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What is the best current walking outdoor handheld GPS unit?

What is the best current walking outdoor handheld GPS unit?

Tue 25th November 2014

What is the best current walking outdoor handheld GPS unit?

Updated March 2016 - THIS ARTICLE HAS BEEN UPDATED. You can view the updated article here.

Which GPS (Global positioning system) unit, what is the best one currently on the market?

How many times do I get asked the question – What is the best outdoor handheld GPS unit currently on the market or what is the best GPS unit for walking?

We also get people who come on our GPS Training Courses who frankly have been sold the wrong GPS unit. They were wrongly advised in the shop (not from us I may add) and then they realise so.

They then wish they had sought some advice first. GPS units are not cheap, so it does worry me when people have been sold an incorrect product. Advice is free and if you are reading this article you are doing you research so well done, it is time well spent. So here are my thoughts about the GPS units that are currently on the market which hopefully will answer the question – Which is the best walking GPS for me and my budget? By offering good indipendent GPS advice we are now the largest independent retailer of Outdoor GPS units in the UK so what have we learnt over the years?

Make of GPS Unit - Garmin, Memory Map or SatMap?

Over the years at Shepherds Walks we have sold every make of unit, but now we only sell Garmin, why?

Over the past year with the advent of free software (called Garmin BaseCamp) that enables you to transfer your mapping from your GPS to your PC why look any further than Garmin.

Garmin GPS units are good products, great product support, affordable mapping and very easy to use. They have developed over years and products have got better and better.

You will see we also take trade in of old units so every day we speak to many people regarding their GPS experiences. With many of the other makes many people have just given up and are looking for the experience they initially sought and this they will get from Garmin.

I know I will be criticised by some people, but a few years ago year we converted our GPS training day into a ĎGarmin Outdoor GPS Training Dayí.

For Shepherds Walks to make that decision we have put our business behind the best runner and rider; Garmin.

GPS Screen - Black and white or colour?

The only black and white Garmin GPS unit on the market is the e-Trex 10.

Unless the only reason you are buying a GPS unit is to mark fixed points or geo-caching (and then I would still think about spending a little more for a colour screen one) I would steer away from a black and white screen GPS unit.

Black and white screen GPS are the most commonly miss sold GPS units because people solely buy on price.

Yes they are a cheap GPS unit but if you are a keen walker you deserve better. People look at the price, think they are getting a bargain and then realise later down the path they should have spent a little bit more and bought a colour screen unit.

The joy of a colour screen GPS that you can add affordable Ordnance Survey mapping to them, either at the time of purchase, or at a later stage.

So please do spend that extra few pounds. Units with colour screens – e-Trex 20x, e-Trex 30x, GPS Map64s, Oregon 600 and Oregon 650

Data Input - Touch screen or buttons?

The basic e-Trex Garmin range has buttons, also the GPSMAP64s (one of the top models) also has buttons, the rest of the Garmin GPS units are touch screen. When we do our Shepherds Walks GPS training courses we give participants waypoints that they manually put into their units.

The people who have touch screen units are twice as quick. They easily input the data and off they go. The button driven units take a lot longer to input the data BUT the reason the Garmin GPSMAP64s has buttons (i.e. a high end unit) is if you are into high level and winter walking and you wear gloves buttons are certainly worth looking at as touch screen units can be hard if you wear gloves (i.e. you will need to take them off). If you are an average hillwalker I would stick with a touch screen GPS unit. We are all used to using smart phones these days, so if you are wanting that same experience I would very much look at getting a touch screen GPS unit.

Mapping on the screen of your GPS

You can put mapping on all the colour screen GPS units (please note I am talking about the current generation units - e-Trex 20x, e-Trex 30x, 64s, Oregon 600, Oregon 650, Montana 600 and Montana 650) and when you see an Ordnance Survey Map on the screen you will not be disappointed.

If you get a chance to buy maps at the same time as buying the unit (i.e. bundled in with unit) buy them. You will get them at a massively reduced price, but donít be conned by small areas of mapping, if you are offered a bundle of maps I would expect full UK mapping at 1:50,000, donít go for anything less.

These mapping cards that you get bundled with higher end GPS units normally retails for £200.00 but you get it bundled with new units for just £50.00 above the unit price. A big saving, but please note not all retailers sell bundled mapping, when I mean bundled I would get nothing less than full UK mapping at 1:50,000.

I must add that Shepherds Walks have these bundled offers online or in our shop, but many online retailers donít (as Garmin likes to put them into Ďbricks and mortar retailersí).

Again this is one of the big mistakes people make. Buying their GPS cheaper elsewhere and not realising it does not come with mapping.

It is often a hard phone call to make when the customer rings up very proud that they have bought there GPS £50.00 cheaper elsewhere then they then find out they have to now spend another £200.00 on mapping (when they could have had this bundled in for the £50.00 they thought they had saved)

Units with full UK bundled mapping options – GPS Map64s, Oregon 600, Oregon 650, Montana 600 and Montana 650

Electronic Compass – Worth the money?

Some GPS units come with built in electronic compasses. Why, and is it worth the extra money? As GPS units work from satellites with are thousands of miles above you when you rotate the unit through 90 degrees it does nothing.

Why should it, it has only moved 2 or three inches? Well as a walker if it is pointing in the wrong direction it makes a massive difference.

Therefore they started putting in electronic compasses and it gets even better. With any new generation unit you donít even need to keep them flat as they are what you call 3 axis compasses.

Therefore with a unit with a built in electronic compass your Ordnance Survey map, on the screen, will automatically orient itself and your compass will be correct when you move your GPS unit around.

The units without electronic compasses do still have a compass BUT you have to be moving for these to work, as it needs to be processing location data from the satellites.

