Best Garmin GPS: Your Key to Navigating the Toughest Terrains

Best Garmin GPS
Bradley Page
Written by Bradley Page

When it comes to navigation in the backcountry, a lot of hikers run into a wide variety of difficulties. Do you ever find yourself struggling when you are hiking to know exactly where you are? If you do, then you could really benefit from the use of a handheld GPS unit. These units are specifically designed to be suitable for a number of activities, like navigation and hiking!

Most people agree that Garmin are the best manufacturer on the market, as their products have been expertly designed and terrain-tested. You might be asking yourself where you should start to look when you are looking for your first handheld device. If you are, use the advice in this article to make sure that you find the best Garmin GPS on the market!

Garmin devices have a good reputation for being a lot more functional than other brands of handheld GPS that you can find on the market. With a Garmin product you should be able to navigate with ease, no matter where you are. Most of the Garmin models have access to two different satellite systems, both GPS and GLONASS.

Gamin gps unit

This means that even in the depths of canyons, or the dark of a forest, the GPS that you use will be able to pick up on your location precisely. One thing to remember is that when you are out adventuring in the backcountry, you do not want to get lost. Getting lost is not a fun experience – depending on your point of view of course!

What features will be present on an ideal handheld GPS system?

There are a lot of different factors that you need to take into consideration when you purchase your first handheld GPS system. Most hikers agree that there are two features that should always be considered first, they are:


Sometimes hiking can be a little tricky, especially when it involves dealing with rough terrain. Sometimes while you hike on rough terrain you could be involved in an accident, or you could drop your handheld GPS system.

Due to this you should make sure that you look for a sturdy design that does not feature any flimsy attachments, otherwise your device could be quite likely to break. We would not want that to happen!

Garmin GPS hike

Two other factors that will directly affect the durability of your device are shock resistance and water resistance. You should make sure that your handheld GPS system is resistant to both, as it is highly likely that your GPS will be involved in situations directly related to water and shock while you adventure in the backcountry.


The versatility of your device is important, it needs to suit the exact requirements that you have for it. Everyone has different requirements, and different goals for their devices.

Garmin products are impeccable for this type of situation, especially considering the fact that you can directly upload your own maps to the devices. You can add your own points of interest, and plan your own routes.

Garmin montana

A lot of customers use Garmin handheld GPS products for hiking, climbing, and mountaineering. But, people have also been known to use them for sports like hunting and fishing. A lot of families also use them for geocaching. The only limit is your imagination.

Other factors to be takes into consideration

As soon as you have considered the durability and versatility of the device that you have in mind, there are a few other factors that you need to take into consideration. How important these factors are will depend on your intended use for the product. For example, someone going on a day-long hike would need a longer battery life than someone going on a short walk. Make sure that you consider:

How easy is it to put your own, customized maps on the device?

When it comes to GPS markets that are commonly featured on the market, you cannot upload your own maps on to the majority of them. Luckily, Garmin work differently!

Garmin gps map

They believe that you should be allowed to upload your own maps from a variety of sources, rather than tricking you into only purchasing maps from them. You can even upload your own fully customized maps for your personal, custom adventures.

If you do purchase a map, or a mapping bundle from Garmin then you will find that they are considerably more affordable than alternative mapping systems. You should also note that a lot of Garmin products are sold in a bundle with different maps.

If you can find a map set that suits your requirements, then it could be considerably more affordable than buying all of the maps separately.

Should the screen be monochrome, or color?

Do you remember when hiking was done with a compass on a string around your neck, and your map in your hand nestled safely in a little, plastic bag? Then this new technology appeared. The same can be said about going from monochrome images to color images.

Garmin blue

You should avoid monochrome devices whenever you can, they are considerably cheaper, but they are cheaper for a reason. Don’t think that they are all bad, they can be perfect for simple geocaching adventures.

But, they are relatively useless for anything else. They are useless because you need to be able to reliably read and interpret what your GPS system is showing you, otherwise you will put yourself at risk. Ordnance survey maps should always be viewed in color. Remember that a lot of Garmin products also feature incoming weather animations, and those would look odd without color!

Will the screen still be visible in low visibility conditions?

If you have found a device with a screen that looks perfectly visible indoors, make sure that you check it outdoors too! Have you ever had a phone that you cannot see the screen of as soon as any glare hits it directly?

Garmin GPS screen

Unluckily, a lot of GPS devices can be like that too. Luckily, Garmin products have all been designed with that in mind. They can be used in direct sunlight, and even in low light situations.

Is the GPS re-chargeable?

You should always look for a GPS device that features both a rechargeable battery system, and a replaceable battery system. Most of the products that you can find on the market feature this dual-system design.

