If you are a frequent outdoor explorer and enjoy being in the countryside then a handheld GPS is going to be one of those devices that will no doubt save you time and effort on many occasions! Whether you are a walker, runner, bike rider or even a horse rider – a handheld GPS can help you find routes, keep you safe and help you get back on track.
Why Do I Need a Handheld GPS?
A handheld GPS is basically a tiny SatNav! They are used to help you map out a route that you are completing in the open countryside, and are fast becoming more reliable than using a map and a compass! Fantastic if you are a dab hand with a map and a compass – we applaud you – but even then there will be times where the weather is inclement and you may not want to get your map out to check every few minutes, or you might just want that bit of extra reassurance.
With a handheld GPS you can find routes and save them to the device so that they are ready for when you go out exploring. But, they can be used for more than just this, they can also record routes that you find, so that they can be shared with others, or for finding geocache spots.
Only Got 5 Minutes?
So now you know all the ways that a handheld GPS can be used, we understand that you are going to be in a rush to go out and purchase one! This part of the article will give you all the main pieces of information that you will need before making your purchase.
The most important thing that you need to consider when purchasing a handheld GPS is the reception that it will be able to offer! This depends largely on the antenna that is internal to the device and also the satellites that it is linked to.
Some of the best handheld GPS models also support something known as GLONASS (a different “type” of GPS). The models that offer GLONASS and GPS will be able to find your location much faster and much more accurately. They are also known as being more reliable in “tricky” GPS locations, such as in woodland or valleys.
Almost all handheld GPS devices will be light enough to be practical for taking on a walk with you. However, admittedly the lighter the device, the less you are then having to carry around with you whilst you are walking, which could be important if you have plenty of other equipment that you need to take with you as well!
The devices that we found ranged between 80g and just over 300g, which is quite a difference, particularly if you are having to carry this in your hand on a particularly tricky route. It is worth mentioning though that the handheld GPS devices at the lighter end of the scale were mostly in the style of a watch, which we will provide more information on later in the article.
The battery life of your handheld GPS is going to be vital – the last thing that you want is to get half way round a route and then find yourself stranded there with a dead battery and no idea which way to go! The battery life on most handheld GPS devices ranges massively from 16 hours to a whopping 100 hours of battery life (depending on the way in which you are using the device during the walk!).
Obviously it is rare that anyone is going to be walking for 100 hours in one go – or even 16 for that matter – but you need to consider that if you are completing a long trail, or multiple trails over a few days and camping in between, then chances are you aren’t going to be able to charge your GPS after each walk. If this is likely to be how you are using the handheld GPS then you need to opt for one with a longer battery life!
TOP TIP: It is well worth looking out for a model that has a rechargeable battery, otherwise you will find yourself having to replace the batteries every time you have finished a walk just to be sure that you have enough charge to get you through the next walk!
Most handheld GPS devices will need a decent sized memory if you are planning on saving routes. The idea is that you can choose your route at home, save it to the GPS, so that it is then ready for when you are outside and ready to go. However, you may find that you want to save a few different routes, for example if you are going on holiday or if you like to be able to look back at the different routes that you have completed. If this is the case, then you are going to need a decent memory size with your handheld GPS. The models that we looked at ranged between 1.5GB to 8GB, however some of the best handheld GPS devices will also accept microSD cards so that you can store unlimited routes!
Size and Screen Size
The idea of a handheld GPS is that they are small and compact, they need to be able to fit comfortably in your hand, but then also be kept either in your pocket or in your backpack when you are confident on the route that you are taking! The size of your device largely depends on the screen size, which ranges between 1.3inches and 4inches, depending on the style of device that you have chosen – we have provided more information about this below. However, there are other factors that will affect the size, so a bigger screen doesn’t always mean a bigger device etc. The majority of the devices (outside the watch GPS systems) range between 2in. X 4in. and 4in. X 7in. Most devices will have similar depths that allow them to sit comfortably in your hands, this tends to be around 1.4in.
