For the serious hiker or outdoors person, it’s critical to have a dependable map you can trust. Gone are the days of reading a paper topo map and orientating with a compass, although these are excellent skills to have. Relying on a smartphone for maps and guidance can lead to problems when you leave the service area, or find gaps in the terrain mapping. The best option is a dedicated handheld GPS with detailed topographical maps.
Since your safety, and possibly your life, may depend on finding your way in the wilderness it’s critical to choose a handheld GPS that is reliable, accurate and with a good battery life. In this review, we focus on GPS mappers / trackers from Garmin including the Oregon 700, GPSMAP 64st and inReach Explorer+.
Overview of Garmin Handheld GPS
Garmin GPSMAP 64st – about $265, 2.6-inch screen, unit is 6.3 x 2.4 x 1.4 inches, 9 ounces; GPS/GLONASS, Bluetooth, ANT+, NEMA 0813; Geocaching, weather, compass and altimeter; IPx7 water-proof.
Garmin Oregon 700 – about $349, 3-inch screen, unit is 4.5 x 2.4 x 1.3 inches, 8 ounces; GPS/GLONASS, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, ANT+; Geocaching, weather, compass and altimeter; IPx7 water-proof.
Garmin inReach Explorer+ – about $420, 2.3-inch screen, unit is 6.5 x 2.7 x 1.5 inches, 8 ounces; Iridium messaging; GPS/GLONASS, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, ANT+; Geocaching, weather, compass and altimeter; IPx7 water-proof.
Top Choice – Oregon 700
The Garmin Oregon 700 Handheld GPS (about $349) is our top choice for general purpose handheld GPS. We like the features that you get for this price, and overall usability.
Positioning and tracking is done with dual GPS / GLONASS satellite services. Most devices use just the GPS system, and it’s helpful to have the added Russian developed GLONASS, especially the further North or South you travel.
Reception is excellent in open areas. But like many GPS units, it’ll drop down to just one bar in urban centers with many tall buildings blocking signals, and sometimes under very dense tree canopies.
The Oregon 700 has expanded wireless connectivity featuring Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and ANT+ (Garmin’s proprietary communications protocol). Pair with your cell phone to get Bluetooth enabled smart notifications and automatic uploads to Garmin Connect online community (where you can analyze, categorize and share data).
With Garmin Connect IQ, you can customize the Oregon 700 with data fields, widgets, and apps. Create “Activity Profiles”, using the simplified multi activity menu interface, to include: climb, hike, hunt, bike, kayak, trail ride, geocache, fish and more.
One nice feature is how rugged this handheld is compared with many others. It has an IPx7 water proof rating, which is great for using in a rain storm or accidentally dropping into a stream.
It also make it easy for clean-up after a long hike since you don’t have to worry about splashing it with water to get off the dust and dirt.
Other features include:
- 3-axis accelerometer to provide a tilt-compensated electronic Compass and Barometric altimeter. The Compass works while in motion or standing still. The altimeter accurately monitors ascent and descent; The barometer can be used to predict weather changes by showing short-term trends in air pressure.
- Geocaching Live – The wireless Wi-Fi link and Bluetooth links allow setting the Oregon 700 to automatically stay up to date with all the latest caches from Geocaching website.
- Active Weather – Provides animated radar overlays and a complimentary 1-year BirdsEye Satellite Imagery subscription
The 3-inch diagonal screen, takes up most of the face of the 4.5 x 2.4 x 1.3 inch handheld. It reminds us of the early iPhones. At about 8 ounces, it weighs in the same as most other devices.
All this adds up to our top choice designation.
Get the latest pricing, and order through Amazon using this link: Garmin Oregon 700 Handheld GPS.
Low Price – GPSMAP 64st
The Garmin GPSMAP 64st, (about $265), is the lowest price handheld we review here. And it is one of the most compact on the market. The 2.6-inch diagonal screen (1.43″ W x 2.15″ H) fits nicely in the 6.3 x 2.4 x 1.4 inch, 9 ounce, handheld. With the smaller screen is a comparable reduction in resolution – 160 x 240 pixels.
It comes preloaded with TOPO 100K maps, which include coverage of the full U.S., including Alaska, Hawaii and Puerto Rico.
For additional mapping, the 64st is compliant with:
- TOPO US 24K
- BlueChart g2
- City Navigator NT
- BirdsEye Satellite
It also has 250,000 preloaded caches for paperless caching from Geocaching.com .
