The 10 Best Hiking Watches of 2017 – 2018

best hiking watch

Getting lost in the wild can be amazing, but at some point along your intrepid journey, you might need to get back home.

Outdoor watch manufacturers are constantly competing to pack the most powerful features into the best hiking watch so you can forget about getting lost or caught in a freak storm while enjoying the great outdoors.

Unfortunately, there are several rip-offs and sub-par products which will only leave you frustrated with poor functionality and even worse battery life!

Look no further! We have traversed the mountains of options and have compiled a list of the most awesome outdoor watches based on their incredible features, build quality and value for money.

These are our winners for 2017!

Image Name Type Weight Best Feature
Garmin Fenix 5x Sapphire Garmin Fenix 5x Sapphire GPS 5.29 oz Maps, Wifi, & Much More (But Pricey)
Suunto Ambit 3 Peak HR Suunto Ambit 3 HR GPS 3.14 oz Built-In Heart Rate Monitor w Strap
Suunto Traverse Suunto Traversebest seller GPS 2.82 oz Lightning Fast & Accurate GPS
Garmin Fenix 3 Garmin Fenix 3 GPS 2.9 oz Highly Customizable with Apps
Casio Pro Trek Casio Pro Trek ABC 2.82 oz Altimeter/Barometer/Compass
Suunto Core Suunto Core ABC 2.26 oz Altimeter/Barometer/Compass
Casio Pathfinder Casio Pathfinder ABC 2.29 oz Altimeter/Barometer/Compass
LAD Sensor LAD Sensor ABC 2.01 oz Altimeter/Barometer/Compass
Timex Outdoor Watch Timex Expidition Digital 2.24 oz Digital Compass
Casio G Shock Casio G-Shock Chrono 2.43 oz Impact Safe

Top Rated GPS, ABC, Outdoor & Waterproof Watches

Garmin Fenix 5x Sapphire

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The 12 Gigabyte Garmin Fenix 5X Sapphire is the flagship of the Fenix 5 range. The GPS is highly accurate and the 5X software even includes color topographic maps. You can effortlessly mark points of interest, save multiple hiking routes and track your progress with an incredible amount of complementary data.

With the additional Wifi capabilities and Sapphire scratch resistant glass, the 5X Sapphire outshines it’s counterparts. Unfortunately this comes at a very high price. The Fenix 5X price tag has nearly doubled over the more recent Fenix 3 (reviewed below). This is the mothership of features and functionality and may only be for you if you are really the type to explore the endless tools that come packed into this hi-tech smart device.

There are a few models to choose from. Each option includes the wrist based Heart Rate Monitor measured from the back of the casing as well built-in altimeter, barometer, 3-axis compass. 100 Meters water rating is standard.

Garmin Fenix 5s vs 5 vs 5x

The main difference is size and screen resolution.

  • 5s = 42mm = 218 x 218 pixels (For ladies and smaller wrists)
  • 5 = 47mm = 240 x240 pixels
  • 5x = 51mm = 240 x 240 pixels (Only available in Sapphire option)

Sapphire

The Sapphire versions include a scratch resistant Sapphire glass lens but more importantly, only the Sapphire models include wifi for easy transfer of data to your computer. Only the 5X has preloaded topographic maps. Note: They can be considered a little too heavy and bulky for hiking by some people.


Suunto Ambit 3 Peak HR – With Heart Rate Monitor

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Suunto’s Range of GPS watches are more accurate and have faster connection times than any competitors and the Ambit 3 is no different. It is meant for fitness tracking and navigation in the wild outdoors. If you don’t need a heart rate monitor, you can choose a model without this added monitoring strap.

It’s also a smart-watch (allows smartphone sync) with Altimeter, Barometer, Compass and 100 meter water rating but comes in at a much lower price tag that the Fenix 5 range.

The Ambit also has an incredible battery life. If you’re planning to track movement across wild terrain, your route, distance, pace and elevations will be accurately recorded. Note that it is still slightly heavier than the Suunto Traverse below.


Suunto Traverse GPS Watch

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Our absolute winner for value, weight, comfort and gps functionality! With beautiful styling and a strong build, the Suunto GPS hiking watch is as perfect in a boardroom as it is on any extreme hike around the world.

