Global Positioning System (GPS) devices are ubiquitous today; however, what role do these devices have when it comes to navigating in the hills and mountains? Some wonder if they can you use their iPhone or Samsung to help navigate outdoors. Do you need to buy a standalone GPS device if you have a navigation app on your phone?
Handheld GPS devices are designed to withstand shock and water and also equipped with powerful rechargeable batteries that can be replaced with standard batteries. If you are merely a recreational hiker, you may be fine off just using a smartphone. But if you often do long hiking tours on a hard-to-navigate terrain, you will know the difference.
What to Look For
It should be at least 10-15 hours so that you don’t have to replace the batteries too often & most can be used with supplied rechargeable battery as well as with standard alkaline batteries. Some models come with a dual battery system, which gives you the option of using the rechargeable lithium-ion pack or traditional AA batteries.
It should be robust, have a waterproof design and offer good shock resistance.
It should be equipped with at least 2-inch display & provide decent resolution. This is needed so you can read the maps clearly. If it’s a touch screen model, it needs a large screen.
Hikers and mountain climbers always look at cutting down weight & therefore a GPS shouldn’t add to it.
Buttons vs. Touch screen
Touch screens are faster as you don’t need to scroll through the options (buttons); however they use more battery, can freeze up in cold conditions, and don’t work as well with thick gloves.
They usually come with a micro SD card and/or store data internally. This is useful to store map data, waypoints, routes and in some models, even audio, pictures and video. More memory = more data.
These days a few more features are desirable like wireless sharing, built-in camera & two-way radio.
5 Best Handheld GPS for Mountain Climbing
Garmin Oregon 600
The Oregon 600 Garmin GPS Unit offers dependable and easy-to-use GPS mapping and positioning & comes with bright color TFT touch screen display and many innovative functions. The GPS system comes complete with a worldwide base map, NiMH battery pack, USB cable for charging and carabiner clip. This has GLONASS capabilities and significant screen and interface improvements over the older Oregon 450.
Dimensions - 4.5 x 1.3 x 2.4 inches
Weight - 7.36 ounces
- Fast map redraw
- Customizable menu options
- Long battery life and dual orientation screen
- Rechargeable battery
- Sensitive screen and sometimes freezes up
- Limited base camp interface
The Oregon 600 takes the touch screen outdoor recreation GPS to the next level and this device is a huge improvement over all other existing touch screen units. It’s a winner for its stunning display, easy to use interface, and fast speed. Like a Smartphone in function, this handheld GPS will help you get anywhere you need to go.
Magellan eXplorist 510
It’s a rugged handheld GPS with camera, microphone and speaker to record all your actions and navigate the outdoors. It allows users to navigate while keeping waypoints, photos and notes along the way. If you are used to carrying a cell phone or other sleek device, the eXplorist 510 will feel rather heavy and large. Since the device is waterproof, it is usable regardless the conditions which may be important if you get caught in a surprise rain or snow storm. With a current price of about $325 it’s for people who are looking for a few more advanced features, like expandable storage, and cool perks like a built-in camera, but still want something that is easy to use.
Dimensions - 65.3mm x 128mm x 36.8mm
Weight - 195g
- 3.2 MP camera, video and voice recorder, touch screen & detailed baseman
- World Edition Preloaded Map
- Online Experience Sharing
- Brilliant, Sunlight Readable 3.0" Touchscreen
- Non-rechargeable battery
- Poor screen quality
- Split keyboard could be annoying
With all the features, it’s incredibly versatile. The Magellan eXplorist 510 comes with all the bells and whistles. If you like to take videos, pictures, and voice recordings on all your adventures, this may be the device for you.
Garmin eTrex 30x
The eTrex 30x has a 2.2 inch 65K color TFT display, which looks good, even in direct sunlight. It also has a shaded relief worldwide base map, and 3.7GB internal memory plus a microSD card slot for adding detailed mapping. It supports BirdsEye Satellite Imagery, Garmin Custom Maps, as well as detailed street, topo or marine mapping. Simple interface & you can store 2,000 locations with the push of a button, and give them a meaningful name.
Dimensions - 4 5.4 x 10.3 x 3.3 cm (2.1" x 4.0" x 1.3")
Weight - 5 ounces
- Built-in Sensors – comes with built-in 3-axis tilt-compensated electronic compass and a barometric altimeter which tracks changes in pressure to pinpoint your precise altitude, and you even can use it to plot barometric pressure over time
- Internal memory expanded to hold more maps
- Worldwide basemap with shaded relief
- Waterproof design meets IEC 60529 lPX7 standards (can be submerged to 1m for up to 30 min.)
- MicroSD™ card slot for storing additional data
- Light, close-fitting carrying case with belt clip helps protect the GPS
- Not recommended in cold weathers - it has to be carried in a pocket to keep the batteries warm
It automatically creates a 10,000 point breadcrumb trail as you walk with it too, which means you'll never get lost returning to your start point, or backtracking. Its easy-to-use interface means you'll spend more time enjoying the outdoors and less time searching for information.
DeLorme Earthmate PN-60
The DeLorme Earthmate PN-60 is an upgrade for the PN 40 with improved battery life, expanded internal memory, and activities (similar to Garmin’s profiles). Power management is one of the biggest improvements, as short battery life was a common complaint with the PN-40.
Dimensions - 5.25"H x 2.43"W x 1.5"D
Weight - 7 oz.
- Uses a full size SD card, rather than a micro
- Topo USA vector maps load easily
- Improved battery life and bright screen
- 3-axis electronic compass; barometric altimeter
- Waterproof high-sensitivity receiver with predictive GPS for fast satellite fix
- Small screen and fonts
- Limited track navigation functionality
- Weak highway navigation capabilities
The DeLorme Earthmate PN-60 offers mapping capabilities that will impress any hiker or navigator and the easy to use menu system provides the user simple one handed operation. The rugged, reliable Earthmate PN-60 delivers proven GPS capabilities, plus DeLorme's market-leading map and aerial imagery displays.
Garmin GPSMAP 64s
This is an incredible product that is water resistant and rugged and comes with barometric altimeter, 3-axis compass, 4GB internal memory and an outdoor optimised dual battery system, staying connected wirelessly to Garmin sensors via ANT+ and to your smart phone through Bluetooth. The 64s offers not only GPS, but support for the Russian GLONASS constellation as well.
Dimensions - 1.4 x 4.2 x 6.3 inches
Weight - 9.28 ounces
- Fantastic reception even in thick coverage
- Share wirelessly features and smart notifications (connect to your smartphone)
- Sunlight-Readable 2.6" color display• Sunlight-Readable 2.6" color display
- Dual battery system
- Expanded Internal Memory 4GB
- Weak basemap, larger size, non-rechargeable batteries
So what are you waiting for? Take charge of your next adventure with BaseCamp™, software that lets you view and organize maps, waypoints, routes and tracks. This free trip-planning software even allows you to create Garmin Adventures that you can share with friends, family or fellow explorers.
Handheld GPS devices can be invaluable for backpackers, climbers and hikers. With so many different types of GPS units in the market, it can be hard to determine which one is right for you. After having reviewed the best from the market, we hope you’ll be able to make your choice.