Best Hiking Watch For The Trail Less Traveled

Looking for the best hiking watch for your outdoor adventures? Our list has it all, from budget buys to watches with map faces that are capable of paying for your lunch (no joke!).

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The Best Watches For Hiking: Never Lose Your Way

Looking for the best watch for hiking?

You’re in the right place! In this guide, we will be covering the following:

    • Why you need to add a good hiking watch to your outdoor gear
    • What are the common features found on the best trekking watches?
    • What’s the best smartwatch for hiking?
    • Reviews of the 10 best hiking watches
    • Our unbiased view on the best hiking GPS watch overall

If you’re a serious hiker or backpacker you may want a little more info on your wrist than the current time and something to remind you that it’s Saturday.

While timekeeping is important out on the trail, having an ABC watch (a watch with Altimeter, Barometer, Compass, and thermometer) to let you know your bearing, altitude, and of any incoming storms is the next step up. With a little more outlay, you could even plump for a fancy GPS navigation watch that will display color topographic maps on your wrist.

The options abound – all you have to do is choose the model most compatible with your needs and budget.

To help you find the best hiking watch for your adventures, we’ve done the grunt work for you. We’ve tested a range of watches and settled on 10 of the top models, covering a range of price points and models best suited to a variety of different activity types, from the best GPS watches for hiking through to the best hiking watches with touch-screen capabilities.

Best Hiking Watch by Category

Budget: Casio Pathfinder PAG240-1, Suunto Core, Casio Pro Trek PRW-3500
Best GPS Hiking Watches: Garmin Instinct Solar, Garmin Fenix 6X Pro, Garmin Enduro, Suunto Spartan Sport HR Baro
Best Battery Life: Garmin Instinct Solar, Casio Pathfinder PAG240-1, Suunto Core, Garmin Enduro

Editor’s Choice

Garmin Instinct Solar

Garmin Instinct Solar, Rugged Outdoor Smartwatch with Solar Charging Capabilities, Built-in Sports Apps and Health Monitoring, Graphite

It was tricky, but we ended up plumping for the Garmin Instinct Solar as our top watch for hiking due to its full range of features being on point across the board. With its sleek design, reasonable pricing, and easy-to-navigate features, it was always going to finish on the podium.

We found the functions in the Instinct Solar a delight to use, and accurate to a dime – exactly what you need from a watch out on the trail. The GPS function loses out to the Garmin Fenix, but it’s not far behind, and allows you to plan/create routes, locate your position, track your route and sync it all with Garmin Connect on your phone or laptop.

Thanks to its solar-charging capabilities, the Instinct Solar can run for up to 54 days between charges, which should be enough to let you get through even the longest thru-hike with a single recharge at the halfway point!

Bottom line: With a full range of features designed to aid mountaineers and hikers, the Garmin Instinct Solar is one of the best hiking watches and one of the best mountaineering watches your money can buy.

At a Glance: Quick Recommendations

  • Editor’s Choice:  Garmin Instinct Solar
    “Bells, whistles, and unrivaled practicality at an affordable price point.”
  • Best Budget GPS Hiking Watch:  Suunto Traverse
    “Still one of our favorites thanks to its intuitive controls, friendly price tag, and accurate GPS.”
  • Best GPS Hiking Watch:  Garmin Fenix 6X Pro
    “Pricey, but a great pick for those who want detailed topo maps and myriad features.”
  • Worth a Look:  Garmin Fenix 5X Plus
    “The pared-down, previous iteration of the Fenix 6X still holds its own.”
  • Best Backpacking Watch:  Casio Pathfinder PAG240-1
    “Ideal for long-term trail travel.”
  • Best Altimeter Watch (ABC Without GPS):  Suunto Core
    “A great choice for anyone who doesn’t need any frills like music storage or digital mapping.”
  • Best Mountaineering Watch:  Casio Pro Trek PRW-3500
    “A rugged, solar-powered watch that makes up for what it lacks in aesthetics with outstandingly accurate altitude tracking and user-friendliness.”
  • Best Outdoors Watch:  Suunto Spartan Sport HR Baro
    “A shoo-in for users who dabble in multiple outdoor activities.”
  • Most User-Friendly:  Suunto 9 Baro
    “Lacks the sophisticated maps of some competitors, but is highly intuitive and rich in customizable features.”
  • Best for Thru-Hiking:  Garmin Enduro
    “Incredible battery life, lightweight, and great for tracking everything you could wish to track.”

