When you’re out in the backcountry getting lost and getting caught in severe weather are two of the worst things that can happen to you. As tech gets smaller and more capable though lots of companies have released high-quality wearable products to help you find your way and monitor the weather. Hiking watches are a prime example of these incredibly useful tools that basically didn’t exist just a decade or so ago. Today we’ll be reviewing a number of different tools to help you find the best hiking watch available.
- 1 Best Hiking Watches
- 2 Buyer’s Guide to Buying the Best Hiking Watch
- 3 Final Thoughts
Best Hiking Watches
Hiking watches are one of those tools that some people hate and others swear by. They have very specific uses that are downright essential under the right conditions.
Picking out the right one for your specific needs can get a bit difficult. There’s a lot of variables that go into finding the perfect fit for you.
Below we’ve reviewed some of the best and most useful hiking watches across a range of price points and functionality to aid you in your search.
Garmin Fenix 5X Plus
The Garmin Fenix 5X Plus is a high-end GPS hiking watch designed for hiking and everyday use. It weighs 3.38 oz and is available with a stainless steel or titanium bezel with a sapphire crystal lens.
It’s meant to be a multisport watch and offers a full range of fitness and performance athletic features. It measures steps, monitors your heart rate, and even has the ability to measure pulse oximetry. This allows it to estimate the amount of oxygen in your blood during high intensity athletics.
It can be set into different modes that optimize the useful data for activities like swimming, cycling, weightlifting, running, golfing, and many more.
From a strictly hiking perspective it includes full GPS and GLONASS functionality plus the ability to store maps and topographic data. It includes a vast range of programmable features, including:
- Point to Point Navigation
- Return to Start
- Speed Tracking Over Elevation
- Barometric Trend Indicator with Storm Alert
It includes a compass, a barometer, a GPS based altimeter, and a gyroscope for better measuring movement. It’s extremely rugged and is water resistant up to 100 meters.
The Fenix 5X Plus also has full smartwatch functionality. It shows notifications, lets you read emails, and has the ability to store up to 1000 songs. Now for the bad news—cost. The Fenix 5X Plus is definitely on the premium end of the market. It’s priced well above $500 with all the bells and whistles.
If you’re looking for a nearly indestructible watch that works for just about any sporting or outdoor activity the Garmin Fenix 5X Plus is a great, if expensive, option.
Suunto Ambit3 Peak
Suunto is one of the most respected names in the outdoor timepiece and navigation field. The Ambit3 Peak is their midrange offering designed to provide GPS capability for a variety of outdoor activities.
It has a stainless steel bezel with a mineral crystal lens and weighs 3.14 oz. It uses a rechargeable lithium ion battery that’s capable of providing up to 30 days of use in timepiece mode or 200 hours in basic GPS mode.
This is great if you’re planning a longer duration hike and want to make sure you can get your bearings quickly and efficiently.
It’s only compatible with GPS but has the ability to show you a point-to-point route. It also includes a barometer, thermometer, altimeter, and compass functionality.
For weather information it can show you predicted trends based on atmospheric data and up to 26 hours of previous hike time. When paired with the optional heart rate belt it can monitor your heart rate for training purposes. If you pair it with the Suunto app you get access to all kinds of useful fitness information like stride distance, distance traveled, etc.
It has limited smartwatch functionality when paired with the Suunto app but can at least display notifications from your phone. It’s not as loaded with features as some other watches on our list but it is priced at a very affordable level for a GPS hiking watch.
If you’re looking for a durable and fully functional GPS hiking watch with an excellent battery life the Suunto Ambit3 Peak is a great choice.
Suunto 9 Multisport GPS Watch
The Suunto 9 is a multisport GPS watch designed to provide meet all your outdoor and fitness tracking needs. It combines GPS functionality with programming optimized for more than 80 different sports and activities.
It’s made with a stainless steel bezel with a sapphire crystal lens and weighs just 2.86 oz. It has a 15 day battery life on timepiece mode and uses an adaptive battery management system when the GPS is active.
It runs for either 25, 50 or 120 hours depending on how much functionality you have turned on. If you use it strictly for positioning and route planning while hiking you’ll get a longer run time that you will during high intensity sports. This is due to the much greater data collection demands of the other modes.
