GPS unit held in hand

The Best Handheld GPS Units of 2021

By Austin Meadows Accessories, Plan an AdventureNo Comments

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Whether you’re hiking, fishing, boating, offroading, or even geocaching, knowing precisely where you are is incredibly useful. Fortunately, we live in an age where advanced technology is more accessible than ever before, and even a basic handheld GPS unit lets you track your position on accurate topographical maps, chart routes, save waypoints, and more.

Advanced units can include things like emergency SOS alerts, accurate weather forecasts, marine information like depth charts and marina locations, and more. Extras tend to scale with the price of the device, with high-end models typically running $500+ and more basic models around half that. 

Most of us have smartphones with GPS capabilities, so why bother getting a standalone GPS unit? For one, the best handheld GPS units are built to withstand the elements, surviving humidity, rain, heat, and drops. That brand new iPhone? Not so much! 

Battery life is another major benefit of a quality GPS unit over a typical smartphone. Many GPS units have a battery life of 20+ hours, whereas a smartphone with a mapping application open will quickly lose charge. Finally, GPS units are often more accurate in areas where there is little to no cell signal — which are often the areas where you most need accurate GPS tracking! 

There are dozens of handheld GPS units available, and they’re definitely not all made the same. That’s why we spent our time evaluating and narrowing them down to find out which ones truly are the best handheld GPS units of 2021. 

Best Handheld GPS: Garmin GPSMAP 66sr
  • Dimensions: 6.4 x 1.4 x 2.5 inches
  • Weight: 0.5 pounds
  • Battery Life: up to 36 hours
  • Water Resistance: IPX7

Best Handheld GPS for Hunting: Garmin Oregon 700
  • Dimensions: 4.5 x 1.3 x 2.4 inches
  • Weight: 0.5 pounds
  • Battery Life: up to 16 hours
  • Water Resistance: IPX7

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Best Handheld Golf GPS: Izzo Swami 6000 Golf GPS
  • Dimensions: 3.8 x 2.1 x 0.9 inches
  • Weight: 0.2 pounds
  • Battery Life: 10-12 hours
  • Water Resistance: IPX3

Best Handheld Marine GPS: Garmin GPSMAP 78sc
  • Dimensions: 6 x 2.6 x 1.2 inches
  • Weight: 0.5 pounds
  • Battery Life: up to 20 hours
  • Water Resistance: IPX7

Best Handheld GPS for Off-Grid Travel: Garmin inReach Explorer+
  • Dimensions: 6.5 x 2.7 x 1.5 inches
  • Weight: 0.5 pounds
  • Battery Life: up to 30 hours
  • Water Resistance: IPX7

Best Handheld GPS: Garmin GPSMAP 66st

Garmin GPSMAP 66st, Rugged Multisatellite Handheld with Sensors and Topo Maps, 3' Color Display

Garmin is a leader in the GPS industry (as you can probably tell by the fact that 4 out of 5 devices on this list are made by them!) The company offers many models, but the GPSMAP 66sr is one of the most versatile. 

Notable features include exceptional reception even in remote areas, detailed topographical maps for the US and Canada built-in, a large full-color display, a three-axis compass, and a barometric altimeter for tracking your altitude. Battery life is also excellent, with up to 36 hours in active GPS mode, or 200 hours in battery-saving Expedition mode.

The high-quality topographical maps and accurate altimeter of this model make it perhaps the best handheld GPS for hiking, but in reality the 66sr is great for just about any purpose. It’s IPX7-rated for serious water resistance, and has expanded wireless connectivity which can be used to display active forecasts, including animated weather radar. 

The only real downsides to this device are that it is relatively expensive, and somewhat bulky. It’s best for those looking for a higher-end device that is versatile and feature-packed. 

Pros
  • Large display
  • Excellent reception
  • ~36 hour battery life, or up to 200 hours in Expedition Mode
  • Detailed topographical maps for the US and Canada
  • IPX7 water resistance
Cons
  • Somewhat bulky
  • Expensive
Buy on Amazon

Best Handheld GPS for Hunting: Garmin Oregon 700

Garmin Oregon 700 Handheld GPS, 1.5

The Garmin Oregon 700 is a mid-range GPS unit that’s useful for a variety of purposes. Despite its compact size (4.5 x 1.3 x 2.4 inches), it has a decent battery life of up to 16 hours, with a rugged design that can stand up to the elements.

This is the best handheld GPS for fishing and hunting for a few reasons. For one, it’s water-resistant (IPX7), designed to be just as at home in the woods as out on the water. It can store up to 10,000 waypoints, making it easy to mark and save your favorite hunting and fishing spots. 

The Oregon 700 also has useful profiles for different activities, including hiking, fishing, and hunting. When you select a profile, you’ll see a filtered view containing only data relevant to that activity, ensuring the display doesn’t feel cluttered with too much information. 

There are only a couple of minor downsides worth mentioning. First, the device is controlled via a touchscreen, which can make it difficult to operate in cold weather with gloves on. Second, at up to 16 hours, the battery life is acceptable but a bit underwhelming given the relatively small display.