10 Best Hiking GPS Watches: The Results

Garmin Instinct Solar

Editor’s Choice

Key Features:

  • 3-axis compass and barometric altimeter plus multiple global navigation satellite systems (GPS, Glonass, and Galileo)
  • All-day health monitoring and Pulse Ox
  • Tracking: heart rate, stress, sleep, and body battery energy monitoring
  • Smart notifications and automatic data uploads to the Garmin Connect

When choosing the overall winner we sought a model that is affordable, easy to use, has excellent battery life, offers great digital mapping, and which lets us customize data for a wide range of activities. That, folks, is the Garmin Instinct Solar in a nutshell.

The Instinct Solar is good for 24 days in smartwatch mode and 30 hours in GPS mode, making it a great pick for backpackers and thru-hikers. While its digital mapping isn’t as detailed as the Fenix 6X Pro, it’s perfectly clear and easy to read, as is the customizable data shown on the screen.

Like all Garmin watches, the Instinct Solar pairs with Garmin’s awesome companion app, Garmin Connect, which allows you to track, analyze and share health and fitness activities recorded by your watch.

  • PROs

    • Affordable
    • Awesome battery life
    • Pairs with Garmin Connect
    • Solar charges
    • User-friendly
  • CONs

    • No topo maps or data

Bottom-Line: Cheaper than its competitors but a standout in every important metric.

Suunto Traverse

Best Budget GPS Hiking Watch

Key Features:

  • GPS and GLONASS navigation systems
  • Wireless syncing with Bluetooth to your computer, tablet, or smartphone
  • Digital compass that tilt-compensates and can be calibrated for declination
  • FusedAlti function provides accurate altimeter readings
  • Weather/Storm Alarms

The Suunto Traverse picks up our award for top watch for hiking thanks to its sleek style, advanced yet easy to navigate range of features, and all coming in at a reasonable price.

Any hiking watch needs to get its ABCs on point, and the Suunto Traverse nails this. We found the FusedAlti/barometer and compass functions to be consistently accurate, and in our opinion, out in front of its competitors.

The GPS combined with the Movescount phone app creates a seamless one, two – allowing you to plan and create routes, easily locate your position, track your route and sync it all wirelessly via Bluetooth.

Constructed with scratch-resistant sapphire crystal glass, stainless steel bezel, and a nylon textile strap, the Traverse is as hardy as it is sleek and stylish. Having passed no less than 19 tests, and meeting military standards in the process, it won’t let you down in the wilderness.

  • PROs

    • GPS/GLONASS bearings were very accurate
    • Navigation is a snip with the Movescount App
    • Stay ahead of storms with weather warnings
    • Very straightforward to configure and use
  • CONs

    • Battery dwindles to ~8 hours in GPS mode

Bottom-Line: If you are looking for the best GPS watch for hiking, then the Suunto Traverse watch deserves your undivided attention.

Garmin Fenix 6X Pro

Best GPS Hiking Watch

Key Features:

  • Wrist-based heart rate and Pulse Ox2 sensors track your fitness activities
  • Preloaded ski maps for more than 2,000 resorts around the world
  • Syncs to streaming services
  • Listen to music without your phone
  • Power Manager
  • Hydration tracking
  • Animated workouts
  • Preloaded activity profiles for trail and track running, swimming, running, biking, hiking, rowing, skiing, golfing, and (many!) more

With the capability to connect to GPS, GLONASS, and Galileo satellite systems, plus full-color topographic maps, the Garmin Fenix 6X Pro Plus is (in our opinion) the #1 GPS watch currently on the market.

The 6X Pro offers 14 days of battery life in smartwatch mode and 36 hours in GPS mode. Its on-screen topo maps are as detailed as those on any other watch in our review and it has more sport profiles than even the most active human could possibly need. It’s also waterproof to 100 meters, pairs with a top-notch companion app, and is fully customizable.

While more expensive than the Garmin Instinct Solar, we found the 6X Pro to be a better navigational tool on account of its larger screen size and superior mapping, both of which will make it worth the extra cost for some.

The only downside to the 6X Pro is that it takes a little time to figure out all those settings and features – okay if you’re patient and love your tech, tricky if you (like the author of this post) prefer your gadgets to be a little more straightforward and intuitive.

