The best handheld GPS devices give you the power to navigate to the farthest corners of the Earth, track your routes, and communicate with anyone at any time from anywhere, all without a cellular connection. Whether you need a tool to help you plot your course, or you would like the safety of an emergency communicator that can reach out to search and rescue operators, there’s a handheld GPS device designed for you.
After looking at dozens of GPS devices we have identified the best on the market for your hobbies and adventures. As we reviewed these handheld GPS devices we considered features like communication functions, smartphone compatibility, and signal reception in choosing our top picks, and then we put together a detailed rundown of many more excellent GPS devices to help you find the one the best fits your needs.
We ran the numbers and have chosen the Garmin inReach Explorer+ as our overall top pick. This GPS device has every feature any intrepid explorer could ever ask for.
In This Article
The 5 Top-Rated Handheld GPS Devices
|Best Handheld GPS Device Overall
|Garmin inReach Explorer+
|Best Handheld GPS Communicator
|Zoleo Satellite Communicator
|Best Budget Handheld GPS Device
|Garmin eTrex 10
|Best Handheld GPS Data Logger
|Bad Elf Pro
|Best Handheld GPS Device for Golf
|Bushnell Phantom Golf GPS
*Ratings are from Amazon at the time of publication and can change
Best Handheld GPS Device Overall: Garmin inReach Explorer+
The Garmin inReach Explorer+ is an all-in-one outdoor navigation and communication solution. It comes preloaded with thousands of DeLorme topographic maps and includes useful tools like a digital compass, an accelerometer, and a barometric altimeter. The full-color 2.3-inch screen displays detailed maps with elevation lines, trails, roads, bodies of water, points of interest, and much more. You can use it to access even more downloadable maps including NOAA charts and aerial imagery.
Using global Iridium satellite coverage, this GPS device is capable of two-way messaging from anywhere in the world. You’ll be able to send and receive on-the-fly messages, send preset messages, and share your location data to anyone with a phone number or email address. Additionally, and perhaps more importantly, this device provides interactive SOS communication 24 hours a day and 7 days a week to emergency search and rescue services.
When paired with a mobile device like a smartphone or tablet, the Garmin inReach Explorer+ can be synced with the free Earthmate app to download additional maps, check weather forecasts, and perform other extra functions. The device is fully waterproof and has a rugged, durable outer shell. The rechargeable battery can last for weeks with appropriate use and will last for up to 100 hours with casual use. A subscription service is required for satellite two-way messaging.
Garmin inReach Explorer+ Key Features:
- Two-way messaging from anywhere in the world
- Interactive SOS to 24/7 search and rescue teams
- Pairs with mobile devices
- Built-in compass, altimeter, and accelerometer
Best Handheld GPS Communicator: Zoleo Satellite Communicator
Keep your smartphone functional wherever you roam with the Zoleo Satellite Communicator. Once paired with your smartphone, this Zoleo GPS device will enable your phone to send and receive messages from anywhere in the world whether you’re urban exploring on a European vacation or deep in the forests of Yosemite National Park. By utilizing WiFi and cellular signals when they’re available, this Zoleo device keeps your messaging costs low, but it will utilize Iridium satellite communication when necessary.
Your Zoleo device comes with a dedicated phone number and email address. It also comes with the Zoleo app, which is free, and communication through the app is also 100% free. This GPS device does require a subscription for communication services provided over the Iridium satellite network, however. The device features physical SOS and check-in buttons so that you can reach out for help or let a specified list of friends know that you’re all right.
The Zoleo Satellite Communicator is dust and waterproof with an IP68 rating, and its rugged design is shock-resistant against sudden drops or falls. The rechargeable battery will last 8 days or more, or about 200 hours, and can recharge in as little as 2 hours time. All in all, this is one of the simplest and most convenient GPS communication tools available today.
