Whether you are already athletic and always love to maintain your physical fitness by engaging in outdoor activities like hiking, or you are just a beginner trying to follow your new year’s resolution, one device you must purchase before your hiking trip is a Global Positioning System (GPS) equipped wrist watch.
Why buy a GPS watch for hiking?
Living in the age of smartphones and smart technology, many of you would have this question in mind, especially when you have a smartphone and are ready to carry it with you while hiking. Yes, there are a lot of hiking apps that are built with numerous useful features, from navigation to first aid, available for free or for an affordable subscription fee, which you can use on your smartphone.
However, the fact is that, though many of those apps provide updates over the earphone when you are on the trail, they are no match to having all your tracking information where you can easily and directly see it. Furthermore, GPS watches for hiking come equipped with more new features, are highly reliable, and more accurate as well.
When you are heading into an unknown territory for hiking, it is wise to be prepared. A GPS watch will be able to protect you when conditions worsen. For instance, you may encounter issues such as badly marked or faded trails, poor visibility due to changing weather, etc., all of which could make you lose your originally planned hiking route. Even conditions such as rain, snow, and fog can make it difficult for you to follow your intended trail. A GPS watch will help you overcome such troubles, find the right route, and help you get back home safely.
What features should your GPS watch have?
The different features you should look for in a GPS watch for hiking fall in these basic categories:
When it comes to hardware-related features, the first thing to look for is battery life. You will be able to find GPS watches with battery life ranging anywhere from 5 hours to several hours, with price varying accordingly. In addition, you can also look for watches with a built-in thermometer and altimeter. You will also have the option to choose from a lot of different screen sizes. If you choose to go for a watch with smaller screen size, you will be able to enjoy the lightweight nature of the device. On the other hand, choose a watch with a large screen and you will get great visibility and more information displays.
Tools and Alerts
Different GPS watches track different data and hence perform different functions. Some of the common functions to look for include alerts for every mile you complete, on-screen map, time tracker, air pressure sensor, automatic pause, etc.
You can choose a GPS watch that is capable of tracking your pace, speed, distance covered, elevation, calories burned, pulse or heart rate, and more such data. There are also models that are designed to track the atmospheric temperature and pressure.
Top 5 GPS Watches for Hiking
To help reduce the time you spend researching about the best GPS watches for hiking, we have shortlisted five of the best models in the market, in different price ranges to meet your budget.
Planning on a holiday that involves hiking, running, swimming, cycling, and other activities? If you can engage in all of these activities while wearing the same watch, it would be the Garmin Vivoactive HR. There are many watches from the company that are designed specifically for athletes. This watch, however, works both as a fitness band that can be used on a daily basis, and also a smartwatch that has all the elements and features you would require for a hiking adventure. Simply put, it could be said that the Vivoactive is the Swiss Army knife in GPS watches.
The design of the Garmin Vivoactive HR is not quite appealing. While we thought it was just us, we were able to find out that several users also felt the same way. The watch is big and heavy, and quite bland too. For a watch that is designed to offer all possible functions of a fitness tracker and smartwatch in one, anyone would certainly expect a more sleek and catchy design. For this reason alone, this watch isn’t something you would want to wear for a party or to the office for that matter.
Leaving the design apart, the Vivoactive HR is water resistant up to 50 meters, which makes it perfect for swimming as well. At the rear is the heart rate monitor, and one thing that we like a lot about this watch is its display, which remains lit up all the time, making it easy to use while hiking or during other outdoorsy activities. Many HR watches on the market today come with a chest strap; the Garmin Vivoactive HR, however, is equipped with one on its back, relieving you from the inconvenience of wearing a chest strap. The heart rate sensor is known to be relatively accurate, but certainly not perfect.
Garmin is kind of a go-to company for people looking for great battery life in watches. The Vivoactive HR is definitely a winner in this feature and stands up to the company’s name. The watch is designed to work for around five days with good usage of GPS and all other features. With the complete use of GPS alone, you will be able to get 16 hours of life from the battery.
The GPS functionality of the watch works quite accurately as well. Apart from the usual issues you would encounter from a GPS device, you will be able to make great use of Vivoactive HR’s GPS. In addition to these features, the watch will also help you stay connected by giving you notifications on the calls, emails, messages, and other alerts that you receive on your mobile phone. Of course, your smartphone has to be compatible with the device.
Similar to many other Garmin GPS watch models, the Vivoactive HR also works with the Garmin Connect app. The platform is quite decent, but you will have to spend time going through and understanding which of your data lie where on the app.