There are features like “storm alarm” and “sunrise and set” times but these pale in comparison to the one thing Suunto is really known for… Navigation! It has a lightning fast satellite connection to GPS and GLONASS with insane accuracy. You can track your position and record an active cookie crumb trail for reverse navigation. (The satellites connect slightly faster than with the Garmins.) We love this relatively cheap GPS watch for hiking.

suunto watch modes

We loved the large, clear display which can also be inverted for better visibility.

The rechargeable lithium ion battery keeps the watch running for 3 days while in GPS tracking mode but it can also last around 11 days in normal mode. It even tracks your steps and the amount of calories you burn. Color options include Black, Graphite White and Amber.

gps suunto model

Honestly we could not find anything really wrong with this military gps watch for hiking… If you are on a slightly tighter budget, this is a perfect choice!

Alternatively, the more powerful Suunto Traverse Alpha  also adds extra features like automatic shot marking for hunting and moon phase tracking for fishing. Although, even with the extra features, we simply couldn’t justify the much higher price of the Alpha model, making the standard Suunto Traverse our clear choice here!

  • Thermometer: Yes
  • Altimeter: Yes
  • Barometer: Yes
  • Compass: Digital
  • GPS: YES with Breadcrumb Trail
  • Water Rating: 100 Meters (330 Feet) Swimming only
  • And many more features

Read full review


Garmin Fenix 3

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Garmin remains a great player in the GPS navigation field and the Garmin Fenix 3 Sapphire does not disappoint. It’s essentially a powerful smart backpacking watch in that you can personalize it with widgets, apps and custom faces depending on your preference.

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Being GPS enabled, the Fenix 3 Sapphire by Garmin accurately records a bread-crumb trail of your movement and allows you to mark your course with up to 1000 points of interest!

The watch also connects with your Bluetooth smartphone with email and text alerts straight to your wrist. You can even add the heart rate monitor (not included) for additional data tracking.

Available Designs

garmin fenix 3 sapphire range

The Garmin is clearly designed with the tech savvy in mind but you don’t have to be a genius to use it. The functions are simple to understand easy to use, even if you’re just looking to use the basic functionality.

You should definitely consider the Garmin Fenix 3 if you love tracking as much info as possible and like to explore the incredible features and the unbelievable amount of customizations.

  • Thermometer: Yes
  • Altimeter: Yes
  • Barometer: Yes
  • Compass: Digital
  • GPS: YES with Breadcrumb Trail
  • Strap: Choice of Titaniun, Leather, White Silicone,  and Black Metal.
  • Face Customization
  • Water Rating: 100 Meters (330 Feet) Swimming only
  • And many more features

One negative of the garmin is that it can often be wildly inaccurate at determining distance / pace when your run includes hills, wind, or different running paces. Consider it more as a navigator than a fitness tracker.

Garmin Fenix 3 HR with Heart Rate Monitor

The Garmin Fenix 3 HR is the exact same as the Sapphire but has a built-in Heart Rate monitor behind the face that cleverly measures your heart rate from your wrist. (Just like the Garmin Fenix 5 range)

It also comes with a black silicone band instead of the myriad of strap options of the Sapphire.

The only real reason we gave it 4.5 stars and not 5 was that the battery life is slightly shorter given the built in heart rate monitor. (In our opinion, the built-in Heart Rate monitor, though a powerful feature, is more applicable to fitness training than hiking.)

  • Built-in Heart Rate Monitor
  • Thermometer: Yes
  • Altimeter: Yes
  • Barometer: Yes
  • Compass: Digital
  • GPS: YES with Breadcrumb Trail
  • Strap: Silicone
  • Face Customization
  • Water Rating: 100 Meters (330 Feet) Swimming only
  • And many more features

Casio Pro Trek Best ABC Watch

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“ABC” refers to the fact that it has an Altimeter, Barometer and Compass. The Casio PRW-3500T-7CR Pro Trek is the best ABC watch on the market. This is not a “smart” device with GPS tracking but offers incredibly accurate ABC data for a much lower price than a GPS watch. The weather alarm is great and has helped many a hiker stay out of trouble.

It’s solar powered. The titanium “clasp” band insinuates indestructibility while still looking sharp indoors. It looks solid and tough, but its actually quite light.

It can be submerged to 200 meters and the unidirectional bezel can be turned to help guide your compass bearing while hiking.