  • PROs

    • Up to 14 days between charges in smartwatch mode
    • Detailed, preloaded topo maps
    • Large screen
    • Rugged
    • Waterproof
    • Advanced training metrics
  • CONs

    • Not the most intuitive
    • Pricey!

Bottom-Line: An outstanding navigational tool that includes a full, top-end suite of features for health and fitness tracking, plus much more!

Garmin Fenix 5X Plus

Worth a Look

Key Features:

  • Multisport GPS watch ideal for multiple outdoor sports
  • GPS, GLONASS, and Galileo enabled
  • Full-Color Topo maps that connect with Garmin data to help find the best routes
  • Garmin Pay allows you to leave your credit cards at home
  • 3-axis compass, gyroscope, and barometric altimeter

If the Garmin Fenix 6 X Pro is too pricey for you, the older version, the Fenix 5X Plus, is well worth considering. With the capability to connect to GPS, GLONASS, and Galileo satellite systems, plus full-color topographic maps it is (in our opinion), still one of the best GPS watches on the market today.

Thanks to hundreds of thousands of user data points the Fenix 5X is able to select the optimum route to take when you sync it with Garmin Connect. This feature is great for finding new hiking, cycling, or running routes.

In addition to its superb navigational functions, this Garmin hiking watch has all the usual features you would expect in a high-end smartwatch, with compass, barometer, etc, along with a couple of more unusual ones. Connect to your bank, and you can now pay contactlessly with the Fenix, while also simultaneously listening to your favorite tracks on Spotify. Not bad, right?

While the interface and mapping aren’t as refined as on the Fenix 6x Pro, this remains a great option if you want to save a handful of $.

  • PROs

    • Impressive GPS accuracy
    • Full-color topographic maps & ability to find user-created routes
    • Spotify and contactless-enabled makes it useful around town as well as on the trail
  • CONs

    • GPS mode is very draining on the battery
    • Function navigation can make it tricky to use

Bottom-Line: If you are looking for the best hiking watch with GPS on the market, you’ll be hard-pressed to do better than the Garmin Fenix 5X Plus.

Casio Pathfinder PAG240-1

Best Backpacking Watch

Key Features:

  • Large-capacity solar storage battery which can keep the watch charged for up to 6 months
  • All your ABCs and the ability to track weather changes
  • Easy to read dual-layer LCD screens & easy to navigate menus
  • Great backlight with afterglow for night vision

Having been on the market for nearly a decade, the Casio Pathfinder PAG240-1 shows no sign of going out of fashion. Some may find it not the most stylish of watches, being a little clunky, but its big buttons and straightforward menu structure make it a cinch to use.

The outstanding feature of the Pathfinder watch is its solar-powered battery, which once fully charged lasts an incredible 6 months. It may be a little stripped-down compared to some of the other models in this review, as it has no GPS, but its ABC functions are pretty accurate, making it a solid watch if you don’t need/want the GPS functionality.

  • PROs

    • Easy to use
    • Solar-powered battery keeps it going for months
    • Easy to read display
    • Light weight and ruggedness make it ideal for multi-day backpacking trips
  • CONs

    • Very chunky, particularly for slimmer wrists
    • No GPS

Bottom-Line: It does the ABCs well, and as it can last a full AT thru-hike on one charge, the Casio Pathfinder wins our award as the best watch for backpacking.

Suunto Core

Best Altimeter Watch (ABC Without GPS)

Key Features:

  • Barometric alt. accurate to 29,500ft and displays in 3ft intervals.
  • Records and displays elevation loss/gain for the session in addition to the current elevation
  • Storm alarm feature when bad weather is approaching
  • Digital compass can be locked into destinations bearing
  • Sunrise/sunset times
  • Heart rate monitor

Our overall top prize for the best non-GPS altimeter watch has to go to the Suunto Core. The Core’s altimeter is accurate up to 29,500ft and measures in 3ft increments (compared to 10-20ft for all other hiking watches we’ve tested). As you’d expect, the Core logs your altitude for up to 7 days meaning you can download and see all your stats once you’re off the trail (or ski slope).

A super cool feature is its ability to automatically switch between altimeter and barometer based on your movement – if you are ascending/descending it attributes barometric air pressure changes to this. If you are stationary, on the other hand, then it will associate barometric changes with weather fluctuations.

To top it all off, it will sound a storm alarm when it notes a substantial air pressure drop.

This is one of our favorite hiking watches in terms of its design and would be happy to wear this one out on the town. It’s let down a little bit, however, when it comes to viewing the display in either low light or extremely bright conditions.

