During the last decade, hiking has exploded in popularity. This is partly due to the invention of hiking watches. Indeed, hiking watches are great because they help walkers feel safe in the mountains.
So, what are the best hiking watches? Well, a good hiking watch should have a barometer, altimeter, compass, and GPS/GLONASS. Also, it should be durable. The Garmin Fenix 5 and Suunto Traverse are market leaders, but there are a few other good options, too.
Trekking watches cost a premium so think about which features you want. And which you could leave behind! To help you on your way, I’ll compare 5 of the best hiking watches.
What to Look for in a Hiking Watch
A good hiking watch will not only capture your fitness data, but it will also help you navigate and forecast the weather. These additional features will keep you safe in the outdoors. So, when choosing a hiking watch, look for the following features:
- Barometer – this detects changes in air pressure so it can tell you if a storm is on the way.
- Altimeter – this shows you how high above sea level you are, which is very useful for navigation.
- Compass – Again, a compass is useful for navigation. In conjunction with a map, you can use a compass to find your exact location.
- GPS or GLONASS – GPS tracks your location. And GLONASS is the most advanced version of GPS available. When combined with an altimeter and barometer, GPS/GLONASS is extremely accurate.
- Heart-rate monitor – this allows you to monitor your heart rate (HR) and avoid exertion too early in a hike.
- Maps – Most hiking watches display basic GPS maps, but one watch even displays topographic maps (paper-style maps).
- Hard-wearing design – Hikers are out in all weathers, so they need a watch that’s built to last. Some watches have a Sapphire glass covering, which is near impossible to scratch.
With that in mind, here are 5 hiking watches that are packed full of useful features.
1. Garmin Fenix 5
When it comes to hiking watches, the Garmin Fenix 5 is the market leader. It is extremely accurate at measuring location and predicting the weather. As such, it can keep you safe in unpredictable terrain.
One of the best features is that you can view pre-loaded topographic maps. This is a distinguishing feature because most hiking watches only display barebones maps. Topographic maps are much better for navigating, so you’re less likely to get lost.
Another great thing about this watch is that it can connect to your smartphone camera. So, you can position your smartphone on a rock, and then gather together for a group photo. When it’s time to say ‘cheese’, you can take the photo directly from your wrist. So, if you have a Garmin Fenix 5, no one needs to be left out of the photo.
- Multi-sport tracking – this watch can track all your hobbies, so there is no need to buy additional devices.
- Very durable and hard-wearing – If you are willing to splash the cash, you could even invest in the Sapphire glass model.
- Supports GLONASS – as mentioned, this is the latest location-tracking technology. If you want to map your location and altitude with precision, you won’t be disappointed with this watch.
- Storm alerts – as you’ll know, weather can change pretty quickly on the mountains. If you download the weather forecast app, you’ll receive storm alerts, so you can reroute or turn back.
- 3 Sizes – although this watch is quite bulky (to accommodate all the hardware), it does come in 3 different sizes.
- Maps – as mentioned, topographic maps are a distinguishing feature.
- Battery life – this watch has around 20 hours of battery life in full GPS mode. This isn’t great, but it is comparable with most other GPS watches.
- Buttons – this watch has buttons rather than a touch screen which some people find irritating.
- Price – because the Garmin Fenix is feature-packed, it does have a hefty price tag.
2. Garmin Vivoactive 3
The Garmin Vivoactive 3 is not, strictly speaking, a hiking watch, but it can be used to track casual hikes of less than 8 hours. It includes some of the features of the Fenix but it costs less. Like the Fenix, it is a great multi-sport watch, so it’s perfect if you have multiple hobbies.
So, what’s so good about the Garmin Vivoactive 3? Well, it has GPS and GLONASS to track location, distance, and pace. It also has a barometric altimeter to accurately map altitude. As mentioned, this is useful for accurate navigation. Also, the weather app and sunrise/sunset alerts are great safety features.
One of the downsides of this watch is that it cannot display topographic maps. It is also not as durable as the Fenix 5. Finally, because it doesn’t have a dedicated trekking mode, it might not capture/show all the relevant data. But, if you have an android phone, you can download an app like Hike 2 to make sure all your hiking data is captured.
All in all, this watch is ideal if you are a causal hiker with multiple hobbies, and you want a reasonably priced fitness watch.
- Affordable – this is a mid-range fitness watch and offers great value for money.
- Multisport watch – so it can track swimming, yoga, running, and gym workouts.
- Smartwatch features – this watch offers smartphone alerts and Garmin Pay.
- Lightweight – this watch is lighter than the Fenix and many other hiking watches, so it’s an ideal running watch, too.
- Battery life – The battery life is not quite as good as the Fenix 5. It offers 13 hours in GPS mode and 7 days in smartwatch mode. It is fine for the causal hiker, though.
- No hiking mode – There is no inbuilt hiking mode with the watch. Although additional apps can be downloaded, people new to fitness tracking might find this difficult.
3. TomTom GPS Multisport
This is a great mid-range watch for outdoorsy people. It has a sleek and stylish design. Also, because it is lightweight, it would not look too bulky on a slender wrist. Although it doesn’t offer as many features as the Garmin Fenix 5, it is easier on the eye, and more comfortable on the wrist.
