Do You Have A Handheld GPS Receiver?

A handheld GPS Receiver is an excellent navigation tool and they come with a wide variety of form factors, features, and options for many different intended uses. Being a ‘modern’ survival site, we certainly acknowledge this particular high-tech gadget and its wide array of functionality and usefulness in our lives today.

While a compass, map, and ‘know-how’ will certainly provide a near ‘bullet proof’ backup, lets talk about the handheld GPS, how they work, their many uses, and which one that you have (or would like to have)…


What is GPS?

GPS is a Global Positioning Satellite System developed by the United States Department of Defense. It uses a constellation of between 24 and 32 earth orbit satellites that transmit precise radio signals, which allow GPS receivers to determine their current location.

These satellites are in high orbit above the earth’s surface and their signal is what is picked up by any GPS receiver that are now commonplace worldwide.


How Does GPS Work?

The basic concept is this… A GPS receiver calculates its position by precisely timing the signals sent by the GPS satellites. Each satellite continually transmits messages that include the time the message was sent and the precise orbital information (the orbit path and speed of each satellite).

The receiver measures the transit time of each message and computes the distance to each satellite. A form of triangulation is used to combine these distances with the location of the satellites to determine the receiver’s location.

The position is then displayed, perhaps with a moving map display or latitude and longitude; elevation information may be included. Many GPS units also show information such as direction and speed, calculated from position changes.

GPS usage is everywhere
Much of our modern world relies on GPS. Transportation and distribution systems are intertwined with the signals from GPS satellites for tracking purposes and all sorts of integration into automated and control systems to assist in a variety of ways. We use it in our vehicles for navigation. We use it in our smartphones. We use it for recreational activities. There are many useful functions for GPS. While privacy issues are a concern for some applications, lets focus on what you may find useful…


Your Primary Use Or Interest For A Handheld GPS

Lets hear what your own uses are for a GPS unit…

Road & Street navigation?
Topographical maps?

Which handheld GPS receiver do you have, or would like to have?

Here’s one that I’m thinking about…
Garmin GPSMAP 64st, TOPO U.S. with High-Sensitivity GPS & GLONASS Receiver

Brand: Garmin
Rating: 4.3 stars, with fewest ‘1’ ratings (which are often ‘user’ issues)
Most ratings/reviews on Amazon: Indicative of popularity
Maps: 100K Topo maps and capability for higher resolution 24K topo maps
Breadcrumbs: Ability to save tracks of where you’ve traveled
Satellites: Includes GLONASS receiver for more satellites than ‘just’ GPS

However there are LOTS of handheld GPS receivers out there, and I’m curious to hear your choices and experiences…


  1. I’ve traveled in countries all over the world without these devices, so I see no need for one now !

    1. Maps don’t have batteries to go dead. They don’t need a satellite constellation and a compass points north. The only place there should be a GPS is in an airplane and then should only be used when flying in IMC as they make instrument approaches much safer

      1. Agreed, the specs show this has a battery life of 16 hours. Spare batteries, or rechargeable batteries with a small solar charger would be a plus when taking a long hike using any electronic device. A map and compass would provide additional backup.

        To answer Ken’s specific question, mine is a Garmin Etrex, 12 channel personal navigator. Simplistic and gets the job done.

  2. I have tried several units but found them unreliable for my area. They seem to work well in open valleys but the mountains block signals in many areas at higher elevations. It has been five years since my last attempt, so I can not say if new technology has overcome this problem. My advice is to be familiar with your area and have a good compass.

    Just a note on relying on technology – if I went by my vehicle nav system, there have been many case where I would have driven in ditches, turned into fields, or run off new bridges.

  3. I have an old Garmin, probably 10 years old.

    So between my Garmin and my Dumb-Phone how in the heck did I get lost in my own backyard?

    I have used the Garmin in 4 overseas countries and have had no problems with that antique at all. Although it really did not like Bangkok or Pattaya Thailand very well, but that what the escort was for…. HAHAHA Do NOT ask.


    1. Lucy’s Tiger Bar????????????? Didn’t have anything to do with a triangular monster did it? All of this talk about GPS triangulation get me to remembering.

  4. For me my privacy is the upmost importance. The memory of where you have been could be kept which could lead others to where you are at when it gets ugly.

    Just something to consider!

    1. @ Being Watched

      What’s even more interesting, the newer Dumb-Phones all have batteries that are non-removable and ya can’t turn off the “Location”…..

      Interesting huh?


      1. Thats why when I go certain places I place my plastic and mobile phones into a sealed metal box and thats where they stay until I’m back to where THEY think is my normal location!

      2. I’ve also unplugged all of the snap wire connectors going into my GM Onstar Rear view mirror!!!

      3. That is the first thing I look at when getting a new phone. If the battery can’t be taken out, I don’t buy it.

        1. I can remove the battery from my phone but find it easier to wrap it in heavy duty aluminum foil when I want to go dark.

  5. I’ve not had a use for a GPS but when I first became aware of them being used very much it was with dogs. Some of the sporting dogs ‘run big’ and get lost and it has been great for that purpose.