Zoleo Satellite Communicator Key Features:
- Transmits messages over WiFi, cellular, and satellite connections
- Includes a dedicated phone number and email address
- 200+ hour battery life
- Emergency SOS to 24/7 dispatch response
Best Budget Handheld GPS Device: Garmin eTrex 10
Loaded with a world base map, capable of tracking 10,000 data points, and able to save up to 200 routes, the Garmin eTrex 10 is a high-functioning GPS device. This is a fantastic GPS navigator for those who don’t need high-definition touchscreen displays and other such luxuries. It’s a perfectly capable device for backpacking adventures, hunting expeditions, and geocaching fun. You can store GPX files on this device and have it display key information such as location, terrain, and area descriptions.
The Garmin eTrex 10 is compatible with Garmin BaseCamp computer software, a program that enables you to make the most of your adventures by planning routes, marking waypoints, and downloading maps and images to your Garmin device from your home computer. Additionally, an unlimited amount of satellite images can be transferred to this device with a BirdsEye Satellite Imagery subscription.
By utilizing GPS and GLONASS satellites, this device is sure to always be connected. It has a rugged, rubberized outer shell that is rated IPX7 for its waterproof and dustproof design. The monochrome display is easy to read, and it is powered by 2 AA batteries which can provide up to 25 hours of battery life.
Garmin eTrex 10 Key Features:
- WAAS enabled GPS receiver with HotFix and GLONASS support
- Supports paperless geocaching and Garmin spine accessories
- 2 AA batteries provide 25 hours of use
- Routes portrayed on a 2.2-inch monochrome screen
Best Handheld GPS Data Logger: Bad Elf Pro
Small, lightweight, and totally discreet, the Bad Elf Pro is a powerful external GPS receiver that can log and track your movements around the world. This little device can feed GPS data to up to five different Bluetooth-enabled devices at once. You can use it in conjunction with other devices, or leave it to its own devices to log your travel data, all of which can be easily read on the backlit LCD screen which displays your latitude, longitude, altitude, direction, speed, and more.
With up to 36 hours of battery life and enough storage space for over 100 hours of data, you’ll easily be able to record your entire trip with this data logger. It’s an ideal solution for frequent travelers, hunters, long-distance bicyclists, and airline pilots who want to track their routes while carrying as small of a device as possible. Once the data has been recorded, it can be mapped via Bad Elf’s own mapping app, or the KML and GPX files can be emailed and shared as you wish.
Also included with the GPS device is a mini-USB cable for recharging, a 12V vehicle charger, and a lanyard that can be attached to the device. The Bad Elf utility app enables you to customize measurements to your liking. By using 66 channel WAAS GPS the Bad Elf Pro achieves fast satellite lock times and a 9-foot location accuracy allowance.
Bad Elf Pro Key Features:
- Can store 100+ hours of tracking data
- Backlit LCD screen can be read at night
- Rechargeable 36-hour battery life
- Can connect to up to 5 Bluetooth devices at once
Best Handheld GPS Device for Golf: Bushnell Phantom Golf GPS
A sharp-looking golf GPS with a minimalist design and easy to use interface, the Bushnell Phantom Golf GPS is our favorite of the bunch. This compact unit knows and displays the information you need for a seamless experience out on the course. It doesn’t weigh you down with unnecessary facts and a high-clarity touchscreen interface like other, more expensive gold GPS devices tend to do. Instead, Bushnell took a simple approach with the Phantom, and they struck a hole in one.
Preloaded with over 36,000 courses across 30 different countries, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a set of links that it doesn’t recognize. And if you do, there’s a good chance that it will be updated into the system eventually over its Bluetooth connection with your phone. If you do desire more data and touchscreen interactivity, just download the Bushnell app and sync this GPS to your smartphone. Here you can also program the Phantom to display all of the information you want to see.
What’s amazing is that this GPS unit will automatically recognize the course you’re playing on and display the proper information as you move about the course. It’ll update as you advance toward the hole, letting you know your distances, including the numbers for up to four hazards per hole. The rechargeable battery will last long enough for you to finish two rounds of golf. It features a clip on its backside so that you can attach it to a pocket or belt, and it has a magnetic mount for your golf cart or any other metallic surface.