It includes a barometer, thermometer, compass features, an altimeter, and a built-in storm alarm. One of the best features of the Suunto 9 is the availability of maps. Unlike some manufacturers you don’t need to use their proprietary mas. You can put topographic and standard routing maps from a variety of sources onto the Suunto 9. Pricewise it’s middle of the pack for GPS enabled hiking watches.
The Suunto 9 multisport is an excellent multisport watch with a lot of useful features. It offers very adaptable navigation functionality at a reasonable price.
Suunto Core Watch with ABC
The Suunto Core is a basic hiking watch that offers several very useful features at a great price. It has ABC functionality, those being altimeter, barometer, and compass but doesn’t have GPS navigation.
It has an aluminum bezel with a composite case and mineral crystal lens. It weighs 2.26 oz and is water resistant up to 100m and has a built-in depth gauge up to 10m for freediving.
While it lacks the fitness tracking and GPS functionality of many other hiking watches it does provide many useful features. It has a 12 month replaceable battery and is capable of displaying a weather trend chart using up to 7 days of stored data.
When combined with the compass and altimeter this gives you the core functionality needed when out in the wilds. By far its biggest selling point is price—the Core is frequently available at sub $200 pricing.
If you’re looking for a sleek and stylish hiking watch with useful features at a reasonable price the Suunto Core should definitely be on your list.
Casio Pro Trek
The Casio Pro Trek is a rugged hiking watch built around an altimeter, barometer, and compass. It uses a multi-band atomic timekeeping that links the internal clock to radio signals coming from a highly accurate atomic clock.
It’s available in a wide range of different materials and finishes, each with a slightly different weight. We’re quite fond of the titanium band and bezel version with built-in tide and moon phase charts.
It uses a solar charged battery that’s good for up to 5 months without additional charging. With regular wear it rarely drops in power noticeably. It offers all the standard features of a digital watch including a chronograph, programmable alarms, timers, and stopwatch features.
It doesn’t have GPS capabilities but does allow you to monitor barometric pressure with a tendency graph. It’s submersible up to 200m and is built to stand up to most drops, bumps, or impacts.
The Casio Pro Trek line of altimeter, barometer, and compass watches are rugged and reliable hiking watches. The basic models don’t offer GPS functionality but they have exemplary battery life, excellent features, and look really cool.
Garmin Descent Mk1
Strictly speaking the Garmin Descent Mk1 isn’t a straightforward hiking watch. It’s primarily a fully fledged SCUBA diving computer designed to help divers plan and record their dives.
It’s available in either stainless steel or titanium and gives you several band options. If you intend to use it for diving we highly recommend you go titanium. It’s far more corrosion resistant than even the best stainless steel.
The dive computer itself is excellent. It’s fully capable of planning dives using multiple gas blends and can take into account time underwater, activity, and numerous other variables. The GPS functionality makes it easy to track your movement from entry point to exit point and can be used in other sports.
It offers full point-to-point navigation when not being used as a dive computer plus a range of sporting features. Think heart rate monitoring, step tracking, calorie counts, and distance traveled.
As a dive watch it’s completely waterproof and certified to comply with EN13319 standard for dive sensors and devices. It can survive in conditions that no soft shell diver could reach.
The Descent Mk1 has a 19 day battery life in watch mode, 40 hours in dive mode, and up to 20 hours with GPS active. This is pretty good for a GPS capable watch, especially one with as many features as the Descent Mk1 possesses.
It isn’t all good news though. To start with the Descent Mk1 is heavy, weighing a full 5.11 oz. This doesn’t sound like a whole lot until you remember that it’s going on your wrist full time.
The biggest downside though is the price—It blows right past the $1,000 mark to sit between $1,200 and $1,500.
We’ll be brutally honest here, the Garmin Descent Mk1 has too much functionality for most outdoorsman. Unless you’re an active scuba diver you don’t need the majority of the features it provides. If you are a hiking diver though it’s a great way to combine two major purchases in one and get a very nice diving/hiking watch.
The Casio Pathfinder is an entry level ABC hiking watch that offers triple sensor capabilities in a durable package. It’s made from less expensive though still durable materials than many other hiking watches we’ve reviewed.
The body of the watch is made from stainless steel with a mineral crystal lens. It offers a barometer, altimeter, compass, and thermometer. It doesn’t possess GPS capabilities but is priced well below comparable GPS hiking watches.
