The Garmin GPSMAP 64st was designed to work in the United States as well as on the international scale. This makes it very appealing to international travelers, Geocach enthusiasts, and ecotourists.
There are a few different iterations with their own preloaded topographic maps to consider. One of the most popular versions comes with 100,000 topographic maps of the United States and Canada. This device is also GLONASS compatible for international travel. It also comes with 250,000 preloaded caches from Geocaching.com and it also includes a 1-year BirdsEye Satellite Imagery subscription in the original purchase.
It has a 2.6-inch anti-glare digital color display screen. There is also an upgradable rechargeable battery package available as an accessory, which is worth considering if you will be off the grid for multiple days and you want to use a solar charger.
The Garmin eTrex 30x might one of the more affordable units in their line. Yet it comes with a lot of the same functionality that you find in more expensive handheld GPS devices. It runs on 4 rechargeable AA batteries and includes a charger in the initial purchase.
It also offers WAAS sensitivity, which is nice for times when you might be traveling by ATV or snowmobile. The eTrex also has a port for a MicroSD card, which is a secondary purchase that would allow you to better plan trips and log waypoint data.
The eTrex comes with a built-in barometric altimeter for navigating at altitude. The electronic compass is also designed to work accurately, even if it’s not level.
- 4-inch color touchscreen
- Imaging Ultra micro SDHC 32GB Memory Card
- Multiple preloaded maps and 1-year BirdsEye subscription
The Garmin Montana 680t has a touchscreen and other features that mimic the familiar interface of a smartphone. It runs off 4 AA lithium-ion rechargeable batteries and the bundled version includes an AC and USB charging options. It also has a built-in 8-mega pixel and an LED dome flashlight.
The Montana bundle comes preloaded with 100,000 United States Topographical maps. It also includes a 1-year subscription to the BirdsEye Satellite Imagery system. It also has over 250,000 preloaded worldwide geocaches.
This GPS device comes enabled with WAAS sensitivity as well as HotFix satellite features, and GLONASS compatibility. This makes the Garmin Montana a great option for times when you may need to travel between outdoor locations, or you need to travel internationally.
How We Picked
On the face of it, you expect a high-quality handheld GPS device to be accurate and have the topographic features you need for adventuring deep in the bush. These days GPS manufacturers make it a point to include the basic core functionality, like rechargeable batteries, SD/memory card compatibility.
Then they take it a step further and try to integrate special functions, with the bells and whistles to appeal to specialty users. This can vary from pre-loaded Geocaching maps, topographic overlays, two-way communication, WiFi/Bluetooth capability, weather radar overlays, and built-in light features just to name a few.
When the right features are paired together, a quality handheld GPS device can improve your experience. Some features, like SOS and other alert features, can also help in emergency situations.
The display screen characteristics can also be a major feature. Small screens and screens without anti-glare properties can be hard to read causing eye strain and other problems. At the same time, a hard to read screen requires you to take your eyes off the trail, which can increase the chances of mechanical injury while you walk.
Waterproofing or water resistance has been a major factor with older handheld GPS devices. This is less of a concern with modern-day GPS devices. Manufacturing technology has evolved to the point where most handheld units have water-resistant seals. The benchmark tends to be a waterproof ipx7 rating.
In the following reviews, you will find units that have been specifically geared toward various user profiles. This includes things like Geocaching enthusiasts, international travelers, eco-tourists, hunters, and day hikers as well as canoe or kayak campers.
Garmin eTrex 30x Handheld GPS
- 32GB memory card
- LED Brite-Nite
- Dome lantern flashlight
- 4 rechargeable AA batteries
- Includes a charger
- 1-year warranty
- 2.2-inch, 65K color display screen
- WAAS sensitivity
- Accommodates a MicroSD card
Garmin is one of the more established and trusted names in the GPS industry. The eTrex 30x Handheld unit was designed with hikers and outdoor enthusiasts in mind. It is designed to run on 4 rechargeable AA batteries and includes a charger in the initial purchase.
It also has WAAS sensitivity for times when you need to travel to or during your hiking trip. There is also a MicroSD card port. However, the card is sold separately. This allows you to not only store data, but to plan trips in advance or work with a satellite subscription service.
