Best Handheld GPS Units for the UK in 2020 (November Update)


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Best Handheld GPS Units for the UK in 2020 (November Update)
Budget
Garmin eTrex Touch 25 Recreational Handheld GPS - Black
Value-for-Money
Garmin Oregon 700 Handheld GPS Navigation System, Black / Grey
The Best
Garmin inReach Explorer+ Satellite Tracker with compatible Backpack Tether
Title
Garmin eTrex Touch 25 Recreational Handheld GPS - Black
Garmin Oregon 700 Handheld GPS Navigation System, Black / Grey
Garmin inReach Explorer+ Satellite Tracker with compatible Backpack Tether
Rating
Weight
160 g
210 g
215 g
Battery life
16 h
16 h
75 h
Touchscreen
Number of waypoints
1.000
10.000
500
Price
£219.99
£379.99
£509.85
Budget
Garmin eTrex Touch 25 Recreational Handheld GPS - Black
Title
Garmin eTrex Touch 25 Recreational Handheld GPS - Black
Rating
Weight
160 g
Battery life
16 h
Touchscreen
Number of waypoints
1.000
Price
£219.99
Value-for-Money
Garmin Oregon 700 Handheld GPS Navigation System, Black / Grey
Title
Garmin Oregon 700 Handheld GPS Navigation System, Black / Grey
Rating
Weight
210 g
Battery life
16 h
Touchscreen
Number of waypoints
10.000
Price
£379.99
The Best
Garmin inReach Explorer+ Satellite Tracker with compatible Backpack Tether
Title
Garmin inReach Explorer+ Satellite Tracker with compatible Backpack Tether
Rating
Weight
215 g
Battery life
75 h
Touchscreen
Number of waypoints
500
Price
£509.85

For urban exploration, a smartphone will do the trick but once you’re out of cell range, a handheld GPS is what you need to keep you on track.

GPS devices are infinitely better than even top-end phones in terms of mapping and accuracy, triangulating your movements using an array of satellite systems.

This is invaluable when hiking in deep back-country areas with challenging coverage. Another bonus is their battery life, which will last an entire day of use on the trails.

Many outdoor GPS units have started to become ‘multi-activity’, making them versatile devices that can be used for hiking, cycling, climbing, geocaching and even fishing.

There are three main brands of GPS units – Garmin, SatMap and Memory Map. By a long way Garmin is the best brand, with the widest range of options and years of tried-and-tested experience.

Below we’ve created a lineup of our favourite GPS units on the market right now, in order of ascending price.

If you’re looking for more information around what you need in a handheld GPS, scroll further down to our buying guide.

Top 3 Best-Sellers

Bestseller No. 1
Garmin eTrex 10 Outdoor Handheld GPS Unit, Black/Yellow
  • 2.2 inch monochrome display that’s easy to read in any...
  • Durable and waterproof, eTrex 10 is built to withstand the...
  • Easy-to-use interface
  • Supports geocaching GPX files for downloading geocaches and...
  • High-sensitivity, EGNOS-enabled GPS receiver and HotFix...
Bestseller No. 2
Garmin 010-01199-00 - GPSMap 64 (Renewed)
  • Brand New
  • Same Day Shipping on Request
  • Best Value and Performance in its Class
  • 15-Years as premier solution provider
  • Complimentary White Glove Service - Quality Pre and Post...
SaleBestseller No. 3
Garmin eTrex 32x Outdoor Handheld GPS Unit with 3-axis Compass and Barometric Altimeter, Brown
249 Reviews
Garmin eTrex 32x Outdoor Handheld GPS Unit with 3-axis Compass and Barometric Altimeter, Brown
  • gps handheld device with 2.2-inch sunlight-readable colour...
  • support for gps and glonass satellites allows for tracking...
  • built-in 3-axis compass and barometric altimeter help you...
  • 8 gb of internal memory for map downloads plus a micro sd...
  • rugged, impact resistant and water-rated to ipx71 with up to...
  1. Garmin eTrex Touch 25

Key features:

View on Amazon

  • Best: Budget GPS unit
  • Weight: 160 grams
  • Battery life: 16 hours
  • Touchscreen: Yes
  • Number of waypoints: 1,000

The Garmin eTrex Touch 25 (or 25t) is a great compact multi-activity touchscreen GPS unit.

Aimed at families who like to partake in hiking and other such outdoor activities, the handy device fits easily into a pocket or on a handlebar.

Garmin’s eTrex GPS handheld series have been successfully deployed all over the world, from sub-zero conditions to deserts, and the Touch model offers that same level of toughness and endurance.

The recreational eTrex features a full-colour screen, preloaded maps, and the ability to add your own custom maps.

