Best Garmin Handheld GPS: Never Get Lost Again
To help keep you from getting lost around town and in the backcountry, we show you our picks for the best Garmin handheld GPS
The Drive and its partners may earn a commission if you purchase a product through one of our links. Read more.
BY Scott Roepel / LAST UPDATED ON March 17, 2021
Whether you’re going across town or crossing a continent, a Garmin handheld GPS will keep you on the right course. Without some sort of map, be it an ancient paper map or a modern GPS device, you can lose your way. Check out our selection of the best Garmin handheld GPS devices on the market.
This Garmin handheld GPS talks to iridium satellites, so you can send and receive texts. This little beauty can also trigger SOS alerts to emergency centers.
- Your family can follow your route
- IPX7 waterproofing rating means it can take a swim with you if necessary
- Full topographical map support as well as weather features
- Most of the bells and whistles require extra subscriptions
- Large and heavy
A budget-friendly handheld GPS that has 4GB of internal storage memory and a 2.6-inch touchscreen monitor.
- Able to connect directly to a smartphone to view and share data
- Comes with advanced apps that better determine location
- Allows you to plan future trips by setting waypoints
- Doesn’t come with any Bluetooth or camera capabilities
- Batteries are not included
- Screen could be bigger
This premium handheld GPS has a birdseye satellite imagery subscription as well as preloaded TOPO maps (USGS topographical maps). Compatible with the Garmin mobile app for increased functionality.
- Multiple Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS) pinpoints your location better than GPS alone
- Active weather keeps you on top of the forecast
- Expedition mode gives you a week of battery power
- At 3 inches, the screen may be difficult to read for those with eye problems in bright sunlight
- Connecting between devices is tricky
- Not exactly pocket-sized
Why Trust Us
Our reviews are driven by a combination of hands-on testing, expert input, “wisdom of the crowd” assessments from actual buyers, and our own expertise. We always aim to offer genuine, accurate guides to help you find the best picks.
Benefits of Garmin Handheld GPS
- Durability. You might be wondering why you can’t just use your phone to find your way. However, Garmin handheld GPS devices are shockproof and waterproof, making them more durable and reliable to use in a range of weather conditions.
- Activity recording. A handheld GPS device enables you to accurately log your speed and distance. Although many wearable GPS devices offer these features, they don’t also come with a map, making them unsuitable for navigating in a foreign location. However, handheld devices can also monitor your pace, pedal cadence, heart rate, and more.
- Navigation. The main benefit of a handheld GPS is the number of maps available that makes it possible to reach your desired location. Many come with free base mapping that’s suitable for both on-road and off-road activities. Unlike a smartphone, you don’t need a signal or data to use these routes while you travel.
Types of Garmin Handheld GPS
A high-end, expensive Garmin handheld GPS comes equipped with a camera. The Oregon 650 device features a built-in 8-megapixel autofocus camera, so you can take picture-worthy results. Each photo is geotagged with the location it was taken. Cameras that are designed with a built-in camera feature maximum internal storage memory. You can also view the pictures from other devices, thanks to the microSD with Garmin’s picture view.
Portable Battery Charger Bundle
You can also purchase a Garmin handheld GPS device that comes with a portable battery charger bundle. Offering around 10,000mAh, the power bank is designed to keep your handheld GPS charger working all the time you’re out. With double USB ports, you can conveniently charge your portable power bank while charging the handheld GPS. These high-capacity portable banks are also small and lightweight, making them ideal for traveling with you on your adventures.
Garmin also has a wide range of handheld GPS devices built with wireless connectivity. Most of their rugged designs feature multilink wireless connectivity, such as Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, ANT+, and more. To feel a part of a community, these devices allow you to automatically share your location and routes with an online community, helping you to keep safe on route.
Garmin is an American technology company founded in 1989, and its headquarters are in Olathe, Kansas. The company delivers high-end GPS technology across a range of markets, including aviation, fitness, outdoor reaction, and marine. Its tracking and mobile apps make it a trusted go-to brand for handheld GPS devices.
We recommend the Garmin inReach Explorer+, which enables two-way text messaging from anywhere once you’ve downloaded the satellite subscription. It’s preloaded with on-screen GPS routes and maps, a built-in digital compass, and an accelerometer.
DeLorme is a highly reputable technology company that was founded in 1976 and is headquartered in Maine. The company products personal satellite tracking, messaging, and navigation technology to outdoor enthusiasts.
We recommend the DeLorme Earthmate Handheld GPS Unit. This features an IPX-7 waterproof standard and is impact-resistant, thanks to its rubber casing. The product includes a dual-core processor for lightning-quick map redraws, and you can pan and zoom as you wish.
