Best Handheld GPS

After extensive use of various apps on my Android phone, as well as the Garmin GPSMAP 64s and Garmin Oregon 600 handheld GPS receivers, I've reached some conclusions as to which options are acceptable for critical use (meaning failure could be life-threatening) and non-critical use (where failure would be inconvenient but not life-threatening). Here's a list of advantages and disadvantages for each:

Garmin GPSMAP 64s

I strongly recommend the Garmin 64s for critical use in the wilderness (wilderness meaning remote areas where there are neither roads nor motorized access.)


GPS Privacy

As more people, including myself, increasingly rely on my smartphone for street navigation, there's one glaring advantage that dedicated street GPS units still have- they don't report your position constantly. (All smartphones with Google Maps installed report your position to Google, unless you've turned off location services in your phone. The purpose of this position reporting is to collect data points which Google uses to generate the traffic data on their maps- see

Another Reason to Keep Using Map and Compass

More evidence that too much reliance on GPS navigation erodes your brain's navigational skills:


Does GPS Make the Backcountry More Dangerous?

Here's an interesting article from a recent issue of Outside magazine:


Garmin Oregon 600 vs. GPSMap 64s

Now that I have a few months experience with the Garmin 64s and Oregon 600 in the field, I can say that the 64s is the best of the two. Although the touch screen on the Oregon 600 is very usable and is the best GPS touchscreen I've used, the Oregon's fatal flaw is that the software locks up. The screen freezes and the unit doesn't respond to any of the buttons. The only way to recover the receiver is to remove and reinsert the batteries. This happens several times a day and is simply unacceptable in a navigation device.

Garmin eTrex Touch

Garmin has brought touchscreens to the eTrex line with the eTrex Touch 25, 25, and 35t. All three units have the same color screen, 1.43 x 2.15 inches (160x240 pixels), which is slightly smaller than the Oregon 600. The smaller screen is appropriate for the smaller size and lighter weight of the eTrex series. This is the same size screen used on the non-touch GPSMAP 64 series, by the way.

I have to be upfront here- I've never been a fan of the eTrex user interface- I've always preferred the interface on the non-touch units, such as the current 64 series. But I admit that I like the touch screen and the interface on the Oregon 600 series. In their favor, the eTrex units are the lightest trail GPS receivers from Garmin and they do everything that's essential in a trail GPS, so if you're a serious backpacker where weight is a concern, they're worth a close look.

Street GPS vs. Smartphone

Updated February 2015: Exploring With GPS, the Book

Garmin nüvi 57 and 58 Series

This new 2015 Garmin nüvi series of street navigators feature 480 x 272 pixel, 5-inch screens and an amazing array of features for the price. As with all stand-alone navigators, these units have the maps and points-of-interest (POI) data stored in internal memory and are not dependent on a data connection, unlike a cell phone. This means you'll have navigation guidance anywhere the unit can see the sky, even in remote areas far from cell towers.

Some of the features: Garmin "Real Directions" gives spoken directions in relation to nearby landmarks, such as "turn left after the gas station." Foursquare adds millions of new POIs, and "Direct Access" guides you into parking lots and makes it easier to find a specific shop within a large shopping mall. Junction view shows you a picture of upcoming exits, with an arrow in the correct lane- really useful for multi-lane exits. School zone warnings give you advance notice of special speed limit zones and school crosswalks.

All of these nüvi's are compatible with the Garmin BC 30 Wireless Backup Camera. Up to four of these cameras can wirelessly send images to the receiver.

The 57 series includes maps and POI's of the lower 49 states, while the 58 series adds Alaska and Canada. The base 57 and 68 models have maps that can be updated by purchasing updates as desired, while LM models have free lifetime map updates, and the LMT models also have free lifetime traffic.

Garmin nüvi 67 and 68 Series

This new 2015 line of nüvi street GPS receivers have the same features as the 58 line but with a 800 x 480 pixel, 6-inch screen. The 67 series includes maps and POI's of the lower 49 states, while the 68 series adds Alaska and Canada. The LM models have free lifetime map updates, and the LMT models also have free lifetime traffic.


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