Thoughts on Handheld VFR GPS units

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I wonder if anybody has experience with, and can recommend, a solid
handheld VFR GPS, new or old.

My issue is that the only ones that I can find descriptions of online
are "current" models -- for example, the Garmin Aera line. As such,
they are relatively pricey.

If anybody has experience with the ones that came out a few years ago,
and can recommend one, I might be able to save some money by buying
used on ebay.

My requirements are relatively basic: something I can take from plane
to plane that shows airports and airspace, and will plot a line that
corresponds to my flight plan, ideally with a color screen.

I appreciate the help!

-- Ryan Harvey, October 8, 2010


If you want the navigation data to be current, you will need to buy a Jeppesen NavData subscription for database updates.

In planes with the Garmin G1000, Avidyne, or similar systems, the subscription is paid for and updated by the plane's owner.

Since you said you need to move the unit from plane to plane, I am assuming you are renting. You might try renting a glass cockpit aircraft.

If you prefer or must use the traditional gauges, I would suggest that the newer portable units, especially from Garmin, offer advantages that may make them worth the price in the long run. One item is that since you will already be paying for updates (they aren't cheap), you should spend the money to get a unit that really allows you to take advantage of the data you are paying for.

The more recent units will make transition to a glass cockpit, if you need that, easy.

A used unit may not be covered by the manufacturer's warranty.

XM Weather can also be a great help, but again, you have to pay a monthly fee, and only the more expensive units support it.

One suggestion would be the Garmin GPSMap 696 (about $3,000).


-- Todd Ramming, October 22, 2010

Hi Ryan, I bought a Garmin 296 when I started training and needed a portable NAV solution. Was tempted to upgrade when the 396/496 came out, but the 296 has served the primary need (VFR NAV & Route Planning, Backup system) very well. Mine has basic colors with terrain mapping and altitude / terrain warnings. It features a sim mode allowing route 'pre-flight', stores 50 flight plans and the performance characteristics of each plane you fly. Turn on flight tracking and leave it in your flight bag next time you shoot some approaches with your instructor - post-flight review is always enlightening, and it never lies to you. It's an amazing learning tool limited only by the user. As time permits I am going to send 150$ to these guys and test the 296 with their approach plates. It might be a nice addendum to the paper chart on your kneeboard.

-- Marc Curvin, November 14, 2010