Magellan was founded in 1986, and its headquarters are in California. Magellan is a leading portable GPS navigation consumer electronics company that currently sells more than 200 key products in GPS technology.
Of its wide range of technology devices, we recommend the Magellan eXplorist 200 GPS. This device is convenient and easy to use, making it suitable for everyone. It can also store up to 500 waypoints, 20 routes, and five tracklogs.
Best Garmin Handheld GPS Pricing
- $40 to $80: For this price range, expect a maximum internal memory of 24MB with a 64 x 128 pixel resolution screen. Devices weigh around six ounces and do not feature additional features, such as a heart rate monitor and distance tracker.
- $80 to $200: Increase your budget and purchase a Garmin GPS device that’s water-resistant and shockproof. It will typically feature 3.7GB of internal memory, along with a highly sensitive WAAS-enabled GPS receiver. It will also feature a heart rate monitor and last around 70 hours before running out of battery.
- $200 and up: For the most expensive Garmin GPS device, expect a sunlight-readable touchscreen display with dual-band GPS/GLONASS satellite positioning. It will come equipped with Bluetooth technology, so you can wirelessly share routes and tracks. The handheld GPS device will feature a high-quality camera to take snaps along the way.
A handheld GPS should have at least a 2-inch display with moderate resolution, so you can clearly and safely see your route. The last thing you want to do is mistake something on your map for a dangerous zone. Fortunately, most modern GPS devices feature a high-resolution screen with realistic features to help you safely discover your route.
Compass and GPS
A compass is one of the most important features of a handheld GPS device. An electronic compass and barometric altimeter is a great addition to a GPS as it accurately helps you to head in the right direction. Fortunately, these devices also feature GPS (as the name suggests) to locate your position precisely and fast. As such, you are much easier to locate in difficult terrains, such as dense woods and narrow valleys.
The handheld GPS device should be lightweight, so you’re not dragging yourself down with a heavy item. If you’re walking for long periods at one time, it’s best to choose the lightest design, and many of the best-quality GPS devices are equipped with lithium-ion batteries that are great for portability purposes.
Memory and Storage
Ideally, the handheld GPS device will have a lot of storage space, but this is all down to the memory card. Some products use an external memory card, some have internal memory, and others have a combination of both. Internal memory requires a data connection, which isn’t ideal for routes in the middle of nowhere. Make sure you choose a device with a decent internal memory and an SD card slot, so you can store more data if you need to.
- Memory and Battery Life. A bigger and brighter screen with more features means the handheld GPS will use more power. It’s not always essential to have a high-resolution screen to remain safe. These additional features can take up extra memory in the device, meaning you need to regularly change the memory card or batteries.
- Durability. A handheld GPS is supposed to keep you safe and prevent you from getting lost. But if you have to spend a lot of your time and focus on looking after the device, you’re in trouble. Opt for a product with a sturdy case that can handle being dropped. It should also be waterproof and fully functional in extreme weather, too.
- Buttons or Touch Screen. Most of us are used to touchscreen smartphones. This makes it easier to function with a device and more natural to use. However, if you’re in cold conditions and wearing gloves, you should double-check that the screen is still responsive. Alternatively, buttons are a sensible choice if you’re not tech-savvy.
Best Garmin Handheld GPS Reviews & Recommendations 2021
- Don’t buy a poorly-built handheld GPS device that will break easily. Choose a robust design and quality materials to stand up to the backcountry.
- You want at least 10 hours of battery life, if not more. Any less and you’ll be changing batteries too often.
- Route-planning software for the PC or Mac can help you map out your travels beforehand. You can then program waypoints into your GPS to keep you on track.
- Devices that support both GLONASS and GPS are quicker and more accurate at locating your position, especially in difficult terrains like valleys and forests.
- Touchscreens are difficult to use when you’re wearing gloves. Buttons are usually easier to use and navigate.
Q: What is mapping GPS?
Mapping GPS lets you overlay maps on your route. This lets you see obstructions like mountains and rivers. There are many types of maps available.
Q: Do I have to pay for maps?
Maybe. Most Garmin handheld GPS devices have some maps preloaded and new/updated ones can be downloaded. However, if you want new maps of other areas, you’ll have to pay for them.
Q: What’s better: a touch screen or buttons?
That’s a personal preference. Touch screens can be hard to use with gloves on. Touch screens also consume more power but they do allow for more detailed mapping.
The Garmin inReach Explorer+ has all the bells and whistles you’d expect from our pick for the best overall Garmin handheld GPS unit.
The Garmin 64 Worldwide High-Sensitivity GPS is a great budget handheld GPS designed for the traveler who may just be starting out on their adventure.