Rechargeable batteries are more cost effective in the long run, and replaceable batteries are ideal in an emergency situation. If you are out hiking in the middle of nowhere then you are not going to be able to plug your batteries in if your device runs out of charge, so you will need to be able to replace the batteries while you are out adventuring.

What is the battery life like on the GPS system?

Ideally the battery life of a GPS system should last for around 10 hours. But, Garmin devices have been expertly designed to last for between 16 – 20 hours, depending on the type of battery that you are using.

Garmin gps car

Replaceable batteries usually last slightly longer than rechargeable devices. That means that if you go out hiking then you can go out for a full day without worrying. The best Garmin handheld GPS devices all feature relatively long battery life.

How much does the device weigh?

When you go hiking, or having fun on other adventures, you should always aim for your devices and products to be as lightweight as possible. The same goes for handheld GPS devices. If you do carry a device that is heavy then what you are carrying is unnecessary weight, over time it will just slow you down and prove to be a hindrance. Try not to let anything like this have an adverse effect on your adventures!

Does the device feature buttons or a touch screen?

Garmin products actually feature a mixture of both touch screen usage and button usage depending on the device. Usually the most affordable devices feature buttons, and the least affordable devices usually feature touch screens.

Garmin gps device

One important exception to this rule is the Garmin GPSMAP64s, which features both a touch screen and buttons. It features both because the designers took winter walking into consideration when they initially designed the product. Sometimes when you are out in the cold your hands will be covered in gloves, making touch screens less receptive!

How large is the display screen?

The size of the display screen on your product is very important, and you should never settle for a small screen. This is because the majority of people will require a relatively large screen size of between 2.5” and 3”. The larger screen sizes allow you to see a lot of detail at once, and give you a broader overview of the terrain that directly surrounds you.

Special features

After you have considered all of those factors, you can start to consider whether or not you will benefit from any of the other ‘special features’ that some devices will have. These special features are not completely necessary, instead they are useful in their own ways.

Does the device feature an electronic compass?

Having an electronic compass on a device naturally means that the device will be slightly more expensive than it otherwise would be.

Garmin compass

With devices that do not have electronic compasses you have to hold them straight, otherwise they will not work. An electronic compass eliminates the risk of your device not working, it can keep track of you even when you are not moving!

Can you wirelessly share important things from the device?

In the technology generation the ability to wirelessly share things is both useful and important, especially if you can do it directly from your device while you are out in the backcountry. If you enjoy hunting for geocaches then you can share the geocaches that you find online! You can also share any waypoints that you find, or track your own new routes for next time.

Does the device feature a camera?

Sometimes when you hike it can be too risky to take your smart phone, or camera out with you. Especially when you are working against bad weather conditions. Nowadays a lot of modern handheld GPS devices come with attached cameras, of which most are waterproof.

Garmin GPS with cam

The GPS devices can be used to capture your favorite memories, while also capturing your location. This means that you will have a permanent record of exactly where you were when you took the photograph!

Isn’t it the same as using the GPS on a smart phone?

No! Using a map system on a smartphone is incredibly different to using a handheld GPS device. Remember, Garmin GPS devices are specifically designed for use when hiking. A lot of hikers do use their smartphones as a makeshift GPS system, but there are two drawbacks to doing that. One is battery life, and the other is durability.

Most smart phone devices will run out of charge within just several hours of using a map feature. The other feature that you have to watch out for is durability, as smart phones usually are not very good at handing bad weather conditions.

Top-Rated Garmin GPS

After we thoroughly learned about the features of Garmin GPS devices, let’s see the best products and why they found their way right in this list.

Garmin Montana 680t

Dimensions: 2.9 x 1.4 x 5.7 inchesGarmin Montana 680t

Weight: 10.24 ounces

Features: A camera, GPS and GLONASS compatibility, and built-in maps.

Best Use: Hiking, climbing, and driving.

If you are looking for a Garmin handheld device that features a camera, then the Garmin Montana 680t could be the ideal product for you. The camera that it features shoots photographs at a full 8MP, and it has an automatic autofocus system. That means that you can take photographs on the go without experiencing motion blue.

Whenever you take a photograph with this device it also ‘geo-tags’ your location, so that you can always find the exact spot where your photograph was taken.

Like most Garmin handheld GPS systems, this particular model features expert GPS and GLONASS satellite compatibility. That means that you could go climbing through canyons and the device would still be able to pick up on your exact location. Add that to the on-board electronic compass and you have a product that will never lose your location!

