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.)

Advantages:

  • Dual GPS/GLONASS receivers use both the American and Russian satellite constellations and provides solid position fixes almost anywhere except in slot canyons
  • Accurate waypoints and tracks for serious trail mapping- as for publishing trail maps and guidebooks
  • The software never locks up
  • The unit is rugged and waterproof
  • The button-based interface means you can operate it with gloves or mittens in cold weather
  • Open-source maps are available for sources such as gpsfiledepot.com, including USGS topo maps
  • Full access to maps and data stored on the unit, without needing a cell connection
  • Long battery life that can be extended for days if the unit is turned on only for checking and recording position
  • Magnetic compass and barometric altimeter are included on the 64s, for better accuracy than GPS alone. Don't buy the 64, which doesn't have these sensors

Disadvantages:

  • Must manually transfer waypoints, tracks, and routes via USB cble or SD card
  • Do not buy the 64st with preloaded topo maps. You can get much better maps for free from gpsfiledepot.com

Garmin Oregon 700
I recommend the Oregon 700 only for non-critical use such as day hikes on trails and casual trail mapping:

Advantages:

  • Dual GPS/GLONASS receivers use both the American and Russian satellite constellations and provides solid position fixes almost anywhere out of doors except in slot canyons
  • Accurate waypoints and tracks for serious trail mapping- as for publishing trail maps and guidebooks
  • The unit is rugged and waterproof
  • Touch screens are fun and easy to use
  • Open-source maps are available for sources such as gpsfiledepot.com, including USGS topo maps
  • Full access to maps and data stored on the unit, without needing a cell connection
  • Long battery life that can be extended for days if the unit is turned on only for checking and recording position
  • Magnetic compass and barometric altimeter are included, for better accuracy than GPS alone
  • Must manually transfer waypoints, tracks, and routes via USB cble or SD card

Disadvantages:

  • The software in all the touchscreen GPS receivers I've used is not reliable- tends to freeze and lockup
  • Touchscreen doesn't work well with gloves
  • Do not buy the 700t with preloaded topo maps. You can get much better maps for free from gpsfiledepot.com

Gaia GPS and other Smartphone Apps
I recommend smart phone apps such as Gaia GPS, US Topo Map, and Backcountry Navigator for casual use only, or to supplement but not replace the Garmin 64s for critical use:

Advantages:

  • Gaia GPS saves tracks and waypoints to the cloud and make reviewing your trip on your computer easy

Disadvantages:

  • Phone GPS receivers are intended to locate 911 callers and are not as accurate and sensitive as dedicated hand-help GPS units
  • Smartphone battery may not even last for a full day of hiking if left on
  • There is no access to smartphone maps if out of cell data range, unless you think to download all the maps you'll need ahead of time- if your app allows it

Not Recommended
I do not recommend the Garmin Etrex line, either button operated or touchscreen. For the money, get a Garmin 64s. I also don't recommend the Garmin Montana series for hiking, backpacking, or other wilderness, non-motorized sports- they are too heavy and the touchscreen software is unreliable.

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