Zoopy is reader-supported. When you buy through links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission. Learn more

Outdoor Handheld GPS Devices

Last Updated:

A handheld GPS is an invaluable tool for navigating the backcountry and finding your way around. Whether deep bush or open waters, this device will guide you with advanced features that are hard to find on other devices. 

The potential downside to these devices is that the maps can be outdated quickly if not constantly updated by the manufacturer (which many aren't).

There may come a time when your means of communication stops working when you get lost deep in the woods, but at least you'll have a handheld GPS that can guide you back home if you ever get lost.

For those who love the great outdoors, this article discusses how to choose and use handheld GPS units for your needs.

What Is GPS?

The U.S Department of Defense initially developed GPS or Global Positioning System for military purposes. Still, it became available to the public in the 1980s when it started being used exclusively in cellular phones with limited accuracy at best. Since then there have been many developments regarding its use which include cars and boats among others.

GPS is a navigation system used in different applications to provide accurate information about the location. Most GPS devices have an internal antenna that can easily access your location, so it's easy for them to get your current coordinates and estimate how fast you're going and what altitude.

How Handheld GPS Works?

handling gps unit

Handheld GPS units use satellite triangulation to determine and display the user's current location on an interactive digital map. Hikers, bicyclists, runners, or anyone who goes off-road can benefit from these handy gadgets by using them for navigation in unfamiliar territory that would otherwise leave them lost without help.

The GPS device is a vital navigation tool that can pinpoint your location with relative accuracy. Using signals from at least three satellites, it locks onto three to triangulate its signal and determine where you are on earth's surface at any given time. The more satellites the receiver locks onto, the better and faster its accuracy is.


Where Can We Use GPS Devices?

The device will work anywhere there are clear signals from the GPS satellites. This includes deserts, mountains, and tundra, so it's perfect for your next hiking adventure.

What Affects The GPS Signal?

While the Global Positioning System is a critical service for modern society, it does have its limitations. The GPS uses radio signals in frequencies (spectrum) for navigating around the world.

To ensure that this service continues without interruption, we must protect it from interference, such as nearby RF bands or intentional jamming devices. But there is also bad weather that could disrupt its operation.

Bad Weather

Thick clouds can cause a bad signal reception or total loss of GPS signals, but rain and snow don't affect or weaken the GPS signal. These elements only decrease the strength of the antenna gain by 2dB when compared with other factors such as buildings or physical obstructions, where there could be 180 dB in losses.

The hardware of GPS

The quality of your GPS device says a lot about the accuracy it receives. One crucial part is that you have high-quality GNSS chips, which will provide better signal strength and shorter response time from satellite reception by providing an ideal environment to pinpoint one's location quickly.


Navigating with a GPS is challenging because of the physical obstructions in your current location. For example, trees, buildings, and other structures can disrupt or block signals that cause delay and error, making it difficult for you to complete navigation data strings.

GPS Antenna Place

To receive a clear GPS signal, you need an open sky. If your antenna is integrated into the device or multiple layers of shielding are blocking the antennas, then reception can become delayed and unreliable.

You will also experience errors with coordinates when they're not appropriately received because this increases latency on how quickly data arrives at its destination.

GPS Battery Advice

Lithium batteries are the way to go if you're going on an overnight trip, so check if your batteries are fresh and working before the adventure. Always carry a good spare pair of batteries. The battery-saving mode may help you preserve your device's power. (Check if your unit has this mode), and lower your display brightness to extend the battery.

What Features to Look for in a Handheld GPS

gps outdoor

Ease of Usage

The more complicated your GPS is, the less likely you will understand all of its features.

It should offer good accuracy and have an easy-to-use interface for programming destinations into maps or checking where precisely we are located at any given moment.


A lot of people don't know what type of maps they have, but it's essential. Maps can be topographic, road, and waterway with other types purchased if necessary for your area.

Having a detailed map is essential in planning any project, so make sure you figure out which one best suits you before starting anything.


If you want the best experience possible, your GPS navigator must meet all of your needs. For example, some might only allow for wireless data exchanges like coordinates and geocaches. In contrast, others offer more in-depth access to other devices such as computers or heart rate monitors.