It syncs with an atomic clock that keeps the time super accurate at all times and several daily alarms can obviously also be set if needed. (up to 4 alarm times)

The temperature/barometer works better if you remove the watch from your wrist for a minute.

  • Thermometer: Yes
  • Altimeter: Yes
  • Barometer: Yes
  • Compass: Digital
  • Water Resistant: 200 Meters (660 feet) Diving

Here’s what we didn’t love

The altimeter is accurate and simple. Don’t expect too much. It shows an altitude “tendency” graph. To get this straight, you can’t see an actual graph of your altitude history. It merely shows if you’ve been moving up or down in the last few minutes.

The compass shows bearing (degrees) in large digits with very small North, East, South, West markers around the outer ridge of the face. This is OK, but not fantastic.

I guess we’ve become used to the cleaner look of the smart watches which is why the face/bezel area can look a bit “noisy”. Also, unlike the Pathfinder, the Pro Trek makes it a little harder to see which button does what.

Make no mistake, this is a great backpacking watch! Overall, we love it and strongly recommend it to anyone who is looking for a mid-priced outdoor ABC timepiece by a quality brand known for its accuracy and durability. Read the full review.


Suunto Core Under 200 with Altimeter, Barometer and Compass

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The top rated Suunto Core altimeter watch (Pictured here in Military Black) is another clever “Altimeter, Barometer, Compass” option that could very well be the most comfortable on the list. The lightweight body combined with a wide tapered strap makes this an incredibly good hiking companion. (Due to it’s ‘softness” there are some complaints about the strap durability in rougher conditions.)

The design is smooth with very little chance of catching on fabric or branches while trekking.

In terms of tech, Suunto never disappoints. There is a storm alarm that activates when it senses sudden drops in pressure. The altimeter shows your current elevation and also records the trek, showing you how much you’ve ascended and descended along your journey.

With a cleaner face than the Casio Pro Trek, the compass still gives the same information. Your bearing in large digits in the center.

The entire body is pretty big, but also not heavy. We do find the buttons have a less solid feel than the other ABC watches.

It’s significantly cheaper than the Casio Pro Trek making the Sunnto Core is great value for money. A fantastic gift for backpackers and outdoorsmen who need a good, comfortable ABC watch that doesn’t need to take too much of a beating.


Casio Pathfinder Outdoor Men’s Watch

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The large, clearly marked buttons make the Casio PAG240-1CR Pathfinder with Triple Sensor, the easiest ABC watch to use on the list. The Altimeter, Barometer and Compass buttons are very clearly marked and even more so, the light button for night and low light use. The button ergonomics, though “loud” is very easy to operate.

It’s plastic with a silicone strap and works like a charm in the wild. You won’t be stressed about bumps and scratches cause this guy loves to get dirty. The elaborate, busy design actually hides a lot of wear and tear and for the price, you won’t be overly precious about knocks and rocks.

In terms of the accuracy of the 3 sensors, you’ll find the very same trustworthiness as with the higher-end Casio hiking watches.

The Casio’s can operate in low temperature conditions (up to 14 F / -10 C) and still accurately measure the environment. Other great aspects include being 100 Meters water resistant and being able to notify you of sunrise and sunset times. Since it’s smaller and lighter than it’s big brother, it’s a really good Casio for running.

A great budget timepiece for the adventurer. Read the full review.


LAD Sensor Best Under 100

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The stylish and powerful LAD Sensor Master is loaded with tech. Most unique of which is the weather function which will warn you on your hike when a storm is about to hit. It has an awesome negative display which is super bright in the daytime. At night, the backlit display is great too.

Other great features include a really accurate digital compass which can be calibrated, an altimeter, a barometer and even a thermometer. You can even track your barometer & altimeter graph for the last 24 hours! Cool.

One small downside is that the thermometer is sometimes out by a few degrees which is a little unfortunate. The other sensors are amazing and are near perfect.

For the price, the features blew us away. If you’re looking for an cheaper option that can keep up with the big boys, this is the one.

  • Thermometer: Yes
  • Altimeter: Yes
  • Barometer: Yes
  • Compass: Digital
  • GPS: No

Read the full review.


Timex Expedition Digital Compass

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This new addition to the list was added as a budget option that still included some navigation functionality, be it a simple digital compass that works just as it says on the box.

