Hangar.Flights uses cookies. More info
Join Hangar.Flights
Sign up to share your own flying stories, stay up to date with great new content and become a (better) pilot!
Sign up
All guides
All guides

Buying guide

The Best Handheld Aviation GPSes for Pilots (2019)

87 views

As airspace becomes more complex and there exists an increased need for moving map and GPS systems, pilots often find themselves overwhelmed with the available options on the market today. Brands keep innovating by building newer and more capable solutions. But which one to pick?

About Aviation GPSes

If you're flying a state-of-the-art airplane, with glass cockpit and all the fun features you can wish for, you might already have the necessary GPS tools to help take some pressure off your shoulders while flying. But most of us still have to do it with the good ol' 6-pack analog gauges, which we're most likely completely fine with, by the way! A portable GPS device is the perfect solution for those flying aircraft that are not equipped (yet) with modern GPS systems, or for those of us who like to have a back-up in case we need it.

More and more pilots are using their iPad while flying, as it allows for almost endless possibilities to take tasks off your hands before, during and after the flight. If your iPad is an LTE model, you already have a built-in GPS receiver that will get you all the GPS data you might need. But it also has some limitations compared to dedicated GPS solutions; you can often not receive actual weather and traffic information, there is no satellite communication possible with those on the ground,...

(If you want to read more about iPads and accessories, we have created a separate guide about that!)

The products listed in this guide all offer valuable tools and features like the ones wed just mentioned.

The Garmin inReach products have become a popular handheld GPS solution.

What to look for

You decided a handheld aviation GPS may be a good tool to have in your flight bag. So how do you pick the right aviation GPS, and what are some things to look out for?

Compatibility

If you're planning on using the GPS in combination with other systems and tools, it's important to consider the compatibility of the GPS unit you're interested in. While most GPS receivers are compatible with iOS devices, it doesn't hurt to dubble check, especially if you are using other platforms such as Android.

Portability

Although the topic of this guide covers handheld aviation GPS units, some are a little more portable and compact than others. Of course, it all depends on what you are planning on using it for.

For example, while the Garmin inReach series is very compact and easy to put in a small side pocket, viewing the map and reading the data in-flight might be a little harder than when using, for example, the Garmin aera GPS.

Ease of use

When investing some money into a GPS that could make your life easier, it's important that it's easy and convenient to use as well. In the cockpit, you're often handling multiple things at the same time, there's no time to open up a manual and start reading instructions on how to use a certain feature you need at that moment. An easy to use GPS unit can save you from a lot of frustrations.

Functionality

Not all GPS units mentioned in this guide offer the same functionality. While all units listed in this guide offer some sort of GPS functionality, some are packed with other features like satellite communication, or weather and traffic receivers.

In the end, it all comes down to what it is you need, and what your budget allows.

Affordability

While it's always nice to have the best and most advanced gear available, it's not always important to get the most expensive model on the market. Your budget and needs will determine whether you can afford and need a high-end GPS, or if a more compact and inexpensive option can do the job just as well.

The Best Handheld Aviation GPSes

Let's start by listing a few of the most popular and top-rated portable aviation GPS systems. Afterward, we will list a few good GPS receivers as well.

1. Garmin inReach Mini

As pilots, we sometimes get caught up in our post-flight tasks, often forgetting to inform loved ones that we safely arrived.

With Garmin's new inReach product series, you can keep in touch with people on the ground through its satellite communication system, while they can also keep a close eye on your journey through GPS. 

Features

  • Measures 4″ x 2″ x 1″ and weighs 3.5 oz
  • Two-way text messaging via 100% global Iridium satellite network
  • Track and share your location online with family and friends
  • Trigger an interactive SOS to the 24/7 search and rescue monitoring center
  • Access downloadable maps, U.S. NOAA charts, color aerial imagery and more with free Garmin Earthmate app and compatible devices
  • Optional inReach weather forecast service
  • Send and receive inReach messages through compatible Garmin devices
  • Rechargeable lithium battery provides up to 50 hours of battery life in 10-minute tracking mode
  • Pairable with Garmin Pilot

Important to note is that the Garmin inReach systems require a subscription plan to take full advantage of all their features. Subscription plans range from $11.95/mo. to $99.95/mo., with options for either seasonal or year-round subscriptions. Click here for more information.

$311.87

Buy now on Amazon
If you click this link and make a purchase, we earn a commission at no additional cost to you.
Garmin InReach Mini
Last update: December 14, 2019

2. Garmin inReach Explorer+

The Garmin inReach Explorer+ is the larger and a little more equipped version of the smaller inReach Mini.

Which inReach should you pick? The inReach Mini, SE+ (not mentioned in this guide as it's succeeded by the Explorer+) and Explorer+ offer identical messaging capabilities.

It's on the GPS navigation side that the differences become apparent. The inReach Explorer+ offers full-fledged GPS on-map guidance with preloaded TOPO mapping and waypoint routings viewable directly on the unit. Plus, it also includes a built-in digital compass, barometric altimeter and accelerometer. The inReach Mini includes a smaller, black and white screen with no maps.