There is a built-in barometric altimeter to help you accurately navigate terrain at high altitude. The electronic compass will even work when it’s at a level.
What We Liked
Garmin did their best to think of everything an outdoor enthusiast might want in a handheld GPS. The color screen and optional subscription service to a satellite mapping and trip planning feature is also a very nice touch. Afterall half of the fun of going on a hiking trip is the planning!
This handheld GPS will certainly take care of you when you are off the grid, deep in the thick, or climbing up a steep mountain. It has enough bells and whistles to keep you learning about it for a long time to come.
One particular drawback though is the 2.2” screen, which is a little on the small side. If you need to take a close study of a map or a particular topographic feature, it’s better to stop walking, so you can focus your eyes fully on the screen.
- 4 rechargeable AA batteries and charger
- Subscription satellite service available
- Features to better understand the topography
Garmin Montana 680t
- 4-inch color touchscreen
- 8-megapixel digital camera
- 4 AA lithium-ion rechargeable batteries
- AC and USB charger
- LED dome lantern flashlight
- 1-year warranty
- Imaging Ultra micro SDHC 32GB Memory Card
The Garmin Montana seems to have been designed to feel and act very much like a smartphone. They also designed it to be appealing to geocache enthusiasts. It runs off 4 AA lithium-ion rechargeable batteries. This particular bundle also includes an AC charger as well as a USB charging cable.
It comes preloaded with over 100,000 U.S.-based topographical maps. The bundle purchase also includes a 1-year subscription to Garmin’s affiliated BirdsEye Satellite Imagery system. There are also over 250,000 preloaded worldwide geocaches.
The Garmin Montana package comes enabled with high-sensitivity, WAAS in the GPS receiver, as well as HotFix satellite prediction. This is great for times when you may need to travel by alternate transport between hiking locations. It is also GLONASS supported, which means you can use this handheld GPS device internationally.
The Garmin Montana also has an 8-mega pixel camera for taking photos or your trip, and potential waypoints or simply capturing an image of a Geocache item. There’s even an LED dome flashlight for finding your way around an unlit campsite.
What We Liked
The look and feel that mimics a standard smartphone is a really nice touch, that just makes the Montana feel like it’s easy to use. The WAAS feature and GLONASS functionality maximize its versatility. The fact that it comes loaded with maps and program features is also a very nice touch.
Like a lot of Garmin’s GPS line, this device has a lot of the bells and whistles you are looking for. Especially, if you like international travel and Geocaching. You can even use it to take quality photos of your waypoints and the things you find along the way.
The one thing to bear in mind is that this type of touchscreen can be a little fickle in cold weather. This is just something that occurs with most touchscreens, including smartphones. However, Garmin did their best to make this touchscreen more receptive to the touch of a gloved finger.
One way to maximize the touchscreen sensitivity is to keep the phone in a vest pocket during cold weather. That way your natural body heat will keep the screen warm for the times when you occasionally need to pull it out.
- 4-inch color touchscreen
- Comes with maps and Geocache data
- 4 AA Lithium-Ion rechargeable batteries
Garmin Foretrex 401 Waterproof Hiking GPS
- 2 AAA standard alkaline batteries
- HotFix GPS sensitivity
- Tracback program
- Waypoint and route tracking
- Trip computer
- Barometric altimeter
The Garmin Foretrex is a somewhat barebones handheld GPS that has the features you want at a price that’s easy to afford. It runs on two AAA standard alkaline batteries. This is a relatively straightforward GPS device at a very reasonable price.
The screen is relatively small, measuring in at just 1.42 x 0.91-inches. It has a resolution of resolution 100 x 64 pixels. The display has two positions to provide you with compass information and other factors in your current location.
It comes with a basic trip computer, that also includes things like the sunrise and sunset times, as well as hunting and fishing data, as well as a barometric altimeter. The TracBack technology and HotFix sensitivity give it more functionality than it might appear at first glance.
What We Liked
This might seem like a somewhat simple handheld GPS device, but the tradeoff is in an exceptionally long battery life. Just two AAA batteries can power it for up to 17-hours. This makes it a great option for long hiking trips where you don’t necessarily need a lot of bells and whistles.