You won’t be able to track temperature, elevation, distance or weather, but it has the trusted Timex durability while helping you find your bearing on a hike. Let’s just say you can orientate yourself on a hike but you won’t be able to track complex navigational routes with the digital compass.

And it falls way within most people’s budget for a compass watch and that’s its main selling point. It has an impressive water resistance and the tough double resin casing can handle an impact.


Casio G-Shock Outdoor Watch

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No list of rough and tough watches could be complete without the ever popular Casio G-shock. It doesn’t have the tech of the pricier options, but it outshines the rest for a retro, cult-like brand that spans decades.

The newer G-Shock is sleeker than the original model (with less sharp corners to catch on things) and is definitely not as bulky. But it never loses it’s well known character.

The primary reason the G-Shock is so well known is for its shock resistant capability. This has made it one of the toughest companions for anyone who wants to go off the beaten track and into some more extreme conditions.

That being said, thanks to the brand’s following, this sidekick will be just as cool in a skate park in NYC as it would in a Mexican Cenote.

It’s chrono… isn’t that just flipping the bird to all the other digital pansies that “can’t handle the pressure” of untamed nature. Furthermore it has a small digital display on the lower half of the face.

The only real issue we could find is that the illumination function doesn’t light up the main face, only the digital area. This is a little annoying at night since only the date lights up.

Other than that, this is the toughest little watch you’ll ever find. It’s compact design and high impact resistance, makes it an unbelievably good choice for a non-sensor, trekking watch.


Which is the Ideal Outdoor Watch for You?

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There are a few factors to consider, let’s break them down into Tech, Style and Price

Tech

So let’s begin… If you need GPS Navigation you’ll have to choose between the Garmin Fenix and the Suunto options. They all have breadcrumb trail recording and you can map out points of interest along your way.

Between Garmin and Suunto, the Garmin has much more tech features and customization while the Suunto Traverse has simpler and (slightly) faster GPS.

If it’s endless tech features you’re after, Garmin is incredible but the price tag is a little higher than the Suuntos.

Style

With the metal band, the Garmin 5X Sapphire has a clean and formal look which can be worn anywhere. (There are some more Garmin military style variations but they don’t really translate that well.)

It is beautifully designed and with an incredibly good battery life, serves very well as a dual purpose watch. For an executive who demands competency both in- and out of the boardroom, you’ll love the Garmin 5X Sapphire.

Suunto’s Traverse is less “business” and more “toughness” in it’s styling. Not to mention its big brother, the Traverse Alpha with scored bevel and rugged nylon textile strap. It just can’t be mistaken for anything other than a rugged AF wilderness watch. The face is clean and solid with just a hint of military.

The Casio Pro Trek is classy in a different way. You can certainly take it anywhere you go. Whether it be diving the Blue Hole in Belize or brokering a huge tech deal.

The G-Shock is a middle of the market legend with a unique style. We particularly like the faux matt-metal look of the body. It adds a slight touch of class to the impenetrable feel of the design. It’s a well known fashionable brand for the young at heart.

Best Watch for the Money?

The Suunto Traverse offers a great deal of value for a lower price than the Garmin options. It meets the perfect harmony of price and quality with everything a hiker will need from GPS and Cookie-Crumb navigation, setting points of interest, accurately monitoring weather and altitude and simply looking insanely stylish.

You can also cut costs by selecting one of the ABC watches (without GPS). The Casio Pro Trek, the Suunto Core or the Casio Pathfinder are all good with the Pro Trek being the best option. It won’t track your position but will calculate many of the essential metrics related to your hike, like compass bearing, elevation and barometric weather warnings.


Tips for Using a GPS Smart Watch

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Ensure your device is fully charged. You should be able to hike to your location and back at least twice before the battery dies. Remember that the watch will run out of power much faster when in GPS mode.

Check that the latest firmware is installed. Manufacturers are continually updating their features making them stronger and more user friendly. Also make sure you’re familiar with the new interface if a lot has changed since the latest update.

Take a spare map if you can. The best hikers always know to carry a backup, for every eventuality. Also grab a lightweight compass for the hike.

Check your satellite signal before you rely solely on your device. You may have found yourself in a “dead-zone” due to interference or topographical obstructions.

