Our editors independently research, test, and recommend the best products and services; you can learn more about our review process here. We may receive commissions on purchases made from our chosen links.
A handheld GPS makes the perfect supplement to a compass and map when you’re exploring the great outdoors, whether you’re hiking in America's national parks or braving a river current. But since GPS devices come with so many features, how can you tell which one is best for you?
When selecting a handheld GPS for your trip, consider the following: display, size, and connectivity. In terms of display, most handhelds are either button-powered or touchscreen. Buttons are easier to use with gloves, but touchscreens allow for easier navigation. Size-wise, most GPS devices weigh under half a pound and are only a few inches in height. Keep in mind that the lighter and smaller your GPS device, the less likely you’ll have an easy-to-view display. Connectivity is also important — most GPS systems nowadays detect not only GPS but also GLONASS satellite, which is slightly more accurate. Certain devices are compatible with SOS and messaging subscription systems for contacting friends, family, and emergency services.
In this guide, we’ve put together the best handheld GPS for your next adventure, whether you need one for water navigation or reliable messaging.
Our Top Picks
Best Overall: Garmin GPSMAP 64s Worldwide with High-Sensitivity GPS and GLONASS Receiver
Expect to see a lot of Garmin — the brand dominates the field of handheld GPS devices. The midrange model of the GPSMAP 64s is a consistent and reliable pick and sports a 2.6” display screen that is easy to read in bright sunlight and has 160 x 240 resolution. It’s preloaded with a world-wide basecamp with shaded topography, 250,000 geocaches, and 100,000 maps from TOPO U.S. The device allows you to plan your trips, retrieve information on trails, and organize your waypoints and trails. Its specs include a microSD slot, 8GB internal memory, Bluetooth and ANT compatibility, and 16-hour battery life. When you buy it new, you get a one-year BirdsEye Imagery membership.
While it’s a tad bulky, the external antenna is compatible with GLONASS and GPS satellites. It allows for clear reception even when you’re in heavy coverage areas or deep canyons. Other useful features include a barometric altimeter for predicting weather changes and a three-axis electronic compass for precise position detection.
Best Budget: Garmin eTrex 20x
The Garmin eTrex 20x packs the most features at a budget price. With its high-sensitivity, WAAS-enabled GPS receiver, HotFix satellite prediction, and GLONASS support, the device can locate your position accurately even in heavy cover or deep canyons. The eTrex 20x also features a 2.2-inch 65K color display that’s readable in sunlight. You get 3.7 GB of internal memory and a microSD card slot to load maps. Additionally, you get a preloaded world base map. The device is also portable, weighing five ounces. You won’t need to worry about running out of batteries too soon since the eTrex 20x has 25 hours of battery life. Of course, there are minor drawbacks. With the eTrex 20x, you won’t get a large screen or an electronic compass.
Best Extra Features: Garmin 750T 3-Inch Touchscreen Handheld GPS
If you’re looking for the device with the best extra features, look no further than the Garmin 750T GPS. The 750T includes eight GB of internal memory and a microSD card for mapping and data storage. It comes with preloaded 100K topographic mapping data for the entirety of the United States as well as a one-year subscription to BirdsEye satellite imagery. It also includes a multi-activity menu with profiles for climbing, hiking, biking, fishing, and more. The handheld uses high-sensitivity GPS and GLONASS satellite reception that allows you to track satellites in heavy coverage areas.
In terms of other features, it has a built-in eight-megapixel digital camera, three-axis electric compassion, and Active Weather support. You’ll be able to use Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, ANT+ to wirelessly download software programs and receive notifications. It also comes with a rechargeable battery pack.
Best Screen: Garmin Montana 680 Touchscreen GPS
The Montana 680 offers one of the easiest-to-read displays that you can get for a handheld GPS with its spacious four-inch screen and 480 x 272-pixel resolution. Its color touchscreen is glove-friendly and has dual orientation. The handheld also features a digital camera that takes high-quality images, and although it likely won’t snap pictures as nice as your smartphone, it automatically geotags photos with coordinates for your references. The purchase of the Montana 680 also comes with 250,000 preloaded worldwide geocaches and a one-year subscription to BirdsEye Satellite imagery.