For a simple GPS at a relatively low price point, the Garmin Foretrex has the features you need to make your way off the beaten path. This is a good first option for teaching children about 21st-century orienteering without having to drop a lot of money on an expensive unit.
Garmin also sells a larger version of this GPS unit in their Foretrex 601.
Garmin GPSMAP 64st
- 2.6-inch color screen
- High-sensitivity GPS
- Includes GLONASS receiver
- Quad helix antenna for superior sensitivity
- 8 GB internal memory
- 3-axis compass
- Barometric altimeter
- MicroSD card slot
The Garmin GPSMAP 64st was designed to appeal to international travelers and ecotourists. The AA Polaroid batteries have a 16-hour estimated life.
The Garmin 64st has a few different iterations including up to 100,000 topographic maps of the United States and Canada. It is also GLONASS compatible for international travel. It even comes with 250,000 preloaded caches affiliated with Geocaching.com as well as a 1-year BirdsEye Satellite Imagery subscription.
The digital color display screen measures in at 2.6-inches. It was designed to be anti-glare which makes it easy to read in bright, sunny conditions.
There is also an optional rechargeable NiMH battery pack that allows you to charge the batteries while they are still inside the device. It’s an optional extra, with a small price tag. It might be a good option to consider if you are going to be off the grid for multiple days and you are thinking about using a solar charging system.
What We Liked
The GLONASS compatibility and the fact that you can choose a version with loaded maps are certainly nice for eco-tourists and international travelers. The 250,000 Geocaching maps also add to the value for Geocaching enthusiasts.
The anti-glare screen is also a nice touch. It makes for easy readability while also reducing your chances of suffering a mechanical injury while you hike.
There are a lot of bells and whistles to like with the Garmin 64st. The topographical maps, 1-year BirdsEye subscription, and the geocaching features appeal to a wide range of interests. If you are an eco-tourist it should be near the top of your list.
The one knock on it is the fact that it only comes with AA Polaroid batteries. If you have any intention of spending a prolonged amount of time in the bush, you should strongly consider upgrading to the relatively affordable rechargeable NiMH battery pack.
- 1-year Birdseye subscription
- GLONASS supported for international travel
- 2.6-inch anti-glare screen
Garmin InReach Explorer
- Uses Iridium Satellite Network
- Versatile recharging options
- 2-Way messaging versatility
- 2.3-inch color screen
The Garmin InReach Explorer was designed for individuals who enjoy more rugged travel, yet who also want an effective way to share the details of their journey. This often includes places where no cell phone signal can reach. For some, this is a very appealing idea, yet they also want the ability to connect with the outside world when necessary.
One of the key factors that enables the InReach to do this is through access to the Iridium satellite network, which can provide 100% global coverage. It features things like 2-way messaging, tracking and even an interactive SOS program.
The initial purchase includes the handheld unit as well as a USB charging cable, a Wearable4U Ultimate Power Pack which also includes the Wearable4U Power Bank at 2200 mAh. This allows for charging versatility whether you are at home or deep in the wild.
It has a 2.3-inch color screen, and it can pair with other wireless devices. You can even connect it to your smartphone’s contact list. The software suite also includes topographical maps and marine charts.
What We Liked
The ability to communicate throughout the world via the Iridium satellite network is what really sets the InReach Explorer apart from much of Garmin’s line. When you combine this with the interactive SOS feature, it allows you to get help when you need it, while also staying in touch with the people who matter.
If you are just looking for a handheld GPS to take with you on a weekend camping trip, this unit is probably overkill. If you are going to be going on a remote hunting trip to parts of the world where cellphone coverage, simply doesn’t exist that the Garmin InReach Explorer can surely be your trusted friend.
Garmin Oregon 750t Handheld GPS
- 3-inch color touchscreen
- Sunlight readable
- 4 AA rechargeable batteries
- 32GB MicroSD card
- 1-year subscription to BirdsEye Satellite imagery
- Barometric Altimeter
- LED BriteNite Lantern
- Built-in WiFi and Bluetooth
- Built-in Camera
The Garmin Oregon 750t bundle was designed with a lot of bells and whistles to go with the kind of features you want in a camping/hiking GPS. It runs off of 4 AA rechargeable batteries. This bundle also includes various chargers for USB and AC outlet charging.
