Are you looking for an easy way to navigate or to keep track of essential data like your altitude while on the trail? Forget about old-school compasses, maps and notepads. What you need is a altimeter watch for hiking. But, how do you know what’s the best hiking watch for you?
One of our big goals here at The Adventure Junkies is to help make your life easier when it comes to buying outdoor gear. In this guide, we’ll walk you through how to choose a hiking watch and show you our selection of the best models of the year.
QUICK ANSWER: THE BEST HIKING WATCHES
- Garmin Fenix 3 Sapphire
- Garmin Tactix GPS Navigator
- Garmin Epix
- Suunto Traverse GPS
- Suunto Core Outdoor Matrix
- Casio Pro Trek Tough Solar
- Casio Pro Trek
- Garmin Fenix 3 HR
- Casio Pathfinder
- LAD Weather’s Sensor Master
THE BEST HIKING WATCHES – A COMPARISON
HIKING WATCHES 101
3 THINGS TO CONSIDER TO FIND THE BEST HIKING WATCH
The newest hiking watches come with a wide variety of features, ranging from GPS functions and compasses to weather alarms. Some even have heart rate monitors.
Finding the best hiking watch for your specific needs involves some consideration. Some have unique functions that make them more suitable for particular outdoor pursuits. Fitness-focused people might consider getting a watch with a calorie and step counter. Adventurers heading to remote areas, on the other hand, will want to look for a watch with a built-in GPS and weather alarm.
Hiking watches have three main features an altimeter, barometer and compass. That’s why they are also known as ABC watches. Basic models will have a temperature sensor and lap timers.
What does more money buy you? More information. You’ll get more advanced tracking of elevation gained and lost. They will display graphs for changes to barometric pressure.
Here will talk about common watch features so you can decide which ones are essential for you and which ones you can live without.
Altimeters measure the air pressure to calculate your approximate altitude. The great book, Mountaineering: The Freedom of the Hills puts why an altimeter is useful simply, “Since mountains are not two-dimensional…the altimeter is sometimes as helpful as the compass, particularly where topographic maps are available. With altitude known, point-position can often be found with only one visible feature recognized; in any other case, altitude provides a check against map and compass orientation.”
Often times an altimeter is more reliable and more accurate, than a GPS device for measuring altitude. This is because you might not always be able to get a GPS signal if you are inside a canyon or in the bush.
Some hiking watches let you track your altitudes and upload them on a computer. Providing an informative overview of your hike, this fun function is great for data junkies.
A barometer measures atmospheric pressure. These readings can help you determine if there is a storm coming. You will be able to tell that rain is on its way if the pressure suddenly drops.
If you plan on heading deep into the wilderness for a few days of time, you’ll want this extra feature. If you’re in an exposed area you’ll be able to use the pressure reading to decide if you should hurry up and seek shelter.
Arguably the most useful feature on the trail is a compass. Nowadays, essentially all hiking watches come with a compass.
What you should consider is the type of compass you want on your hiking watch. There are 2D and 3D compasses. 2D compasses work only if the watch is held perfectly horizontal while 3D compasses are accurate in every angle.
This built in compass is designed to be used solely for a general point of reference. If you’re planning a more serious backcountry adventure, bring a standard compass because it will be much more accurate.
Not all hiking watches have a thermometer. Probably the main reason for this is that it’s difficult to keep them accurate. Because a watch is worn on your wrist, your body temperature might influence the temperature readings. Nevertheless, this might be a nice additional feature to have.
While there are specific GPS devices for hiking, some hiking watches offer you the chance to hit two birds with one stone. A wrist-wearable GPS is one of the greatest innovations in outdoor gear.
Some of the best hiking watches have a built-in GPS, which is exceptionally useful in remote areas. The GPS feature doesn’t only show you the way. Often, they are also able to track valuable data, such as distance, speed and location.
Being able to connect your hiking watch with your smartphone or laptop definitely has its perks. This way, you can exchange data between your devices.
You can upload trail data such as distance, altitude and route to your laptop for a detailed overview of your adventure. Additionally, it’s possible to download useful information such as GPS updates and the weather forecast to your watch.
Almost all hiking watches are water resistant. The only difference between them might be the depth up to which they keep their water resistance.
Water resistance isn’t just for keeping your watch safe during a downpour. Some watches like the Suunto Ambit3 Sport, are designed for triathletes. These watches can resist 10 ATM of water.
2. DESIGN AND STYLE
Are you worried you won’t be able to wear your hiking watch everyday? No worries, many of these watches blend in well with casual wear and even business casual.
If design and style is a real concern for you, be aware of the face size. You’ll want to look for one that has less plastic and has a lower profile design. For a watch you can take from the trail to the office, we recommend the Suunto line of watches.
Some watches survival-style hiking watches are designed specifically for outdoor adventures. They’re durable and tough, but don’t always look stylish.
Women will want to have a look at the Garmin Fenix or Suunto Core. Both of these options have a sophisticated design and don’t look as bulky on a smaller wrist like many other hiking watches tend to do.
