We don’t want to get lost in the woods, and we know that you don’t either. Luckily, a miracle device called a handheld GPS exists (meaning no, you don’t have to use a compass like the one pictured above). With a handheld GPS, you can do everything from planning routes in advance, tracking your progress, and making sure you’re on your route so you don’t get lost. Though backpackers are the most common users of a handheld GPS, they’re great for day hikers too. Longer hikes and off-trail expeditions are a lot easier if you know where you’re going.
Our hiking experts here at Oregon Adventurer have curated their favorite handheld GPS for hiking and backpacking, as well as a few honorable mentions. Whether you’re looking for a budget GPS to do some basic things (for which purpose we might recommend an app for your smartphone) or a tricked-out, do-it-all GPS, we’ll cover them here.
The battle for best overall handheld hiking GPS was a tough one, but after a tough fight, the Garmin GPSMAP 64s prevailed. It’s great for a few reasons: it has a relatively low price point in comparison to other options on the market, yet it still does most of the things that the more expensive GPS’s can do. The GPSMAP 64s is compatible with GLONASS and GPS satellites, and includes a built-in electronic compass and barometric altimeter.
Garmin generally does a great job with their products, and the GPSMAP 64s is no exception. Truth be told, this is one of Garmin’s most reliable and high-quality products to date. They have released newer versions of this one, but they’ve been known for reliability issues. For the adventurer who wants a great, reliable handheld GPS, the Garmin GPSMAP 64s is our choice.
The Garmin Montana 680 is the Cadillac of the handheld GPS world – it’s packed with features, a beautiful touchscreen, and is one of the best options currently on the market. It does come at a higher price tag than some of the other options out there, but for good reason: it’s loaded with extra features that you won’t get on some of the cheaper alternatives.
If you’re looking to splurge a little and get one of the most premium options out there, consider getting the Garmin Montana 680. It’s a great companion to have along, and it is well worth the price tag.
Budget Handheld GPS – Your iPhone (or Smartphone of Choice)
Wait, what? An iPhone isn’t a handheld GPS, is it? Wrong. Well, sort of. Although your iPhone (or smartphone) simply isn’t built with all the capabilities that come with a traditional handheld GPS, it’s your best option if you’re on a budget. There are plenty of apps out there that get the job done, but we recommend AllTrails for a one-stop shop for all of your outdoor adventuring needs. With AllTrails Pro (it’s usually $15-30 a year, depending on if they have any promotions running), you’ll be able to track your speed, location, and trail progress, all without cell service! Your phone can do it in airplane mode, so just set it and forget it–until you need directions, that is.
For a free, albeit more limited option, consider checking out REI’s Hiking Project. Sure, there aren’t a ton of trails, but you’ll be able to track where you are, and if you pre-load your map ahead of time, you should be able to navigate pretty easily with it.
No matter your purpose or your needs, there is a handheld GPS out there for everyone. We appreciate you checking out the article, and let us know in the comments if you have a personal favorite not listed here! We’d love to hear from you.