Take an extra mental note of your route. Your GPS watch is a backup but you can always rely on memory too. Check out landmarks and take note of the position of the sun for extra measure.

Make sure you’re tracking correctly while you hike. You can do a quick overview when you have breaks to see if it all makes sense.

Two hiking watches are better than one. If you hike with a buddy, check out their GPS too. It’s often loads of fun to see how the minute differences in your hike affect your endurance.


Product Video Reviews

 Garmin Fenix 5X Review Video

Suunto Ambit 3 vs Garmin Fenix 3

Suunto Traverse Video

Casio PRW-3500T-7CR Pro Trek

Suunto Core

Casio PAG240-1CR Pathfinder

LAD Sensor Master


Honorable Mentions

Here are some honorable mentions that nearly made it on the top 10 list as super affordable, low-end options. These really cheap watches don’t have any really special sensors or tech. But they are pretty cool for a budget outdoor excursion tool and really good value. They make pretty cool watches for kids who love adventure.

Survival Tool By SharpSurvival

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The really affordable Sharp Survival Tool is the perfect analog option for extreme situations.

Its water resistant and consists of:

  • 12 ft nylon Emergency Paracord
  • A small but functional Compass
  • Magnesium fire starter flint rod and a stainless steel scraper (check vendor for inclusion)
  • A 150 db whistle
  • O Yeah… and a watch!

It’s rough, tough and ready for any survival situation and it looks super cool. A true outdoorsman who enjoys hiking into the wild. The luminous face won’t leave you lost in the dark.

Being analog means it’s for the rugged bastard who doesn’t need fancy technology like an altimeter or GPS. The military grade paracord comes in 4 color variations including black, camo, pink/black and beige.

We just don’t love that the compass is located on the inside of the wrist (you have to tilt your wrist forward to see it) but being further from the casing does make it more accurate. It’s super easy to light a campfire with the magnesium fire starter.

These make great gifts as boy’s waterproof watches. The manufacturer suggests that it is water resistant only and shouldn’t be submerged for more than 15 minutes. (But if you’re hiking and you’re submerged under water for more than 15 minutes, you have much bigger problems.)

We absolutely LOVE it and can wholeheartedly recommend it as a fun, affordable, survival mini-tool that also keeps perfect time.

  • Thermometer: No
  • Altimeter: No
  • Barometer: No
  • Compass: Magnetic
  • GPS: No

Cheap Outdoor Casio

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The Casio Forester just made it onto our list for its extremely low price compared to its unique style. It’s the cheapest, quality outdoor watch on the market.

Look, it has no gadgets, no smart GPS technology or advanced sensors. This is a simple chronological device that says one thing: “I belong outside.”

The band is a combination of cloth and leather which is uniquely rugged and styled for adventure. It has Casio’s reliability as far as keeping the time and is also 330 feet (100 meters) water resistant! (An insane depth for this price.)

There is a small date window in the sandy face. A smooth backlight with afterglow makes night viewing easy.

The strap cleverly folds back and is secured by velcro. This means you can get it to fit perfectly on your wrist. (to the last micrometer)

It’s not meant for high impact or shock, but it can definitely handle itself in mild outdoor situations. Don’t expect too much durability. The price is super low and the quality is good for what you pay.

In conclusion, the low price makes this simple adventure watch, pretty good value for money.


Let Us Know What You Think

We’d love to know your experience with any of these watches or perhaps you think we’ve missed one. We’d love to know. Please leave a comment below!

We have also done 2 great reviews on a selection of waterproof watches for kids, and the best Tritium watches for adults if you are looking for something different.

2 Comments on "The 10 Best Hiking Watches of 2017 – 2018"

  1. Actual Garmin Fenix 3 User | May 28, 2017 at 11:18 am | Reply

    I own a Garmin Fenix 3 HR. It is not a good running / hiking watch. It is wildly inaccurate at determining distance / pace when your run includes hills, wind, or different running paces. When I say inaccurate, I mean some times more than 50% off. Yes it has all kinds of features, most of which I don’t use. However, this type of watch should be assessed based first on it’s ability to do the core things very well… and not on having support for golf, which is not a sport that people run out and run a specialized watch for.

    • Thank you for your comment. We will relook at the Garmin Fenix 3 vs the Suunto in second place. I think the Suunto Traverse is a really great option too. Even though it has less functionality, it is more accurate.

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