Handheld GPS Buyers Guide

If you have done much research on handheld GPS units you have likely realized that there are hundreds to choose from. Hopefully you have some idea as to what kind of GPS device will suit your needs best. Now it is just a matter of knowing exactly what features to look for.

How Does a Handheld GPS Receiver Work?

GPS stands for ‘Global Positioning System’. Handheld GPS units receive data from four or more satellites in order to provide the user’s position.

The technologically advanced GPS receivers on the market today are able to provide extremely accurate information and can typically predict your location anywhere within 10 – 100 feet.

Important Features to Look For

WAAS Enabled
A good majority of handheld GPS units are WAAS enabled and this is a really good thing. The Wide Area Augmentation System (WAAS) is based on a network of 25 ground-reference stations. GPS receivers that are capable of reading WAAS signals are able to provide far more accurate information. They can fix your position to less than 10 feet which can make a major difference if you are traveling by ground.

Waypoints are reference points that help to show your location. Many handheld GPS units are able to store waypoints. You can either program waypoints before you set off or while you are traveling. They leave a type of breadcrumb trail that aids the unit in sorting the routes of interest to you. This can be very important so watch that the GPS unit you are looking at is able to do this.

500 Waypoints
Different models will offer a different amount of user-entered waypoints. Look for a model that offers at least 500 waypoints. How many are needed will really depend on the person and how it is being used. However with the possibility of 500 waypoints you are covered whether you are on the road, in the wilderness or on the water.

Each GPS receiver will come with different types of maps. Decide what type of maps you will need most and how detailed you would like them to be. Check to ensure that there is storage space for uploading more maps if you need them.

A waterproof unit is extremely handy. If your handheld GPS receiver is waterproof then it becomes far more versatile. It can be great for using in all outdoor activities including cycling, hiking, kayaking, boating, skiing, etc. There are different waterproof ratings:

  • IPX4 – can withstand splashes from water
  • IPX7 – can withstand accidental dunks, splashes and rain as well as can float in water
  • IPX8 – can withstand being submerged in up to 8 feet of water for 30 minutes

Avoid Costly Features
Certain features will add a lot of extra money to the price of the GPS unit. If you don’t need them then there is no point in paying for them. Examples of costly features are:

  • Barometric altimeter
  • Electronic compass
  • Heart-rate monitor

If you keep these key points in mind you will have no trouble finding a good handheld GPS receiver that fits all of your needs.

A very popular choice that we have reviewed and enjoyed using is the Garmin GPSMAP 76 Waterproof Handheld GPS. This unit offers all of the important features in a nice little package for a great price.