The 3-inch color touch screen was designed to be sunlight readable. Though like all touchscreens it is potentially prone to functionality issues in cold weather.
The Oregon 750t bundle also has built-in WiFi and Bluetooth functionality for better communication with the outside world and connectivity to the 1-year BirdsEye satellite subscription. It also allows for active weather support with radar overlays of your current location. This allows you to see the weather that’s coming in, to better plan your day or knowing when it’s time to batten down the hatches.
Information can be saved in the included 32 GB SDHC memory card. This allows you to better plan your trip before you go, as well as mark key waypoints as you travel. There’s even a barometric altimeter to help you carefully track your altitude.
This GPS is also GLONASS compatible for times when you might want to hike internationally.
What We Liked
There are a lot of features to like in the Garmin Oregon 750t bundle. The active weather support is certainly handy for times when you might be hiking during inclement weather. It also works seamlessly with the BirdsEye satellite services.
The Garmin Oregon 750t bundle is near the top of their line. This package is nice in that they give you pretty much everything you need to adventure the great wide open. You don’t have to worry about buying a bunch of optional extras to go along with the initial purchase.
If you are going to be hiking in particularly cold or wet conditions, you should come up with a strategy to keep the touchscreen warm. You also need to keep in mind that you will need to renew the BirdsEye satellite subscription after one year.
Garmin GPSMAP 78sc
- 2.6-inch LCD sunlight-readable color display
- 2 AA lithium-ion batteries
- Designed for wetlands and marine environments
- Designed to float
- Waterproof IPX7 rated
- 3-tilt axis
- Barometric altimeter
- Built-in BlueChart g2
The Garmin GPSMAP 78sc is another version in their line, which has been specifically geared to appeal to individuals who hike, hunt and explore in wet locations. It runs on 2 AA lithium-ion batteries which provide this unit with up to 20-hours of battery life.
It comes with their built-in BlueChart g2 which can be loaded with a variety of coastal waterway maps, including charts for the United States Bahamas with shoreline characteristics, depth contours, harbors, and marinas. There are also other upgrade map packages available, which makes the 78sc a good choice for individuals who like to combine hiking and kayaking or canoe trips to coastal waterways and wetlands.
This version of the Garmin GPS map line is designed to float. It also has an IPX7 waterproof rating, to give it the durability to handle life on or in the water.
This GPS unit allows you to wirelessly share your waypoints, and, routes to coordinate with other members of your group with the press of the “Send” button. It can also be used to geocache.
It has a 2.6-inch color LCD display. It is also sunlight readable with reduced glare, which minimizes eye strain when you are in bright conditions or dealing with the glare off the water.
What We Liked
The Garmin GPSMAP 78sc comes with coastal waterway maps and optional g2 maps available. This makes it a great option for kayak and canoe adventures. You could also use these features for things like duck hunting to exploring estuaries.
Designed for marine and wetland environments
Long 20-hour battery life
BlueChart g2 compatible
Smartphone GPS vs a Handheld GPS Device
Modern-day “Smart Phones” come with a lot of sophisticated features, including optional GPS apps that make it easier to navigate urban streets. This tempts some people to also try using their smartphone as a GPS when they are hiking or on a rugged wilderness camping trip.
Unfortunately, even the most durable of smartphones is not really up for this task. Using it as a GPS can quickly drain the rather limited battery. At the same time, things like rain, humidity, and an accidental drop can cause the inherently delicate device to fail in the worst of places.
Not to mention that there are some locations where cellular signal is poor to non-existent. If you lose your connection to a nearby cell tower, the phone’s GPS may not work, or it may give an inaccurate reading.
Handheld GPS devices also tend to have special features that you don’t always see in a smartphone app. This includes things like highly accurate altitude readings, the ability to record distance, current or average speed, and upcoming changes in elevation.
These are just a few of the reasons why handheld GPS devices continue to be popular with hikers and other outdoor enthusiasts.
Important Handheld GPS Device Features To Consider
Certain manufacturers have their own design, materials and even styling cues that appeal to different users. Some even come with special internal apps and mapping waypoint features. The following are some of the important things to consider when you shop for a Handheld GPS device.
