Thankfully, with the invention of handheld GPS, hiking GPS watches, and smartphones with hiking apps, we can comfortably navigate the great outdoors. In this article, we’ll explore the 5 best handheld GPS for hiking. Our Expert’s Buyer’s Guide will tell you what to look for when purchasing on of these devices.
Of course we will focus on waterproof GPS devices only, true to our sites name. So, go put back up your dusty, 1534 BC star charts and listen in.
We consider you our friends, so let’s be honest here, at All Things Waterproof we’ll take a handheld GPS over a smartphone or GPS hiking watch any day. Prolonged battery life, rugged, shockproof construction designed to handle unforgiving conditions, crystal-clear, sizable map displays, and unparalleled accuracy, are just a few attributes where the handheld GPS wins over its contenders.
Granted, the smartphone, and to a lesser extent, the GPS hiking watch are said to be more user-friendly and convenient – especially for map installation and updates. As debatable as this topic is, we’d still put our chips on the handheld GPS for hiking, and the one we’ve got our sights set on is the Garmin Montana 680t. But let’s have a look at the other candidates compared side by side.
Top 5 Handheld GPS for Hiking Compared Side by Side
|Product||Garmin Montana 680t||Garmin Oregon 650||Garmin eTrex 20X||GPSMAP 64st||Garmin Rino 650t|
|Price||Check Amazon||Check Amazon||Check Amazon||Check Amazon||Check Amazon|
|Pros||4-inch screen, 8-MP Camera, Compass & altimeter, glove-friendly touchscreen||Light & compact, Dual battery system, Wireless sharing||Light & compact, Large internal memory for map loading||Quad helix antenna, Compass & altimeter, Wireless sharing||2-way radio, Compass & altimeter, Quad helix antenna|
|Cons||A bit bulky, expensive||No maps included||No compass or altimeter, Small display, No camera||Reported low battery life, No camera||Reported poor battery, No camera|
|Display Size||4" (10.2 cm)||3" (7.6 cm)||2.2" (5.6 cm)||2.6" (6.6 cm)||2.6" (6.6 cm)|
|Weight with Batteries||10.2 oz (289 g)||7.4 oz (209.8 g)||5 oz (141.7 g)||8.1 oz (230 g)||11.3 oz (320 g)|
|Battery Life||up to 16 hours (lithium-ion); up to 22 hours (AA batteries)||16 hours||25 hours||16 hours||14 hours (up to 18 hours with optional AA battery pack)|
|Battery||Rechargable NiMH pack / 3 AA batteries||rechargeable NiMH pack (included) or 2 AA batteries (not included); NiMH or Lithium recommended||2 AA batteries (not included); NiMH or Lithium recommended||2 AA batteries (not included); NiMH or Lithium recommended||removable, rechargeable lithium-ion battery pack
|Camera||Yes (8MP)||Yes (8MP)||No||No||No|
|Internal Memory||4 GB||4 GB||3.7 GB||8 GB||4.5 GB|
|Preloaded Maps||Yes (topographic)||Basemap||Worldwide basemap with shaded relief||Yes (topographic)||Yes (topographic)|
|Geocaching friendly||Yes (Paperless)||Yes (Paperless)||Yes (Paperless)||Yes (Paperless)||Yes|
|Automatic routing (turn by turn routing on roads)||Yes (with optional mapping for detailed roads)||Yes (with optional mapping for detailed roads)||Yes (with optional mapping for detailed roads)||Yes (with optional mapping for detailed roads)||Yes|
Editors Pick: The Garmin Montana 680t
The Garmin Montana 680t waterproof GPS ranks at #1 on our list. This is a great hiking GPS that supports GPS & GLONASS receiving capabilities, which is a fancy way of saying, you won’t end up on the wrong side of the river, or the sketchy part of the cliff face.