It is going to be important that you choose a handheld GPS that is durable and able to withstand whatever you throw its way! If you live in the UK then chances are at some point you are going to be walking in the rain – you’d be very lucky not to – therefore you are going to need the best handheld GPS that is waterproof! We would always recommend reducing the amount of time that you have your device exposed to these conditions, but equally you are going to need it to be able to withstand the rain if you need to check the route!
Also, no matter how careful you are when you are walking, there will always be slippy rocks or bumps in the path that are there to trip you up! Equally, if your hands are cold from a long day of walking then it can be easy to drop you handheld GPS! These reasons alone mean that it is important to opt for a model that is made to survive these lumps and bumps! Many of the best handheld GPS models come with padded, rubber edgings so that they will bounce when they hit the floor. They can also be found with protective covers over the screen to help prevent any cracks or chips from forming!
What Style of Handheld GPS is Right For Me?
Now that you know the main features that you need to be considering before purchasing a handheld GPS it is important to consider the style of the best handheld GPS for you!
There are two main types of handheld GPS – a watch and an actual handheld model. A watch has the benefit of being secured around your wrist, so that you do not have to worry about losing it and keep messing with getting it out of your pocket and putting it away again. However, the screens on these devices are much smaller so can be more difficult to use and see where you are going (particularly if you are not used to using such a small device).
A handheld GPS will alleviate these problems, as they have much bigger screens, so you can see at a quick glance if you are going in the right direction! However, this bigger screen comes at a price, because you then have to find somewhere to keep your device safe whilst you are walking, because it is less than ideal to carry it around in your hand throughout the whole walk!
It is also worth considering whether you want a handheld GPS with a touchscreen or with good, old-fashioned buttons! A touchscreen device is going to mean that you get a larger screen in comparison to the size of the device, which makes it easier to navigate whilst you are walking, but they are not easy to use if you are walking in anything less than perfect weather conditions! If walking in rain or in colder weather (when you will be wearing gloves) then a touchscreen is going to prove to be rather difficult to use in comparison to the touch of a button. These reasons mean it really is down to personal preference as to what you are looking for from your handheld GPS.
Don’t forget to check for these additional features when you are making your purchase…
- Connecting to mobile devices – Many of the newer models of handheld GPS devices will be able to connect to your mobile phone. This means that you will be able to receive notifications and download new routes even when you are out walking, which could be a lifesaver if you get part way through a route and find it blocked or inaccessible for some reason!
- External antenna – This is a feature that you will either love or hate. Admittedly, an external antenna means that the device is going to be more bulky and look more “dated” but it will offer increased range and a much better satellite fix when you are out walking!
- Multi-sport mode – If you have used a handheld GPS before then you will know that they can be rather limited in what they can offer. However, many of the newer, best handheld GPS models have changed their ways! They offer multi-sport features, so that you can select if you are going to be hiking, cycling or even paddling! That way the device will alter the average speeds and the routes etc to match the activity that you are undertaking!
- Camera – Some handheld GPS models now even have a built in camera! This can be great for taking pictures of the route and saving memories whilst you are out walking. Although, it is worth noting that we struggled to find any model that had a decent enough quality camera to rival with a standard phone camera!
- SOS Service – Some of the high-end handheld GPS devices will come with SOS features, so that if you become unstuck on a particularly treacherous route then signals can be sent for someone to come and help you out!
- Planning Software – Many of the best handheld GPS devices will come with planning software that can be installed onto your computer. This will allow you to plan, track and save routes from the comfort of your own home and then upload it to the GPS device to be followed once you are in the great outdoors!
- Built in compass – Some handheld GPS models will come with an electronic compass, so that they are not replacing your map reading, merely helping you along the way!
Frequently Asked Questions
Will I need to update my handheld GPS?
Yes! You will need to update your handheld GPS every 3-4 months if you want to have the latest routes and features that are available. Different manufacturers will release updates at different points throughout the year, so this is well worth checking for. However, be mindful that some updates may not work on an older model of handheld GPS and some manufacturers may charge for the updates! This will add to your overall outlay, so always check with the manufacturer before purchasing!
What warranty will I find with a handheld GPS?
The warranty for most handheld GPS devices will be between 12 and 24 months depending on the manufacturer. This does only cover you against any defects and will not cover for wear and tear or any accidents.