Top 8 Best Hiking Watches in 2019

We might as well face it, we live in a gadget-driven world. Love or hate this, there are a few of those gadgets that can greatly improve our limited outdoor time. One of them is the simple, or maybe not so simple, wristwatch.

As our devices grow smaller, it means they can fit into a more convenient package. What it took several large devices weighing pounds only a decade ago can now be carried on your wrist and weighs ounces. It’s this ability to have a multi-functional device that takes no space and is essentially weightless that makes the hiking watch a must-have piece of gear going forward.

Top 8 Best Hiking Watches in 2019

A good hiking watch will serve the purpose of nearly outdoor electronic you need. Yes, I know your smartphone can do almost everything a hiking watch can. However, your smartphone has a limited battery and can be quite sensitive. A hiking watch can run for weeks and should be quite rugged.

So, what are these things a hiking watch offers? How about we break it down.

Hiking Watch Features to Consider Before Buying

We are going to break this down into two sections. The first section are those features that should be mandatory in a smartwatch. The latter section are features that are a bonus but are outside what most people may NEED out of a hiking watch.

1. Mandatory Features

GPS

What would a good hiking watch be without a GPS? This is the primary feature that most people want in a watch. Bonus points are given for those that have some form of tracking. That is what we really need. You want a GPS that displays your track and allows you to navigate. Even better if you can enter coordinates and track to them but that is less common.

GPS accuracy is generally an issue but it shouldn’t be. Though most watches are not exceptionally accurate, they are accurate enough. Though 10 meters is less accurate than what we may think we need, it really isn’t. That is quite accurate for such a small device.

One way to improve accuracy is to look for watches that support GLONASS. This is the Russian satellite network and it doubles your chances of having good satellite reception as well as increases the number of satellites you are likely to get a signal from.

Compass

I know, you have a GPS so why would you need a compass? Well a GPS shows you where you are and hopefully where you came from. A Compass shows you where you are heading. Though you can often figure this out with a GPS, if you are only accurate to 10 meters it may take a good bit of walking to establish your direction.

Most GPS capable watches have a compass but you want to be sure. This is an overall affordable feature to add. You may end up wanting this before your hike is over.

Weather Resistance

To round out the features your new hiking watch will need, it better be waterproof to some degree. The last thing you want is a sensitive electronic device in a situation where you know it will eventually be exposed to inclement weather. This isn’t even considering sweat issues.

Along with water resistance, some watches offer extra protection against cold which can cause batteries to burn out faster as well as issues with display. While this isn’t mandatory in itself, it is a really good idea.

2. Extras

Thermometer

Having a thermometer is hardly necessary but it can be very useful in so many situations. Even just to satisfy your curiosity when you wake up in the middle of the night. This is hardly a matter of safety if you plan your trip properly but if you don’t, knowing the temperature can be a lifesaver!

Barometer

A barometer is a multifunctional device on its own. It can help in determining altitude if you are hiking in the mountains. It can even tell you when bad weather may be on its way. This becomes far more important if you are mountaineering. Many people who undertake higher elevations will see this as necessary.

Altimeter

For hiking in many places an altimeter probably isn’t that useful. It isn’t often you will need to know your elevation. For those heading to the higher places and want to take in some mountaineering, this is a mandatory feature.

For the rest of us, knowing your approximate altitude can actually help with navigation and finding yourself on a map. You may never have to do this but it is a good way to impress your friends.

Heart Rate Monitor

With the introduction of the sports watches that track your performance, it was only a matter of time before those features made it into hiking watches. Though this may be predominantly looking at heart rate, there are a number of other health-related statistics that some watches can track.

Many of these are as capable as a Fitbit or any other similar device. Adding this to your watch increases its functionality and makes it more useful in day-to-day activities. Call it adding more bang for your buck.

Wi-Fi / Bluetooth

For a variety of purposes, a watch may have either wi-fi or Bluetooth compatibility. This can be for simple purposes like updating the firmware to more advanced features. Some watches have the ability to download topographic information through these connection types.

This is the Segway into our final factor for consideration:

Smart Capabilities

Some hiking watches are very advanced and have support for additional apps and functions most commonly associated with smartphones. Some can even receive emails, if that is what you want to do in the middle of nature.