Pros
  • Activity profiles for simplified views for hunting, hiking, fishing and more
  • Animated weather radar overlays
  • Touchscreen display for ease of use (in good weather)
  • Stores up to 10,000 waypoints
Cons
  • Touchscreen is difficult to use with gloves on
  • Battery life could be better
Buy on Amazon

Best Handheld Golf GPS: Izzo Swami 6000 Golf GPS

Izzo Swami 6000 Handheld Golf GPS Water-Resistant, Large Color Display Magnetically Mounts to Cart Frame

For the golfers out there, the Izzo Swami 6000 is among the best GPS options when hitting the green. The device comes with detailed course maps for over 38,000 golf courses worldwide. These include hole locations, distances, and other information, although the detail level varies from course to course. 

The Swami 6000 not only shows you the course map, it also lets you track your score and performance. The inbuilt scorecard feature lets you ditch the paper and pencil, while individual shot distance measurements provide useful data to pore over at home.

Range finding to the front, back, and center of the green is built-in, and auto hole advance intelligently tracks which hole you are on and adjusts the display accordingly. The Swami 6000 also has an inbuilt belt clip, so it’s easily accessible when you need it and stays out of the way when you don’t.

The auto hole advance feature, while useful in most situations, can also be a downside of this device. At times, the Izzo Swami 6000 seems to prematurely jump to the next hole, or just to another hole nearby. This can throw off tracking features, but it only seems to happen on certain courses. 

The other downside to this device is that it’s not really useful for much outside of golf. It’s not a versatile device that you’d take hunting or hiking, for instance, and will likely end up living in your golf bag. 

Pros
  • Preloaded with 38,000+ golf course maps
  • Auto hole advance and individual shot distance measurements
  • Scorecard and range finding features
  • Belt clip
Cons
  • Can prematurely jump to tracking nearby holes
  • Not useful for other activities besides golf
Buy on Amazon

Best Handheld Marine GPS: Garmin GPSMAP 78sc

Garmin GPSMAP 78sc Waterproof Marine GPS and Chartplotter

The Garmin GPSMAP 78sc is the best handheld GPS for boating and other marine activities. It comes with built-in BlueChart g2 coastal charts that cover the U.S. and Bahamas, including shorelines, depth contours, marina locations, and more.

Additional map segments can be purchased separately on SD cards, which can then be loaded onto the unit. Advanced features like wireless sharing of GPS waypoints (with other Garmin devices) sound slick, but in reality likely won’t be used too often. 

The device is water-resistant to IPX7 standard, which means the device can be submerged up to 1 meter underwater for up to 30 minutes. It also floats, so if it ever goes overboard, you have a decent chance of recovering it.

There are a few reports of the rubber seal over the charging port leaking, although given the IP rating, this is likely to be a quality control issue on specific devices rather than an inherent flaw in the product.

Pros
  • Water-resistant (IPX7)
  • Floats in water
  • Built-in BlueChart g2 U.S./Bahamas coastal charts
  • Wireless sharing of GPS waypoints
Cons
  • Rubber port covers can leak on some units
  • Use outside U.S./Bahamas requires purchasing additional charts
Buy on Amazon

Best Handheld GPS for Off-Grid Travel: Garmin inReach Explorer+

Garmin inReach Explorer+, Handheld Satellite Communicator with Topo Maps and GPS Navigation

For those who spend a lot of time off-grid, or traveling abroad, the Garmin inReach Explorer+ is an excellent option. This advanced device offers worldwide operation with 100% global Iridium satellite coverage, making it perhaps the best handheld GPS for traveling. 

A barometric altimeter lets you accurately track altitude during long treks, while detailed weather forecasts keep you ahead of changing conditions. All of the usual features like waypoint creation, route following, and preloaded topographical maps are included as well.

Where the inReach Explorer+ really shines, though, is in its emergency and off-grid features. With a subscription to the Iridium satellite service, you can track and share your location with family and friends through the Garmin app, and send and receive basic text messages from the device no matter where you are in the world. In the worst case, interactive SOS alerts can tell search and rescue operations where you are located.

The design and construction of this durable unit are excellent and battery life is great, at up to 30 hours of continuous use. It’s also IPX7-rated for water resistance, which contributes toward its only real downside: the device can feel a bit bulky due to its rugged design.

Pros
  • Worldwide operation via Iridium satellite network
  • Two-way emergency text messaging
  • Interactive SOS alerts for search & rescue operations
  • Track and share location with family and friends
  • 30 hour battery life
Cons
  • Bulky design
  • Iridium-based features require a subscription to use
Buy on Amazon

Main image via Shutterstock, product images via Amazon

About the Author
Austin Meadows

Austin Meadows

Austin is a digital nomad with a passion for exploring alternative lifestyles and testing the latest technological innovations. Rarely under the same roof for long, when he's not sampling wine and cheese in Bulgaria or downloading the latest travel app, you can find him running, gaming, or cooking up something delicious.

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