While many people have a handheld GPS device built into their phone, they can only serve you well for so long. The last thing anybody will want to do while on a hike, lost in a forest or stuck in an unfamiliar local area will be to wear down their phone battery trying to locate themselves, and even a basic GSP device can save your skin when you’re trying to find your way home. But how do you find the best handheld GPS device on short notice? Thankfully, it’s easier than you might think, especially since sites like GeoSettr can compile lists of the best GPS devices on the market.
Modern GPS Devices
A lot of people think of a GPS device as old-school, but they’re still as popular as ever and have new technology to match. Stronger than ever, longer-lasting than many phones and incredibly accurate, the modern handheld GPS device is sometimes even better at locating you than a phone, although you might not think so at first. They’re also still the same tool at their core, and haven’t become diluted with unhelpful extras over the years.
There are two types of modern GPS: WASS and GLONASS. Both are effective, but work on different networks. The Wide Angle Augmentation System uses ground stations to boost your accuracy, while GLONASS uses a satellite network to map out canyons, hilly areas and other locations where ground stations aren’t as reliable. Both are excellent, but you’ll usually want WASS for flatter areas and GLONASS for mountainous ground.
Modern improvements to old designs have made it easier than ever to pack a handheld GPS device into your clothing or bag, with some even outclassing mobile phones in terms of how compact they are. Others are intentionally bulky to add more padding if they’re dropped, and even some of the heaviest choices are a massive step up from how much they used to weigh. Some people will prefer a slim design whereas others might like the weightier feeling, but both have different uses.
What makes thinner GPS device types more convenient is that they can fit into a lot of phone-specific gear. If you have a space in your bag for holding your phone, it’s very likely that you can fit your handheld GPS into there, or sometimes even both devices at once. On the other hand, more size can mean better weather resistance and more durability overall.
The accuracy rating of handheld GPS device matters, even though they’ve improved significantly over the decades. Some will be able to pinpoint your location in an open space to within a few feet, whereas others might be a dozen meters or so. High accuracy makes the biggest difference when you’re working on a smaller scale, like trying to pinpoint one particular set of coordinates or a single location on a map.
Reception quality can play a large role in this too, and many GPS devices are better at getting your exact position than some phones can be. Extra features like an altimeter or compass can give you the additional details you need to know which way you’re going, and the ability to work properly in storms and tree-covered areas makes some of the much more reliable than a regular mobile phone. However, this varies between designs, so some will be better at finding your location than others.
Some handheld GPS devices will allow you to load in maps or other positioning data from a separate device, which can be extremely useful if you’re planning ahead for a trip. Others might be advanced enough to let you handle the full map from the device itself, which comes in handy for spontaneous trips or situations where you might be lost. A few GPS device types forgo the need for maps entirely and just give you coordinates or direct data on where you’re standing.
Choosing the right type of GPS device here makes things much easier for you, since you’ll be getting the kind of tool you expect. However, any kind of GPS works well when paired with a map, even if it’s just a screenshot of an existing map taken with your phone. This can save battery life in both devices and help you figure out where you are.