Which handheld GPS is worth buying?

While many are inclined to disregard the usefulness of the GPS devices, it is hard to deny their potentially life-saving function when we are out in the wilderness. History knows many cases of people losing their trail ending up dead due to worsening weather conditions, freezing or eaten by wildlife. Many of those, however, date back from pre-GPS times which also explains why such cases have become somewhat of a rarity these days. Alongside the undoubtedly useful way finding characteristics of the GPS devices, one must also contemplate what kind to get and in order to do so, a set of carefully criteria is to be applied to make the final choice rational and better as a result. In order to determine which handheld GPS is worth buying, we have made an exclusive review of some of the best models currently available. Those are Garmin’s GPSMAP 62 series, Garmin Oregon 550, Garmin Oregon 600, Magellan Explorist 710 and Garmin Dakota 20. It is evident that Garmin has a dominant presence in the field of GPS manufacturing and has achieved substantial results, hence its heavy presence in this article.

Choosing wisely
We have assembled a very prominent list of nine products that stood out from the bunch with their multi-functional nature, versatility and lightweight. To better understand how to make a right choice, one first needs to comprehend what these devices can potentially be equipped as well as their application in land based outdoor recreation. The models we selected are smaller in size than most of their competitors, they are also light and provide a number of useful features. In addition, those GPS models meet IPX7 standards and are able to remain functional even under a meter of water for as long as half an hour.

Considering alternatives
Before delving deeper into the details of the GPS models, let’s first consider some alternatives. Some would argue that mobile phones and their apps are a better alternative to the handheld GPS. That may be so if one is mostly venturing in urban environments or places with excellent mobile and 3G/4G coverage. Those areas, mind you, are mostly well populated as opposed to wild uninhabited places where most hikers eventually end up in need of a GPS at times. If the mobile coverage fails you, this can end up very costly. A GPS on the other hand does not suffer from such a crippling disadvantage giving the fact these devices directly connect to satellites, thus leaping over the mobile coverage obstacle. Having the obscure distant trails, mountain approaches and hikes in mind, a handheld GPS device wins decisively over a mobile phone app.

How do we measure performance of Handheld GPS devices

In order to get a better insight in a structured sort ot manner, we have chose a number of performance criteria to aid us in the final decision. Those criteria are as follows: access to satellites, display performance, mapping and available maps, operational speed, user friendliness and additional features. Detailed information for each category is available down below.

Handheld GPS with best access to Satellites

First of all, it is important to point out that the Global Positioning system relies on thenty four satellites positioned in the Earth’s orbit alongside their ground stations. The GPS devices reviewed here use these U.S. Department of Defence satellites to pin point the location with an accuracy of roughly 5 meters. Some devices have times better accuracy. The main difference between the modesl we reviewed however was the speed and to an extent, accuracy as well. In this category, we can outline the Garmin GPSMAP 62 series which clearly outclassed the competition.

Best display Handheld GPS

In this category, one can not resist but notice how hard it was to navigate with the plastic touchscreens which apparently much to be desired. Still, for the most part those are light years behind smartphones’ touchscreens only with the acception of Garmin Oregon 600 and Garmin 62 series. Those came somewhat closer to the feel of using a smartphone touchscreen, however still not quite there yet. Garmin Dakota came in last in this category and closely followed by Magellan which was only a tiny bit better.

Devices usually come with an in-built mapping organising software able to assist its user to pin point locations, map and store useful information. Although these functions are, in its essence, very basic, the way they are being displayed matters greatly. In other words, some models provide more functional and easy to use software than others. Our personal favourite in this category happens to be Garmin Basecamp for its intuitive platform and overall great ease of use. One great example to prove the statement is the fact that this model is able to use navigation on Google Earth which no other model supports. Giving the fact how used we all are with Google Earth these days and the great options it offers, it does not stand to reason why more and more models would not include this feature as well. As far as uniqueness goes, Basecamp is also the only Mac compatible one which is positively phenomenal for all Apple lovers out there. Cross device compatibility is also a useful function worth mentioning in this case.

Available Maps
It is positively paramount that you choose the right scale of maps when you decide to purchase them from a seller. 1:100,000 is preferred for general navigation and long distance A to be B navigation whereas 1:24,000 is much more useful navigating through difficult and potentially confusing terrain. Therefore, it is important to purchase this format if you are inclined to pay risky places a visit at times. If you go for Garmin Basecamp model, make note of the fact that you can use Google Earth instead of paid imagery from the manufacturer which will likely cost you few dozen bucks per year. A completely unnecessary feature in most cases since you can copy files from Google Earth at all times. Also the GPS File Depot is a nice source of free maps so make sure you check that out before committing hard cash in the endeavour.

Best Battery Life Handheld GPS

When it comes to how long the battery can last even with extensive usage, Garmin Dakota knows no match. Its battery outlasts the competition by a huge margin, offering 20 hours of use, only to 16 from most other competitors so if long hikes are likely to happen, this model might just take you where you want to be.

Additional features
We would firmly recommend you to consider also purchasing additional accessories for your GPS devices. For instance, consider to also pick up a USB cable which will not only allow you to transfer important data to and from a smartphone or a computer but also allow you to recharge it from a computer for instance if a need arises to. Another great item to have is a set or at least one rechrchable battery. That of course may not be needed if you have a USB and a cable but if space and weight are concerns at all, carrying a couple more batteries will save you some hassle rather than having to carry a computer as well (if you don’t really really need one of course). A case might come in handy if you have to climb through difficult terrain and fear you might smash your backpack against a sharp rock and lose the GPS in the process.

Operational speed
Speed can really be of the essence and we took a great deal of time to measure how much time it takes each device to start, pick up our location and draw maps. In this category, the unchallenged champtions clearly are Garmin 62 series and Garmin Oregon 600. The usual suspects Garmin Dakota and Magellan came in last here as well.

Most user friendly Handheld GPS

As mentioned previously, the functions these devices have are not complicated in their nature but the manner in which they are being displayed can very well be. Therefore, it is imperative to have easy to use and navigate menus that will not take too long to master in the first place as well. In this category, we can outline Garmin 600 which easily achieved total domination. Magellan Explorist and 62 series happened to be the least user friendly, however not atrocious altogether.


There are many models available on the market and it can be a real pain in the butt to choose the right one. It is our opinion that when all things are considered and the pros and cons are weighted, Garmin 600 and the 62 series by the same brand come on top by overall performance. Once again, all things considered, we would not recommend the Magellan 710 especially because it is one of the priciest models out there without being able to hold its own against the other reviewed models that came out on the market virtually at the same time. We sincerely hope this review was useful to you and if you want more handy information, make sure you give the website some more time.

Best Handheld GPS devices for Hiking
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