With a 4-inch dual orientation screen, the biggest of all the GPS we’ve reviewed, we’d say the Montana 680t is the best handheld GPS in our list because of its durability, its high-resolution camera, and its nice, wide touchscreen display.
It’s the most expensive device in our roundup, but its features far exceed the price tag. Its rugged build will stand up against the inevitable bumps the trail has to offer and based on our research, it’ll be your friendly tour guide for quite some time to come.
All 5 Hiking GPS Devices – Detailed Reviews
Garmin Montana 680t
Price: Check Price on Amazon
- 4-inch screen – biggest of the lot,
- GPS & GLONASS capabilities,
- 250,000 preloaded geocaches
- 8-megapixel camera
- HotFix technology
- Compass & altimeter
- Waterproof to IPX7
- A bit pricey for anyone on a tight budget
- A bit bulky in size
What’s In Store?
Our top pick in handheld GPS for hiking is the Garmin Montana 680t. As we’ve mentioned before, it’s equipped with GPS & GLONASS capabilities, an 8-megapixel camera for capturing those “Wow” moments, and 250,000 preloaded geocaches. Of course, we can’t forget the 3-axis compass and barometric altimeter.
Where In The World Is Carmen Sandiego?
The Montana 680t incorporates HotFix technology, allowing it to constantly receive satellite signals and update your current fix. This is especially great for “low coverage” areas.
A Picture Is Worth 250,000 Geocaches
The 8 megapixel, autofocus camera that comes with the Montana 680t, automatically geotags photos, allowing you to relocate the exact spot the picture was taken. Preloaded with 250,000 worldwide geocaches, wireless technology allows for these, along with waypoints, tracks, and routes to be shared.
Battery Is Found In Me
It’s been reported that with the Montana 680t, lithium-ion batteries can provide up to 16 hours of life, but as recommended by a few users on Amazon, AA batteries can give up to 22 hours. It’s always a good idea to keep a few rechargeable batteries on hand.
Icing On The Cake
A 3-axis compass and barometric altimeter provide great situational awareness and matched with a dual-orientation, 4-inch touch screen display, makes this quite the perfect GPS device. It’s sturdy, rugged and durable, so it can take its share of bumps, and as we love to hear at All Things Waterproof, it’s waterproof-rated to IPX7.
Garmin Oregon 650
- Light & compact
- Dual battery system
- Wireless sharing
- Compass & altimeter GPS & GLONASS capable
- Waterproof High-resolution digital camera
- Maps must be sourced externally
What’s In Store?
This relatively light, compact, waterproof handheld GPS rates #2 on our list of the best hiking GPS. It has a 3-inch touchscreen display, with a layout similar to that of a smartphone, dual-band, high sensitivity GPS & GLONASS satellite tracking, and a worldwide interactive basemap. It also features wireless ANT or Bluetooth sharing technology.
More Pics Please!
Similar to the Montana 680t, this Garmin hiking GPS is equipped with an 8-megapixel, autofocus digital camera. With automatic geotagging, it allows you to find your way back to the exact spot you took the picture. There’s now no reason to pack that extra camera or risk losing your smartphone over the edge of the cliff to get that perfect shot.
Double The Power. Double The Fun.
The Oregon 650 features a dual battery system. You can either use the factory issued, internally rechargeable NiMH pack, or the AA batteries you’ve brought along. Either way, double the power, double the fun.
Which Way To The Top?
With a built-in 3-axis compass, with accelerometer and tilt compensation, a barometric altimeter, and high-sensitivity GPS & GLONASS capabilities, it’s impossible to feel like Columbus with the Oregon 650. The compass will still show your heading when standing still, and holding it unleveled. The altimeter, apart from its obvious altitude reading job, can be used to plot barometric pressure over time for possible weather prediction. The GPS receiver locates your position quickly, and maintains it accurately, even in “low reception” terrain.
Did You Say Geocache, Or Was I Hearing Things?
