The Garmin GPSMAP 65s GPS sits towards the top of Garmin’s outdoor GPS unit range, offering top-tier accuracy, but no communications – unlike its bigger brothers. Debates about screen estate aside, if you’re looking for a button-operated GPS unit this is one of the star players, and one of the very best hiking GPS around. This handheld GPS launched in mid-2020, with an RRP of GBP £349 / USD $399.99. Read on for our full Garmin GPSMAP 65s review.
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Garmin GPSMAP 65s GPS review: design and build
The Garmin GPSMAP 65s GPS inspires confidence out of the box, sheathed in rugged rubber and in the green and black colour scheme it looks like a serious tool, and indeed it is. It’s supplied with a rail-mount carabiner and short sling, ideal for ensuring no accidental drops occur, and uses Garmins usual d-ring locking mechanism on the rear dual AA battery compartment.
This gives the Garmin GPSMAP 65s GPS an IPX7 water rating, or the ability to work after being submerged in water at a depth of one meter, for 30 minutes. A rubberised hatch protects the mini-USB computer connector on the back just below that squat satellite antenna, and a micro-SD card slot lurks under the batteries for memory upgrades and easier map uploads.
The ‘s’ in the name means you have forked out an extra 50 notes for an altimeter and 3 axis compass, which is well worth considering, especially when looking at retailer deals. For some reason Garmin has included Smart notifications, which allows you to receive emails, texts and alerts on the device when paired with a Bluetooth compatible phone, although why you’d want your outdoor navigation interrupted by alerts is a bit of a mystery.
The size of the Garmin GPSMAP 65s GPS is a pretty good compromise between usability and bulk, about the same total height as a smartphone, but with a pleasant swell that fits the hand nicely. The buttons are nice and prominent, with plenty of travel, but are on the closely-packed side for warmer gloves.
Controls-wise, there’s a convenient thumb-operated power button (if you’re right-handed)and then the main keypad, with in/out, find, mark, page, menu, quit and enter, aligned with a central joypad. As with other Garmin GPS units, the power button controls the backlight level, as well as displays battery levels and GPS reception bars.
Although the 65K colour TFT screen isn’t huge at 2.6inch (160x240px), it’s big enough to get a good idea of what you’ve doing, and the ability to zoom in and out quickly is excellent for switching between micro and macro navigation. The Page button is particularly handy, allowing you to customise which major functions you’d like immediate access to, a nice touch for any regular user.
Garmin GPSMAP 65s GPS review: performance
The Garmin GPSMAP 65s GPS is immediately usable thanks to the preloaded maps, which are easily zoomed in and out of to your heart's content. The TopoActive Europe maps provide detailed views of routable street and off-road networks, waterways, natural features, land use areas and buildings, providing more than enough detail to immediately orientate yourself, vital in cities and mountains alike.
This mapping might be let down with a slow or inaccurate GPS fix, but fortunately the Garmin GPSMAP 65s GPS has that side of things well in hand, as you might hope. Getting a GPS fix is astonishingly quick, and very hard to lose even indoors or in woodland. This is down to Garmin’s improvements, with the GPSMAP 65s featuring ‘multi-band technology and expanded GNSS support’. This means it can access satellites from GPS, GLONASS, Galileo, QZSS and IRNSS constellations, getting a more accurate fix, faster. Although QZSS and IRNSS are Asia-coverage only, they’re good to have on board for wider-flung travels.
Garmin claims a 16 hour battery life for the Garmin GPSMAP 65s GPS, which gels with our testing, offering a solid couple of days navigating on a single set of batteries. This assumes you’ve got Bluetooth switched off to conserve battery. The GPSMAP 65s can be synched with a smartphone and the Garmin Explore app, which lets you transfer navigation information (waypoints, routes, and tracks) without a PC. It’s more cumbersome to plan a route this way rather than using a PC, but useful if there’s no other option available.
Garmin GPSMAP 65s GPS review: specs
- Physical dimensions: 6.1 x 16.0 x 3.6 cm
- Display size: 3.6 x 5.5 cm; 2.6-inch diagonal (6.6 cm)
- Display resolution: 160 x 240 pixels
- Display type: transflective, 65K colour TFT
- Weight: 217g with batteries
- Battery type: 2AA
- Battery life: 16 hours
- Water rating: IPX7
- Interface: High-speed mini USB and NMEA 0183 compatible
- Memory: 16GB
- Expandable memory: 32GB max microSD card
- Waypoints: 5,000
- Tracks: 200
- Track log: 10,000 points, 200 saved tracks
- Routes: 200, 250 points per route; 50 points auto routing
Garmin GPSMAP 65s GPS review: alternatives to consider
Although the Garmin GPSMAP 65s GPS is an impressive pure-play GPS and mapping platform, there are alternatives. The Garmin Montana 700 offers near-similar functionality and accuracy, but with a touchscreen, and the optional extra of InReach, while the Garmin GPSMAP 66sr offers pretty much an identical experience in form factor and accuracy. The GPSMAP 66i offers slightly lesser accuracy but with InReach too.
The big question really is whether mapping alone is enough, or whether you need InReach satellite communications (and SOS capabilities) as well. While these are awesome additions if you’re really heading out into the unknown, there are hefty subscription costs for sat comms, as well as battery life penalties. The latter applies to the Montana 700’s touchscreen too, inevitably.
Garmin GPSMAP 65s GPS: verdict
The Garmin GPSMAP 65s GPS is a robust and overall impressive package. It does what it says on the tin, and does it well. There are similar devices with longer spec lists out there – notably with satellite comms built in – but there’s a cost and battery penalty to upping the ante. For a solid, dedicated outdoor GPS unit, this sits very near the top of the tree.