When the first handheld GPS unit was made available all the way back in 1989 the technology was considered revolutionary, changing the way that people navigated almost overnight.
Today, GPS technology is almost omnipresent.
Our cars have GPS, our phones have GPS – even drones and dog collars feature GPS technology today!
Nevertheless, handheld GPS receivers remain an incredibly popular piece of technology for those that like to head out into the woods or explore off the beaten path. Today’s explorers and adventurers lean heavily on GPS units to get them into and out of new places, and they expect their GPS unit to work no matter what.
Waterproofing features are particularly high on the priority list for GPS units. You want to know that you’re going to be able to use this technology in the worst weather and in emergency situations, and waterproofing gives you the kind of confidence and peace of mind you need to know that your navigational system won’t let you down when it gets a little wet.
To find the best waterproof GPS on the market today we’ve put together this quick buying guide. We offer some advice about the features you should look for as well as our top 10 favorite units available on the market today.
Let’s dig right in!
Top Features to Look for in the Best Waterproof GPS Units
Obvious waterproofing capabilities, there are a couple of important features you’re going to want to make sure that your new GPS unit is going to include.
These features not only improve the functionality and utility of a top-quality GPS unit, but they also make your life navigating off the beaten path a lot easier as well. These features are “make or break” options that you won’t want to miss out on.
Screen size is a huge consideration when purchasing a new GPS unit. You’ll want to be able to quickly and effortlessly navigate with the help of your new GPS technology, and a big piece of that puzzle is being able to clearly read a high definition screen in any lighting situation.
You don’t necessarily need a tablet sized waterproof GPS unit when you are heading out into the woods, but you don’t want a tiny and impossible to discern GPS unit that doesn’t give you the real “lay of the land” around you, either.
Almost every commercial GPS unit on the planet today comes loaded with GPS maps standard, but it may not be a bad idea to look for a GPS unit that allows you to take advantage of third-party maps or custom maps from other providers with their technology.
Third-party maps can provide a higher level of detail for the terrain you are going to cover, give you a better picture of where you are and what you are heading into, and are usually much more consistently and regularly updated than “stock” GPS maps.
Custom maps allow you to preprogram your own routes, waypoints, and include other special navigational features that traditional maps don’t provide.
Data Recording Capabilities
You don’t necessarily need a waterproof GPS that includes a digital camera built right in (though these previously ridiculously expensive units are becoming a lot more cost-effective), but you are going to want to – at the very least – be able to record navigational points, waypoints, and other data points while you are using the system.
You should be able to easily edit waypoints on the fly so that you can navigate quickly with your GPS unit in the field, but you should also have a unit that includes automatic waypoints so that you can review your entire excursion with a high level of accuracy when you return as well.
Top 8 Waterproof GPS Units
1. Garmin Foretrex 401
- 17 hour battery life
- High resolution LCD display
- Built-in electronic compass
A wrist mounted GPS unit designed specifically for hikers and outdoor adventurers, this hands-free unit provides effortless navigation thanks to the latest GPS technology from the folks at Garmin. Just about as lightweight as a smartwatch but with obviously much more advanced features when it comes to GPS navigation, you can effortlessly set up this GPS unit before you head out onto the trail or edit things on the fly.
All of your GPS navigational data will be recorded at timed intervals when this unit is on, reporting up to 1000 individual waypoints. The GPS data can be accessed effortlessly by connecting the device directly to your laptop, computer, or mobile device over a USB connection – but you can also use a wireless data transfer to get the data to another device as well.
Pros & Cons
2. IGPSPORT IGS50E Bike Computer Wireless ANT+ GPS
- Universal mounting for any bike/motorcycle
- High-sensitivity GPS for live up-to-date tracking
- Automatic start and stop technology to conserve battery
While specifically designed as a bicycle GPS unit that mounts easily to your handlebars or frame, some have modified this GPS unit to work with their motorcycle as well. It doesn’t take that much work to mount this to a motorcycle, either, letting this relatively inexpensive GPS unit do double duty.
Not only will you be able to quickly navigate with the help of this 100% waterproof GPS unit while riding your bicycle but you can also easily track your speed, your average pace, your total distance, ride time – and so much more – with the help of this unit as well.
The 2.2 in screen displays all of your data in an easy to digest way, making all of the features easily accessible through the three button dedicated control scheme.
Pros & Cons
3. Magellan eXplorist 510 Waterproof Hiking GPS
- Full-color LCD readout screen.