With this “epic” waterproof GPS, you can download up to four million geocaches. Yes, we said four (4, IV, the number after 3) million! This makes your trip virtually paperless and allows you to filter these caches based on size, terrain, difficulty, type, etc.
Garmin eTrex 20X GPS
What’s In Store?
This is a relatively cheap, affordable waterproof GPS, equipped with a large 3.7GB of internal memory. It features a relatively small 2.2-inch touchscreen and includes a preloaded, worldwide basemap with shaded relief. Similar to the Oregon 650, a high-sensitivity, WAAS-enabled GPS receiver, with GLONASS support, locates your position quickly and maintains it accurately.
The More Maps, The Merrier
The large internal memory capacity, along with its microSD slot, allows for this handheld GPS device to be loaded with a variety of maps. It can support TOPO 24K, HuntView, BlueChart g2 and Navigator NT, alongside its preloaded basemap.
Fix Your Mix
Equipped with GPS & GLONASS capabilities, as well as HotFix satellite prediction, it’ll be hard to lose your way with the eTrex 20X. This hiking GPS tracking device accurately locates and maintains your fix, in heavy cover or deep canyons, where we all know coverage is sketchy at best.
What About Power?
This waterproof GPS takes 2 AA batteries. It even has a menu setting where you can tell it what type of batteries you are using, – rechargeable or non-rechargeable. Based on what some users have reported, it doesn’t seem to make a difference which setting is selected. However, if you do use rechargeable batteries, and select the rechargeable setting in the menu, you can use an external power source – for example, a cigarette lighter, to run the GPS and keep the batteries charged. Cool huh?
Garmin GPSMAP 64st
- Quad helix antenna
- GPS & GLONASS capabilities
- 8GB internal memory & microSD slot
- Compass & altimeter
- Wireless sharing
- Reported low battery life
- No camera
What’s In Store?
At 2.6-inches, the display screen on this hiking GPS is the only factor that can’t beat the Oregon 650. It’s quad helix antenna, with GPS & GLONASS capabilities, makes it a close run-in.
With a built-in worldwide basemap and 8GB of internal memory, the GPSMAP 64st is a must have for any hiker looking for a solid waterproof handheld GPS. Wireless connectivity is made possible via Bluetooth or ANT.
Where Should We Go?
The GPSMAP 64st comes fully loaded with a worldwide basemap, preloaded with TOPO 100K (full US coverage, including Alaska, Puerto Rico, and Hawaii). A microSD slot offers the possibility of loading up more maps. Need we say more?
There’s The Northern Lights
In any hiking GPS device, it’s an added comfort to have a compass and altimeter. Well, the GPSMAP 64st has got it. A 3-axis compass maintains your heading and a barometric altimeter provides accurate altitude readings.
With a quad helix antenna, and high-sensitivity GPS & GLONASS reception capabilities, much like its counterparts, this sturdy handheld GPS ensures great coverage in otherwise “low coverage” areas. So yes, you can go burn those star charts we previously mentioned.
Bring The Juice
Although there have been reports of “abysmal” battery life in the GPSMAP 64st, Garmin states you can get up to 16 hours of it, and suggests you use lithium batteries or rechargeable batteries.
Garmin Rino 650t GPS with 2-way radio
- 2-way radio
- Preloaded 100K TOPO maps
- Compass & altimeter
- Quad helix antenna
- Reported poor battery
- No camera
- Could use a volume/squelch control for the radio
What’s In Store?
One of the niftiest features of this GPS is it comes with its own built-in 5-watt, 2-way radio, which has a range of 2 miles over FRS (Family Radio Service), or 20 miles over GMRS (General Mobile Radio Service). It has a modest screen size of 2.6-inches and comes equipped with preloaded TOPO maps. Like some it’s close Garmin relatives that we’ve reviewed, an electronic compass and barometric altimeter provide outstanding situational awareness. The best part is, the antennae at the top make it look like a Rhino.
