10 Best Hiking Watches of 2018

best-hiking-watch

Hiking Watch manufacturers are packing more and more features into their watches with an ever increasing level of accuracy and performance. A few years ago, watches with a digital compass or altimeter was on the cutting edge of technology. Today, GPS, GLONASS and other navigational features are combined with detailed maps, route tracking, points of interest, accelerometers and even heart rate monitors.

As the overwhelming amount of features and benefits is growing, it’s getting harder to decide which is the best hiking watch for you!

We’ve go through each option in great detail to see how they stack up to one another. They have been listed (from first to last) not by their features alone, but by how well we think they do the job of helping you as a hiker.

Besides tech features, our criteria also included ease of use, reliability and value for money. This is why you’ll see something like the Suunto Traverse outperform the Casio WSD-f40… it’s simply a much better value option for someone who’ll be using the watch to hike, track waypoints and venture into the unknown.

Let’s answer the question once-and-for-all… What is the Best Hiking Watch?


Best Hiking Watch (GPS and ABC)

Garmin Fenix 5x Sapphire

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Best for Hi-Tech Enthusiasts Who Love Tons of Environmental & GPS Data. Quite Pricey.

The 12 Gigabyte Garmin Fenix 5X Sapphire is the flagship of the Fenix 5 range. The GPS/GLONASS 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. You can even track the location of friends in your party. Read More

  • Brilliant Sensors
  • Highly Customizable
  • Topographic Maps
  • Wrist Based Heart Rate
  • High Price
  • Heavy and Bulky

Suunto Traverse

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This is the best hiking watch for overall value! The Accurate GPS and Great Price Make it an Excellent Choice.

The Suunto Traverse is our absolute winner for value, weight, comfort and gps functionality!

With the best GPS for hiking (speed and accuracy), as well as a price tag far below what you’d expect, the Suunto GPS watch strikes the perfect balance between performance and budget.

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.) Read More

  • Fast, Accurate GPS
  • Excellent Suunto Support
  • Tough Casing
  • Flashlight Mode
  • Very Well Priced
  • Limited Customization
  • No Maps, Routes Only
  • No Color Display

Casio Protrek WSD-F20

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Best GPS Smartwatch with Touch Screen and Google’s Android Wear 2.0 Software.

The only Android Wear watch on the list, the Casio Protrek WSD-F20 is Casio’s answer to outdoors men (and women) who want all the features of a Full Color, Touch Screen Smartwatch, packed into a rugged casing brimming with sensors like GPS/GLONASS, Altimeter, Barometer, Compass, Accelerometer, Gyro and even a Microphone. Read More

  • Brilliant Color Display
  • Smartwatch w Touch Screen
  • Detailed Offline Maps
  • Android Wear / Google Play
  • Battery Saving Dual Display
  • A Bit Pricey
  • High Battery Drain

Suunto Traverse Alpha

suunto traverse alpha fishing hunting

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Best GPS Choice for Hunting and Fishing Enthusiasts with an Upgraded Alpha Bezel.

We like the Traverse model so much we added it’s big brother, the Alpha, to the list.

Take everything you know about the Traverse and give it a more “tactical watch” exterior with added shot marking (which uses audio cues from your weapon) for hunting and and moon phase/tide tracking for fishing. This makes is the perfect GS hunting watch. Read More

  • Super Solid Build
  • Audio Shot Marking
  • Great Value
  • Limited Customization
  • No Maps, Routes Only
  • No Color Display

Garmin Fenix 3

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Once the Leader of the Pack, this Older Smart GPS Hiking Watch Still Has Its Benefits.

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. Read More

  • Color Display
  • Hi-Tech (for its Price)
  • GPS Inconsistent
  • High Battery Drain

Casio Tough Solar with Altimeter

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Accurate and Reliable Altimeter, Barometer, Compass Watch with Great Thermometer.

“ABC” refers to the fact that it has an Altimeter, Barometer and Compass. We feel the Casio PRW-3500-ICR Pro Trek is the best Altimeter 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 backpacking GPS watch. The weather alarm is great and has helped many a hiker (and mountain climber) stay out of trouble. Read More

  • Super Durable
  • Solar Powered
  • A Bit Overpriced in Today’s Terms
  • Increasingly Dated Design

Suunto Core – Top Rated ABC Under 200

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Simple and Large Clear Display on a Good Value ABC Sensor Watch from Suunto.

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 its ‘softness” there are some complaints about the strap durability in rougher conditions.) It’s water resistant to 30 meters but there have been quite a few complaints about its ability to keep out moisture.

It’s significantly cheaper than the Casio Pro Trek making the Suunto 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.