- Impressive battery life
- Nearly indestructible construction materials
Those looking for a full-blown, full-featured waterproof hiking GPS are going to need look no further than this option from the folks at Magellan.
Loaded from top to bottom with the latest and greatest GPS features, this unit comes complete with a ridiculously long battery life, incredibly accurate GPS signal (up to 3 yards accuracy), and plenty of onboard storage to handle third-party maps, nearly unlimited waypoints, and an expandable features you may choose to add later down the line.
This unit does come with a pretty stiff price tag compared to some of the other handheld options on the market today, but the reputation of this company and the quality of the features you can expect make it worth the money.
Pros & Cons
4. LandAirSea 54 Waterproof Covert Magnetic Real Time GPS Tracker
- Compatible with global GPS signals
- Small, discrete, and nearly indestructible
- Interfaces with all popular computer operating systems as well as Android and iOS devices
This isn’t so much a traditional handheld GPS unit as it is a real-time GPS tracker, a tracking device that you can attach to pretty much anything and everything you want to track thanks to the super strong magnet built right in.
Featuring an ultracompact and discrete design that allows you to comfortably attach this real-time GPS tracking module to pretty much anything (including cars and trucks, recreational vehicles, shipping containers, etc.), this unit works with the GPS global network of satellites so that you can find this tracker ANYWHERE on the planet at any point in time.
Pros & Cons
5. Garmin Montana 650 Waterproof Hiking GPS
- Features WAAS Enabled GPS unit
- Superbright LCD full-color screen has an antiglare protection
- Built-in five megapixel autofocusing digital camera with geo-tagging technology
If you are willing to pony up a little bit of extra cash to get your hands on a top-tier waterproof GPS unit from the folks at Garman, one of their flagship handheld devices, then this is going to be right up your alley.
Featuring an ultrabright four-inch LCD screen that accurately produces colors from all your favorite maps, including third-party and custom maps, you will be able to read this GPS in any light or in any weather condition. The unit also includes a three axis compass, barometric altimeter, and a built-in five megapixel digital camera that features automatic geo-tagging technology as well.
Combine all of that with the legendary durability of Garmin GPS systems, rugged construction materials, and an easy to use control scheme it is easy to see why this particular device is so popular these days.
Pros & Cons
6. Garmin inReach Explorer+ Hiking GPS
- Built-in 24/7 emergency SOS signal
- Preloaded Topo maps direct from Garmin
- Worldwide GPS coverage and messaging technology
Anyone really willing to get off of the beaten path and head out into unfamiliar territory will feel a lot more comfortable when they have this Garmin GPS unit in their pack.
Designed to take advantage of worldwide GPS technology as well as tightly integrating with the Iridium satellite network, you’ll be able to use this GPS receiver to send out messages – text messages or emails – to any cell phone or email address worldwide without having to use a cellular signal.
Combine that with the integrated GEOS Emergency Response SOS signal sent directly to local emergency responders dependent upon your GPS location when you hit this dedicated button and you’re talking about an ideal solution for explorers and adventurers that want a safety net in their back pocket.
Pros & Cons
7. Garmin inReach Mini
- Miniature version of the full size inReach GPS from Garman
- 24/7 Global SOS to local emergency service responders
- Weighs just 3.5 ounces
Consider this a shrunken down version of the full size Garmin inReach GPS unit we reviewed above, with many of the same bells and whistles and certainly the same legendary reputation for durability, usability, and functionality.
This tiny little GPS system not only provides you with accurate navigational data on the fly, but also does double duty as an emergency SOS signal anywhere around the world. A portable charging system allows you to recharge this GPS unit on the go, another major advantage for those that plan to be out away from civilization for extended amounts of time.
Pros & Cons
8. Garmin Montana 600 Waterproof Hiking GPS
- Built-in three axis compass with included barometric altimeter
- Ultrabright four-inch LCD full-color display
- Leverages WAAS enabled GPS technology
It should come as no surprise to anyone that Garmin dominates the world of top waterproof GPS units, and this handheld system is a perfect example of the kinds of top-tier solutions they’ve been bringing to the market ever since day one.
The easy to manipulate user interface works well whether you are holding this system in your hands or have it mounted directly to a bicycle, motorcycle, or recreational vehicle. Durable and waterproof, this device isn’t just designed to stand up to Mother Nature but is able to take quite a bit of physical abuse without becoming compromised, either.