  • PROs

    • Great accuracy
    • Stylish looking, even off the trail
    • Simple but easy-to-read graphs
    • Awesome battery life
  • CONs

    • Need to navigate through 3-4 menus to get to certain features (no advanced training required, but a touch annoying nonetheless)
    • The display is a little dark, particularly in poor light

Bottom-Line: If you’re specifically after the top altimeter watch, then plump for the Suunto Core.

Casio Pro Trek PRW-3500

Best Mountaineering Watch

Key Features:

  • Solar power battery which can last up to 6 months on a single charge
  • Automatically receives atomic clock time calibration signals for accurate timekeeping
  • Has all your ABCs and will record your elevation gain/loss
  • Several alarms and countdown functions
  • Water-resistant

With its simple and straightforward design, we put forward the Casio ProTrek PRW-3500 T-7RC as our top pick for best watch for mountaineering and, a contender for the best ABC watch to boot.

Like its cousin the Casio Pathfinder, the ProTrek has a solar-powered battery that will allow it to function for five to six months without the need for recharging.

As you would expect, it has all the altimeter barometer compass functions needed in a good hiking or mountaineering watch. But due to its overall accuracy, we feel it outperforms other ABC watches (watches with a compass, altimeter, and barometer) in our review when it comes to mountaineering. In addition, its altimeter is good to 32,800ft and will naturally track your total ascent/descent progress.

As with most Casio watches, they certainly ain’t the prettiest to look at, although the plastic look is almost synonymous with the brand and may appeal to some.

  • PROs

    • Solar charging – no batteries/cable charging required
    • Altimeter accurate up to 32,800 ft.
    • Great accuracy and ease of use
  • CONs

    • Looks very plasticky

Bottom-Line: Head for that summit safe in the knowledge that the Casio ProTrek won’t let you down.

Suunto Spartan Sport HR Baro

Best Outdoors Watch

Key Features:

  • Conquer the outdoors with over 80 possible sport/activity modes
  • Great durability with steel bezel and mineral crystal glass
  • GPS/GLONASS navigational systems work with Movescount App
  • Barometer, compass & altimeter lets you know where you are and what’s happening with the weather
  • Water-resistant

The best outdoor smartwatch has to go to the Suunto Spartan Sport HR Baro, primarily for its impressive range of 80 sports and activities preloaded on the device. It goes far beyond the features you would expect of a normal fitness watch with GPS, altimeter, barometer, and compass.

Like its cousin, the Suunto Traverse, you can download all your workout/trip data to the Movescount app and relive your adventures, and/or set new goals.

The Spartan has a sleek, simple design which in our opinion gives it a stylish look. In addition, it’s a pretty rugged watch and will survive the usual backcountry clattering that happens to all our equipment from time to time.

  • PROs

    • Preloaded with over 80 sports/activities
    • Sleek, lightweight design makes it ideal for trail running, swimming, and even climbing
    • Good battery life
  • CONs

    • Don’t lose or forget the power cord, it’s proprietary so you may struggle to borrow one.

Bottom-Line: If you are looking for a fitness tracker that you can use for a wide variety of activities such as running, hiking, cycling, swimming, then the Suunto Spartan Sport HR Baro is our pick for the overall best outdoors watch.

Suunto 9 Baro

Most User-Friendly

Key Features:

  • Over 80 sport modes
  • Four predefined battery modes – Performance, Endurance, Ultra, and Tour – deliver from 25 hours to up to 170 hours of recording time with GPS tracking
  • FusedTrack™ algorithm combines GPS and motion sensor data to improve track and distance accuracy to extend battery life
  • Pairs with Suunto Movescount app
  • Rugged design can take scrapes and falls

The Suunto 9 Baro is the most intuitive model we tested, using a simple, clear touchscreen interface with only two buttons. The bottom line? It’s really hard to go wrong or lose your way – not something we can say about all of the watches on this list. The duo of large buttons also lets you operate and navigate settings without removing your gloves, so it’s a win-win.

The 9 Baro features a GPS, altimeter, barometer, thermometer, compass, and heart rate monitor, and also has crystal-clear digital mapping. On top of this, you can customize and download your own routes using the Suunto Movescount app.