Available for $220, the Garmin Vivoactive HR is the ultimate watch for any weekend warrior.
- Wealth of features.
- Water resistant.
- Great battery life.
- Bland design.
- Mobile app needs time to get used to.
If you are looking for a GPS watch in the mid pricing range, the Ambit GPS watch from Suunto should be on your list to consider. Though the company has launched newer versions in the Ambit line, this original version still remains a favorite among hikers, mainly because it packs a lot of features for a GPS watch in this price range. When it comes to the looks, the Suunto Ambit looks quite rugged, and not like many other GPS watches in the market that come in flashy colors. Therefore, you can wear the watch on a regular basis as well. Though the watch looks thicker and hence heavier, you wouldn’t actually feel the weight while wearing it.
One of the strong points of this GPS watch is its battery life. With its rechargeable Lithium-Ion battery, the Suunto Ambit GPS Watch for hiking is capable of running for thirty days with just functions such as altimeter, barometer, and compass, in a single full charge. If you are planning to hike an unknown trail and therefore need to use the GPS function, you can expect the watch to run for 50 hours, which we think is great for a watch in this category.
The many outdoor features available with the Suunto Ambit include: a fully featured GPS with waypoint navigation that gives data such as speed, distance, routes, points of interest, location, and also a find back function; a 3D digital compass that is designed to give you readings at all angles; a barometer; temperature; an altimeter that displays vertical speed and altitude accurately; and of course, a chronograph feature with which you can track laps. In addition to these, there are other training-specific features and general features packed in this simple yet sophisticated device.
The interface is simple and easy to use. The logbook feature tracks the data of all your activities. The casing is built to be long lasting, and the GPS watch itself is water resistant, which makes it a perfect choice for changing weather conditions. There is also a manual button lock that helps prevent activation or deactivation of features by accident. Like with any other product, this GPS watch from Suunto has its downfalls too. One common issue reported by users is that the watch easily pauses when worn under a jacket or any other type of clothing. And the fact that the watch can be customized only with a PC on the Movescount.com website is also an annoying aspect of this watch. Overall, the Suunto Ambit GPS Watch is without a doubt a feature-packed device and would be a great buy for those new to hiking, before moving on to purchasing a newer version.
The watch is available for $299 on Amazon.
- Comprehensive set of features.
- Sturdy build, yet light on the wrist.
- Super fast GPS fix.
- Easily readable display.
- Easily pauses when worn under clothing.
- Customization requires the use of a computer.
3. Garmin Epix
The Garmin Epix is the brand’s merger of their famous handheld mapping units and a multisport device, which has resulted in a color mapping GPS wrist watch perfect for hiking and other sports and outdoor activities. The Epix is a fully functional GPS watch that contains all the features you would find in the company’s advanced Fenix 3 watches. What makes this model unique is the ability to download full color maps and use the same for navigation purposes. When it comes to style, the Epix is not the most stylish GPS watch you would come across. However, taking its functionalities into account, you may actually forgive its beasty design. But, the weight of the device will certainly not be unpleasant on your wrist, so you could choose to wear it regularly.
In terms of hardware, the first feature that will capture your attention is the large 1.4” color touch screen. The company has designed the screen in this size to provide users with the ability to download and view maps in a more effective manner. You can download maps from the company’s website by paying additional charges or from other third party sources for free. The watch has an internal memory of 8GB for storing maps, which should be more than enough for any of your hiking expeditions.
The Garmin Epix is equipped with a wide range of navigation features, similar to the brand’s watches from other series, and therefore it is highly suitable for hiking and other similar outdoor activities. Sight’n Go and TrackBack are two epic features of the GPS watch that make track recording and track navigation extremely easy. In addition, the watch also has altimeter, barometer, and compass (ABC) sensors that are designed to calibrate automatically to provide you with real-time information. As the watch includes multisport functionalities, you can use it to track your running, climbing and swimming sessions and also during forest or mountain hiking.
One thing that’s offputting about the Garmin Epix is that there is no Wi-Fi function in the watch. While the feature is available in most other leading GPS watch models in the market, and also in the high-end Garmin watches, it is very much disappointing to know that the Epix lacks the feature even after having to pay almost the same as its counterparts.
Originally priced at $549 and now available at a discounted price of $349, the Garmin Epix is an attractive GPS watch for hiking with a lot of tempting features. Yes, the product is quite expensive; but, if you are a multi-activities or multi-sports person, this could be the only watch you need.
- Rugged build and large screen.
- Great list of features.
- Multi-sports support.
- No Wi-Fi capability.
- Takes some time to get used to the interface.