  6. I do own one (magellon) but it stops working when I pick it up. My brother owns a garmin, he can be using his and hand it to me and it shuts off. Must be too much static electricity. Only watches I could wear in the past were plastic as I dissolved the case unless they were titanium which my current watch is.

    1. Try this one. Turn off all the lights in your house, then walk around and touch the fluorescent (spiral) bulbs. Watch them turn on by themselves. :) It’s quite amusing.

  7. I agree with ‘TRAVELER’.

    You can’t teach an old dog new tricks!

    (And why would you want to?)

  8. After spending a fall/winter vacation in Williamsburg, VA and traveling at night in that area one needs a GPS to return to the time share. Even more so when it is raining, and everyone knows where they are going. You on the other hand are LOST, for us that is a rare case.

    After that little escapade where we were lost, we purchased a Garmin for the vehicle. Loved using it when we were going into an area not familiar with the roads, even with a current paper USA detailed map.

  9. Just to let everyone know, never use a GPS without a back up map to consult.

    In Oregon a couple followed the GPS, were stranded until help arrived the next morning to save them.

    They wanted he shorter route on their trip, which almost cost them their survivability on this plain of existence.

    One thing they did have correct enough fuel in the car, food and clothing/blankets. This happens every time we have a major winter storm that dumps a lot of snow in the higher elevations.

    1. I like maps. They’re reliable, don’t take batteries, and don’t break down…

  10. As I am fishing at one of my many favorite places, I just line up landmarks and underwater structures like an intersection using geometry and certain degree angles I memorized. One day I saw my BIL going around and around in his boat rather confused, and then he came over to mine. He said he uses GPS to find his favorite spots but it is off about 50-100 feet and when he saw me catch one monster sunfish after another, he said I was in the spot he fishes marked by GPS. Yeah, right.

    I don’t need a GPS. It would be a waste of my time being off target and I have more fun finding and memoriing the place I need to be.

  11. I have a Garmin GPS. I mostly use it to keep track of elevation gain/loss and miles traveled. I also use real maps, and sometimes my husband and I disagree with where we are on the map. The GPS is a great tool to supplement other way finding skills. It proved it’s worthiness when I was able to use it to prove to the group I was with that we had dropped into the wrong drainage on our mountain descent. Just like with any tool, its usefulness really depends on the skills of the person using it.

  12. Looked at handheld GPS units, decided I don’t go into the woods/forest deep enough anymore to use one. So, “I don’t often go in the woods, but when I do” I mark my trail and also am usually bracketed by roads and eventually will hit one if I get turned around. Always carry a marked up topo map, compass and other stuff when I go.

    I did use an auto Garmin, but the little sucker would freeze up at the most critical time-like “was that my exit?” as it was rebooting, causing a stream of unprintable verbs, nouns and pronouns, it now sits in the console and doesn’t get used anymore. If we need to we fire up Siri for directions, very quick responses, we did some Boston circling when the other phone (Android} would tell you to turn after you passed the turn.

    Also always carry Gazetteers for the states we are in, with state and regional maps.

  13. I don’t have a GPS device, however;
    In a previous chapter in my life, when I worked construction and also played music nights and weekends. I wasn’t always totally accurate when describing my exact whereabouts. So in my experience the MOST accurate way of finding my Global Position would be my wife.
    Some GPS systems can locate you within’ a few yards. She was so accurate that she could find the exact barstool I was on!? Lol.

  14. I have the e-trex. Like many other gadgets, it has its advantages, and its shortcomings.

    Very handy when exploring new ground, especially in rugged terrain, to “mark” points you may wish to return to in the future. If you “mark” your beginning point, yo can see instantly how far you have traveled on foot, but also your distance back “as the crow flies”.

    Shortcomings? In heavily wooded areas, sometimes it loses contact with the satellites, requiring finding an opening in the canopy of the trees. Carrying a compass as a companion to the GPS is mandatory as the electronic compass on the GPS only works if you are walking at a fairly brisk, steady pace, not always possible in rugged terrain (the GPS will show the direction you need to go, but you need a magnetic compass to verify what direction that is if you are not traveling fast enough).

    I carry one in the woods with me. I like it and believe it to be a handy device. I would never depend solely on it for navigation for the same reason that I start nearly all my fires with a Bic lighter, but carry other options with me.

  15. Another piece of advice. If you live in a remote area, as I do, if you have no GPS of your own, have someone that does give you the coordinates of the closest location capable of landing a med-e-vac helicopter. I recently had to make that call for a neighbor who was grievously injured and the first thing I was asked was if I knew the grid coordinates of any possible landing options close to the scene. I did. My neighbor survived.

    1. @Dennis,
      You’ve made a good point about LZ’s. Being able to move between Lat. and Long. and UTM coordinates quickly on a GPS could be helpful. I used to work in remote areas and wildland fire fighters asked me to keep an eye out for fires and call them in. The problem was they used Lat. and Long., but regional EMS used UTM grid coordinates! Having a GPS allowed me to use both systems.

