700 is almost as easy to use as a smartphone. The intuitive interface makes the task even easier. A few simple swiping actions provide access to all the necessary information.

The Montana 680 presents a simple interface and an easy-to-use menu format that keeps the first time users satisfied. The Garmin eTrex 20x comes with an effective toggle switch and the usual smooth interface that Garmin offers.

The Foretrex 401 also scored high when it comes to ease of use and convenience.

Think about this:

Even those uninitiated with the use of GPS units took around ten minutes to figure out the basic functions. The watch-like design makes it one of the best handheld gps for hiking.

The GPSMAP 64st comes with 10 ergonomically placed buttons and an easy to customize menu. The inReach Explorer+ also offers simple menus along with indicator symbols and light. But, those who prefer the smoothness of touchscreens probably won’t choose these units.

Lastly, the GPSMAP 66st could also be a good choice as a Garmin hiking GPS for those who prefer buttons with straightforward functions. However, some of the first time users found the in-depth functions complicated. We think that’s a common issue with most GPS models.

Display Quality

By now, you’ll have realized the display quality is a key factor while choosing the best handheld GPS. The size of the display, the sunlight readability and the ease of viewing are important differentiating factors between the units.

Handheld-GPS

Display Quality Rating

Garmin Oregon 700 Handheld GPS
9
Garmin GPSMAP 66st Handheld Hiking GPS
9
Garmin GPSMAP 64st
8
Garmin Foretrex 401 Waterproof Hiking GPS
7
Garmin Montana 680 Touchscreen GPS/GLONASS Receiver, Worldwide Basemaps
7
Garmin eTrex 20x, Handheld GPS Navigator
7
Garmin etrex Touch 35
7
Garmin in Reach Explorer+, Handheld Satellite Communicator
7

Here’s the kicker: Both the Oregon 700 and the GPSMAP 66st offer top-class displays among the best Garmin handheld GPS units. The units offer a 240 x 400-pixel display which makes maps and satellite imagery clear and easily readable. Our team found them perfectly readable even in the extremely bright light at higher altitudes.

The GPSMAP 64st offers a 160 X 240 pixel resolution transflective display that performs well. But it doesn’t have the brightness level of the touchscreen units. It still offers very good readability under varying light conditions.

Not only that but:

The high contrast display of the Foretrex 401 comes with an LED backlight with options for vertical and horizontal viewing. But for some users, the monochrome screen can be a deal-breaker.

The Montana 680 offers a large dual-orientation touchscreen with a resolution of 272 x 480 pixels. We found the glare of the screen a bit on the high side.

Both the Garmin eTrex 20x and etrex Touch 35 have smaller displays that are clearly readable under direct light.

But our experienced users found the smaller size to be not the best choice for map reading. The 200 x 265 pixels screen in the inReach Explorer+ is good enough for most activities. Still, it’s not in league with the top models in this category.

Speed

None of the units we tested showed any major lag.

Even so….

There are some differences in speed that experienced eyes were able to pick up. In general, the speed of the touchscreen units was better than the buttoned ones. That is an important point to keep in mind while choosing the best hiking GPS.

Handheld-GPS

Speed Rating

Garmin Montana 680 Touchscreen GPS/GLONASS Receiver, Worldwide Basemaps
9
Garmin GPSMAP 64st
9
Garmin Oregon 700 Handheld GPS
9
Garmin GPSMAP 66st Handheld Hiking GPS
8
Garmin in Reach Explorer+, Handheld Satellite Communicator
8
Garmin Foretrex 401 Waterproof Hiking GPS
7
Garmin eTrex 20x, Handheld GPS Navigator
6
Garmin etrex Touch 35
6

We found the Garmin GPSMAP 64st and the Oregon 700 as head-to-head performers. Even with the pushbuttons, the GPSMAP 64st surprised us with its fast performance. The Oregon 700 has a very responsive touchscreen and it redraws maps at a high speed.

But here’s the best bit…

It was the Montana 680 that found the most admirers among our reviewers when it came to speed. It’s a highly responsive unit that impressed us with its flawless performance without the slightest of lag.

Our experts found the GPSMAP 66st was not as responsive as the touchscreen units. But it handled heavy files with ease and drew maps efficiently, making it a good choice as one of the best GPS units for hiking.

The In Reach Explorer+ is a dependable communicator and the GPS functionality is fast enough to read maps effectively.

The Garmin Foretrex 401 is also a fast performer with the two-axis compass showing no signs of lag. On the downside, the barometric altimeter is not very accurate while taking readings.

The basic functions in both the eTrex 20x and the etrex Touch 35 are fast and the devices track new locations effectively. It is the button mechanism that made the devices slightly slower than their touchscreen counterparts.

Weight and Size

The weight and size of a unit is a consideration that is subjective and not so easy to rate. Some of our reviewers prefer using a compact GPS for hikers for easy handling.

Others are in favor of a bigger screen even though that increased the weight. We chose some common factors like user comfort and portability to rate our range of products.