Check the price on Amazon

Garmin 3” Garmin Rino 750

Dimensions: 1.6 x 2.6 x 7.9 inchesGarmin 3 Garmin Rino 750

Weight: 0.8lbs

Features: A 3” touch-screen, active weather forecasting, and wireless communication.

Best Use: Hands-on activities, or activities in locations where the weather can quickly change.

Meet the Garmin 3” Garmin Rino 750, the lightest product that we are reviewing on our review list. If you are looking for a product that you can barely feel the weight of, then this product could be ideal for you.

It also offers expert wireless communication via a Bluetooth audio headset, so you can use the headset rather than your hands. This makes this device the perfect option for situations where you can’t use your hands, such as climbing.

Garmin like to trail-test all of their devices, and they understand that weather can be a problem. This particular device has been designed to feature an on-board active weather forecast that automatically updates.

On the screen you will see animated weather forecasts coming into the area that you are in. That means that if you are in an area where the weather could quickly change, then you have a type of early warning system!

Check the price on Amazon

Garmin GPSMAP 64s Worldwide

Dimensions: 1.4 x 4.2 x 6.3 inchesGarmin GPSMAP 64s Worldwide

Weight: 9.28 ounces

Features: A world-wide base map, compatibility with GPS and GLONASS, and a long battery life.

Best Use: Ideal for any backcountry adventure!

The Garmin GPSMAP 64s Worldwide is known to be one of the best products that the experts at Garmin have ever designed. It features a handy electronic compass, an accelerometer, and a barometric altimeter.

One of the best features on this particular model is the battery life, which averages at between 16 and 22 hours depending on the type of battery that you are using. Rechargeable batteries last slight less than replaceable batteries.

The GPSMAP 64s also comes with an already installed worldwide base map, but it supports additional mapping too. You can either purchase maps directly from Garmin, or you can directly upload maps to the device from other sources. This also gives you the opportunity to customize your own maps.

Check the price on Amazon

Garmin Oregon 600 3-Inch Worldwide Handheld GPS

Dimensions: 1.3 x 4.5 x 2.4 inchesGarmin Oregon 600 3-Inch Worldwide Handheld GPS

Weight: 7.4 ounces

Features: Expert battery life, and expert water resistance.

Best Use: Water-based activities, hiking, and adventures.

Sometimes you need a device that works excellently on the water, for example, you might want to go sailing but need a GPS for navigational purposes. To take a non-waterproof device sailing could result in some disastrous consequences in the wrong situation.

That is why Garmin designed this special water resistant device, it even floats when it is dropped in the water. The card slot for this device is located in one of the waterproof battery compartments, so you do not even have to worry about your card getting damaged.

The Garmin Oregon 600 Worldwide GPS has an expert battery life that lasts for around 20 hours at a time. It also has a certain amount of built-in memory that you can use without the use of a memory card.

One unique feature of this device is comfort. The molded, rubber side grips on the sides of the device have been designed so that you can comfortably hold the device for as long as possible.

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Garmin GPSMAP 78

Dimensions: 1.2 x 2.6 x 6 inchesGarmin GPSMAP 78 2.6-Inch Marine GPS Navigator

Weight: 7.68 ounces

Features: Long battery life, water resistance, and shock resistance.

Best Use: Hiking, and water adventures.

If you are looking for a device that would suit the nature of a water sports enthusiast, then the rugged GPSMAP 78 has your name written all over it. It comes with the pre-installed worldwide base map, and you can upload all of your own water maps to the device.

You do not even have to purchase the maps from Garmin, the devices are suitable with maps from multiple sources! Although Garmin are known for having excellent marine maps.

The Garmin GPSMAP 78 directly records all of your activities, by connecting the device to the internet you can see a detailed analysis of everything that you have done. You can track exactly where you have been, if you enjoy fishing the tracking feature could be ideal for locating good spots.

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Garmin eTrex 20x

Dimensions: 2.1 x 4 x 1.3 inchesGarmin eTrex 20x

Weight: 4.96 ounces

Features: A pre-loaded worldwide base map, high-sensitivity, and a large amount of internal memory.

Best Use: Hiking!

If you are looking for a device that has a large amount of on board memory, then the Garmin eTrex 20x could be the ideal device for you. It features a massive 3.7 GB of on-board memory, that means memory that you can use on the device without the need for a memory card.

On the device you will initially find a pre-installed worldwide base map. The base map features shading to represent a variety of different terrains and altitudes.

Just like with most Garmin devices, you can add your own maps to this particular device. That includes the maps that you customise yourself for your own adventures! There is also an option to turn-on a routing system while you are out, to completely eliminate the risk of getting lost.