Bushnell Phantom Golf GPS Key Features:
- Preloaded with 36,000 golf courses across 30 countries
- Enough battery life for two rounds of golf
- Auto course recognition and hole advance
- Tracks up to four hazards per hole
Who Should Buy A Handheld GPS Device
You likely already know if you need a GPS device for a specific activity such as land segmentation or data logging for travel. There are numerous tasks that involve traversing large portions of land that require a portable GPS device, and there are plenty of recreational hobbies that can be made more fun and interactive with a GPS device, such as golf or fishing.
Anyone who dares to adventure into the wilderness beyond the reach of cellular towers should purchase a handheld GPS device. Backpackers, hunters, overlanders, and oceanic explorers all should have a handheld GPS device that they can use to navigate the Earth and to communicate with friends, family, and emergency services.
Important Features to Consider
There are a few important considerations to think through before purchasing a handheld GPS device.
- Purpose. Why are you purchasing a GPS device? Are you heading out on a backpacking trip? A boating excursion? Do you need to log your airplane flying miles, track your golf game, or measure the area of a hillside? There are different GPS devices that are better suited to each of these purposes.
- Communication. One of the most common reasons to purchase a handheld GPS device is because you will be venturing out into the wilderness where cellular signals are not likely to be found. If this is the case, you must make sure to purchase a GPS device with communication functionality, or at the very least an SOS emergency signal function. This tool will be your lifeline in the event of an emergency.
- Signal reception. Your smartphone has a fairly weak GPS receiver, which is why it doesn’t work all that well on its own as a dedicated handheld GPS device. Dedicated GPS devices will have much better receivers, and some can receive multiple signals which improve the reception and accuracy of the device. GPS is only one style of satellite navigation signal. If you want the absolute best signal accuracy and reliability you should look for devices that utilize other signals, such as GLONASS and Galileo, as well as GPS.
- Smartphone connectivity. Many of the latest handheld GPS devices can connect to your smartphone via Bluetooth. This functionality uses the power of your GPS device and combines it with the friendly user interface of your smartphone. This results in a bigger, higher-resolution screen, a better typing platform, and more data customization.
- Screen size and functionality. If the device cannot connect to a smartphone, or you don’t want to bother with that function, then you should definitely consider the screen size, resolution, and touch-functionality of the GPS device’s own screen, if it even has one.
- Subscription plans. Most GPS devices will require you to sign up for subscription plans to use their services. These monthly fees are required in order to send and receive text messages, to download updated maps, and to communicate with emergency services. Some plans are better than others, some are less expensive, and some can be turned on and off as needed.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is a handheld GPS device used for?
There are many reasons why you may want to use a GPS device. Backcountry adventurers such as backpackers and hunters often roam far outside of cellular range and are thus disconnected from the outside world. A GPS communication device gives these explorers a way to communicate with their loved ones, team members, and emergency services. Even the most basic GPS communicators have emergency SOS functionality that connects to search and rescue operators.
Those same adventurous people can also use GPS devices with navigation abilities to locate their position on a map. These devices can help plan and track a route through the wilderness.
Other uses for GPS devices include collecting and displaying data about your golf game, surveying land, plotting coordinates for boat travel, and geocaching. The possibilities are endless.
What is the best handheld GPS for hiking?
The best type of handheld GPS for hiking is one that includes both navigation and communication functionalities. Either type can be beneficial for certain scenarios, but it’s best to have both so that you can properly navigate your intended route and call out for help if you ever are in need of it.
Can I use my phone as a GPS device?
Modern smartphones do utilize GPS, and, with the proper apps, any iPhone or Android phone can be turned into a full-functioning handheld GPS device. There are downsides, though. You’ll likely have to purchase several different apps, fill your phone storage with data-heavy maps, and the battery life will be much less than that of premium handheld GPS units. Not to mention that you’ll be putting your phone at risk of dirt, water, and damage if you frequently take it out while hiking in the backcountry. If you do use your smartphone as a GPS device, you should purchase a more powerful GPS receiver that can connect to your phone, and you should probably pack along a portable power bank as well.