GPS Device Checklist

Before you leave for an adventure, first make sure to check all of the below bullet points.

  • Find a way to recharge your batteries
  • Have enough data and memory for your trip ahead
  • Share your plans with someone close, so they know where you are if something bad happens
  • Learn where the key landmarks are and what they look like
  • Test out the device at your local place for practice

How To Choose Handheld GPS 

GPS devices are being used not just by hikers but also for camping trips and fishing excursions that require navigating through unfamiliar territory with minimal distractions. Here's a couple of things to keep in mind when choosing a handheld GPS.

Ease of Use

Do you prefer buttons or a touchscreen? This is essentially a matter of personal preference, but we'd recommend going with the touchscreen unit if you want easy access and navigation. But for winter hikes, gloves will make operating any device tricky or even impossible without removing them. In that case, go with the buttons.

Screen Size and Quality

You can get a GPS device with just the correct screen size and display quality for your eyesight. For example, the Garmin eTrex 10, while not offering full-color visuals as modern smartphones do, has a 128x160 pixel display that still provides enough detail.

The Garmin Montana 700 is a high-end outdoor adventurer that features widgets that provide information at a glance and excellent durability. In addition, the full-color display has 480x800 pixels, making it easier for you to read the screen without having to squint or strain your eyes to see what's on there.

The difference in price between these two models is quite noticeable, so it's essential to consider how much you want or need for your adventures before deciding on a GPS device.

Short Overview of Garmin eTrex 10

For those who are just getting started or want something light, the Garmin eTrex 10 GPS is perfect. With fast satellite acquisition and an intuitive UI that anyone can use, it makes geocaching even more fun, and you will love it for its ruggedness.

The eTrex 10 is a reliable and accurate option for tracking, making it great on short hikes or day trips. In addition, it's durable enough that you can take this in bad weather without worrying too much about the outdoors.

The eTrex 10 is a functional and straightforward GPS device, perfect for needing any additional features. It has an easy-to-use interface with little storage space, so you can save all your favorite routes on Garmin BaseCamp later if required.

Short Overview of Garmin Montana 700

The Garmin Montana 700 is an investment for the serious backcountry huntsman. However, it could be helpful anywhere from wilderness areas to construction sites or military operations. With a high resolution, 5-inch diagonal touchscreen, and support for an unlimited subscription to Garmin's BirdsEye map database of satellite imagery, it is easy to see why this device would be such an asset in any professional environment.

The Montana 700 is a powerful all-around unit that can handle just about anything you throw at it. Unfortunately, its large size means less versatility for backpacking and hiking. Still, this high-tech marvel has everything else covered, like exceptional satellite reception with a fast processor & precise altimeter/barometer sensors.

The most suitable GPS for those who venture into the backcountry is a mounted unit. The lightweight and small size make it easy to fit in your vehicle's cup holder or glove compartment without weighing you down on long treks through rough terrain where carrying extra equipment can be cumbersome.


Premium Features

gps maps

There are several premium features that you should look for when buying a GPS device for hiking or other outdoor activities.


GPS units can be inaccurate because they have a limited range, but barometric sensors give more detailed information. For example, a change in weather will show up as soon as you start experiencing low or high pressure with your altimeter reading on an altitude adjustment depending on what is going on outside at any given time.

Electronic Compass

When you're on the move, any GPS unit will be able to tell where your current location is. But when it comes time for a break and some rest to get oriented again, only those with an electronic compass can guide you back towards home or elsewhere without getting lost.

Geocaching features

GPS devices are great for geocaches, as they can tag and take pictures of found caches.

Two-way messaging

You will be able to stay in contact with loved ones while you are deep into the wilds, thanks to this two-way messaging feature the Garmin inReach Explorer+ has.

When you're out there exploring, the last thing on your mind is calling for help. But with satellite communicators like Garmin inReach Explorer+, it's an easy way to ensure that if anything goes wrong while hiking or backpacking (a lot can happen), you'll get assistance as soon as possible.

Wireless Data Transfer

This feature is the perfect way to share your adventures with friends and family. For example, the Garmin GPSMAP 66sr can sync data (tracks, waypoints, photos) on your hiking trip. This is the ideal gift for any hiker who loves hiking and technology.

Written by Carl Browning

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Back to top