As you’d expect, it has GPS to measure location and a barometer to measure air pressure. It does not have a GLONASS sensor so it may not measure location and altitude as accurately as the Garmin devices, but it is still pretty accurate.
This watch is great for cautious explorers. This is because you can upload a chosen route and the watch will give you a breadcrumb trail to follow. This is a fun way of ‘navigating’ if you are new to hiking.
Like many hiking watches, it’s a ‘multisport’ device so it can measure lots of sports in addition to hiking. In fact, if you are into skiing and snowboarding, you will find this watch particularly useful. This is because the barometer can accurately measure ski lift versus downhill run time.
So, all in all, this watch is great for outdoorsy types that like hiking and other winter sports. Having said that, if you are very serious about hiking and navigation, you may find the HIKE features a little simple.
- Stylish and lightweight design – so it’s particularly suited to women.
- Multisport features – it’s especially suited to winter sports enthusiasts.
- Stores up to 500 songs -this is a great feature if you like listening to songs or podcasts on your long walks.
- No maps – to be specific, it doesn’t have topographic maps.
- Battery life – again, the battery life isn’t great (up to 20 hours on HIKE mode)
- No GLONASS – So, it may not measure altitude and location as accurately as some other devices.
4. Suunto Traverse
Suunto watches are renowned for their accuracy and reliability. Any watch in the Suunto range would make a good trekking watch but the Traverse is particularly good.
Why is this? Well, it has an altimeter, barometer, and GLONASS sensor to map your location and altitude with precision. It also has a compass to help with navigation, as well as a thermometer. The thermometer and barometer can be used to predict weather changes. So, with all these features, you know you’ll be safe in the mountains.
The Traverse isn’t a multisport watch, so it doesn’t offer a bunch of other settings. Neither is it a smartwatch, so it doesn’t offer payment features. But because of all this, the hardware is nice and light, so it has a minimalist and chic design.
If you want very detailed fitness information, you might be better off going for the Suunto Ambit 3 Peak. Similarly, if you want a multisport device, the Suunto Ambit 3 Peak, or one of the Garmin watches will be a better choice.
But, if you are more interested in the joy of hiking than monitoring your fitness, the Traverse offers great value for money.
- Lightweight and stylish design – so, the watch can be worn 24/7 if you want.
- Great battery life – up to 100 hours in GPS mode and 14 days in regular mode!
- GLONASS sensor – To track your location with precision.
- Minimal fitness tracking – it might not offer enough fitness data for the keen athlete.
- Not a multisport watch – so, it’s not great for people with multiple hobbies.
5. Casio PRG-600-1ER
As we’ve seen, one of the biggest problems with hiking watches is the poor battery life (except perhaps the Suunto Traverse which has 100 hours in GPS mode). GPS/GLONASS is such a great feature to have in a hiking watch, but it does run the battery down. So, these watches aren’t that practical for multi-day hikes.
The CASIO PRG 600-1ER doesn’t have in-built GPS. At first glance, you might think it’s not even worth considering a hiking watch that doesn’t have GPS. But, don’t be too quick to judge.
Firstly, this watch is solar powered so it’s unlikely that you’d ever run out of power. This is a huge benefit if you hike for days at a time.
Secondly, it forces you to navigate in the traditional way. It comes equipped with a barometer, altimeter and compass so it’s still a great piece of kit.
So, if you are learning to navigate, or you are already a very confident navigator, the Casio PRG 600 might be a great option for you.
- Solar-powered – this watch charges via sunlight (even dim light) so you don’t need to worry about finding a charge point.
- Good quality hardware – Casio watches are very high quality and durable.
- Training tool – because this watch doesn’t have GPS/GLONASS, you can practice old school navigation skills. This means you won’t rely too heavily on technology, which is important for staying safe as a hiker.
- Cannot track routes – because there is no GPS, your routes are not automatically stored in the app.
- Needs calibrating – in GPS watches, the altimeter is automatically calibrated via GPS. Calibration will need to be done manually, on a regular basis.
- Price – considering it doesn’t have GPS, some people consider this watch to be overpriced.
Choosing a Trekking Watch
If you are still feeling a bit uncertain, ask yourself the following:
Do you want your watch to record your routes automatically so you can view them later? If so, choose a watch with GPS/GLONASS, such as the Garmin Fenix 5, Garmin Vivosport, or Suunto Traverse.
When you are hiking, do you want to know your exact altitude? If the answer is yes, the Garmin devices and Suunto Traverse are best for this. The TomTom and Casio may not be as accurate.
Need a watch with great battery life? Choose the Suunto Traverse or Casio. And if you want a multisport device, choose the Fenix 5, Vivoactive, or TomTom.
Finally, if you’d like a watch that displays topographic maps, there is no better choice than the Garmin Fenix 5.
Most people would agree that the Garmin Fenix 5 is the market leader, but it’s not necessarily the right watch for you. Hopefully, this article has opened your eyes to 5 great hiking watches – each promising in their own right. So, which one will you choose?
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