The Pathfinder is an excellent hiking watch if all you’re worried about is keeping a bearing and watching the weather. The barometer can give you instant weather readings whenever you need one.
It includes all the features you expect from a Casio watch such as timers, alarms, world clocks, and sunrise/sunset data. It’s a solar powered hiking watch with a battery life of 5 months in between charges.
If you’re looking for a bombproof way to keep a bearing and monitor changing weather patterns out in the backcountry the Casio Pathfinder is an excellent and inexpensive hiking watch to do it with.
The Suunto Traverse is a GPS capable hiking watch with full smartwatch functionality. It includes in-demand features such as:
- GPS and GLONASS Routing and Tracking
- Fitness and Activity Tracking
- Barometer with Tendency Chart
- Sunrise/Sunset Times
It’s made from stainless steel and composite components with a mineral crystal bezel and weighs just 2.82 oz. It has a rechargeable lithium ion battery that gives it a 14 day life in timekeeping mode and either a 10, 15 or 100 hour lifespan in GPS and fitness tracking modes.
It pairs with the Suunto app to allow easy updates and loading of new maps and information. This is accomplished through bluetooth connectivity. It also allows you to read notifications from your phone and monitor things like your steps and heart rate.
For hiking it offers a full topographic map setup with built in altimeter and waypoint capable navigation. It allows you to find the most popular routes for a given area quickly and easy with the Suunto heat map feature.
Pricewise the Suunto Traverse sits right in the middle of the pack, due mainly to the less expensive materials used in its construction.
If you’re looking for a fully GPS capable hiking watch with a good battery life that won’t break the bank the Suunto Traverse is definitely one you should check out.
Garmin Tactix Charlie Multisport GPS Watch
The Garmin Tactix Charlie is a multisport GPS watch built specifically with soldiers in mind. It has a specialized display designed to be easy to read in daylight but still compatible with night vision goggles.
Because of this focus the Tactic Charlie is built to military spec standards out of titanium and stainless steel. It weighs 3.17 oz and is water resistant to 100 m. It runs on a lithium ion battery rated to provide a 12 day lifespan in smartwatch mode and up to 20 hours in full GPS mode.
It has a built-in heart rate monitor as well as other useful fitness and athletic tracking tools. As a high-end GPS hiking watch it includes a barometer, thermometer, altimeter, and compass. It’s compatible with GPS, GLONASS, and Galileo navigation systems.
The Tactix Charlie has a storm alert setting that responds to barometric conditions and warns you when a storm is imminent. It can be paired with your smartphone and quickly adjusted using the Garmin app. This also allows you to change the included map packs or adjust the settings.
The Tactix Charlie is a ruggedly built and tactically focused GPS smart watch. It has every feature you could ask for when heading to the backcountry but is definitely on the premium side of the market.
Buyer’s Guide to Buying the Best Hiking Watch
There are two major types of hiking watches to choose from. These are GPS watches and strictly ABC, for altimeter, barometer, and compass, hiking watches.
GPS watches have far more functionality but are substantially more expensive. Once you get into these two categories there are a number of other important features and factors to look at.
There’s no getting around this—Hiking watches are expensive. They’re precision digital tools with high-quality sensors and lots of features.
Basic models without GPS run well over $100. Once you add in GPS/GLONASS capability you end up with something that’s going to cost several hundred dollars all the way up to over a thousand.
A barometer is just about the most important tool for your hiking watch to have. GPS is great, don’t get us wrong, but a quality barometer can save your life out on the trails.
Weather patterns aren’t easy to predict long-term, but there are very clear atmospheric effects that show a short-term change. A drop in barometric pressure signals that bad weather is on the way. Similarly, as barometric pressure goes up you can know that the weather will also start to clear up.
You should only consider a hiking watch that shows you a barometric tendency graph. This gives you information about local barometric pressure recently. It allows you to quickly know when the pressure drops suddenly, signalling that it’s time to seek shelter or break out your rain gear.
Knowing your elevation relative to sea level is extremely useful when navigating in the backcountry. There are two ways hiking watches can find the elevation:
- Barometer Readings
- GPS Data
Using the barometer to find your elevation is less accurate and requires periodic calibrations. It uses the ambient air pressure to figure out your elevation.
GPS based altimeters are far more accurate and rely on GPS data combined with digital topography information.