Hello? Anybody There?
With a built-in 5-watt radio, this waterproof handheld GPS offers 2-way radio communication, which goes without saying, is ideal for any potentially risky outdoor activity. With a range of 2-20 miles, dependent on the radio service being used, this is an ideal feature.
What’s Your 20?
Like its counterparts, the Rino 650t is fully stocked with quad helix antenna, GPS & GLONASS receiving capabilities with HotFix, so a dark, heavy corner is nothing to be remotely worried about.
Map It All Out And Let’s Go
Preloaded, detailed 100K TOPO maps are included, along with a built-in, 3-axis electronic compass and barometric altimeter. The altimeter is great for weather monitoring, as it shows short-term trends in atmospheric pressure.
I’ve Got The Power
As far as the power supply for the Rino 650t goes, it’s been reported that the battery needs to be installed, and the unit plugged in, in order to charge the battery. We all know how relatively inconvenient, borderline impossible, this can be out in the woods, or on the trail. So, we recommend buying the optional AA battery pack and picking up a few rechargeable batteries.
Handheld Hiking GPS Buyers Guide – Everything You Need to Know
So, we’ve given you our 5 best handheld GPS devices for hiking, based on extensive research, review reading, and collecting just about any information we can. If you are thinking of purchasing a hiking GPS, we’ve outlined a few things to be considered.
As you would have realized, based on the various handheld GPS we’ve reviewed, good satellite coverage and reception is the backbone of any GPS. After all, that’s what it was designed to do. Hiking GPS equipped with GPS, GLONASS, and HotFix capabilities are unbeatable. These guarantee consistent coverage in less than ideal areas. Think about it, with a feature like this, you can venture a little farther than you might not normally have, and more importantly, should you inadvertently find yourself in the “gray” area, you’ll be more than covered.
We as hikers traverse all types of terrain and in all kinds of conditions. Durability is relatively high on our priority list. Luckily, the majority of GPS devices are built to last. With rugged, durable, waterproof exteriors, these handheld GPS will outlast most smartphones and even some of the best GPS watches.
This should go without saying, and for a few reasons. The easier your GPS device is to use, the more motivated you will be to get out onto the trail, or summit. The size of the display plays an integral part as well. How easy the maps are to read. How easy will it be to download additional maps? How straightforward will it be to navigate the device’s menus and settings?
This is, for obvious reasons, a very important thing to consider when buying a hiking GPS. Most handheld GPS internal power sources usually provide anywhere between 16-22 hours, but we personally think the possibility of adding external batteries is a great option. Being able to connect your GPS to an external source of power, such as a vehicle’s cigarette lighter, or a portable charging source is an even better option, to avoid hiking around with a “juiceless” GPS.
Software & Other Accessories
Most of the handheld GPS we researched and reviewed came equipped with preloaded geocaches, or preloaded maps. This is important to consider especially based on the areas you intend to explore.
Additional features such as compasses and altimeters always come in handy. Good situational awareness in the outdoors increases safety tenfold. As we’ve discussed previously, altimeters that keep track of the atmospheric pressure are great for weather trend monitoring.
If you can get your hands on a GPS that comes equipped with a built-in radio, then that substantially increases your chances of survival, should an emergency occur. A built-in camera is always useful and proves for good fun. Leaving home your extra camera works out better because it’s one less thing to lose.
We all got into hiking for the fun and to experience the outdoors. To return the call of nature like we were meant to do, and embrace its sheer beauty and fulfillment. In these modern times, we’re lucky to have technology like GPS devices, that make our journeys, adventures, and expeditions easier. We hope we’ve made the task in choosing one of these handheld GPS for hiking, more of a pleasure, than a pain.
If you are not ready yet to invest your hard-earned money in a hiking GPS, then maybe these tips here are helpful for you. A very useful list of great hiking apps for your smartphone can be found here.
Images courtesy of Garmin