It also comes with a built-in three-axis tilt-compensated compass to provide a high level of accuracy for even small movements.

We wouldn’t hesitate to say it is the best budget touchscreen GPS unit currently on the market.

The pre-installed TopoActive Europe maps are accurate and responsive, and the 8GB internal memory and microSD slot allow users plenty of room for additional mapping, whether that is advanced TOPO or even marine maps.

The unit has optimised Activity Profiles for various recreational activities, so you can select your plenty of outdoor pursuits outside of just hiking or walking.

With a cycling mount included, hikers-cum-recreational cyclists can switch from handheld to fixing the device to their handlebars. The unit even has a fishing function.

For beginners, eTrex Touch’s paperless geocaching is preloaded with 250,000 caches, more than enough to get you started and the learn the basics of the activity.

The main downside is that there is no Bluetooth or Wi-Fi, only USB, so the smartphone Garmin apps won’t be an option.

You will also need to plug the unit in to update any device firmware, something which can’t be done on the move or during long camping trips.

A truly multi-activity unit, if you walk, geocache, cycle (both on road and off road) this is an ideal GPS unit for you.

Pros
  • Cheap
  • Garmin TopoActive map of Europe included
  • Friendly touchscreen interface
Cons
  • No Bluetooth
  • Limited waypoints and additional functions
  1. SatMap Active 20

Key features:

View on Amazon

  • Best: Large screen GPS unit
  • Weight: 310 grams
  • Battery life: 16 hours
  • Touchscreen: Yes, with buttons as well
  • Number of waypoints: 1,000

The SatMap Active 20 is straightforward and easy to use but is easily one of the most effective handheld GPS devices available.

The Active 20 follows on from the award-winning Active 12 range, but with the addition of new features, including a Hi-Res screen, Bluetooth Smart sharing, barometric altimeter (for pressure and elevation data) and it can even be paired with a heart rate monitor.

Its 8.9-centimetre display and dual operational setup of touchscreen with buttons allow it to be clearly read and used in bright sunshine or whilst wearing gloves.

The Gorilla glass is robust and has an IK7 impact rating. SatMap’s solid construction makes it a durable option for those who often drop or knock their devices.

The Active 20 has an IP68 water-resistance rating, meaning that it can be submerged up to 1.5 metres – but bear in mind that it will not float.

The Bluetooth Smart function allows users to share routes wirelessly between devices or connect additional equipment, such as heart rate monitors, to it.

These advanced features are the cherry on top of what was previously just a functional device with highly-detailed topographic mapping.

Users can get a whole map of the UK, including 1:25,000, which seems to be fairly rare for this kind of device.

A primary issue flagged by users is that the USB port’s rubber cover is not attached and regularly falls off. SatMap doesn’t supply any spares in the box, so once it’s lost, it’s lost.

Pros
  • Buttons and touchscreen
  • Compact
  • Big screen, easy to use
Cons
  • Heavy
  • Limited waypoints and additional functions
  1. Garmin Oregon 700

Key features:

View on Amazon

  • Best: Touchscreen and user-friendly GPS unit
  • Weight: 210 grams
  • Battery life: 16 hours
  • Touchscreen: Yes
  • Number of waypoints: 10,000

One of the common complaints with handheld GPS units in comparison to smartphones is user experience.

Although it’s not completely perfect, the Garmin Oregon 700 is pretty close.

Simple to use with loads of useful features, it is just the right size, with a large and bright enough screen, simple menus and dedicated profiles for various sports.

In terms of our favourite GPS unit, it boiled down to this or the 66st below, with the key difference being touchscreen versus buttons, and that choice will always come down to personal preference.

The Oregon 700 has dual-orientation touchscreens and a bright display, which unfortunately both sap the battery life quite quickly.

That said, 16 hours is around two days of standard hiking at least. Just swipe left or right to show different information (altitude, compass, time, distance etc.), and zoom in or out on the map with two fingers.

Functioning with ease in gloveless weather, the issues arise in colder temperatures when the user is wearing gloves or their fingers have compromised dexterity.

If you’re hiking predominantly in sub-10 conditions, you may be better off with the 66st that follows.

The Oregon 700 offers a simply unbelievable amount of track and waypoint storage. It can store 10,000 waypoints, far more than any other touchscreen and most button units too.

It should be mentioned that the Oregon doesn’t come with pre-loaded maps, so users will be working with a smaller scale map than the 1:100k TOPOs on other devices.

Like most of Garmin’s units, the Oregon can access both GPS and GLONASS satellites and as a result, the reception and coverage are quite impressive.

If you want to take photos, the slightly more expensive Oregon 750 has a rechargeable battery pack and built-in eight-megapixel camera.