Having smart capabilities is just a way to tailor your watch to your own personal needs. Like with your phone, most apps are probably not that handy but every so often there is one that makes the whole device worthwhile.

Top Best 8 Hiking Watches of 2019

Preview
Product
Satellite System
 
Garmin Fenix Chronos Review
Garmin Fenix Chronos
Best of the Best
GPS + GLONASS
Casio G-Shock Rangeman Review
Casio G-Shock Rangeman
Most Durable Hiking Watch
GPS
Suunto 9 Baro Review
Suunto 9 Baro
Best Bang for your Buck
GPS + Fusedtrack
Casio Pro-Trek Review
Casio Pro-Trek
Best for Navigation
GPS
Polar Vantage V Review
Polar Vantage V
Best for Trail Running
GPS
Garmin Forerunner 935 Review
Garmin Forerunner 935
Best for Multi-Sport
GPS
Suunto Spartan Sport Review
Suunto Spartan Sport
Best Budget Watch
GPS + GLONASS
Polar Vantage M Review
Polar Vantage M
Best Basic Hiking Watch
GPS

Narrowing these down was a difficult task. There are dozens of amazing watches but many are just the same watch made over with a different look or cheaper materials. You will also notice that there are only a few brands. This is not because of any brand support but these companies consistently produce top of the line watches for the outdoors.

1. Garmin Fenix Chronos – Best of the Best

Garmin Fenix Chronos Review

This watch has so many features its almost unbelievable. But before that, we need to talk about construction. Not only is the Fenix Chronos a beautiful watch but the stainless steel frame is rock solid and nearly indestructible. It’s waterproof up to 100 meters which is up there with the best dive watches. This is the real deal for the rugged but fashionable outdoorsman.

To get into the basics, you get a GPS with GLONASS support, a pressure based altimeter which means it also has a barometer, and a compass for good measure. All of these are the best possible technology in a watch. There are no second rate products here.

You get GPS multi-tracks which can store up to 30 routes and advanced navigation features to get you there. It has more sports modes than any one human needs so you are sure to find the ones that you want most. It even has full health support from VO2 to heart rate and even does recovery estimates and sleep tracking.

It charges and uses USB for updates but also has wireless support to allow you to receive emails and texts in the field. This watch is smarter than most people and far more capable. If you are hardcore into the outdoors, this is the watch you need!

Pros

  • GPS with GLONASS
  • Full Fitness Suite
  • GPS Tracking
  • Durable and Waterproof

Cons

  • Low Battery Life
  • Heavy

2. Casio G-Shock Rangeman – Most Durable Hiking Watch

Casio G-Shock Rangeman Review

Casio is probably best known for its line of budget watches. This is not one of them. This is a beastly outdoor watch that that has almost every feature you need while being tough as iron. It is water resistant to 200 meters, shock-resistant, and completely impervious to dirt, dust and other particulates. Simply put, this is a watch that could go to war and come home unscathed.

While it is not stated that this watch is GLONASS capable, the GPS accuracy seems to indicate that it may be. Along with that, you also get a barometer, altimeter, thermometer, and compass to round out the basics. All of these are spot on accurate but there are set ranges where they work. For instance, the thermometer won’t go below 14F.

You can save your GPS tracks as well as reviewing routes with complete data such as altitude at any time in 3d. All of this can be transferred in our out of the watch via Bluetooth making it very easy to use. While it lacks some smart features and fitness tracking, it a very serviceable outdoor watch. What it lacks is made up for by how well it does what it is capable of doing.

It has a stopwatch and countdown timer functions which are great for timing yourself along trails. This is a great feature for trail running or serious backpacking. It is also solar chargeable but has a battery that will run for up to 5 hours navigating without any solar charging at all. You can use the sun but you don’t absolutely need it with this watch.

Pros

  • Solar Charging
  • Exceptional Durability
  • GPS with GLONASS

Cons

  • Low Battery Life
  • No Fitness Tracking

3. Suunto 9 Baro – Best Bang for your Buck

Suunto 9 Baro Review

Suunto is a legendary company in the world of navigation from their manual compasses to their dive computers. It should come as no surprise that their hiking watch is just as amazing. And much like their dive computers, they can survive harsh conditions and deep water, down to 100 meters.