Materials And Case Durability
If you are going to venture into rugged, off-the-grid locations, then you need a GPS that can handle it. You want to see robust materials, and terms like Shock Resistant, Abrasion Resistant, and Water Resistant or Waterproof.
When it comes to water resistance, you don’t want rain humidity and accidental drops in a puddle to unexpectedly kill the device. When it comes to waterproof or water resistance claims, you can sort out marketing terms from actual durability by reading the fine print.
Ideally, you should see some sort of depth and/or time rating. This shows that the device was properly tested to handle water pressure. This might be expressed as something like IPX7, which means it can handle full submersion in 1 meter of water. If it’s dropped into deeper water, the excessive pressure could potentially exceed the integrity of the seams, seals, or fasteners, which could allow water to damage the sensitive internal components.
While these units are generally designed to be shock-resistant, an accessory case can also buffer it against things like accidental drops or blows. Manufacturers tend to make companion cases that are specifically tailored to the GPS device. There are even some packages that include it.
Overall Battery Life
Unless you are navigating relatively featureless terrain, you will likely leave your GPS on the entire time. This will gradually drain the internal batteries. A device with a short battery life could leave you stranded or lost.
Some GPS devices will work on simple AA or AAA batteries, which you can easily carry with you and replace them as needed. Many handheld GPS devices have built-in rechargeable batteries. With these, you want to look for a battery life that is at least 10-hours or more. One that is compatible with a solar charger is a definite bonus for prolonged hiking trips.
Most handheld GPS units come with rechargeable batteries or long-life lithium-ion batteries. There are different ways to recharge these batteries depending on where you travel and how long you expect to be away from reliable electric services.
Rechargeable units usually come with a standard 110 Volt wall charger. A few are also USB rechargeable or come with a specific car charger.
It’s also worth noting that portable solar chargers have become increasingly popular with many backwoods travelers. These units are designed to be lightweight and allow you to charge a wide range of devices.
Even high-quality solar chargers are very affordable and worth considering as a secondary purchase.
The Display Screen
A very small screen or one with excessive glare problems requires you to take your eyes off the surroundings. This increases the chances of making a misstep or suffering a mechanical injury. Ideally, you want the screen to be at least two inches and have a good zoom resolution.
There are some GPS devices that have touch screens which can be very convenient in warm conditions. However, they are difficult to use in cold conditions, at high altitude, and rarely work with gloved fingers. If you are going to be hiking a lot in cold conditions, you might want to prioritize a button-operated unit.
There are also some things you can do to maintain cold weather touchscreen functionality. You do need to keep the screen itself warm. Simply holding it in a vest pocket will allow your body heat to keep the screen sufficiently warm.
There are also some manufacturers who sell gloves that have been carefully designed to let you operate a touchscreen.
Consider The Weight
Most avid hikers are weight-conscious about their pack and the gear they bring with them. Modern-day GPS devices are relatively lightweight, though some might be a little heavier or bulkier than you like. Especially if you are planning to bring a solar charger device with you.
Available Planning Software Or SD Cards
Many modern GPS devices come with some type of planning software or can accommodate things like a specialty data chip, or an accessory SD card for saving waypoints. A few manufacturers have their own proprietary software, though there are some that partner with specialty companies.
In the case of something like an ice fishing GPS unit, special data cards can be used to mark and save waypoints. This allows the angler to mark specific underwater structures for future trips.
Some handheld GPS devices also come preloaded with topographical maps, optional SD card maps, or the opportunity to subscribe to a satellite image service. These units are particularly handy for planning trips in advance, accurate orienteering while you are in the bush, or reviewing the details later.
There are some GPS units that support GLONASS. This is a Russian and international form of GPS which stands for Globalnaya Navigazionnaya Sputnikovaya Sistema, which loosely translates into the Global Navigation Satellite System. It’s handy for times when you might want to take a trip outside of the United States. Many Canadian hikers and hunters will prioritize GLONASS compatibility.
A WASS Feature
This is a software feature built into some GPS units that improve accuracy for times when you might be traveling faster than normal walking speed. If you are going to be traveling by bike, ATV, UTV, or snowmobile during your trips, you might want to prioritize a GPS unit with a WAAS feature. Most work with other apps to help with things like trip planning and saving data points.