So the extra few pounds for an electronic compass is certainly worth the money. Units with an electronic compass – e-Trex 30GPS Map64sOregon 600Oregon 650Montana 600and Montana 650 

- Summary -

 I hope the above has helped you out in helping you choose your GPS unit. So which GPS unit should you go for?

If you can afford it I would try to keep away from the Garmin eTrex range. As they come with no full UK mapping it turns into an expensive mistake.

Therefore I would buy the Garmin Oregon 600. Look at this online here

If you have the money – It may be worth looking at the Oregon 650. This is the same as the 600 but it comes with Garmin rechargeable batteries and a built in camera. Worth the extra money if you can afford it. Look at this online here. You will not be disappointed.

Please call Shepherds Walks to talk over the options

- Shepherds Walks is open 7 days a week, so please do call to talk over the options we have. You can even trade in your old unit and upgrade to a newer model. Our telephone number is 01669 621044.

We can talk you through the options and answer any questions you have. Or please do call into our shop in Northumberland to see the GPS units in action.

 We donít just sell you the unit.

- We set it up for you before it is despatched to you and therefore it will work as soon as you take it out of the box. We install the mapping card and test it is working properly, calibrate the compass and set it up to work in the UK (which it does not straight out of the box).

- We include free fact sheets with step by step instructions on how to download the mapping you get included if you purchase an eTrex 20 or 30. It should get you going in 5 minutes, rather than hours. Lots of screen shots and very easy to follow. We include step by step instructions on how to use Garmin BaseCamp. This crucial piece of software really gets you using your GPS 100% as you can connect it to your computer. As BaseCamp comes with no instructions and lots of people struggle with it I have a written step by step guide with lots of screenshots.

- We also give you free unlimited access to our Garmin Online training courses - online resource (normally £11.99). This we update daily as things change in the world of GPS. And you only pay £3.95 delivery.

- We post everything special delivery so it will be with you the next working day. Also if you are local we can also spend a little time with you teaching you how to use your new unit and we do this at no extra cost. You will end up with the right GPS unit and will be able to use it straight away.

You can see our shop details and contact details here.

GPS Training are the largest GPS training providers in the country. They have a very good video on their web site that takes you through the best Garmin GPS units. You can watch that here.

What is the difference between on Garmin Outdoor GPS and the other products on the market. Well this is! 

An Oregon 600 - the GPS I recommend in this article.

Posted By: Dave Wilson | Thu 23rd April 2015

very good article helped me make up my mind,

Posted By: Peter Stevens | Thu 30th April 2015

I read the article and then discussed my options over the phone. The advice was excellent and went for an Oregon 600. I am very happy with my choice.

Posted By: Phil | Fri 26th June 2015

Great write up, very helpful & aftrr researching myself I did as before with other products decide Garmin & really like the look of the Oregon 650t. Only thing is I'm also a keen road cyclist so love the look of the Garmin Edge 1000. Is there any happy medium I can use for hiking & cycling so I don't have to fork out nearly £1K for both. I do have a Garmin Vivosmart, Cycling Speed/Cadence sensor & HRM-Run so the additional options from Edge 1000 aren't too relevant but I do like it's random route planner where it picks 3 routes within your preset distance range. Can you get this with the Oregon model range?

Posted By: Joe | Sun 13th December 2015

GPSmap 64 ist better :-)

Posted By: Nigel harding | Mon 13th June 2016

In the Autumn of this year I plan to do a charity event by running up mount Snowdon in Wales.I shall go whatever the weather so need to plan for heavy cloud.I will be taking a map and compass but in cloud they may be of limited use.This is a one off and I really would like to take a gps unit but probably will never use it again.Could you suggest the most appropriate model please.

Posted By: Andy Ayre | Tue 14th June 2016

Hi Nigel, Thank you for your enquiry, I would recommend that you look at either the eTrex20x or eTrex30x with Birdseye Voucher units, these can be found in our Walkers Store under Garmin GPS units with Birdseye. The included Birdseye Voucher (Normally £19.99) will allow you to download 3000 square km of detailed 1:25k OS Mapping to the GPS. We could using this voucher pre-load for you all of the Snowdonia National Park 1:25k mapping for you.
The advantage the eTrex30x will have over the eTrex20x is that it has an electronic compass that will orientate the map page for you when stationary where as with the etrex20x you need to be moving for correct map orientation. We would setup the unit for you, provide you with our own helpguides and give you access to our online training resource (Normally £25.00) If you need any more information please email me at
Regards Andy

Posted By: Paul | Mon 27th June 2016

Does anyone have any thoughts on whether an Android rugged phone such as the Defender 2 is better than a dedicated GPS unit. I'm thinking along the lines of screen readability, battery life, durability, ease of use etc. I'm undecided between the two so any advice most welcome.

Posted By: Jon Monks | Tue 28th June 2016

Paul, I have used both types of devices and prefer a dedicated GPS unit. The downside of something like a Defender 2 is that you can't replace the batteries so once it is flat you are stuck. The dedicated outdoor devices run off AA batteries so you can replace if need be (out on a multiple day trek) and also the screen quality on an dedicated GPS is far superior than the Defender. I hope this helps.

Posted By: Jon | Tue 28th June 2016

Many thanks for your swift reply and it very much helps in confirming the gut feeling I had. I think it boils down to using the right tool for the job rather than, in a sense, a hybrid. I like the point about being able to run on AA batteries for example, as the phone is obviously going to run out of power on an extended walk.I think I will go for the dedicated gps and use my phone to take pictures ;-)

Posted By: Ernest Hankey | Sat 8th October 2016

excellent article. very educational and easy to understand even for a not so young gadget ignoramus.

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