Features

  • Same as inReach Mini
  • Measures 2.7" x 6.5" x 1.5" and weighs 7.5 oz
  • Color screen with preloaded DeLorme TOPO maps 
  • Built-in compass, barometric altimeter and accelerometer
  • Rechargeable lithium battery gives up to 100 hours of battery life in tracking mode; up to 30 days in power-save mode
  • Rugged, impact resistant and water-rated to IPX7

$360.00449.99

Buy now on Amazon
If you click this link and make a purchase, we earn a commission at no additional cost to you.
Garmin inReach Explorer+
Last update: December 14, 2019

3. Garmin aera660 Touchscreen Aviation Portable GPS

Although not as portable or capable as the Garmin inReach, the somewhat older Garmin aera660 aviation GPS still offers lots of value for its price. It's portability and great display, make this a very valuable tool for the cockpit, especially when you fly more than one aircraft and like to have a decent aviation GPS with you at all times.

Features

  • Light, compact and fits in any flight bag
  • GPS and GLONASS
  • Rich, interactive, dynamically drawn aviation maps
  • Bright, sunlight-readable 5-inch diagonal capacitive touchscreen display
  • Comes with yoke mount, power cable, battery, AC adapter, USB cable, Quick start manual and related documentation

$749.00

Buy now on Amazon
If you click this link and make a purchase, we earn a commission at no additional cost to you.
Garmin aera660 Touchscreen Aviation Portable GPS
Last update: December 14, 2019

4. Garmin D2 Delta Aviator Watch

$949.00

Buy now on Amazon
If you click this link and make a purchase, we earn a commission at no additional cost to you.
Garmin D2 Delta, GPS Pilot Watch
Last update: December 14, 2019

5. Yaesu FTA-750L Handheld Transceiver (NAV & COMM)

It might seem a little odd we add a handheld aviation transceiver to this list, but this compact, handheld transceiver offers a COM/NAV radio with NOAA weather channels & weather alerts, VOR navigation, ILS/glideslope navigation, and a GPS WAAS receiver.

The perfect backup safety system for your cockpit!

$359.98

Buy now on Amazon
If you click this link and make a purchase, we earn a commission at no additional cost to you.
Yaesu FTA-750L Handheld Transceiver (NAV, COMM & GPS)
Last update: December 14, 2019

The Best Aviation GPS receivers

For those flying with an iPad or other tablet and not specifically looking for a standalone GPS, a decent GPS receiver may be a better option for your needs. Again, there are quite a few good options, most of which you will have probably heard of before. We will list a few of the possibilities, with a few features to help you make an informed decision.

1. Garmin GDL 52 Portable SiriusXM/ADS-B Receiver

Providing an easy-to-use and completely portable aviation satellite link, the compact GDL 52 combines SiriusXM coverage — accessible from ground or air — with the subscription-free weather and traffic features of an ADS-B “In” datalink. Together, these 2 network link technologies bring a world of safety-enhancing features — plus access to more than 150 channels of digital-quality music, news, sports and other entertainment programming — directly to your cockpit. Better still, you can use our Connext wireless connectivity to stream this information onto multiple Garmin aviation portables (including aera 660, aera 796 or aera 795 series) as well as iPad tablets and mobile devices with the Garmin Pilot app. So you get more access — on more devices — without spending more money.

$1149.00

Buy now on Amazon
If you click this link and make a purchase, we earn a commission at no additional cost to you.
Garmin GDL 52 Portable SiriusXM/ADS-B Receiver
Last update: December 14, 2019

2. Garmin GLO 2 iPad and Android GPS

Garmin’s legendary quality and performance is now available for mobile devices, including Apple’s iPad and Android. The new GLO 2 combines a GPS and GLONASS receiver into a compact, wireless unit to deliver unmatched accuracy.

Features:

  • Bluetooth connection to your mobile device
  • 12-hour battery life with built-in rechargeable battery
  • 10 times/second update rate
  • 20% faster GPS lock-on when using GPS and GLONASS
  • Works with almost all mobile devices and apps
  • Connect to 4 devices at once

$98.9299.99

Buy now on Amazon
If you click this link and make a purchase, we earn a commission at no additional cost to you.
Garmin GLO 2 iPad and Android GPS
Last update: December 14, 2019

2. Sentry ADS-B Receiver for Weather and Traffic in ForeFlight with CO Monitor

One of these options is the Sentry ADS-B receiver. This gadget is a compact, powerful, next-generation Dual-Band ADS-B receiver. It provides reassuring redundancy for location tracking, compatible with four GNSS systems: GPS, Galileo, GLONASS, and BeiDu and can track three satellite constellations concurrently. In addition to essential FIS-B weather, flight information, traffic, and attitude, Sentry adds a Carbon Monoxide sensor and alarm, a 12-hour battery, and a high-capacity data card for Weather Replay and storage. Sentry is packaged in the smallest form factor yet for a device this capable.

$499.00

Buy now on Amazon
If you click this link and make a purchase, we earn a commission at no additional cost to you.
Sentry ADS-B Receiver for Weather and Traffic in ForeFlight with CO Monitor
Last update: December 14, 2019

3. Stratux ADS-B Dual Band Receiver Aviation Weather and Traffic

If your budget is a little tighter, the Stratux ADS-B Dual Band Receiver is a great inexpensive alternative that provides you with ADS-B traffic and weather information in flight.

$239.99

Buy now on Amazon
If you click this link and make a purchase, we earn a commission at no additional cost to you.
Stratux ADS-B Dual Band Receiver Aviation Weather and Traffic
Last update: December 14, 2019

Conclusion

It has become clear that there are quite a few great options on the market, most of them offered my market-leader Garmin. Based on different reviews and talking to product owners, we have found the Garmin inReach Explorer+ and the Sentry ADS-B Receiver are the two most popular options.


Last updated on November 21, 2019 by Senne Vandenputte

Subscribe to our newsletter to stay up to date!

Recommended reading