An Introduction to the Handheld GPS Unit


The modern handheld GPS unit is one of the best all-in-one tools anyone can own right now. It offers you a map that you can access from almost anywhere, a compass to help you navigate terrain, and recordkeeping options to let you know how far you’ve gone or how much more you’ll need to go.

There are several different makes and models available on the market right now, so finding one with the right set of features and options isn’t always easy. Here’s what you’ll want to know before you begin the shopping process.

What Should You Expect from a Handheld GPS Unit?

A handheld GPS unit communicates with positioning satellites which currently orbit the planet. Each satellite comes with an atomic clock equipped to it, emitting time and location with the signals it offers. The units pick up these signals, then display the information received on the display screen of the product.

When a GPS unit locks onto 4+ satellites, it determines your current location. The accuracy of this reading depends upon the number of satellites available for triangulation. You’ll always get a better reading with more connections.

How to Pick the Best Features

GPS handheld units come in a variety of shapes. Some look like a pocket watch and record some basic movements while showing current results. Others are workhorse models which clip to your belt, offering you the option to send and receive text messages with your coordinates.

Entry-level models are priced for around $100, with some gong for much less. You’ll receive temperature, time, and elevation with basic positioning.

Premium models may cost $700 or more, depending on what goodies come along. Some models act as a camera, allowing you to shoot video, while tracking where you are. 

Look for an option which accepts topography maps and NOAA charts for best results. Models like these begin around $300.

How to Find the Best Battery Life

Battery life varies by each model when reviewing the best handheld GPS units. If there are more features included with it, then the product requires more energy to run. That means the most powerful options often offer the least long-term battery capacity.

Smaller units with basic functionality last longer, especially if you keep the unit on standby. Look for a handheld GPS unit that offers a minimum of 12 hours of life on either a rechargeable battery or alkaline batteries.

How to Find the Best Memory Options

The memory storage equipped with your handheld GPS unit dictates how much information about your trip is captured. Internal and removable memory options are both available. If you travel frequently and wish to store movements for safety, look for a model with the highest amount of capacity in its class for best results.

Whether you choose an entry-level model or a premium handheld GPS unit, plan to practice with it a few times to get the hang of its options and features. Once you become familiar with its interface, you’ll be ready to conquer bigger challenges like you’ve never tried before. 

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