There’s no need to explain how useful a compass is in the backcountry. While a hiking watch should never be your sole method of navigation, it does give you a convenient way to check your bearings while in motion.
Both GPS and non-GPS hiking watches will almost always include a compass.
Being able to get a reasonably accurate temperature reading is a great way to determine if things are getting a little too cold or hot. To use a hiking watch thermometer you’ll need to take it off your wrist.
This eliminates the heat from your body and allows the watch to get a good idea of the ambient temperature.
GPS capable hiking watches are one of the best and easiest navigation options in the backcountry. They give you your exact coordinates to within a few feet and allow you to quickly plan a route to another location.
Many GPS hiking watches allow you to import maps and routing information to your watch. This lets you just it just as you would a car GPS except deep in the wilderness.
Depending on where you are in the world you should find out what systems your watch can interface with. GPS is the most common and accurate but GLONASS and Galileo are two other widely used navigation networks.
Wi-Fi and Bluetooth Connectivity
If you decide to get a GPS capable hiking watch make sure it also has wifi capabilities. It’s so much easier to upload maps and other data to your watch if you can quickly connect to it with wifi.
Bluetooth is also useful to have as it allows you to pair your watch with other devices.
Any hiking watch should basically be totally waterproof. The most common rating you’ll see is around 100 meters. At that point your watch can hold up to any water conditions you can throw at it.
With the explosion in popularity of Fitbit’s and other fitness tracking tools many hiking watches have started incorporating the same features.
These include things like:
- Step Trackers
- Heart Rate Monitors
- Sleep Monitoring
- Distance Monitoring
If you’re planning to wear your hiking watch on a daily basis these are excellent features to have. They allow you to use it as both an outdoor tool and a daily exercise aid.
One thing to keep in mind though is that the more features your watch possesses the short its battery life will be.
One really useful feature on many modern hiking watches is the weather alarm. It triggers when the barometric pressure begins to drop suddenly.
This is a clear indicator that bad weather is on the way and a great way to know when to take shelter.
The last thing you want when out on a hike is to have your GPS or other navigational tool stop working. Make sure you find out just how long you can use your hiking watch before needing to charge up.
Non-GPS watches have a nearly indefinite battery life. Many use a solar powered design that charges up whenever the watch face is exposed to the sun or bright light.
GPS watches need charging much more frequently. When you’re using the full GPS capabilities of the watch you can expect to get 24-48 hours of continuous use before a charge is required.
If GPS and fitness tracking features like heartbeat monitor and step trackers are off you’ll probably get at least a week or two of use between charges.
As smart watches have become more widely available, many hiking watches have started to take on smart watch features. Most wifi/bluetooth capable GPS hiking watches have a lot of smartwatch functionality like phone notifications, texting capabilities, and even music storage.
You can do everything from read an email to dictate a text right from your hiking watch. This makes it a lot more likely that you’ll want to use it as an EDC tool rather than just an on trail device. It also makes paying the high price of most GPS hiking watches a lot more palatable.
User Interface and Display Quality
With hiking watches rapidly becoming more navigation focused smart watches than strictly outdoor tools interface becomes much more important. You need to be able to efficiently and easily navigate the various settings and screens to use it effectively.
The quality of the display itself is also important. It doesn’t need to be HD quality by any means but it should be easy to read, backlit, and designed for all weather conditions.
Comfort, Design and Style
No matter how useful and loaded out with features a hiking watch is you’ve got to be wearing it to benefit. Comfort and design should be one of your top priorities when comparing different hiking watches.
If possible we recommend you try on any watch you’re considering and move your arm through its full range of motion. This allows you to see if there are any snag points on the band or if it’s too heavy.
Another consideration relates back to what we like to call the ‘goober factor’. Think about that guy we all knew in high school, the one who liked to carry a briefcase to school and wore that big calculator watch.
No one wants to be that guy.
Modern hiking watch manufacturers take this into account and try their very hardest to create sleek and stylish watches that you want to wear on a daily basis. You can find watches made from every high-strength material, including some really nice titanium and chrome ones.
A hiking watch can be one of the most important parts of your EDC if you find the right one.
Some people prefer the long battery life and lower pricing of the ABC style watches while others go for the smartwatch style GPS versions.
By comparing the features you need with what you’re willing to spend it’s easy to find the best hiking watch for your specific requirements.