This very attractive watch has a full suite of GPS navigation including a tracking system that uses a motion sensor alongside satellite data to get the best possible accuracy. It can also track ascent/descent speeds, pace, distance covered, and works with waypoints to keep you on track every time.

It does have a full fitness suite with over 80 activities. It tracks heart rate throughout and can be combined with app support to improve your fitness goals and keep a monitor on you the whole time you are out. It even pairs with your smartphone through Bluetooth for additional power. This means it can also forward all of your notifications right to your wrist.

One of the more useful features is the weather alert system that tracks bad weather as well as sunrise/sunset times. This only scratches the surface of what this watch can do. It is easily the best bang for your buck as far as navigation enabled hiking watches go.

Pros

  • GPS with GLONASS
  • Weather Alerts
  • Full Fitness Suite
  • GPS Tracking and Navigation

Cons

  • Requires Apps for full Functionality

4. Casio Pro-Trek – Best for Navigation

Casio Pro-Trek Review

Our second offering by Casio is a truly amazing navigation aid that is coupled with an advanced fitness watch to make a great all-around watch for hiking. Not only is it durable but it is attractive and has many advanced features that you will love!

The GPS tracks very well and is quite accurate, especially if you use the Advanced GPS mode which will make the mapping aspects of this watch spot on. It has overlays for different maps as well as a route screen, landmarks, and a history screen so you can keep up with your favorite spots you have been.

The watch has a full suite of sensors from pressure sensors for altitude and atmospheric readings to fitness settings so you can keep up with your steps, calories burned, and a variety of activities. With Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connectivity you can also make use of additional apps more suited to your specific activities.

A great feature for this watch is the ability to download maps so they are native and require no signal to view. This is a rare feature, rarer than it should be anyway. The Pro-Trek is also made to mil-spec certification so you know it’s tough. It operates by Wear OS by Google and operates via touchscreen which makes it a breeze to set up and use.

Pros

  • Extremely Tough
  • GPS Tracking
  • Downloadable Maps
  • Full Fitness Suite

Cons

  • Google OS – Not iPhone Compatible
  • Low Battery Life

5. Polar Vantage V – Best for Trail Running

Polar Vantage V Review

Polar may not be the most well-known watch company but they make quite good products, especially if their Vantage series is any indication. This is one of the easiest and cleanest designed watches on the market but not at the cost of durability. It may not stack up to some of the most rugged watches but it is waterproof to 30 meters and shock-resistant.

The GPS function on this watch is not the spotlight which is more on the heart monitoring and fitness side of things. That said, it does offer GPS support and can even use external apps such as MapMyRun to give you a good idea of where you are going. Unfortunately, it does not have full compass support but the added features though apps can supplement this.

For training, it uses both electrodes and optical sensors to give you the best heart rate monitor made. It even recognizes the difference in activities to support you no matter what you are doing at the moment from running to swimming. It is even capable of adapting your fitness plan for your next adventure on its own if you so choose.

While this may be a little weak on some features most desired in a hiking watch, it offers a lot of features that are generally not seen. It has good battery life and can serve the needs of the hiker but is generally a better option for trail runners and other more extreme outdoor activities.

Pros

  • Full Fitness Suite
  • Smart Fitness Tracking
  • Long Battery Life

Cons

  • Less GPS Capable
  • Less Durable

6. Garmin Forerunner 935 – Best for Multi-Sport

Garmin Forerunner 935 Review

We need to revisit another Garmin for another great watch, the Forerunner which has almost everything you could need out of a hiking watch and probably more than you ever knew you wanted. This is watch with a ton of features, mostly geared to fitness but enough in the navigation department to keep you going.

The GPS is fairly basic in its usability but since it is a Garmin, you know it’s accurate. With this watch the navigation is a secondary feature to support all of the activities that this watch is made for. It will do what you need, just don’t expect as much as the more dedicated navigation watches out there.

Fitness tracking is where this watch shines with modes for just about every possible activity you could want from hiking to golf, swimming, and more. For this it tracks your rest times, steps, elevation gained, intensity, sleep, calories burned, and heart rate. If you need any more than this, it pairs with the TrainingPeaks app to give it to you.

This watch even pairs with other technology like Varia Vision to give you better safety if you are biking by providing a rearview radar and intelligent smart lights. That is outside the hiking world but worth noting. For hikers, you can download maps and do all the things you need. This includes GPS tracking and a compass along with an altimeter and barometer.

