After decent hiking boots, a waterproof jacket, and plenty of water, the next most crucial hiking item may just be a hiking watch.
The best hiking watch can provide you with a wealth of information that makes your treks safer, such as performance tracking and navigational tools. Unfortunately, it can be tricky to decide which is the best hiking watch for you amongst all the options on the market.
So, what are the most important hiking watch features to consider? Keep reading to discover how to select your next hiking watch.
Consider Adding—or Ditching—GPS
GPS may seem like a standard feature in everything from phones to cars. And while it’s common in hiking watches, it’s not always a given.
Some watches, like the Suunto Core hiking watch, don’t have GPS tracking ability. The Suunto Core instead has a compass and an altimeter that tracks total ascent/descent and barometric altitude, which makes it a great and affordable option for hiking and outdoor sports pros.
That said, GPS can be extremely useful when hiking in unmarked areas because it can keep you from getting lost and help you stay safe. So if you decide that GPS is a must, the next question is what kind of GPS signal you want. The standard GPS signal is L1, but it’s not the most reliable when hiking under dense foliage or outcroppings.
The key here is to look for hiking watches that have more than the L1 signal. For example, Apple just released the 2022 Apple Watch Ultra, which combines the L1 and L5 signals for more accurate metrics.
Prioritize Navigational & Performance Tracking Features
When considering navigation tools, GPS and functions aren’t the only ones to look for in a hiking watch. ABC functions are just as important, especially for outdoor sports pros and for when you’re hiking in unmarked areas.
Not familiar with the ABC functions? This trio is comprised of:
- Altimeter: This measures altitude and can help you accurately track your ascent and descent.
- Barometer: This measures atmospheric pressure, which can alert you to changing weather.
- Compass: Use this tool to make sure you’re heading in the right direction.
Some models, like the Casio Pro Trek PRG600YB-2, focus on the ABC functions. Meanwhile others, like the Garmin fenix 6, include full-color topographical maps.
As far as performance tracking, consider a watch with advanced metrics. For example, the Apple Watch Ultra lets you monitor:
- Your heart rate
- Blood oxygen
- Sleep cycles
Make Sure Your Watch Will Last the Whole Trip
The best hiking watch will have a long battery life. The last thing you want is to become lost in the middle of the woods with a non-functioning watch.
Keep in mind that watches have different battery lives depending on how you use them. For example, many watches have much shorter battery life when in GPS mode. So if you plan on using your GPS regularly, make sure you choose a watch that can keep up. One option is the Suunto 9 Baro hiking watch, which can run for an entire week while using GPS.
Another alternative is choosing a watch that relies on solar energy. The Garmin Enduro can last up to one year in battery saver mode as long as it receives three hours of daily sunlight.
Choose a Durable Watch That Can Keep Up With You
You need a durable watch that can survive falls and harsh climates. This means getting a watch with an extra-strong lens and sturdy wristband material.
Thankfully, most hiking watches come with a stronger lens than regular watches, but you still need to choose which glass type you want. The two most common choices are:
- Sapphire Crystal Lenses: These are generally considered the most scratch-resistant option, but they may cost more.
- Gorilla Glass Lenses: These are stronger than sapphire lenses, but you can scratch them easier.
The best hiking watch is only as good as its strap. You don’t want a material that can rot (leather) or become difficult to manage when cold (steel). A few popular options include silicon and nylon fabric. These materials don’t easily tear and aren’t affected much by severe weather.
Another important factor that affects durability is water exposure. Hiking watches advertised as water resistant can withstand rain and regular hand washing.
But if you plan on hiking near a body of water, consider a watch with at least a 50-meter water resistance. For water sports fans and divers, something like the Apple Watch Ultra or Casio Pro Trek PRG270-1 can work, as they both have a 100-meter resistance level.
The Best Hiking Watch Makes Comfort & Design a Priority
When it comes to comfort, make sure your hiking watch feels good on your wrist. You don’t want a hiking watch that weighs you down and becomes a distraction while hiking.
Hiking watches may feel very bulky because of the extra protection. While this may not bother some hikers, it can be a deal breaker for others. You should also consider the band’s adjustability so you don’t end up with a sore or chaffed wrist in the first hour of your hike.
On standard watches, the display type may affect the aesthetic more than the watch’s utility. However, the right display on a hiking watch makes a huge difference in whether or not you can read the data.
What good is a hiking watch if you can’t read it at night or in the bright midday sun? This is why you should look for a watch with various modes and sufficient backlighting so you can read all the data at a glance, no matter the weather or time of day. For example, the Coros Vertix 2 has an “always-on” backlight mode.
Don’t Forget Hiking Watch Extras
Hiking watches typically offer more than a sturdy design and navigational tools. Consider a watch that includes the following features:
- Applications: Some watches come with the ability to connect to music and payment apps. You can also receive texts and emails like other smartwatches.
- Protection Plan: Always consider adding a protection plan to your hiking watch purchase. Hiking watches can be a considerable investment, so a protection plan can provide some peace of mind in case of an accident or malfunction.
- Music Storage: If you can’t imagine a hike without music, ensure your watch has enough storage for your favorite playlists.
Choose the Best Hiking Watch for You & Hit the Trails
The best hiking watches have just about everything you could possibly need while braving the elements and traveling through unmarked terrain.
Before you invest in your next hiking watch, consider the points above. Once you’ve determined your top navigation tools, how much battery life you need, and what material will last you the longest, you can select your hiking watch and head out for your next adventure.