Facebook Pixel Code
 

Best Handheld GPS Units

Updated December 2018
Why trust BestReviews?
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers.
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.
Bottom Line
Pros
Cons
How we decided

We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.

  • 16 Models Considered
  • 68 Hours Researched
  • 1 Experts Interviewed
  • 142 Consumers Consulted
  • Zero products received from manufacturers.

    We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.

    Why trust BestReviews?
    BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.
    BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers.
    BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.

    Shopping guide for best handheld GPS units

    Last Updated December 2018

    Global positioning systems (GPS) have become ubiquitous. You can find the technology in smartphones, tablets, and even some smart watches and fitness wearables. Handheld GPS units are used for navigating, geocaching, tracking jogs and trips, tagging photos, and powering hundreds of map-driven apps. Despite the availability of GPS applications in all this technology, there’s still a compelling need for a stand-alone handheld GPS unit that does one thing exceptionally well.

    There is a wide assortment of handheld GPS units available in a variety of sizes, designs, and functionalities. While choice is good, it can make selecting a handheld GPS unit very challenging.

    The BestReviews team welcomes the challenge of sifting through the various styles and features available in products to help you find the perfect item for your needs.

    If you’re ready to buy a handheld GPS unit, check out our top picks. If you’re interested in learning more, let’s dive in and get some direction on the wide, wild world of handheld GPS units.

    The first production GPS satellite was launched in 1989, and the 24th satellite was launched in 1994, making GPS a truly global system.

    Choosing a handheld GPS unit

    A handheld GPS unit is a key part of many traveling, trekking, camping, hunting, cycling, and fishing trips. It can be a lifesaver if you’re trying to find your way around a new place, especially if your cell phone doesn’t work. Getting lost is surprisingly easy to do.

    If you’re at the mercy of an outdated map, bad weather conditions, or unexpected changes in trails, a reliable handheld GPS unit can be a lifesaver.

    But no two handheld GPS units are exactly alike. In fact, even different models from the same manufacturer vary in style and functionality to some degree. While all handheld GPS units serve to find and track your location, different manufacturers include different features based on a variety of use cases.

    Your own needs and biases will determine which models to include in your short list. Do you require more battery life, a more durable design for rougher conditions, or an easy-to-read display? Let’s go over some of the key features to consider when choosing a handheld GPS unit.

    The Russian spaced-based satellite navigation system GLONASS (Global Navigation Satellite System) is the second-largest global navigational system. Adding GLONASS to a GPS receiver improves the accuracy.

    Power

    Accessing and tracking your location using global positioning satellites uses up a lot of power. Just try navigating for a few hours using your smartphone and you’ll see the battery level plummet.

    The quality of your handheld GPS unit’s batteries is almost as important as what type of battery you use.

    Some units run on rechargeable batteries, which is great if you have access to electricity. Others use battery packs or alkaline or lithium batteries, which means you’ll likely need to pack extras depending on the length of your trip.

    Turning on your GPS unit for the first time takes longer because it’s downloading data about where GPS satellites are located in relation to you.

    Display

    Display size and quality is probably the most important feature for many users, especially since this is the component you interact with the most.

    Different units come with everything from basic monochrome LCD displays to more detailed full-color screens.

    You need to consider both daytime and nighttime use, as well as how readable the screen is in bright sunlight.

    Most LED and LCD displays are built to last, however there’s always a possibility of screen burn in when some images are kept on for prolonged periods of time. The best way to test this is to try out the models you’re interested in and compare the performance.

    You can use a handheld GPS unit to determine the correct time based on the satellites’ atomic clocks.

    Size and shape

    Handheld GPS units come in many shapes, sizes, dimensions, and materials. Some are streamlined and look like smartphones or small tablets, while others have visible antennas, seeming to give them a more professional appearance (or at least reinforcing the idea of strong GPS reception).

    Ergonomics is important, too. While we call these “handheld” units, not every shape is equally suited for grabbing or holding in the hand for extended periods of time.