Do GPS devices work everywhere?
Yes, however, objects can get in the way. GPS satellites can be accessed from anywhere in the world. If you find yourself in a cave or deep canyon, though, you may not be able to get a signal. More powerful receivers can help you better connect to GPS satellites even when you don’t have a direct line of sight to the sky. Devices that use multiple GPS signals, such as GLONASS, also give you a better chance at making a connection by accessing different GPS networks.
Other Handheld GPS Devices We Reviewed
We looked at 20 other handheld GPS devices. Even though they didn’t make our five best handheld GPS device list, they’re the best of the rest and each is still a great option for location tracking and monitoring. The information you’ll need to compare each one is included with the listing.
- Handheld GPS Communicators
- Handheld GPS Navigators
- Handheld GPS Trackers for Golf
- Budget Handheld GPS Devices
Handheld GPS Communicators
Preloaded with Garmin’s TOPO mapping, the Garmin GPSMAP 66i is both a GPS communicator and navigation tool. When cellular data is available, this device also supports live weather forecasts and geocaching data.
- Two-way messaging and SOS signal
- Up to 200 hours of battery life
- 3″ sunlight-readable screen
The ultralight version of our top overall pick, the Garmin inReach Mini is an amazing GPS tracker and communication tool. It can pair with your smartphone and other Garmin devices for enhanced communication and map functionality. It can act as a communicator and an SOS device on its own as well.
- Pairs with your smartphone for maps and texts
- Interactive SOS with 24/7 emergency services
- Up to 20 days of battery life
The Garmin Rino is a great option for groups. It’s essentially a long-range walkie talkie for voice or text, and it uses GPS tracking to show the position of multiple Rino users on its screen. This can be of great use for families who backpack or geocaching groups.
- 20-mile voice and text walkie-talkie functionality
- Position reporting can show multiple users with Rino devices
- Up to a 13-hour battery life
The goTenna Mesh turns your smartphone into a GPS communication device. You can have private chats with other goTenna users in a 4-mile range, or you can send out public emergency broadcasts. This device also includes detailed maps from all around the world for your smartphone to download.
- Pairs with your smartphone
- Relays texts and GPS locations between devices
- Up to 24-hour battery life
From the city to the wilderness, the Radacat Sattelite Communicator can keep friends and family in touch without reliance upon a cellular network. You can chat, text, and share your location with anyone else that has a Radacat device over a 6-mile range.
- Pairs with your smartphone
- Relays texts, voice, and GPS locations between devices
- Up to 36-hour battery life
The Spot 3 is an emergency GPS communication device for use by backpackers, hunters, mariners, or anyone who travels out to remote locations of the world. This can send preprogrammed messages that you create when you have computer access, and it can also be used to reach out to emergency services if you are in need.
- Connects to SOS emergency services 24/7
- Can send preprogrammed messages to friends and family
- Can send and save locations
Basically a GPS Blackberry, the Spot X can connect to any phone number or email address from anywhere in the world. You can also link it to your social media accounts to give live updates to all of your followers.
- Message any phone number or email around the world
- Connects to SOS emergency services 24/7
- Can be linked to social accounts
Handheld GPS Navigators
Go get lost without ever truly getting lost with the Garmin Camo. A full year’s subscription to BirdsEye Satellite Imagery is included, as are a quarter-million geocache locations. This unit supports GPS and GLONASS, helping it to continue to work well in bad weather and deep canyons.
- 250,000 preloaded geocaches
- Includes 1-year BirdsEye Satellite Imagery subscription
- 3-axis tilt-compensated compass and altimeter
The Garmin eTrex 32x is a suped-up version of our top budget pick. This unit is preloaded with active topo maps and routes for hikers and cyclists, and it has an SD card slot so that you can download many more maps into its system.
