Handheld GPS Device


The ability to navigate correctly is a crucial skill in hiking or backpacking. It’s a skill that can literally save your life. Your map and GPS can help tell you where you are, what’s around you and the best and fastest way to get to where you want to go.

GPS technology is in everything nowadays, from drones and dog collars to mobile phones. But when going hiking or backpacking, a handheld GPS receiver is still a valuable outdoor tool. Since it’s not a good idea to just rely on your mobile phone’s GPS when hiking or backpacking (since you’re not sure if there’s coverage in where you’ll be hiking), it’s wise to use a handheld GPS receiver instead. But if you’re new to the handheld GPS receiver game, don’t worry, I’ve got you covered. Here are several things to keep in mind when choosing a handheld GPS receiver.


Trying to decide which is more important, whether you’re on the low-weight to large-screen spectrum, is the first step in choosing a GPS receiver. The rule of thumb is, as the screen size increases, so do the size and weight of a unit. If you decide to go for a bigger screen, make sure you can afford to carry the extra weight.


Decide if you want an ordinary GPS interface or if you want a touchscreen version. That will certainly narrow down your choices further. Just a tip, for winter hiking/backpacking, it’s more advisable to use a button-controlled unit rather than a touchscreen one, because it’s easier to use it while wearing gloves.


High-end GPS receivers are more expensive units, but will always come with additional helpful features like a barometer, an electronic compass and wireless transmission. If you’re looking to use any of those features, then that further narrows down your choices to a couple of GPS receivers.

Why do you need advanced features? It’s really a matter of preference and needs. Let’s take a look at the importance of some of the advanced features in a GPS receiver.

Barometer/altimeter: All GPS receivers can tell your altitude based on satellite data received, but a receiver with a barometer/altimeter feature will provide more accurate elevation readings. It can also provide barometric data, which will let you gauge weather trends.

Wireless data transfer: If you want to share data like tracks, waypoints and routes with others, a wireless data transfer feature provides a quick and easy way to do it.

Preloaded maps: Most, if not all GPS units, come with a simple base map. Some units also include full topography maps. Other units will allow you to purchase topography maps separately. Once purchased, you can download the map to your unit or insert a MicroSD card (with the map in it) to your receiver. You can manage all your maps and plan trips by using a computer.

Geocaching features: Although mobile phones have downloadable geocaching apps, many units have geocaching functions that allow for paperless geocaching.

Digital camera: GPS units with built-in digital cameras allow you to geotag photos, so you can see where you took the shots in the map. It’s a pretty neat feature if you’re one of those people who love to take pictures while hiking.

Two-way radio: I cannot stress how important a two-way radio is when you’re hiking with a party. GPS receivers with two-way radio features allow you to communicate with your party, so you will always know if they’re in trouble or not. You can also receive weather-radio forecasts through this device.


A GPS unit is an important tool for hiking and backpacking. Knowing what you need will help narrow down your choices and find the right GPS receiver for your hiking needs. It’s important to note, however, you can only trust a battery-operated GPS unit so far when it comes to finding your way out of the wild. It is critical that you always bring a map and compass with you at all times.


Is there anything you would like to add to this article? Please share your thoughts below.

Jake Taylor
Jake Taylor

Jake is a global traveller who has recently called Australia his home again. If he's not travelling, he is writing about it and his experience.