Which Is Better Garmin or Satmap Handheld GPS

A person using their Garmin handheld GPS

Trekkers, hikers, and backpackers all over the world are relying on handheld GPS systems to figure out where they are, as well as mark their favorite routes or amazing camp spots. A good GPS can not only help you see where you’re going but let you know what kind of conditions you’ll run into.

Sure, you can use your phone to navigate the wild, but having a handheld GPS device provides additional security because you don’t need to waste the battery on your phone when on the trail. This way, you have a full battery on your phone for emergency situations, in case you get injured and need to call for some assistance. Hopefully, you won’t need it and you’ll be set for a great outdoor adventure with no problems, but it can’t hurt to be prepared for these things.

Garmin and Satmap are two of the most prominent manufacturers of consumer handheld GPS systems. They both make amazing handhelds and are known for their reliability, functionality, and tradition. Identify your needs and you’ll know which one to get.

However, which of these is a better solution for your hiking needs? There are many factors that come into play and a lot of things to consider about your particular habits and your hiking needs. While both of the manufacturers provide great devices, only one will be right for you.

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Garmin Handhelds Specs

Garmin is well-known in outdoor enthusiast circles. Whether you’re talking automotive GPS devices, wearables, or handhelds there is no dispute that Garmin earned its spot as one of the world’s premier GPS device manufacturers. Even those who prefer other manufacturers or other ways of navigating through the wild cannot dispute the time-tested performance provided by Garmin’s GPS devices.

The most well-known handheld GPS device manufactured by this company is called Montana, and I have had the opportunity on using it on many of my adventures. Here are the specs:

  • Display – 5″ touchscreen (480 x 800 pixels)
  • Controls – touchscreen
  • Weight – 14.5oz
  • Battery – up to 16h
  • Tracking – up to 10000 waypoints, 250 tracks
  • Water rating – IPX7 (military-grade waterproof)
  • Sensors – GPS, galileo, Barometric altimeter, compass
  • Bluetooth compatible
  • MicroSD card slot

In addition to all this, Montana has some great or smart features which allow you to receive notifications about the weather or from your phone, on your handheld GPS, as well as ways to pair your handheld device with your computer and download/upload maps and/or routes.

Another Garmin handheld I’ve had the pleasure of using is the GPSMAP 66i, and it was one of the most accurate (6-12ft accuracy) GPS devices I’ve ever had. Apart from this, it had one of the fastest chipsets inside it – it could boot up in less than 15 seconds and load maps in 20 to 40 seconds, depending on the map. While this may not seem that fast to people who use their phones as GPS devices, this is super fast in the handheld GPS world.

  • Display – 3″ (240 x 200 pixels)
  • Controls – buttons
  • Weight – 8.1oz
  • Battery – up to 30h
  • Tracking – up to 10000 waypoints, 250 tracks
  • Water rating – IPX7 (military-grade waterproof)
  • Sensors – GPS, galileo, Barometric altimeter, compass, SOS button
  • Bluetooth compatible
  • MicroSD card slot

Satmap Active 20 Specs

In contrast to Garmin and the various choices, it provides in the GPS department, Satmap only has one device. They believe that this GPS is everything you’ll ever need whether you’re biking, trekking, or hiking. They are not far from the truth. While their Active 20 is a bit bulky it is the only handheld GPS on the market that has a high-resolution screen.

  • Display – 3.5″ high-resolution touchscreen (Gorilla glass 2.5mm thick)
  • Controls –  buttons and touchscreen
  • Weight – 28.2oz
  • Battery – 5000 mAh (average of 16h of usage)
  • Tracking – up to 10000 waypoints, 250 tracks
  • Water rating – IP68 (can spend up to 90 minutes submerged in 5ft of water)
  • Sensors – GPS, galileo, Barometric altimeter, compass
  • Bluetooth compatible (4.0) – can connect to heart rate monitors as well as bikes or cars
  • MicroSD card slot

While I couldn’t find this device to purchase for myself, I’ve borrowed it from a friend and tested it thoroughly. It takes about 20 seconds to boot up and another 30-60 to load the map. Which is not great compared to Garmin’s devices, the Active 20 makes up for it in other fields

A very portable Garmin handheld GPS

Advantages of Having a Garmin Handheld

The time-tested tradition of Garmin should not be overlooked. They understand the needs of outdoors enthusiasts all over the world and you can clearly see this in the design of their devices.