The Traverse from Suunto is another accurate and reliable GPS and GLONASS watch that will serve as a wonderful choice for hikers. As a hiker, you would be aware that accuracy and reliability are two important aspects when it comes to navigation. Suunto have understood this need clearly and have designed the Traverse around this concept. The watch is beefed up with simplicity, accuracy, and sensitivity, and is well-built than the average GPS watch for hiking. Available in different colors, including amber and white, the Traverse is a good-looking watch that you wouldn’t mind wearing to college, office, or even for a wedding.
The Suunto Traverse comes with a lot of useful barometric and altimeter features. Along with the standard features such as temperature, timekeeper, compass, etc., you can also use different GPS-enabled functions. It allows you to create points of interest, waypoints, and navigate to chosen points, all while tracking your fitness. As the watch uses both GPS and GLONASS satellites, it can access twice as many satellites as a standard GPS watch and therefore, it would take less time to fix, will be more accurate, and helps save battery power as well. However, when compared to other popular hiking GPS watch models, the number of GPS features in the Traverse is quite less.
In terms of battery life, the Suunto Traverse is not the best find. Though the company claims up to 100 hours of battery life, many users have reported that the battery doesn’t last long for a long hike, and the maximum it can hold, with all the GPS functions, is 12 hours. However, if you are a weekend hiker, going on short 2 or 3 mile hikes, the battery life this watch delivers would be sufficient for you.
This watch will be perfect for first-time GPS watch users because, as there are only limited features and functionalities, figuring it out will be much easier than any other GPS watch on the market. The interface is user friendly and the buttons are easy to use even with gloves on. When it comes to fit and comfort, due to its slim design, you will find it fitting perfectly on your wrist, and it can be worn under clothing too. The watch is also quite light in weight; therefore you wouldn’t find it inconvenient on your wrist even after wearing it for several hours.
The Suunto Traverse is available in different versions and price ranges, and will be a good pick for short distance hikers.
- Easy to use interface.
- Light in weight.
- Good set of ABC features.
- Poor battery life.
- Relatively less GPS features.
If you are ready to spend extra money for a high quality watch loaded with features, Garmin Fenix 3 HR is a model you should consider. The Fenix 3 HR is a recent addition to the brand’s Fenix 3 series watches, and this particular model is known to be one of the most advanced wearable GPS devices and also comes with an optical heart rate sensor, hence the name HR. Garmin’s trademark Elevate wrist heart rate technology has been added to their highly popular and successful Fenix 3 watch, making it a state-of-the-art device for multisport athletes, especially hikers.
In terms of its looks, the Fenix 3 HR is really rugged, and despite its chunky structure, metallic coatings, and visible screws, this is still a good-looking GPS watch for hiking. The GPS watch is also quite heavy; while it could be a problem for activities like running, it will be absolutely fine for hiking, which is one of the sports the watch was designed for. Yes, you can wear this watch day to day, if you don’t mind the chunkiness and weight. The silicone strap is designed to stretch slightly, making it fit just perfectly on your wrist, thus not compromising on comfort.
Multi-sport tracking is one of the major advantages of the Fenix 3 HR. The watch works great not only for hiking, but also for cycling, running, skiing, swimming, golfing, paddleboarding, fishing, hunting, rowing, and also for working out at the gym. It would be extremely hard for you to find another GPS watch that works for so many sports and activities. There is more, the watch is equipped with numerous sensors such as heart rate monitor, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, electronic compass, a barometric altimeter, motion sensors, and a lot more. Seriously, for the money you pay, you cannot really ask for more from a GPS watch.
Coming to the most important feature for hikers, the GPS along with the altimeter, barometer and electronic compass provides excellent functions for tracking and navigation. No matter which trail you choose for hiking, the TrackBack feature in the watch will help you get back to your starting point without any difficulties. The built-in sensors will keep updating you on weather changes, elevation, and heading. With the GPS function, you can mark different locations, such as your start and finish points, vehicle location, campsite, checkpoint, and any other points of interest.
What about the battery life? To match its excellent performance and rugged looks, the Garmin Fenix 3 HR will meet your expectations in terms of battery life as well. The watch is designed to work for two whole weeks when on smartwatch mode, 16 hours with just the GPS, and 40 hours in its training mode.
The Garmin Fenix 3 HR is definitely not a cheap buy. At a price of $549, it is not small or extremely light in weight. However, for the investment you make, the device certainly does not lack in terms of technology and features.
- Comprehensive array of features.
- Good battery life.
- Great with notifications.
- Accurate 24/7 HR.
- Quite chunky and heavy.
- The App needs improvement.