However, the image quality is only average and not worth the upgrade in our opinion.

Pros
  • Feature-rich
  • High-quality and readable touchscreen
  • Versatile / multi-activity
Cons
  • Hard to use with gloves
  • Slows down in cold temperatures
  1. Garmin GPSMAP 66st

Key features:

View on Amazon

  • Best: Overall and all-rounder GPS unit
  • Weight: 215 grams
  • Battery life: 16 hours
  • Touchscreen: No
  • Number of waypoints: 10,000

Another incredible all-round unit from Garmin, the GPSMAP 66st is a top-of-the-line GPS device for a wide variety of conditions.

Garmin have built on the success of the 64 series and doubled the internal memory, added connectivity and included pre-loaded TOPO maps.

Its brilliant feature set and display, the improved user interface, array of connectivity options and the GPS accuracy all make it a market leader – despite being cheaper than some of its competitors.

The buttons on the GPSMAP 66st have click feedback and are more reliable, particularly in extreme wet or cold weather, than any touchscreen devices.

The transflective TFT display is really readable, even in direct sunlight.

This alone makes it a worthy investment as trying to track your position on a fine line during the midday sun is hard at the best of times.

The reception is excellent and accurate thanks to a sensitive quad-helix antenna and its ability to tap in to three different satellite systems – GPS, Galileo and GLONASS.

Similar to the Oregon, the 66st can map 10,000 waypoints, provide satellite imagery and even update you on the weather.

Using Bluetooth it can be linked to other Garmin devices, heart rate monitors and more.

It’s a bit of a fiddle to set up but once connected, the unit can log a lot of data. The Garmin customer care team is also known for their quick response times should you have any issues.

Rugged by design with military-built specifications, it’s a midweight unit that might not be favourable to hikers who like to travel superlight but is otherwise sensational.

Pros
  • Big screen and buttons
  • Outstanding reception
  • Easy to use
Cons
  • Pricey
  • Complicated connectivity between devices
  1. Garmin Montana 680 GPS with camera

Key features:

View on Amazon

  • Best: GPS unit with camera
  • Weight: 290 grams
  • Battery life: 22 hours
  • Touchscreen: Yes
  • Number of waypoints: 4,000

The Montana 680 is heavier than both the Oregon and 66st due to its increased size.

With a 10.2-centimetre outdoor-optimised, dual orientation touchscreen, the trade-off for additional weight is improved readability under any light conditions.

Big data fields, clearly visible map features and the easy-to-use touch user interface make it a favourite with hikers.

It is slightly more glove-friendly but again, with the lack of buttons, you might struggle in rain or cold temperatures.

The Garmin Montana 680 features a barometric altimeter, digital compass, sun and moon information, hunting/fishing calendar, tide tables and turn-by-turn navigation.

The eight-megapixel digital camera provides ok-quality images that won’t win any awards but they are automatically geotagged with coordinates, allowing you to navigate back to the exact spot in the future.

This device is a fast receiver with excellent reception, connecting in to GLONASS and GPS networks with WAAS compatibility.

Adding more maps to Montana is easy and the 4GB internal memory facilitates this.

Load TOPO maps, plug in BlueChart g2 preloaded cards for an ideal day on the water or load City Navigator map data for turn-by-turn driving directions.

The Montana comes with a one-year BirdsEye Satellite Imagery subscription for aerial images to enhance your navigation, but most hikers find this feature is not a necessity.

As long as you don’t mind the cost, the large screen and excellent reception make up for this unit’s bulk and make it the best option if you plan to use any satellite imagery.

Pros
  • Large, clear display
  • 8 MP camera
  • Great reception and electronic compass
  • Dual orientation
Cons
  • Hard to use in gloves
  • Relatively heavy
  • Not cheap!
  1. Garmin InReach Explorer+

Key features:

View on Amazon

  • Best: Hybrid GPS/satellite messenger
  • Weight: 215 grams
  • Battery life: 75 hours
  • Touchscreen: No
  • Number of waypoints: 500

Last in our lineup and the most expensive option is another sophisticated GPS device from the iconic brand.

The InReach Explorer+ is an impressive piece of kit that combines GPS mapping with two-way messaging, SOS function and real-time tracking via the global Iridium satellite network.

In this unit Garmin has brought their mapping finesse together with satellite communication.

With pre-loaded maps, onscreen GPS routing, built-in digital compass, barometric altimeter and accelerator, the InReach is a quality device for experienced backpackers.

Best for active explorers of remote areas that don’t mind carrying a bit of extra weight, the Explorer+ comes with preloaded 24K maps and the 6.1-centimetre screen is easy enough to read.

