t doesn’t matter whether you're crossing a street or a continent, a GPS can help you stay on course. Without a map, there’s always the danger of losing your way. But not all GPS devices work the same. When it comes to accurately pinpointing a location, only a few brands can be trusted.
Headquartered in Olathe, Kansas, Garmin delivers high-end GPS tech for various markets, including marine, aviation, outdoor activities, and fitness. Because of reliable hardware in combination with constantly updated software, Garmin has turned into the go-to brand for handheld GPS gadgets.
What makes Garmin Handled GPS units special?
While there are a dozen brands over the world manufacturing exceptional GPS units, Garmin stands head over heels above them. Here’s why!
The primary benefit of a handheld GPS device is the sheer number of maps available to a user. These maps put any desired location within reach. Many Garmin devices come with a free base map feature suitable for both city use and off road undertakings. And the best thing about handheld GPS is that unlike a smartphone, you don’t even need a cell signal to utilize these routes while traveling as these maps do not require an internet connection. Additionally, there are several companies that produce back road maps on micro SD card that are specially designed to work with Garmin GPS units. These maps provide a high level of detail displaying additional map features such as hiking trails, fishing spots, and hunting areas.
How many handheld devices enable you to accurately log your distance, speed and elevation in a foreign location? Not many! While many manufacturers have introduced products that offer distance and speed tracking, they lack backcountry maps, making them useless for navigation in unfamiliar areas. And it’s not just that, Garmin Handheld GPS devices can monitor much more than speed and distance. For example, they can track your heart rate, pedal credence, pace, and much more with additional accessories.
Garmin has introduced units that are waterproof and shockproof to a military standard, making them last for longer durations during any kind of outdoor expedition. Because of this reason, Garmin units are much more durable and reliable to use in different weather conditions. So whether you are navigating through the deserts of Nevada or the rainforest of Brazil, a Garmin GPS remains your most reliable ally.
Types of Garmin GPS units
Based on different functionalities, we can separate the Garmin GPS units into the following categories
A wide range of Garmin units come with wireless connectivity features such as Bluetooth, ANT+, WiFi, and multi-satellite operation. These devices allow you to automatically share your routes and location with your friends, family, or online fan base, helping you stay safe during your travels.
Some high end and expensive Garmin GPS units come equipped with an integrated camera. For instance, the Oregon 650 has a built-in 8 megapixel camera where each photo gets geotagged. Such GPS units have maximum internal memory for storage and accept microSD cards to view the pictures on other devices. These camera equipped models have poor software integration so don't expect a picture as nice as the latest iPhone.
Key features to consider
Below are the factors to consider before purchasing any handheld GPS unit
It should have at least a 2 inches display so that you can clearly map your route. You don’t want to mistake something on your map for a potentially unsafe zone and take up a longer course. Also, make sure the resolution of the screen is decent enough with realistic features for safe travels.
What good is a handheld device if it weighs a ton? That’s obviously exaggeration, but you get the point. Consider it’s weight so that you don’t have to drag yourself down along the way. Especially in case you are hiking for long distances, a heavier handheld GPS will weigh you down. So choose the model with the lowest weight if you're an ultralight enthusiast.
An ideal handheld GPS comes with a lot of memory and storage space. However, it all comes down to the memory card. Some devices have internal memory cards, while others support microSD cards. Internal cards need data connection, which isn’t suitable for routes that go beyond the regular routes. Make sure your handheld GPS has enough memory and an SD card slot feature to help you store as much info, waypoints, and tracks as you need.
Compass & Altimeter
A compass comes in handy to accurately point you towards your destination. Modern handheld GPS devices have an electronic compass, which is much more accurate and reliable in the middle of nowhere. Similarly, the altimeter is useful when you are traversing through different elevations.
Reviews of the best Garmin GPS units
1. Garmin GPSmap 66i GPS Handheld and Satellite Communicator
Thanks to its integrated inReach services, tough, sturdy profile, large color display, amazing battery performance, the 66i is one of the best Garmin Units to come out of Taiwan.
The battery life of this device depends on the tracking mode you are using. For instance, it offers up to 200 hours of non-stop performance in the expedition mode with 30-minute tracking. It reduces to 35 hours when you opt for 1 or 10-minute tracking modes. Its screen can be a little brittle, so make sure you are using a screen protector before taking it outdoors.
Moreover, it utilizes the Multi Global Navigation Satellite System making this device ideal for use anywhere in the world. As it is fully compatible with the Garmin Explore website and mobile app, you can access weather forecasts, manage routes information, use tracks left by others, and review the actual trip data from the fields. Sounds great, right?
Overall, the Gpsmap 66i promises to help you navigate the tough treks with confidence, and it certainly does so. Although this device is a little on the expensive side, the overall value for the cost is amazing.
• Integrated inReach Capability for satellite communications
• Comes preloaded with Garmin TOPO maps
• Multi Global Navigation Satellite System
• Up to 200 hours of battery performance in the expedition mode
• Integration with the mobile app is not user friendly
2. Garmin inReach Explorer Plus Handheld Satellite Communicator
Here’s an excellent option for people traveling for a longer duration and want to keep communicating with their loved ones. It comes preloaded with a map of North America, an emergency beacon, 3 axes digital compass, and a barometric altimeter.
The two-way communicator works like a charm helped by great battery life, allowing you to stay in contact always. Besides, every message gets tagged with location data so your family and friends can always track your location.
What’s more, it has a compatible Earthmate application, which means you can sync up all of your devices in order to store your route information or access your contacts whenever needed.
The housing is water-resistant with a water rating of ipx7. It is also dustproof to keep your device working when the weather gets crazy. The only limitation of this model is its non-replaceable battery.
• 2-way message functionality
• Great battery life
• Built-in emergency beacon
• Weatherproof casing
• Non-replaceable battery
3. Garmin Etrex 32X, Rugged Handheld GPS Navigator
The Etrex 32x offers the same ease-of-use, unmatched durability, and affordability that the Garmin’s eTrex handheld GPS series is known worldwide. Besides, the preloaded TopoActive maps make it ideal for hiking, rowing, cycling, or ATVs.
The 2.2 inches display offers 240x320 display resolution making it easy to read even in bright sunlight. Additionally, it supports the GLONASS satellite system along with the GPS, which allows for more precise tracking in challenging topographies.
The battery life is decent, offering up to 25 hours in the GPS mode. Further, the device comes with 8GB of internal memory which can be further extended with the help of a microSD card. So you can integrate satellite images with your map if you want. Our only minor complaint is the preloaded maps take up most of the storage space, leaving very little for the images. Which means you have to purchase a storage card.
Like the other GPS units mentioned above, it also features a 3 axis digital compass and a barometric altimeter. That said, if you are looking for a basic Garmin GPS handheld device for outdoor exploits with some decent features, Etrex 32x is a good option.
• GPS and GLONASS satellite system compatibility
• Easy to use handheld device
• 3 axis digital compass + barometric altimeter
• The preloaded maps take up most of the storage space
No matter where your outdoor activity takes you, there’s always a Garmin handheld GPS unit available to keep you safe and make the trip worth remembering. Modern smartphones, when used for GPS tracking, are accurate within 5 meters distance. Handheld GPS units, on the other hand, are professional devices that offer much more precise information as they rely on multiple satellites. The three devices mentioned above have been tried and tested by users worldwide for their amazing performance. However, don’t forget to keep the buying factors in your mind before heading out for a purchase. Happy tracking!