If you’re into hiking or climbing, a good quality altimeter smartwatch is going to be the best companion. Commonly referred to as an ABC watch (altimeter, barometer and compass), these devices provide the best data for adventures. They’re made to handle intense elements. ABC watches are durable devices with scratch-resistant and large screens with big side buttons. Suunto and Casio are the market leaders for altimeter watches however Garmin came through with some tough competition for high-end buyers.
Here are 5 suggestions for great altimeter watches.
1. Garmin Fenix 5X
$600 / £339
The Garmin Fenix 5X is pretty pricey, but you get what you pay for. Firstly, it’s the best multisport altimeter smartwatch you can buy. This unit has full ABC functions, plus a heart rate monitor, GPS and GLONASS satellite capabilities. The Fenix 5 is different from the 5S and 5 is the addition of topographical mapping. The contour lines give detailed data for activities like hiking and mountaineering. Saying that, the Fenix 5 did have a smoother launch. Typically, the rest of the Fenix range, and even some Suunto devices, experienced some glitches.
The Fenix 5X is reasonably heavy, being 3.5oz, and quite bulky, being 2 x 2 x 0.7 inches.
However, the biggest drawback is the cost. It’s also complex, but this isn’t a bad thing if you’re a hiking enthusiast. The price has certainly soared with each new release. Depending on your level of skill, the tech inside might be overkill if you’re interested in the basics such as elevation and barometric pressure. If you do want in-depth data, it has incredible navigation capabilities as well as a multisport feature to cover cycling, running and skiing.
Advantages: Topographical maps are incredible
Disadvantages: Expensive device which is quite complicated
2. Casio Pro Trek PRW-6000Y-1A
$540 / £420
The Pro Trek range from Casio has always delivered a rugged and long-lasting device. However, the common downside has been a lack of any style. Typically, being made out of clunky plastics. The PRW-6000Y-1A finally deals with this, with what is easily the best-looking watch made by Casio.
Firstly, they’ve stepped away from the classic plastic and gone for a white face on a black display. Furthermore, the band is sleek and has carbon fibre inserts. It has full ABC functions as well as a thermometer, stopwatch and what’s noted as accurate time. The best bit is the solar charging so you never have to charge it or replace the battery.
It’s reasonably light compared to other ABC watches; 2.57oz. It’s also slimmer, being 2.2 x 2 x 0.5 inches. This is potentially due to the lack of GPS function.
It’s pretty pricey, which is a shame as you can get roughly the same functionality for a fifth of the price of other Casios on Amazon.
Advantages: Finally, a good-looking Casio.
Disadvantages: Expensive considering the lack of GPS
3. Suunto Core
$115 / £99
This is a simpler option but acts as an everyday multisport watch. Coming in at $130, the Core has a pleasantly surprising number of features and comes in a variety of colours. It’s fairly lightweight at 2.4oz
It can tell you both sunrise and set times in 400+ locations as well as the change of pressure of reduction of daylight and a 7 day altitude log for those who like to hike.
Being toward the budget end, there are a couple of drawbacks noted by users. The band doesn’t like particularly heavy use and may need replacing, which comes at a cost of $50. The dark background with white text on the display is hard to read in bright sunlight. Arguably, this can be changed. Sadly, it doesn’t offer GPS tracking either.
Advantages: Great everyday performance and solid technology
Disadvantages: The band fails under heavy use and requires replacement
4. Suunto 9 Baro
$499 / £399
On the higher end of the budget scale, the Suunto 9 Baro is their flagship ABC watch. Released in mid-2018 as a development of the Spartan Ultra, this version comes with pin-point GPS and a touch screen display that helps the user guide their way through an easy-to-navigate menu that offers breadcrumbing. It doesn’t compare to the likes of the Fenix 5X in terms of the topographical maps, however, the multisport tracking, heart rate monitor and overall user-friendly nature have proven popular with many people.
The best thing about this device is the battery life (which is lithium-ion). You’re able to select how often the GPS function monitors your location, which can have a huge impact on how quickly it drains the battery. You can opt for once every second, every 60 or 120. You can change your setting during activity. The Baro 9 will compensate for less GPS tracking by relying on other features like the compass, gyro and accelerometer. This offers an accurate picture of location, pace and distance. You’ll get an awesome 120 hours battery life from this as well as accurate information.
Advantages: Unrivaled battery life (in certain settings).
Disadvantages: Navigation isn’t as great as alternatives
5. Garmin Instinct GPS Watch
$300 / £199
This Garmin offering looks retro but on the inside holds all the tech you could want. A late 2018 release, the Instinct GPS is great for those into hiking and trail runners. It has a full ABS suite with a bonus of GPS navigation, wrapped up in a rugged body. There are fitness features like a heart rate monitor and specialised activity modes for cycling, hiking and open water swimming.
The look and feel is a downside for some who want a more sophisticated-looking watch for everyday wear. It’s pretty slimline at 1.8oz, though.
If you opt for this over the Fenix 5X, you’re giving up the better map and navigation functionalities. It does offer the TracBack feature, though. There have been a few complaints about the brightness and size of the screen not being adequate, too. Some put this down to a simplified design. Specific activity modes are also simpler than it’s sibling or the Sunnto range. This ABC watch is a fantastic mid-range offering that offers durability.
Advantages: A decent price for a mid-range GPS off-road multisport watch
Disadvantages: Small display and lacking in maps and navigation functionality