  • PROs

    • High accuracy of the GPS system
    • Easy to use
    • Up to 7 days of continuous GPS tracking
    • Waterproof to 100 meters
    • Sapphire glass
    • Touchscreen
  • CONs

    • Expensive
    • Quite bulky

Bottom-Line: All the features you would expect from a high-end GPS watch, and user-friendly to boot. To our mind, the best GPS watch for hikers who like to keep things simple.

Garmin Enduro

Best for Thru-Hiking

Key Features:

  • Full ABC functionality
  • Activity/fitness tracking (optical heart rate monitor, sleep tracking, step tracking, floor climbing)
  • Measures performance (pulse ox, lactate threshold, performance condition, and much more)
  • Custom workouts
  • Multiple sport modes
  • Multisport modes
  • Garmin Pay
  • Garmin Connect app

If you already have a handheld GPS device or prefer using old-fashioned paper maps while out on your wanders, the Garmin Enduro is a great choice.

Unlike many high-end GPS watches, the Enduro doesn’t have digital mapping or music storage, so it’s not the best bet for you if either of these features are ‘must-haves’. However, it has every other feature included in the Fenix 6 series base models and beats all of the Fenix 6 models for battery life.

The Enduro is also one of the lightest watches on our list. This, combined with its multi-week battery life make it a shoo-in if you plan on long-term adventuring off the grid.

  • PROs

    • Exceptional battery life that’ll last up to 50 days in smartwatch mode (65 days with solar)
    • Battery life of 1 year with solar in battery saver mode
    • Plethora of modes
    • Ultralight
    • Precision GPS
  • CONs

    • Lacks the mapping and storage of the Garmin Fenix 6 X Pro
    • Pricey

Bottom-Line: A great pick if you plan on being on the trail for multiple consecutive days and if you don’t require digital mapping.

The Best Watches For Hikers – What Is Important?

With an incredible array of makes and models to choose from, finding the perfect hiking smartwatch for your personal needs can be a tricky undertaking. To help you make a decision, we recommend you familiarize yourself with the common features below:

  • What is the primary purpose you’ll use the watch for?
  • Which watch features are a necessity?
  • Which extra features are ‘nice-to-haves’?
  • Does the style matter to you?
  • What are you willing to pay for all the above?

Mentally running through these questions should help you quickly eliminate the ‘also rans’ until you find the perfect hiking watch for your adventure in the great outdoors.

Best Hiking GPS Banner

Hiking Features/Enhanced Functionality

To state the blindingly obvious, you’re looking for a watch that goes beyond a need to simply tell the time. The “enhanced” functionality of hiking or backpacking watches gives you a wider breadth of data to allow you to make decisions that will hopefully make your trip into the backcountry safer and more enjoyable.

Here is a rundown of the common enhanced functions and what you use them for.

Altimeter

Altitude, derived from the Latin for “height” (altitudo), is a measure of your absolute position vertically above sea level.

Woman sitting on cliff edge looking out over mountains
Your height above sea level can commonly be measured with an in-built altimeter

Knowing your elevation is an extremely useful way of determining (or double-checking) your position in combination with a map. This is particularly valuable in areas where taking sightings with a compass for triangulation is tricky e.g. in dense forest or barren wilderness with few discernable landmarks/rock cairns or if navigating at night.

A watch with a hiking altimeter will determine this in one of two ways:

1. Barometric Pressure

An altimeter barometer watch uses the atmospheric pressure of your surroundings to calculate your approximate location above sea level. This is based on a simple observation of the natural world – that atmospheric pressure decreases as altitude increases

Barometric altimeter watches, however, will only give you an approximate elevation since temperature variations and local weather conditions also influence atmospheric pressure, resulting in some uncertainty on your precise altitude.

Stormy clouds over a mountain top
Atmospheric pressure can be altered by local weather changes affecting the accuracy of altitude readings

To ensure accurate readings, an altimeter barometric watch needs to be calibrated often, with some of the more advanced models doing this automatically. Although, we would caution that you should also learn to do this manually as technology can (and does) fail.

2. Hiking Watches with GPS

With the Global Positioning System (GPS) gradually incorporated into more and more ‘everyday’ devices over the last 20 years, almost everyone is now familiar with it. GPS-based altimeters use the same principles to identify your height as your lateral (x/y) position i.e. multiple satellites are used to pinpoint your location on the earth’s surface.

GPS altimeters suffer from the fact that you need to be in the line of sight of at least 4 geo-orbiting satellite systems to gain an accurate location, which can be problematic if you are in the mountains, canyons, or valleys of the backcountry.

