3 Features to Look for in a Handheld GPS

GPS technology has come a long way and new devices include features like a homing beacon and two-way communication

hand holding a garmin gps device in the outdoors
Handheld GPS devices are so light and useful there’s no reason not to carry one outdoors.Garmin

Global positioning system (GPS) technology has become so integral to the outdoors experience that there is no reason not to have it with you at all times. A GPS device can keep you on course, signal for help, and assist with recovering game that might otherwise be lost and wasted. Handheld units are the most powerful, combining a world of technologies that would leave woodsmen of yesteryear speechless. Here are a few features to look for.

Two-Way Messaging

Garmin InReach Explorer+
The ability to text or email with medical or emergency responders might save your life.Garmin

The most advanced handheld GPS units incorporate some form of two-way communication, a potentially lifesaving feature. Using vast satellite networks, users can send and receive text messages to any cell phone or email address in the world regardless of cell or wireless coverage. In an emergency, that can spell the difference between life and death.

Interactive SOS

Garmin inReach Mini GPS
A GPS with a built in beacon feature can lead responders exactly to your position.Garmin

In a worst-case scenario such as a plane crash, blizzard, or backcountry accident, there is no better insurance than a handheld GPS with an SOS feature. State-of-the-art units function as a beacon, where the press of a button sends an emergency signal with coordinates to a 24/7 monitoring network. That initiates two-way communication, with which survivors and first responders can coordinate rescue.

Preloaded Basemaps

Garmin GPSMAP 66i GPS Handheld and Satellite Comm
A bright screen will help you see details under a bright sun.Garmin

While you will undoubtedly want to load and customize your own maps on any GPS, most are available with some level of either a North American or worldwide base map. Those are only a start, however, as the GPS market offers a mind-boggling array of both free and paid maps to expand your horizons. Look for a daylight-readable screen or screen mode that you can easily adjust and consult map and coordinate displays in harsh sunlight.