  • More to choose from – Garmin provides a variety of handheld GPS devices, and you can choose which one you prefer.
  • More maps at a reasonable price – Garmin devices have more maps available for purchase – topographic as well as satellite imaging.
  • Additional bells and whistles – if you need a camera on your GPS, you can have it!
  • InReach® program – allows a lot of other functions on your handheld such as receiving weather information.
  • Birdseye® – satellite images overlayed with additional information such as routes, street names, topographical lines, etc.

Disadvantages of Using a Garmin Handheld Gps

Even the most famous GPS manufacturer in the world needs to compromise with their devices sometimes. These are the most common cons of Garmin devices.

  • Less battery life – Garmin devices will last you an entire day, but if you turn on all of the additional functions, the battery life decreases drastically.
  • Touchscreen not ideal in rain – rain can activate functions on the screen and make it a nightmare to navigate your device.
  • Smaller screen – portability has its costs and most Garmin devices have bad screen resolution, so maps can get blurry when you zoom in.
  • Accessibility – apart from working only with buttons or only with a touchscreen, connecting to the smartphone is a bit clunky and you can’t use the devices until you pair them with a smartphone and a computer app.
  • Birdseye – while great in theory, not so great in application (not as detailed as Google maps, which is a real shame) images can be as old as 10 years, needs to be connected to wi-fi. Need to be downloaded by waypoints.

Pros of Going for the Active 20

I was honestly surprised how well Active 20 performed. There are a lot of advantages it has over the competition in the same price range, and sometimes over an even higher price range.

  • Dual controls – full compatibility for touchscreen and buttons – you can do the same things with the buttons and the screen. This is something you never know you need until you try it. It provides easier accessibility in all types of weather and with all types of handwear.
  • One-fit-all – apart from being used from your hand, Active 20 can be mounted on your bicycle, car, parasail, canoe, and basically any other means of transport. It can replace your car GPS if you want it.
  • Outstanding selection of maps – while it comes with preloaded maps, Satmap can map any area you want and deliver the maps to you. The maps can only be opened by Satmap devices and cannot be copied, in order to protect your information and privacy.
  • High-quality screen – High-resolution mapping on an HD screen means the maps are crisp and crystal clear.
  • All-day battery life – while the box says “up to16h” I’ve gotten a full 24h out of it, with some battery life to spare.
  • Amazing accuracy – Nothing stops Active 20 from connecting to satellites and providing an accurate location, even under trees or thick cover.

Cons of Choosing the Satmap Active 20

Unfortunately, nothing is made perfect and if you want to have good picture quality and a reliable battery, you need to sacrifice some things.

  • Weight – it’s almost double the weight of the heaviest handheld Garmin device. If weight plays a big factor in your outdoor adventures, this will definitely bother you.
  • Size – apart from being heavier, it is also larger than other GPS devices in the same price range. This can be a problem for ultralight campers and hikers.
  • No AA mount for battery – Even though it provides AA battery support, you have to purchase a battery mount separately. Which isn’t really that bad, but it’s still pretty annoying.
  • Software – Small software bugs do appear from time to time, however, they are usually ironed out if you keep your device updated. They can be quite a problem if they happen during an extreme hike.
  • Rubber USB flap – while the flap itself is pretty good and it keeps any water from coming into the charging port, it is not always secure and can open without you knowing it.
  • The MicroSD port – somewhat awkward to access, as you need to take out the battery to do it.

Which One Should You Get – Garmin or Satmap?

When deciding which handheld GPS you should get, you should follow the same rules as when deciding on any new hiking gear. Ask yourself what you need, and what you can go without. Do you need buttons, or do you prefer working your device through a touch screen? Is weight a factor? How precisely do you need to see the maps, do you need high resolution? Will you use it just for hiking or will you use it for other things? And finally, how much are you prepared to invest in a handheld GPS device?

Once you answer all these questions, you should have a good idea of what you’ll need. Remember, you don’t have to get the best option on the market, you just need to get the best device for you. Finally, if all else fails, you can decide by picking the one that looks better.

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