      For anyone out there who knows a Boy Scout looking for his Eagle Scout project, I knew a Scout and his project was to map the ranch headquarters in his county. That GPS data was provided to the rancher to use like an address for medevac emergencies, it was also provided to the county sheriff for emergencies such as a medevac, and to a regional medevac service for their use in getting to a meet up point during an emergency.

  16. GPS.What could go wrong? Compass,what could go wrong?A pole shift.Actually,garmins sold well when I worked in retail,but still,things could go wrong.Good map,good compass.All I ever needed.

  17. When we went to Mexico on our boat in 1998 we had a GPS and a backup. Then we got to thinking what if we are getting two different readings for the latitude / longitude? So we got a third and went with best 2 out of 3.

    There was the big to do about everything was going to crash when the computers hit the year 2000. We were halfway between Mazatlán and La Paz when we hit the millenium. The Garmin crashed and we went uh oh. 5 seconds later it came back.

    Remember when the first calculators came out. Mine was the size of a large paperback book, it could add, subtract, multiply and divide. It cost $75.00 when $75.00 was a lot. 5 years later I was wearing a watch with it built in.
    The first civilian GPSs went for $40,000. The times they do change.

    The down side on GPS is they will go away with an EMP and might go away with a CME. They will be turned off in time of war and they can be spoofed. I remember reading Ken’s article on nuke targets and was surprised to see Bend Oregon highlighted. When we went to Bend and were going to stay in an RV park we were told our GPS wouldn’t work there and it didn’t. Makes me wonder what they have there?

    I guess I’m one of those born with a good sense of direction. I don’t get lost in the woods. Out on the water it is a different ballgame. I might have a pretty good sense of dead reckoning but it’s very important to know where the rocks are and when they’re under the water, you can’t see them.

    1. Should have added, Current GPSs are Garmins for the car and for the boat. For those who didn’t catch my comment on the Lithium batteries blog a week or two ago. When I asked Garmin what the run time on Lithium AAs would be I was told they do not recommend them for the model I was using. If you are considering using them you might want to check with the folks who make your particular GPS.

  18. I had the very first ‘Street Pilot’ that came out almost 20 years ago. I couldn’t afford the maps or the chips, so each destination had to be entered by coordinates. I used it mostly for getting oriented towards home from unfamiliar areas.

    Fast forward to a couple weeks ago…. my new smartphone has three SatNav receiver/processors. GPS (USAF) GLONASS (Russian) and Beidou (Chinese). That plus cellular triangulation. It’s pretty good, shows me right now less than a meter from the chair I am sitting in. One of the few good things Clinton ever did was telling DOD to switch off Selective Availability back in 1998-1999 or so.

    With the tech available today, a standalone nav device just doesn’t make sense.

  19. We have GPS on our Garmin comm-talkies when we’re setting flags for distance shooting. I played too much w/ it and he put them away for a while. I’d be on-speaker and he’d get embararrassed at what I’d say…lol
    Don’t really use GPS at all but I think my husband uses it on the job. I should ask…

  20. To add to Stardust’s response:

    I have had people track me with binoculars and discover my fishing honey holes. Later I notice them going to the spot I vacated and dip a line and punch numbers into a hand held device. (I figure it was a GPS)

    I still use primitive technology when hunting or fishing. These days that means a rifle that is good out to 300 yards and a kayak with rod and reel. High tech for me is a fiberglass rifle stock and the use of channel markers when fishing.

    I would like to know if the GPS can be used as a tracking device in the event my truck gets stolen? My truck does not have Onstar or other tracking technology.

  21. I do use a GPS for a couple things. First, for fishing. A GPS is great for marking underwater structure such as reefs and wrecks. When on the open water with no landmarks, a GPS is the most accurate way to mark locations. My second use is in hunting. I have been known to brush in my temporary blind sites too well and finding them in the dark bafore a morning hunt can sometimes be a challenge, a GPS can make finding the blind much easier.
    For general navigation, I still prefer maps and compass but for pinpointing particular locations, a GPS is a handy tool.
    I might add that there are several phone apps out there now that allow you to download topomaps, satellite maps, etc. that allow you to use your phone as a GPS without a cell signal. I used an app called GPS Way Points on my last hunting trip. I downloaded the maps of Texas into my phone and had some really detailed topo and satellite maps which I could plot and save trails and way points to. I was amazed at the accuracy.

  22. I have an aviation/road map GPS (12v and/or batteries) and also a navigation map on on my smart phone. These devices are nice to have but the batteries will run out of juice and then you are screwed unless you have a renewable power source. The best method of navigation and determining your position is a current topographical ground navigation chart (1:50 or smaller scale) of the area or areas that you plan to navigate, a durable military lensatic compass and of course basic land navigation skills…day and night. The US Army and the USMC both have land navigation courses and training. These basic courses can be found on the “Internet”. I also recommend that you actually perform hands-on training with these materials out side in the terrain. An invaluable tool in an emergency.

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