Lost and Found: The 6 Best Handheld GPS

Putting a GPS on your wrist or into your car is fine if you’re strictly an urban or suburban adventurer who plans on roughing it in the wilds of south Brooklyn or taking a survival trek along Mulholland, but they won’t be nearly as much help if your a hiker who needs true satellite assistance as you head off the beaten path and deep into forests, deserts, jungle, or the arctic wastes. For that you need a good handheld GPS.

T does more than just give you turn by turn directions. It offers the ability to set waypoints, determine the difficulty of a particular excursion, and adds the option of wilderness treasure hunting known as geocaching. Geocaches are small capsules left by other wanderers and explorers with log books, unusual items, and advice for anyone that comes along. They are Easter eggs for grown-ups and add a lot of fun to your trip. Even if you aren’t a cache enthusiast, the ability of this GPS device to keep you alive and on course in a storm, on a moonless night, or after a Deliverance-style kidnapping make them indispensable, which is why we’ve found the 6 best handheld GPS’s on the market.

Garmin ETrex 20

Garmin ETrex 20

Pro: Inexpensive
Con: No Bluetooth

Most for the Money: Garmin generally has the market cornered when it comes to GPS units, so whichever model you pick will get you back to base camp without too many problems. The ETrex is certainly not going to turn many heads, but you won’t find anything in the same price range that has nearly as many features or is as accurate. It’s only 5 ounces and yet can take a drop from several feet without cracking or breaking, a lesson the iPhone 6 could stand to learn. It has a full IPX7 waterproof rating which allows it to work in a complete deluge making it the perfect gift for your stormchasing friends. It will run for nearly a day on two AA batteries giving it a relatively long life that is easily expanded. It lacks Bluetooth and the 2.2 inch screen can be a little touchy. Expect some light to moderate swearing if trying to operate it with gloves. [Purchase: $159]

Magellan eXplorist 710

Magellan eXplorist 710

Pro: High-res display
Con: Large and clunky

Crystal Clear: Besides Garmin, Magellan is the next big name in this sector of the market. It boasts all of the best bells and whistles from a 3.2 megapixel camera and a 24k U.S. topographical map that puts Garmin’s topos to shame. It also has two customizable buttons on the side that allow you to use your favorite features with a single click. The one-touch menu is easy to operate and the high resolution display is the easiest to see of any GPS money can buy. You can program it with different profiles which allow it to work equally well for an ATV trip to the dunes or a week spent seeing what is over the next hill. The problem is that all its pretty features and options are built into a hulking body that is heavy and awkward while the stiff frame blocks the easy use of the edges of the screen, which can make scrolling problematic. [Purchase: $379]

Garmin GPSMAP 62St

Garmin GPSMAP 62St

Pro: Exceptional location accuracy
Con: Few accessories

Best for Basics: This is your one-and-done purchase if you just want an outstanding device that isn’t bogged down with all the cutsie nonsense. You can get models that come with altimeters – though don’t expect it to be accurate – or ones with a camera or a compass, but really the 62St is fine all by itself. The 160 x 240 pixel resolution makes good use of the 2.6 inch screen. The topography pops and sizzles even when you’re viewing it through goggles or in direct sunlight. It hooks right into the Garmin Connect network so that you can get input from others if you so desire. The analysis of routes is especially helpful if you are braving new territory. It’s fairly light and easy to both carry and operate on the move. Just don’t expect it to do much more than navigate. [Purchase: $289]

Lowrance Endura Safari

Lowrance Endura Safari

Pro: Touchscreen and button controls
Con: Unappealing display

Fisherman’s Friend: Anglers and those who prefer to live the pirate’s life often get overlooked by the handheld GPS community. Out of the box this has all the ordinary features such as a detailed topographic map that includes roads, rivers, lakes, and hundreds of thousands of points of interest accessed through a combo of touch screen functions and physical buttons that help make navigation easier than relying on a screen alone. Where it really comes through for the quest for the Big One is when marine-mapping software from Pro USA and LakeMaster are put into it. Even if fish don’t get your outboard motor running, the ability of the Safari to upload GPX files from the internet complete with advice, suggestions, and numerous side adventures are sure to keep you entertained. [Purchase: $298]

Garmin Oregon 600

Garmin Oregon 600

Pro: Fast, slick operation
Con: Touchscreen

For Technophiles: We swear, we’re not Garmin fanboys, they just seem to know their business better than anyone else. The Oregon 600 is the only GPS we could find that really offered a modern experience rather than feeling like an old Motorola brick phone that Don Johnson might use. It is a full touchscreen which works very well, though it should be noted it only works well for a touchscreen. Scrolling is much faster than anything else, as is recalibration. It connects quickly and efficiently allowing you to spend more time on the move and less time waiting for it to find a signal. It is smooth to operate and the positioning is deadly precise. The screen works much more like a smartphone or tablet so pinching and twisting changes the display intuitively. You can work it with some light gloves, though that will still give you some frustration. At 7.4 ounces, it isn’t the lightest choice. When it comes to downloadable features, the 600 is an embarrassment of riches. [Purchase: $330]

Bad Elf 2200 GPS Pro

Bad Elf 2200 GPS Pro

Pro: Very lightweight
Con: Requires linking to secondary device

Honorable Mention: It was hard to determine whether or not this qualified as a handheld GPS unit or a GPS receiver. It doesn’t have the same features as the other units listed in that it doesn’t work autonomously. It is intended to be paired with an Apple device which it then feeds data into. This works well for clubs or groups since 5 total i-devices can be linked into the Bad Elf so that everyone can share information and get into lengthy arguments about what is the best route. The device is just a few ounces which helps backpackers, cyclists, or kayakers who are seeking to keep weight to a minimum. Basic information is displayed on the screen for quick need-to-know data. Tons of facts can be stored on the unit and then transmitted over the interwebs if you want to offer advice or just need to secure bragging rights. The battery life is only 16 hours so work conservatively. [Purchase: $146]

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