Frequently Asked Questions
Q: Is A Smartphone GPS Just As Good As A Handheld Device?
A: Smartphones have become very popular, and many people love their easy-to-use interface. Many come with GPS apps installed or available for a small fee. However, these features tend to be geared more toward navigating the urban landscape. When you try to use them in the rugged wilderness, they tend to struggle.
Not only do cell towers lack the signal strength for life off the grid, but the phones themselves also tend to be physically vulnerable. Moisture and accidental drops can damage the smartphone. The battery life also tends to be limited. Any of these things can leave you lost in the wild.
Q: What Is WAAS?
A: WAAS stands for Wide Area Augmentation System. It employs a network of ground-based stations in tandem with GPS orbiting satellites to improve the accuracy of the GPS receiver. It was originally designed by the United States Federal Aviation Administration which means you are more likely to be able to use it domestically. If you are going to travel internationally, WAAS might not be available.
Q: What Is The Iridium Satellite Network?
A: The Iridium Satellite Network is a global constellation of orbital satellites that carries L-band voice and data coverage. It is used most often in satellite phones, international pagers, and integrated transceivers. It’s started to find a place in GPS devices, especially those meant for rugged locations where other signals simply aren’t available. These units are essentially an emergency SAT Phone and GPS in one.
Q: Is It Better To Carry A Charging Device Or Replacement Batteries?
A: Most handheld GPS devices have a battery life between 10 to 15 hours. Some can even last more than 20-hours of operation. Beyond that, you will need to come up with a way to recharge the batteries on longer trips where AC power simply isn’t available.
Solar charging devices are a very popular way to answer this problem. However, most lightweight units deliver low wattage and tend to trickle charge. They also need sunny conditions, which is when you are most likely to be on the move.
They are meant to be more for charging devices when you are at your base camp. If you are going to be hiking most of the time, stalking or still hunting, a solar charger might not be able to keep up with your power demand needs.
In a situation like this, you might want to consider purchasing secondary batteries. You can then keep them in your pocket while you are on the go, for a quick swap-out. If you have a base camp, and you’ll be out hunting or hiking during the day, you could set up a solar charger on a spare set of batteries, then swap batteries each day to make sure your GPS always has the highest possible charge.
Q: What Does IPX7, IPX8, and IPX9 Mean?
A: IP numbers are used to rate a device’s water resistance or waterproofing capabilities. This is largely related to the ability of the seals and fasteners to prevent water from invading the device at various depths.
IPX7 is the most common rating you find with handheld GPS devices. This means it can be submerged up to 1 meter in water for 30 minutes and effectively resist the pressure. A device with an IPX8 rating can be submerged deeper than 1 meter. Just bear in mind that the exact depth is determined by the manufacturer. IPX9K is rarely seen in handheld GPS devices and is meant more for diving applications. These units are specifically designed to resists high-pressure environments as well as things like high-temperature, close-range fluid sprays.
Q: Do I Need A Satellite Subscription Service?
A: Some handheld GPS devices come with an affiliated satellite image service that’s available as a subscription. They tend to give away a one-year subscription to essentially show off the functionality and get you comfortable with using it. After that time period expires, you might need to purchase a long-term subscription or an upgrade service.
If you are going to be out in new environments and taking multiple trips, these subscription services can be very handy. They tend to have updated maps and often include other points of interest, which boosts their value.
If you need a handheld GPS for seasonal hunting trips or the occasional hiking vacation on public land, you might want to try out a unit with a one-year subscription included. After that, you can balance whether or not you want to continue paying for the service, or if you can simply get by with the GPS’s onboard maps.
Modern-day handheld GPS devices have a lot of optional features. Finding the one that is right for you starts with considering how you are most likely to use it.
If you are passionate about Geocaching, eco-tourism, and international travel you might want to prioritize a device that is GLONASS compatible. If you are going to be hunting and exploring far from the services of the civilized world, then you might want to also prioritize one that provides access to the Iridium Network.
Don’t underestimate the display screen. A touchscreen might feel like a familiar smartphone interface, but you will need to take measures to keep it working properly when the temperature drops.
Product Boxes: Last updated on 2019-11-21 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API