That said, the Explorer’s mapping and user interface falls short of other Garmin handhelds. It can be difficult to navigate, particularly with limited buttons to select from and setting it up with new maps and Bluetooth can be a battle.

There are two ways of messaging from the device – either by sending a preset message or typing out a message using the onscreen keyboard.

Friends and family can also stay up to date with the user’s whereabouts with global tracking and the SOS button on the side of the device shares GPS co-ordinates with the 24/7 GEOS Emergency Response Center.

The InReach Explorer+ can be paired with any smartphone to unlock extra capabilities, download maps and send messages.

Users can even log in to the online portal to link to social media accounts, setup waypoints and routes and upgrade firmware.

However, this all comes at a cost. Users must pay a monthly or annual subscription that only becomes cost effective when used regularly in remote locations. For anyone that will only be using it once or twice a year, the cost per use would be outrageous.

The additional features also make it relatively large and heavy – an issue for those who like to travel light and fast.

For anyone looking to combine GPS and SOS capabilities, this pricey option should be your go-to.

Pros
  • Reliable and easy to use
  • Outstanding battery life
  • Great additional features
  • Global network
Cons
  • High initial outlay
  • Not cost-effective for occasional use
  • Large and heavy

What to consider when buying a handheld GPS

Touchscreen versus buttons

As with smartphones, touchscreen GPS devices are growing in popularity.

They are easier to use, have larger displays and generally work in both landscape and portrait orientations.

However, touchscreen tech can’t be relied on in rough and cold weather.

Even touchscreen gloves will be tricky as the displays are not as sensitive as smartphones.

Those who will be hiking in cold or wet weather should opt for buttoned devices, but remember that buttons do add bulk, are cumbersome to type on and slow to navigate an on-screen keyboard.

To get the best of both worlds, opt for a unit that has dual operation with buttons and touchscreen, such as the SatMap.

Display

The clarity of of display will predominantly come down to screen size and readability in different light conditions.

The brightness of the screen and readability in direct sunlight will greatly affect the ease of use.

Garmin’s newest models all offer anti-glare screens with good backlighting and contrast that make maps and text easy to decipher.

A larger screen is helpful when you need to be able to see information clearly at a glance but for most hikers and backpackers, a small and light device will do the trick.

GPS accuracy

Different brands can tap into different satellite networks and no longer just rely on America’s GPS system.

Garmin takes the lead, with the ability to connect with the GLONASS satellite network.

This is a Russian-based system that boosts the receiver’s performance in deep canyons and under heavy cover.

Numerous devices are now also compatible with the European Galileo network, which brings accuracy down to about two metres.

Models that can work with all three are commonly referred to as having “multi-GNSS support.”

Altimeter, barometer, and compass (ABC)

Only the best GPS units come with all three of these features.

Altimeters gauge elevation using air pressure and the barometer can aid weather forecasting.

Getting a read on barometric pressure is also useful for mountainous and backcountry use,  providing an approximation of your current elevation.

It is able to do this as the higher you go, the lower the pressure, so even without an altimeter you can guess height about sea level.

Built-in three-axis electronic compasses are amazing in that they don’t need to be kept flat like a traditional compass.

This gives the GPS superb accuracy with small movements and the navigational arrow and the map will orientate with you.

Battery life

Most outdoor GPS units will give you a solid day of walking/ cycling out of one set of batteries.

Don’t take the manufacturer’s stats as gospel and always carry a spare set of batteries just in case.

Bringing a battery charger, ideally a solar model, will make sure your GPS unit lasts the entire trip.

Garmin has recently turned to rechargeable battery packs as a compelling alternative that is less wasteful and more efficient.

Mapping and memory

All handheld GPS units feature some form of base map, which includes only major local features and some have additional preloaded maps.

Almost all new models give users the  option to upload more later on – either via USB or by connecting through Bluetooth to a smartphone app.

Most of our top picks have built-in memory or at least a microSD slot for adding maps. 4GB or 8GB internal memories will allow you to add hundreds of maps without slowing the device down.

It’s worth noting that there are also a number of ways to add maps to your device for free, including the popular OpenStreetMap.

TopoActive mapping is a fairly extensive programme that provides extra details such as contour lines to indicate elevation gained/lost, points of interest, and some on- and off-road navigation.

This comes as standard across all of Garmin’s high-end devices.

Weight

GPS units don’t vary too wildly in terms of weight, falling anywhere between 150 and 300 grams.

That said, if you want to carry the unit in a top or back pocket, it will need to be light and slim.

How you’ll be using the device will dictate how important dimensions and weight are. If you’ll be using the device on handlebars then opt for a large, clear screen and forget the weight.

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Last update on 2020-11-25 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

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