Other features are a tilt-compensated compass, barometric altimeter, and GPS and GLONASS satellite access. A track manager also allows explorers to start and stop recording track logs to navigate waypoints and routes. Just keep mind that all of the perks of this device do come at a cost, as this option is one of the most expensive selections on our list.
Best for Water Navigation: Garmin eTrex 10 Worldwide Handheld GPS Navigator
Bells and whistles are nice, but if you’re a novice or prefer a simple interface, you’ll want to grab the Garmin eTrex 10 GPS. At under $100, it includes everything that you would need on a hike or during a fishing trip. One of the best features about this device is its waterproof design, which meets IPX7 standards — that’s to say, you can submerge it in one meter of water for up to 30 minutes. Without a doubt, it will resist damage from splashes and rain.
Besides its waterproofness, the eTrex 10 is also intuitive to use. You can view the monochrome display under bright sunlight and operate it with one hand. The eTrex 10 features a worldwide base map that lets you know where you are and where you’re going. It has a highly sensitive GPS receiver that allows it to locate your position quickly even under heavy cover or in deep canyons. It displays geocache location, terrain, difficulty, and descriptions. Its battery life isn’t the longest out there, but it’s good for its price — you get up to 25 hours of use.
Best for Messaging: DeLorme inReach SE Satellite Tracker
Just in case of an emergency situation, DeLorme inReach SE Satellite Tracker is a convenient device to keep on hand. it works wonderfully as a messaging and SOS tool. The system allows you to trigger SOS and interact with GEOS, DeLorme’s 24/7 search and rescue monitoring center. It enables you to send and receive 160 character text messages with GPS coordinates to e-mails or cell phones anywhere in the world. To use its messaging services, you’ll need a monthly or annual subscription to inReach.
The DeLorme is excellent as a paired device with your smartphone. You’ll be able to send and receive messages through your phone with your contacts and see your location on downloadable maps. The maps show your location and include GPS functions such as heading, elevation, speed, and coordinates. It will take a while before you find yourself needing to replenish the batteries since the battery life is 100 hours.
There are a few things to consider when picking up this handheld GPS device. To start with, you’ll have to use your smartphone to use any maps. Additionally, of the devices that we reviewed here, DeLorme’s tracker is one of the heaviest, weighing seven ounces.
Best Wrist Mount: Garmin Foretrex 401 Waterproof Hiking GPS
If you travel minimally or need to use both hands, you’ll appreciate the Foretrex 401 wrist GPS, which weighs a mere 2.2 ounces. The 401 allows you to manage routes, tracks, and waypoints with a simple, easy-to-read LCD display that retraces your path. It stores up to 500 waypoints and features a high-sensitivity GPS receiver that allows for optimal performance and reception in deep canyons and heavy tree areas. It’s also weather-resistant, which makes it perfect for hikers, skiers, and campers who travel in rain or snow.
The GPS also features a barometric altimeter, electronic compass, and wireless data communication. Because of the device’s size and lower price, there are logistics to consider. The black-and-white screen is small and won’t allow for advanced onscreen navigation or preloaded maps. Another drawback is its relatively weaker battery life of 17 hours.
Best Mini GPS: Garmin inReach Mini
Garmin’s inReach Mini is a cross between the DeLorme and Foretrex, offering portability as well as reliable satellite communication. The screen measures a mere 1.27 inches, and the unit weighs under four ounces. With the Mini, you’ll be able to take advantage of the two-way text messaging using the global iridium network, given that you have a satellite subscription. The communication feature also lets you trigger an SOS signal to a 24/7 search and rescue monitor. When you’re out and about, you can also send inReach messages to compatible Garmin devices.
The handheld pairs with your phone, allowing you to access maps, U.S. NOAA charts, and more using the free Garmin Earthmate app. For detailed updates about the weather, you can subscribe to an optional weather forecast service.
Our writers spent 2.5 hours researching the most popular handheld GPS on the market. Before making their final recommendations, they considered 8 different GPS overall, screened options from 3 different brands and manufacturers and read over 30 user reviews (both positive and negative). All of this research adds up to recommendations you can trust.