As a result, for use in the backcountry, we would recommend picking a non-GPS barometric altimeter over a GPS altimeter due to their (typically) greater accuracy in locations in which we outdoors folk normally find ourselves. However, if you want something that doesn’t require calibration and you can live with the uncertainty, then don’t rule out a watch with a GPS altimeter.

Lastly, a cute feature of some watches is the ability to download the altitude data to your computer or web application and make a topographic profile of your hike.

Hiker checking altitude on his hiking watch
For the data geeks out there some watches will allow you to create topographic profiles of your hikes

Barometer

Your hiking watch’s barometer function measures the atmospheric pressure and tracks how it is changing over time. It is this variation over time (typically the previous few hours) the barometer uses to predict the upcoming weather conditions as revealed by air pressure changes.

Increasing atmospheric pressure means that weather conditions are improving and conversely decreasing atmospheric pressure suggests that less than stellar hiking conditions are on the way (think precipitation: rain, fog, snow). 

A sharp decrease in pressure usually indicates a storm is on its way, and many of the hiking smartwatches in this review will alert you with an alarm, giving you time to get your rain gear on, or to seek shelter.

Having some advanced warning of the likely weather forecast can be a massive help in staying dry(er) and more comfortable, and in extreme cases, staying safe by seeking shelter.

Compass

Any watch without this feature isn’t a watch for hiking in our opinion. A compass is your principal means of finding your way and will show you the four cardinal directions (North, South, East, and West) in addition to your current bearing (which way you are facing). A compass works by measuring the earth’s magnetic field, allowing it to accurately determine which way is north.

Compass function on a hiking watch
We wouldn’t call it a ‘hiking’ watch without the inclusion of a compass

While a compass on your watch is useful for getting a sense of general direction, we would again caution that it should not entirely replace your traditional compass for two simple reasons. First, you’ll quickly find sighting and triangulation with a map much easier with your handheld compass, and secondly, and more importantly, technology can fail.

GPS

A feature of more advanced (and expensive) hiking watches is GPS function. As mentioned above GPS watches use orbiting satellites to pinpoint your location on earth. This information allows you to instantly access your current coordinates, speed, distance traveled (from the previous waymark), ascent/descent, and where you are relative to various landmarks on the GPS map system.

Probably most useful is that GPS watches can import your chosen route, allowing you to see your current position relative to where you should be. In addition, after making it safely home again, you can download all this GPS data to relive your trip in digital form.

The biggest downside to GPS watches for hiking is they all suffer from short battery lives – I’ve yet to see a watch that can survive more than a day or two with the GPS tracking turned on. 

Man wearing  hiking watch looking at a GPS map
Keep in mind that heavy use of the GPS map function will drain the battery of your watch

Therefore, if you are going on a longer trip your options are likely restricted to only having the GPS signal turned on for limited periods and/or bringing along some form of charger, either a battery pack or solar charger.

Thermometer

Thermometers are a feature that pop up on some watch models, giving you an idea of how hot (or cold) the air temperature is.

We’ve yet to be convinced as to how useful such a feature is, as your own internal sense of the external temperature will let you know if it’s time to throw on your jacket or peel off a layer. Additionally, as the temperature sensor sits next to your wrist, temperature readings from watches tend to be skewed slightly by your body heat.

As far as we are concerned, a “nice to have”, but certainly not a must-have feature.

Heart Rate Monitors

A large number of hiking watches can also record and show your heart rate (HRM). As with the thermometer, this isn’t a particularly necessary feature but does allow you to keep an eye on how well you are pacing yourself and gives you an overview of your fitness levels.

This feature is most useful for those who are hiking to improve their fitness (as you’ll be able to monitor your improvement over time by referring to your heart rate) or those “metric geeks” (such as myself) who love nothing more than poring over data/trends.

Trail runner looking at the heart rate monitor on his hiking watch
A Heart Rate Monitor isn’t necessary for a hiking watch but can help you track your fitness over time

Watches that have a heart rate monitor work by measuring your body’s electrical pulses (generated by your heart pumping), either through a transmitter/receiver built into your watch (measuring through the wrist) or by using a transmitter chest strap and a receiver built into your watch.

A word of caution – even the most sophisticated wearable heart rate monitor isn’t particularly accurate.

Durability, Weight & Comfort

Trips, slips, and falls. Everyone who’s spent sufficient time hiking or backpacking knows that their body will take the occasional beating due to a wet rock or misplaced foot. As such, your equipment needs to be sturdy enough to survive such misadventures.