The variation in price between the cheapest and the most expensive hiking watch can be huge. With a price range between $150 and $600, you should really consider all the features mentioned above. Typically, a hiking watch’s price increases greatly if it comes with a GPS.
So, if you’re comfortable using a map and compass, you should be able to save a good chunk of money while still keeping all the other features. On the other hand, a GPS can be extremely useful on the trail. It’s also worth considering that a hiking watch with built-in GPS is basically two expensive pieces of gear in one. This may make it worth your money.
Here’s a break down of what you can expect to get for your money.
$70 -$200: Basic no frills ABC hiking watch – Altimeter, barometer, compass, timers and alarms. Watches that fall into this price range are the LAD Weather’s Sensor Master and the Casio Pathfinder. These options are great for hikers on a budget or the outdoorsman who just likes to keep things simple.
$200 – $500: Atomic timekeeping for greater accuracy and GPS capability in some models. Watches in this price range also tend to have more stylish designs (less plastic, low profile and sleek look) than less expensive models. This makes these watches more practical for everyday wear. The Suunto Core, Suunto Traverse and Garmin Tactix are all great options for adventurers who want a quality watch they can wear on the trail as well as at the office.
$500+: High-end watches that are basically a GPS wrist computer – think downloadable routes, GPS tracking to load your profiles and travels, heart rate monitor capability and bike sensors. The Garmin Fenix 3 and Garmin Epix fall into this price range. These watches are great for ultra marathon runners, triathletes, and extreme backcountry adventures such as ski touring and remote trekking.
Photo by istockphoto.com/es/en/portfolio/lzf
HIKING WATCH REVIEWS
TOP 10 BEST HIKING WATCHES
GARMIN FENIX 3 SAPPHIRE
BEST FOR: Every outdoor pursuit
FEATURES: Sapphire lens, chroma display, EXO GPS antenna, wireless connectivity, digital compass, barometer
PROS: Can be personalized with widgets and apps, Bluetooth connection, numerous easy-to-use functions, detailed data tracking
GARMIN TACTIX GPS NAVIGATOR
BEST FOR: Adventurous hunters and fishermen
FEATURES: GPS that calibrates altitude and air pressure, compass, 50-meter water resistance, wireless Bluetooth connectivity, hunting and fishing calendar, information about tides, sunrise and sunset, and moon phases
PROS: Loads of useful and accurate information, 50-hour battery life, durable
CONS: No thermometer
BEST FOR: Everything from cycling to hiking and mountaineering
FEATURES: Touch screen, built-in maps, 50-meter water resistance, 8GB memory, 3-axis compass, customizable with widgets, apps and watch faces, Smart Notification
PROS: Wireless connection, detailed worldwide maps, exceptionally long (16-week) battery life
CONS: Expensive, no thermometer
SUUNTO TRAVERSE GPS
BEST FOR: Outdoor and indoor sports & fitness enthusiasts
FEATURES: Barometer, digital compass, calorie and step counter, wireless connection, sunrise and sunset times, heart rate monitor connection
PROS: Versatile, comes with five different sports modes, data tracker and overviews, Bluetooth connection
CONS: No thermometer
SUUNTO CORE OUTDOOR MATRIX
BEST FOR: Adventurers who want to disconnect
FEATURES: Barometer, digital compass, sunrise and sunset times, accurate 10-meter underwater readings, storm alarm function
PROS: Weather tracking and storm alarms, stylish design
CONS: Thermometer may be off a few degrees, no wireless connection, no GPS
CASIO PRO TREK TOUGH SOLAR
BEST FOR: Adventure racers
FEATURES: Stainless steel rotating bezel, titanium band, water resistant to 200 meters, barometer, digital compass, sunrise and sunset data, stopwatch, power-saving function, weather alarm
PROS: Solar-powered, great value for money, atomic clock, solar-powered, lots of features
CONS: No GPS, not for hikers on a budget
CASIO PRO TREK
BEST FOR: Trekkers and mountaineers
FEATURES: Barometer, compass, analog-digital LCD display, 100-meter water resistance, LED light, 58-mm resin case with anti-reflective sapphire window
PROS: Lightweight, weather alarm
CONS: No GPS, pricey
GARMIN FENIX 3 HR
BEST FOR: Fitness enthusiasts
FEATURES: Black silicone band, wrist-based heart rate monitor, chroma display, wireless connectivity, 100-meter water resistance, barometer, digital compass, step and calorie counter
PROS: Built-in heart rate monitor, has basically every possible feature
CONS: Shorter battery life due to the heart monitor, expensive
BEST FOR: Day and long-distance hiking
FEATURES: 51-mm stainless steel case, resin band with buckle closure, 100-meter water resistance, barometer, stopwatch, backlight with afterglow, digital compass, solar-powered
PROS: Amazing value for money, affordable, solar-powered battery, incredibly long (6-month) battery life
CONS: No GPS
LAD WEATHER’S SENSOR MASTER
BEST FOR: Hikers on a budget
FEATURES: Weather sensor function, negative display, digital compass, barometer, 24-hour graphs
PROS: Very accurate compass, affordable, great price/quality ratio, useful weather sensor function
CONS: Thermometer can be off a few degrees, no GPS