Handheld GPS buying guide: How to find the best GPS device to guide you on your adventures

What to look for when choosing a handheld GPS unit for your next hiking trip.

A handheld GPS device can serve as a planner, navigator and recorder on your next trekking adventure. A hiking GPS device lets you see where you are, where you've been and where you're headed next, all on one screen.

We'll walk you through the key features of handheld GPS units, and discuss where they outperform smartphone counterparts. Read on to compare all the options and find the best handheld GPS for your next hike.

Compare some of the best handheld GPS

Data obtained December 2018. Prices are subject to change and should be used only as a general guide.
Name Product Average Price (AUD) Display size (cm) Display Resolution (pixels) Weight (g) Battery life Purchase Today
Garmin Oregon 750t
Garmin Oregon 750t
3.8 x 6.3; 7.6 (diagonal)
240 x 400
Up to 16 hours
The Garmin Oregon 750t has Bluetooth capabilities and is equipped with an 8 megapixel autofocusing camera.
Garmin GPSMAP 64st
Garmin GPSMAP 64st
3.6 x 5.5; 6.6 (diagonal)
160 x 240
Up to 16 hours
The Garmin GPSMAP 64st has a rugged design and is fitted with wireless connectivity.
Garmin Montana 680t
Garmin Montana 680t
5.06 x 8.93; 10.2 (diagonal)
272 x 480
Up to 22 hours
The Garmin Montana 680t has an built-in compass, barometric altimeter and camera.
Spot GEN3
Spot GEN3
No display
Not stated
The Spot GEN3 is a pocket-sized device that can send an S.O.S call with your coordinates in case of emergency.
Garmin GPSMAP 66s
Garmin GPSMAP 66s
3.8 x 6.3; 7.6 (diagonal)
240 x 400
Up to 16 hours
The GPSMAP 66s has a sunlight-readable display and is fitted with a compass and barometric altimeter.
Garmin inReach Explorer+
Garmin inReach Explorer+
3.5 x 4.7; 5.9 (diagonal)
200 x 265
Up to 100 hours
The Garmin inReach Explorer+ is equipped with satellite coverage that enables two way texting from anywhere.
Garmin Oregon 700
Garmin Oregon 700
3.8 x 6.3; 7.6 (diagonal)
240 x 400
Up to 16 hours
The Garmin Oregon 700 is Bluetooth enabled and can be read in both portrait and landscape modes.
Garmin Foretrex 601
Garmin Foretrex 601
5.08 (diagonal)
200 x 128
Up to 48 hours
The Garmin Foretrex 601 is a wrist mounted GPS navigator with a notification system.
Garmin eTrex 20x
Garmin eTrex 20x
3.5 x 4.4; 5.6 (diagonal)
240 x 320
Up to 25 hours
The Garmin eTrex 20x has 3.7GB of internal memory to store extra maps.
Garmin inReach Mini
Garmin inReach Mini
2.3 x 2.3
128 x 128
Up to 90 hours
The Garmin inReach Mini is a lightweight and compact satellite communicator that can track your hike.
Garmin eTrex 10
Garmin eTrex 10
3.6 x 4.3; 5.6 (diagonal)
128 x 160
Up to 25 hours
The Garmin eTrex 10 offers paperless geocaching and a 25 hour battery life.

Compare up to 4 providers

What is a handheld GPS device?

Global positioning systems (GPS) record and store spatial data. Similar to a GPS in your car, handheld GPS devices work by gathering information from multiple satellites that are continuously orbiting the earth. With a connection to three satellites, GPS units can construct a 2D reading of your position, while a fourth satellite connection can produce a 3D reading.

A handheld GPS device provides navigation assistance and land-survey data including geographic landmarks and topographic mapping.

Why should I consider a handheld GPS device?

Whether you're planning a local hike in Australia or want to trek around the world, a GPS device can prove helpful in the following ways:

  • Navigation. Knowing exactly where you are can help you plan where to go next. Having the ability to pinpoint your location while you are out and about is a huge advantage when you're hiking or trekking.
  • Safety. Generally, if you know where you are, you shouldn't get lost, but if you are lost, a GPS unit might help you get back on track. Some advanced models are also equipped with two-way radios, messaging systems and satellite communications should you ever find yourself needing to send for help.
  • Tracking. GPS units allow you to track your every move, path and route. Research scientists can use this feature to monitor and track their progress out in the field, while hikers can download these recordings to keep track of their adventures.

Our guide to hiking Australia

Smartphones vs handheld GPS

As a rule of thumb, handheld GPS units are a better choice for long, challenging treks, whereas smartphones are better suited to day hikes. Handheld GPS units provide more advanced navigation features and tend to be far more robust than your average smartphone. However, smartphones offer convenience and allow you to choose from a range of navigation apps.

Here are the main advantages and disadvantages of handheld GPS units vs smartphones:

GPS Unit
  • Waterproof and durable
  • Longer battery life
  • Strong satellite reception
  • Advanced navigation features
  • Expensive
  • Adds extra weight to your pack
  • Can be slow
  • Multi-purpose
  • Several navigation apps are available
  • Can call for help
  • Not a stand-alone purchase
  • More fragile
  • Needs data reception to download maps
  • Location tracking can quickly drain your battery

How to compare handheld GPS devices

The cost of a hiking GPS device starts at around $100, while more expensive options with advanced features can set you back over $1,000.

When choosing a hiking GPS unit, think about where you will be hiking and which of the following features will best suit your needs:

Don't forget your map

Even with a GPS unit, you shouldn't leave your map and compass at home. While handheld GPS units are at the cutting edge of technology, you never know what might happen on a hike. You could easily lose, drop or break your GPS unit, so we recommend keeping a physical map and compass on hand just in case.

You can find handheld GPS units at a range of outdoor specialists including Kathmandu, Rays Outdoors and Wild Earth. Electronics retailers including Amazon and eBay also stock GPS devices

If you want to buy a handheld GPS device, start comparing your options now.


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