Handheld-GPS

Weight and Size Rating

Garmin eTrex 20x, Handheld GPS Navigator
10
Garmin Foretrex 401 Waterproof Hiking GPS
10
Garmin etrex Touch 35
9
Garmin GPSMAP 66st Handheld Hiking GPS
8
Garmin GPSMAP 64st
8
Garmin Oregon 700 Handheld GPS
8
Garmin Montana 680 Touchscreen GPS/GLONASS Receiver, Worldwide Basemaps
4
Garmin in Reach Explorer+, Handheld Satellite Communicator
2

A small weight of 5.1 ounces and compact dimensions, made the Garmin eTrex 20x, a favorite choice of our experts. The unit is compact enough to fit into the smallest pockets with ease. The Garmin Foretrex 401 has a compact design and weighs just 3.1 ounces with the batteries. Our users never complained about wearing it on the wrist for long hours.

The Garmin etrex Touch 35 is light enough at 5.7 ounces but its dimensions are slightly larger than our top choices.

At 8 ounces, the GPSMAP 66st isn’t very light. Even then, it’s compact enough for fitting smoothly into a jacket pocket. Both the Oregon 700 and the GPSMAP 64st fit comfortably in the hands of the users and they also come with attachment options. The units weigh around 7.5 ounces with the batteries.

Many times, the Montana 680 wouldn’t fit into the team’s smaller pockets. Taking this into account, we decided it’s not the best choice as the best trail GPSfor multi-day hikes across tough terrains. It’s also one of the heaviest models we tested, weighing above 10 ounces.

The In Reach Explorer+ is an extremely competent device, but our reviewers gave it the lowest ratings as it is the bulkiest unit in the list. It can be counted as one of the best backpacking GPS units when considering functionality. But, bottom line is it’s not the best choice for an ultralight packer

Versatility

In our experience, average users prefer a versatile device instead of picking the best handheld GPS for hunting or for hiking. Limiting the performing range of the device is not desirable for many buyers. So, a versatile device that’s well equipped to handle varying outdoor conditions is a more popular choice in many cases.

Handheld-GPS

Versatility Rating

Garmin GPSMAP 64st
9
Garmin GPSMAP 66st Handheld Hiking GPS
9
Garmin In Reach Explorer+, Handheld Satellite Communicator
8
Garmin Montana 680 Touchscreen GPS/GLONASS Receiver, Worldwide Basemaps
7
Garmin eTrex 20x, Handheld GPS Navigator
7
Garmin eTrex Touch 35
7
Garmin Foretrex 401 Waterproof Hiking GPS
7
Garmin Oregon 700 Handheld GPS
6

You’ll love the Garmin GPSMAP 64st – it was the top pick as we found it equally effective in all weather conditions. Using the buttons while wearing thick gloves in freezing temperatures was also not a problem.

The GPSMAP 66st is equally versatile and performed well in wet and cold conditions. It survived quite a few drops without any damage, making it an ideal choice for rougher trails.

Functioning as a satellite messenger and a GPS, the in Reach Explorer+ is also a reliable and versatile choice as a GPS tracker for hikers.

The Montana 680 comes with a camera and a mounting option that makes it a good choice for various activities. On the downside, we found that wearing gloves made the unit hard to use.

The lack of an altimeter and electronic compass in the eTrex 20x makes it unsuitable for technical expeditions. At the same time, the light-weight and long battery life are some distinct advantages. These points make it a versatile choice for those looking for something simple and reliable.

The etrex Touch 35 also offers the right features for the average user in a simple package. As long as you don’t need advanced functions, it can serve well as one of the best backcountry GPS units.

Finally, while the Oregon 700 is a capable performer in dry weather, our team found the touchscreen difficult to handle in cold or wet weather. It also has a tendency to freeze up in sub-zero temperatures, making it the least versatile among the units we tested.

Our Final Verdict: The Best Handheld GPS

Phew, we made it – brilliant!

Now you can be sure you’ve seen the very best Handheld GPS Systems the market has to offer.

Plus…

…you have our comprehensive TopNotch Buyers Guide at your fingertips which will show you exactly what to look for when buying your GPS…

… all so you can now Buy With Confidence

Garmin GPSMAP 66st Handheld Hiking GPS
81%
Garmin GPSMAP 64st
90%
Garmin Foretrex 401 Waterproof Hiking GPS
90%
Garmin Oregon 700 Handheld GPS
78%
Garmin Montana 680 Touchscreen GPS/GLONASS Receiver, Worldwide Basemaps
73%
Garmin eTrex 20x, Handheld GPS Navigator
73%
Garmin eTrex Touch 35
68%
Garmin in Reach Explorer+, Handheld Satellite Communicator
66%

Conclusion: The Best Handheld GPS

Choosing the best handheld GPS from the wide variety of options out there in the market is not an easy task. Based on our research, the Garmin GPSMAP 66st Handheld Hiking GPS is the best Garmin handheld GPS in terms of performance, features, and versatility. The accuracy, durability, and ease of handling gives it the edge over the other units.

The Garmin GPSMAP 64st and the Garmin Foretrex 401 jointly occupies the second spot in terms of their performance ratings.

Here are our top 3 All Time best Handheld GPS.

We hope you enjoyed our review, Suvajit worked hard on it.

All that’s left is for the team here at TopNotch to wish you many happy hours of camping and many successfully navigated trips with your GPS in the Great Outdoors.

We’re all agreed, that’s where it’s at.

topnotchoutdoor award

Garmin GPSMAP 64st
topnotchoutdoor award

Garmin Handheld GPS (Etrex 20x)
topnotchoutdoor award

Garmin Foretrex 401 Waterproof Hiking GPS