- Preloaded with topo active maps and routes
- 8gb of internal memory for maps plus an SD card slot
- 25-hour battery life with 2 AA batteries
Built for on-the-go minimalists, the Garmin Foretrex is a strap-on GPS device that provides you with the vital information your need for wayfinding and survival. Hunting and fishing information is included in the customizable trip computer.
- Tracks routes, tracks, and waypoints
- Optional heart rate monitor connectivity
- Features a customizable trip computer
If boating is more your style, the Garmin Marine Chartplotter is an excellent marine GPS navigator. This is preloaded with North American coastal charts that include depth contours, shorelines, information on harbors and marinas, and more.
- 2.6-inch color TFT display
- Included U.S. and Bahamas coastal charts
- Waterproof to IPX7 standards
The Garmin Montana features an 8-megapixel camera that can be controlled by its 4-inch color touchscreen. The images you take will be automatically tagged with geolocation information.
- Includes an 8-megapixel digital camera
- 4-inch full-color touchscreen
- Supports paperless geocaching GPX files
A rugged GPS unit, the Lowrance Endura is a multifunctional unit that arrives fairly bare bones out of the box, but can be improved with your own data. You can load up to 32GB of extra maps and routes onto this device. It also supports MP3 playback if you want to use it as an MP3 player.
- Preloaded with worldwide base map including roads and 200,000 points of interest
- MicroSD slot included for extra data storage
- Multimedia player includes MP3 playback
Handheld GPS Trackers for Golf
The Garmin Approach G10 is a minimalist pocket pal that provides the information you want and nothing more. This device will help you locate hazards and can layout the shape of the green ahead. It’s preloaded with over 40,000 golf courses from around the world.
- Compact to fit in your pocket or clip on a belt
- Displays the shape of the green
- Displays distances to hazards
The amped-up version of the aforementioned G10, the Garmin Approach G80 features a full-color touchscreen display that provides detailed visuals of over 41,000 different golf courses. It also has a practice mode that helps you prepare for any golf course in its data bank.
- 3.5-inch sunlight-readable touchscreen display
- 15-hour rechargeable battery
- Records clubhead speed with impressive accuracy
Navigate over any golf course with confidence and track all of your own game’s data with the Izzo Swami. This device is loaded with over 38,000 courses. It can be used to track your swing distances, in-game score, and course history.
- Integrated magnet so that you can attach it to a golf cart
- Includes a digital scorekeeper
- Can keep track of your shot distance
The SkyCadde is the handheld GPS device for golfers who want all of the information available about a golf course and every one of its holes at their fingertips. This device has up to 40 geo-referenced bits of information per hole. You can zoom in on courses and greens for more detailed visuals and info.
- Includes up to 40 geo-referenced targets per hole
- Interactive touchscreen with zoom functionality
- Detailed data of over 35,000 golf courses
Budget Handheld GPS Devices
An area measuring tool that can record the route or area of your path of travel, the BEVA GLONASS Calculator can be used for many different purposes. From trail tracking to land segmentation and hill measurements, this device will collect the data for you to do with as you wish.
- GPS area measuring tool
- Waterproof and dustproof
- 2.4-inch LCD color screen
Inexpensive but effective, the CANMORE Golf GPS provides the same information that many other golf GPS devices do, but at a cheaper price. It has nearly 40,000 courses worth of information stored within so that you can use it for golfing anywhere around the world.
- Easy to read monochrome display
- Displays green distance, hazard distance, shot distance, and scorecard
- One-year warranty
Taking a GPS reading once every second, the Dual Electronics GPS Reciever provides enhanced GPS reception and data through a smartphone app. Connect this device to your phone via Bluetooth to record up-to-the-second GPS data that can be then utilized by your other apps and devices.
- Connects with your smartphone via Bluetooth
- Provides improved GPS data through a downloadable app
- Rechargeable 8.5-hour battery life