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Garmin Montana 610 GPS

Dimensions: 7 x 7 x 4 inchesGarmin Montana 610 GPS

Weight: 3.1 pounds

Features: An oversized design, an electronic compass, and excellent screen detail.

Best Use: Activities, hiking, and climbing.

The Garmin Montana 610 GPS features a much larger design than other products that you can find reviewed on our list. This particular model is much bigger, and features a much more rugged construction than all of the other products that we are reviewing.

This wasn’t done by accident; this particular model has been designed to be ideal for people who are working directly with rough terrains. Smaller devices would be much easier to break!

There is not a camera on this model, a camera would unfortunately be a weak spot in the structure of the design. This makes the product ideal for hikers and climbers that want the basic functionality of a GPS, without the issues that could come with a GPS with a million different features. You can even go ice climbing with this device! It was designed to have a glove-friendly touchscreen display.

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Garmin eTrex Touch 35 GPS/GLONASS Device

Dimensions: 1.3 x 2.3 x 4 inchesGarmin etrex Touch 35

Weight: 5.6 ounces

Features: An array of activity profiles, an electronic compass, as well as GPS and GLONASS compatibility.

Best Use: Hiking, climbing, hunting, biking, geocache hunting, fishing, and more!

Sometimes it can be hard to find a product that directly suits your needs and requirements. Garmin have directly taken this into consideration while they were designing the Garmin eTrex Touch 35.

They developed a special set of activity profiles, all of which feature a variety of features. These include everything from hiking, to climbing, to fishing! This means that you can tailor the device to your own needs. You can pick the profile that directly suits you.

A lot of customers praise this device for having an impressive battery life, and it is known to last a lot longer than other GPS devices on the market. So, if you are seeking a handheld GPS that can handle multi-discipline adventures with ease, then this product could be ideal for you.

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Garmin Approach G3 Waterproof Touchscreen Golf GPS

Dimensions: 2.2 x 1.3 x 3.9 inchesGarmin Approach G3 Waterproof Touchscreen Golf GPS

Weight: 5.3 ounces

Features: A unique design idea, GPS and GLONASS compatibility, and thousands of pre-installed courses.

Best Use: Golf!

Garmin have recently started advancing into other markets, and one of the products that they have successfully brought out is the best Garmin handheld GPS for golf! It has been specifically designed by golfing experts to provide people with incredibly detailed golf course maps. These maps show golfers all of the distance information that they need for the fairways, as well as any hazards that are on the course.

The Garmin Approach G3 Touchscreen Golf GPS comes pre-installed with thousands of North American and Latin American courses. All of the pre-installed courses come with free course updates, you don’t even need a subscription. You can use the product to continuously update your position as you play, showing you the exact distance between you and your ideal target.

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Found your GPS yet?

So, while you attempt to find your ideal handheld GPS you should remember to take into consideration the versatility and durability of the product. Make sure that the product is completely ideal for every requirement that you have, it should be more than suitable for you. Imagine a device that is completely tailored to your every navigational need, that is what your GPS should be.

Garmin gps lake

You can leave your smartphone screen at home, and take out a satellite controlled GPS system that will always pick up your location! Just remember to take some spare batteries with you!

If you haven’t used a GPS device before, do you think you would find one beneficial? If you have used a GPS situation before, what are your favorite things about it? Let us know in the comments below!

Bradley Page
Bradley Page

With several decades of experience as a backpacker and outdoor adventurer, Bradley is an open encyclopedia when it comes to gear, clothes, and other items that matter on the trail. He tested hundreds of shoes, pants, jackets, and backpacks in his long career and is always up to date with the new appearances in the niche. His experience makes him one of the authority figures in backpacking and he can help anyone to get prepared for a great adventure!

  • Marty Nance

    I’m a big fan of Garmin and right now I am using the Garmin GPSMAP 64S Worldwide. It’s accurate, has a lot of roads and is very topographically detailed, even for Alaska, Hawaii and all of the United States, really. I take this with me every time I go out; an essential part of my gear!

  • Bradley Page

    Thanks for the comments Marty and I’m so glad that you’ve discovered the Garmin. Definitely an excellent brand and will last for years.

  • Lisa Hogenson

    I also am a big Garmin fan. I use the Garmin Etrex 20X, which I think is a great, low-cost unit. It seems to be accurate to within 7 feet or so, which is good. And I think their Basecamp computer application is an excellent way to view maps, plan, store and organize your activities.

  • Bradley Page

    Hi Lisa and yes, I agree with you on the Garmin. It’s a very reliable brand and their products are top of the line. These are also easy to understand since they have an excellent user friendly interface. Great value for money, if you ask me.