    Aside from how it feels to hold, a good handheld GPS unit should fit well in your pocket or be easily added to a belt or carabiner. It should also suit a wide range of users and hand-sizes.

    Maps are constantly changing, so make sure you know how to update your handheld GPS unit.

    Durability

    Depending on the type of activity or the terrain you expect to cover, a handheld GPS unit’s build and materials will be a prime consideration. These devices are tools and should be expected to work in varying temperatures, humidity conditions and even last through rain showers.

    Some GPS units are designed for all-weather conditions and can be splashed on or rained on. The material and build of a GPS unit, as well as the IP (Ingress Protection) rating will give you an idea of how resistant to the elements it is.

    Most handheld GPS units are built of hard plastic or PVC, some have hardened rubber borders for shock absorption and better grip.

    Use the "new location" option on the satellite screen menu when you've traveled more than 100 miles. This tells your GPS unit where you are.

    Maps and storage

    A handheld GPS unit is only as good as the maps it contains. This means not only making sure you have the right maps for your activities but also that you have the latest version of those maps.

    Many GPS companies offer free, paid, or subscription-based access to maps. What you choose will depend on your needs.

    To accommodate all of your maps, you also need to consider the built-in or expandable storage space in your unit. As with smartphones and computers, we advise getting more storage space than you think you need so you can give your map list room to expand.

    If storage space is limited, clear your Track Log to ensure you have storage for upcoming trips.

    Other features

    Beyond GPS navigation functionality, GPS makers like to add features to differentiate their products from the competition.

    All extra features tend to add to the cost. They might be nice to have, but they should never come at the expense of a solid, accurate handheld GPS unit.

    Some of these extra features include the following:

    • Electronic compass.

    • Smartphone connectivity ( to download maps and firmware updates).

    • Activity-specific features (i.e., trip computer, sunrise/sunset times for hunting/fishing information).

    • WiFi.

    • Remote location tracking.

    • SOS/beacon for emergencies.

    • Digital camera.

    EXPERT TIP

    All GPS units work best when they have an unobstructed line of sight to satellites.


    Staff  | BestReviews

    Handheld GPS unit prices

    Handheld GPS units vary widely in price. You can expect to spend from $80 to $700, although there’s a great range of products that should satisfy most needs in the $200 to $400 range.

    Inexpensive

    For $80 to $200, you can get a unit with a monochrome display and protection against splashing and rain.

    There are 24 GPS satellites orbiting the earth at the time of this writing. Each satellite requires 12 hours to orbit around the planet.

    Mid-range

    For $200 to $400, you can get a rugged, water-resistant unit with a compass, barometer, and accelerometer.

    Expensive

    For $400 to $700, you can get a unit with a 65k colored, sunlight-readable display, IPX7 water and dust resistance, and 5,000 waypoints.

    Handheld GPS units are very useful but we will soon see helmet-mounted GPS systems with turn-by turn navigation and augmented reality features ideal for cyclists.

    FAQ

    Q. What is GPS?

    A. GPS is the acronym for “Global Positioning System.” The system was developed by the U.S. Department of Defense. People on land, sea, and in the air can use it to determine and visualize their 3D orientation in space and time.

    Q. How does GPS work?

    A. GPS receivers collect signals from satellites in their line of sight. The signals relay information about velocity, position, and time. When used with apps and smartphones, GPS can enable various applications such as ride-sharing apps, community-based traffic, navigation apps, and search-and-discovery mobile apps.

    Q. How accurate is GPS?

    A. The U.S. government claims a minimum four-meter horizontal accuracy for civilian GPS. Many of today’s handheld GPS units are 95% accurate for up to three meters.

    The team that worked on this review
    • Bronwyn
      Bronwyn
      Editor
    • Devangana
      Devangana
      Web Producer
    • Eliza
      Eliza
      Production Manager
    • Gadjo
      Gadjo
      Writer
    • Katie
      Katie
      Editorial Director
    • Kyle
      Kyle
      Writer

    BestReviews wants to be better. Please take our 3-minute survey,
    and give us feedback about your visit today.

    Take Survey