The GPSMAP 64st has a quad helix antenna for high-sensitivity reception from both GPS and GLONASS satellites. While it may feel a little bulky, it makes for great reception even in deep canyons where signal strength is often diminished.
There are a few other features which differentiate the GPSMAP 64st from the Oregon 7000:
We like that the 64st has a micro-SD card slot for added memory on top of the built-in 8 GB.
(Related – Best Micro-SD Cards Reviewed)
Wireless connectivity is with standard Bluetooth or ANT+; While there is no WiFi on this unit, it does add wired USB-2.0. For boaters, the 64st is NMEA 0183 compatible (National Marine Electronics Association).
For VIRB action camera owners, you can control the shutter with the GPS unit for added convenience.
It’s easy to plan out a trip with this handheld GPS using the included “BaseCamp” app. It’s software that lets you view and organize maps, waypoints, routes and tracks. This free trip-planning tool even allows you to create Garmin Adventures that you can share with friends, family or fellow explorers.
BaseCamp displays topographic map data in 2-D or 3-D on your computer screen, including contour lines and elevation profiles. It also can transfer an unlimited amount of satellite images to your device when paired with a BirdsEye Satellite Imagery subscription perfect companion for all your outdoor pursuits.
The remaining specs are very similar to the Oregon 700, including:
- IPx7 water rating
- 3-axis compass with barometric altimeter
- Complimentary 1-year BirdsEye Satellite Imagery subscription
- Smart Notifications to wirelessly receive email, texts and alerts from your compatible iOS phone
Check out more specs, customer reviews and current pricing for this best-priced handheld GPS with this Amazon link: Garmin GPSMAP 64st .
Iridium Communications – inReach Explorer+
The Garmin inReach Explorer+, (about $420), is at the top of the price range for handheld GPS, but has one feature that sets it apart: 100% global Iridium satellite coverage.
Iridium is a private communications network with 66 active satellites in orbit, enabling two-way text messaging from anywhere. The only downside is that like your cell phone, you need a subscription to use it. Fortunately, it’s a reasonable price for texting literally anywhere on earth – starting around $12/month with first 10 texts included (about $0.50/text after that). We cover this in detail in our Iridium Communications Devices review.
FYI – For easier messaging, you can also sync your inReach device with your phone’s contact list to reach anyone, anywhere – with fewer keystrokes
The Explorer+ has a 2.3-inch diagonal screen in a compact 6.5 x 2.7 x 1.5 inches, and light-weight at 8 ounces. It comes preloaded with DeLorme TOPO maps. You can also pair it with mobile devices using the free Earthmate app for access to downloadable maps, U.S. NOAA charts, color aerial imagery, etc.
Similar to the other Garmin GPS hand-helds, you get:
- built-in digital compass
- barometric altimeter
- 3-axis accelerometers
You can always find out the weather using the optional inReach weather forecast service. This provides detailed updates directly to your inReach device, compatible smartphone or tablet paired with the Earthmate app.
It’s great to know what conditions to expect en route. Basic and premium weather packages are offered. And you can request weather forecasts for your current location or any other waypoint or destination on your itinerary.
In addition to the text messaging, you can easily trigger an interactive SOS to the 24/7 search and rescue monitoring center. This works through dedicated communications with GEOS, the world leader in emergency response solutions and monitoring.
GEOS has supported rescues in more than 140 countries, saving many lives in the process. And they’re standing by 24/7/365 to respond to your SOS, track your device and notify the proper contacts and emergency responders in your area. Then, while help is on the way, GEOS will continue to text back and forth with you, providing updates and critical information until your situation is resolved.
We like that this has a rechargeable, internal lithium ion battery. The sealed unit has an IPx7 water-rating, so no worries about getting it wet.
While this does cost more, and you need to pay for service to enable everything, it is the best all-in-one device for the serious outdoors enthusiast. Comparing this with Iridium communication devices, you get a lot more for your investment.
We most like that if you ever find yourself in a situation, this can be a literal life-saver.
You can use the Amazon links below to get more information, pricing and to order:
- Garmin GPSMAP 64st – about $265
- Garmin Oregon 700 – about $349
- Garmin inReach Explorer+ – about $420
So readers, which GPS handheld is your favorite? Please add your recommendations to the comments below.