Pros

  • Modes for Many Activities
  • Full Fitness Tracking
  • Advanced Sensors

Cons

  • Less GPS Function
  • Complicated to Operate
  • Less Durable

7. Suunto Spartan Sport – Best Budget Watch

Suunto Spartan Sport Review

As we move into the lower end of the best hiking watches, we are going to kick it off with a watch that has nothing low end about it. Sunnto’s Spartan watch may be a little more Spartan by design but that means it’s tough, rugged, and highly useful. Not that it is somehow lacking.

This is one of Sunnto’s best GPS capable watches with the normal GPS sensors but combined with air-pressure and barometric altitude to fine tune those readings for a more accurate location. It does use GLONASS so you already get great signal but this is just another part of the Suunto suite of navigation aids with this watch. It can be combined with the downloadable MovesCount app that works great for keeping on track and providing the best route along the way.

It does have an accelerometer and heart rate sensor to give back that important health-related information including everything from sleep tracking. It even a storm warning system to keep you out of the worst weather. For the price, this is easily a great choice.

Pros

  • GPS with GLONASS
  • Additional Sensors
  • Full Navigation Suite
  • Weather Warnings

Cons

  • Less Fitness Tracking
  • Requires Apps for full Functionality

8. Polar Vantage M – Best Basic Hiking Watch

Polar Vantage M Review

If you simply need a GPS watch and are not worried about all those high-end features, you can go with the light version of Polar’s Vantage series. It may have a little less but it is a well put together watch and still has a ton of features to help you out along the way.

Like the other Vantage watch, the GPS is fairly basic. It is the same setup as in the Vantage V meaning you are going to need apps for any advanced mapping. You can add to the other functions with apps as well which can be downloaded through Bluetooth on your phone and installed on the watch with ease.

For the health conscious, this watch has cardio load, muscle load, an advanced heart rate sensor, and a variety of other features which help you keep track of exactly what your body is doing, mile after mile and hour after hour.

This watch uses a satellite-based altimeter and lacks a barometer all together. Compass navigation similarly relies on satellite systems. This means if you lose GPS signal, you will have no other way to tell your direction. It may not be optimal but for the price, this is still a great watch!

Pros

  • Some GPS Capability
  • Full Fitness Suite
  • Easy to Use

Cons

  • Satellite Dependent
  • Less Overall Functionality

Frequently Asked Questions

How Accurate is a Watch GPS?

This greatly depends on a number of factors such as number of satellites in view, weather, and terrain. On a good day, you can be within about 5 meters but on a bad day it can be as much as 20 meters. This means they are decent at telling you where you are but if you are using the GPS to calculate speed, it may be off. For general purposes, even a bad day is good enough for most situations.

What is GLONASS and how Important is it?

GLONASS is a Russian satellite network that works the same as the US-based GPS satellite network. This increases the satellite coverage over any given area and provides better and more consistent location information.

Though on its own it is a huge benefit, one of the best points of having a GLONASS capable GPS is that it will likely be able to read the European GALILEO and Chinese BeiDou systems when they go live. This will give you exceptional coverage in almost any location.

What is the Battery Life of a GPS Watch?

This varies dramatically depending on features and battery type of the watch. Most watches are capable between 10 and 20 hours of GPS coverage but can be as high as 30 hours. With GPS disabled this run time can be doubled. Some features like Wi-Fi can dramatically reduce battery life.

Wi-Fi vs Bluetooth – Which is Better?

Wi-Fi often has a stronger signal and it is possible for Wi-Fi to penetrate objects and broadcast further than Bluetooth. Wi-Fi can also work on any open Wi-Fi network without the need to connect to another device.

Bluetooth uses far less battery power but you will have to have an additional capable device to connect to. It can not connect to a network on its own.

As to which is better it depends somewhat on the device itself but mostly on the user and their needs and expectations. If you are unsure, Wi-Fi offers the most options.

Conclusion

In this device rich world, the most useful device is the one you have on you. It’s easy to walk off and leave a bulky GPS handheld at home. That isn’t even considering things like a heart rate monitor, weather radio, and compass.

A hiking watch ensures you have all of the devices you need in one convenient package that can be carried with no additional effort. If you haven’t really considered the possibilities of these amazing tools, maybe it’s time to start.

 

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