Many good hiking watches are protected with sapphire glass lenses which offer increased protection from scratches as compared to the traditional mineral crystal glasses you’ll find on regular watches. Expect to find a higher price tag for that protection though.

Man climbing rock face with hiking watch on wrist
Out in nature, it’s easy to scratch your watch face so many hiking watches have sapphire glass lenses

While getting wet is generally something to be avoided while out in the wilderness, staying dry is often something that isn’t feasible. To that end, all (good) hiking watches are water-resistant, often marked up to 100m (10 ATM), which seems like a little bit of overkill (even if you’re trekking through the Amazon and decide to go for a dip every evening). 

Suffice to say, anything above the roughly water-resistant 30m point should be sufficient to weather even extreme downpours and the occasional bit of skinny dipping along the route.

Because your watch may be the only item you will wear continuously for days on end (we hope you change your underwear occasionally), it should also be comfortable to wear. When buying, look for softer materials in the wristband and read user reviews to get a feel for how comfortable the watch is after repeated all-day use.

Also, durable and rugged straps and added features may result in bulk that makes it awkward, particularly for those of us blessed with slender wrists. Does it fit snuggly, or does it chafe like hell after only 2km?

Woman looking through features on her hiking watch
Like any hiking gear, you want your watch to feel as comfortable as possible

Don’t underestimate how important comfort is, and ultimately, if you forget you are wearing your watch, then comfort-wise, you have chosen well.

Style & Design

As someone who has often heard the question “are you really wearing that?” pass my wife’s lips, this is an area that isn’t a personal priority. However, I am keenly aware that others may want something that looks stylish, particularly if you plan to wear it around town as well as on the trails.

My take is that if it’s solely for the trail, then function always beats fashion. If it’s for wearing bushwhacking off the trail also, then function still beats fashion…but that’s not to say that you can’t find something that pulls off both.

Battery Life

Depending on the duration of your typical trip into the backcountry this may (or may not) be an important consideration in an outdoor watch. All the hiking watches reviewed here should see you through a one (or two) day outdoor adventure without the need to look for your nearest electrical socket.

However, for those of us who expect to be out for multiple days, weeks, or even months, then longevity from your mountain watches battery is something you may wish to prioritize. Certainly, hauling a spare battery pack is a possibility, but that’s extra weight on your back.

Solar power pack attached to tent charging in the sun
You may want to bring a power pack to charge your watch up but remember the weight adds up!

Generally, there are two broad-brush correlations here, 1) more features = shorter battery life and 2) higher price (for a similar number of features) = longer battery life. This is why we would typically recommend a simpler watch for those more advanced backpackers who expect to be out for weeks on end.

Best Watch for Hiking: The Verdict

If you are on a budget or want to spend your money on other pieces of kit and/or don’t require enhanced functionality like GPS, then we recommend a simple ABC watch like the Casio Pathfinder or Protrek, or the Suunto Core watch.

If you’re keen on GPS or simply want more stylish, sleek designs with enhanced functionality – particularly other features such as thermometers, atomic time-keeping, and HRM – then you can spend a little more and get yourself the non-baro version of the Suunto 9 or Suunto Traverse.

If you’re looking for a high-end model that will do practically everything bar cook your food upon reaching camp, we recommend the Garmin Instinct Solar or Garmin Fenix 6X Pro, both of which are for serious outdoors folks who like precise, detailed data, plenty of bonus features, and top-notch mapping.

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Last update on 2022-05-27 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

Kieran James Cunningham is a climber, mountaineer, and author who divides his time between the Italian Alps, the US, and his native Scotland.

He has climbed a handful of 6000ers in the Himalayas, 4000ers in the Alps, 14ers in the US, and loves nothing more than a good long-distance wander in the wilderness. He climbs when he should be writing, writes when he should be sleeping, has fun always.

Kieran has taught mountaineering, ice climbing, and single-pitch and multi-pitch rock climbing in a variety of contexts over the years and has led trekking and mountaineering expeditions in the Alps, Rockies, and UK. He is currently working towards qualifying as a Mountaineering and Climbing Instructor and International Mountain Leader.

Kieran’s book Climbing the Walls—an exploration of the mental health benefits of climbing, mountaineering, and the great outdoors—is scheduled for release by Simon & Schuster in April 2021.

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