  • Clean Dial Face
  • Large Digits
  • Smooth Casing
  • Poor Water Resistance

Casio Pathfinder – Affordable Option

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Affordable ABC Watch for Hikers Who Don’t Want to Stress About Scratches.

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 buttons can seem a bit bulky but they’re very ergonomic and 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 concerned about small bumps and scratches.

These 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.

  • Solar Powered
  • Obvious Buttons
  • Good Price
  • “Noisy” Look

LAD Weather – Best Under 100

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Super Affordable with All the Sensors of the Bigger ABC Watches, Without the Style.

The stylish and powerful LAD Sensor Master is loaded with tech. Most unique of which is the weather function which will warn you on hikes 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.

  • Very Affordable
  • Accurate ABC Sensors
  • Large Clean Display
  • Average Quality
  • Mediocre Styling

G-Shock with Compass

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A Responsive Analog Compass Dial inside Casio G-Shock’s  Tough-as-nails Casing.

This new addition to the list was added as a budget option that still included some navigation functionality, be it a simple chronological compass that works by turning the second hand into a compass needle. You can also see the actual bearing, in degrees, on a dedicated pane.

You won’t be able to track temperature, elevation, distance or weather, but it has the trusted G-Shock 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 compass alone.

There’s a handy Auto Light feature which can turn the backlight on automatically when your wrist tilts vertically. (in other words, into “viewing” position.) This is really great for one handed operation.

  • Analog Compass Needle
  • Bearing Memory
  • Temperature Sensor
  • Auto Light when Tilt
  • Impact Resistant
  • Compass Only! (No Alti/Baro)

 

Hiker’s Guide – How to Choose!

 

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By now you know what each watch is capable of, but how do they compare? Before we begin, let’s make sure we’re comparing apples with apples.

This graph shows estimated relative performance of features. For example, a larger Price bar shows better comparative value for money.

So for example, even though the Garmin Fenix 3 is the best hiking watch by far, the higher price makes it rank a little below the Suuntos.

best hiking watch

Best Value for Money

value-for-money

If you’re anything like us, you want to squeeze the most value out of your hard earned Dollars.

We believe the Suunto Traverse (incl. the Alpha) offers a great deal of value for a lower price. 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 damn stylish.

The Garmin Fenix 3 is also much cheaper than the Fenix 5x. If you want tons of Apps and gadgetry on a budget, the Fenix 3 will also be the top choice. (Just don’t expect great battery life.)

You can also cut costs further by selecting one of the ABC watches (without GPS). They 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. In that case the best budget outdoor watch would have to be the LAD Weather.

The Casio Pathfinder, Suunto Core and LAD Weather are all lower budget ABC options and work great!

Display

screen display

The Casio ProTrek Smartwatch has a Full Color Touch Screen LCD that basically looks like a smartphone display. It’s extremely vivid but can be a little harder to read in direct sunlight. It also eats through the battery power. To compensate a little, they’ve added a second “dumb watch” monochrome display which shows only the date and time.

Garmin’s 64 Color Chroma display is more visible outdoors while still being quite colorful.

Suunto has a Monochrome display which can look a little pixelated at times.

  • Casio ProTrek – 320 x 300 – 1,32 inch – Full Color
  • Garmin Fenix 5x – 240 x 240 – 1,2 inch – 64 Color Chroma
  • Suunto Traverse – 320 x 320 – Monochrome

GPS Navigation

bread-crumb-navigation

Only the Garmin Fenix, Casio ProTrek and Suunto Traverse models  have GPS. All have breadcrumb recording and points of interest marking.

The Suuntos have the Fastest and most accurate GPS but unfortunately with no Topographic map data.

The Casio ProTrek has the clearest topographic Maps which can display satellite and street view (even while offline). You can even show data like nearby food, gas and entertainment.

The Garmin’s GPS accuracy can be a little off at times but this is negligible over time.

Battery Life

battery-life

Smart watches drain extremely fast in GPS mode. Even smart mode only lasts a few days. This can be a problem outdoors where chargin is difficult.

The Suunto Traverse models have the longest GPS battery life and the Garmin Fenix 5 has the longest non-GPS power usage.

  • Suunto Traverse – 7 Days – 20 hours GPS – 80 hours UltraTrac™
  • Suunto Traverse Alpha – 7 Days – 20 hours GPS – 80 hours UltraTrac™
  • Garmin Fenix 5x – 12 Days – 18 hours GPS – 48 hours UltraTrac™
  • Garmin Fenix 3 – 4 Days – 12 hours GPS – 24 hours UltraTrac™
  • Casio ProTrek Smart – 2 Days – 7 hours GPS

The Casio, being the “smartest”, drain the quickest, followed by the Garmins and then the Suuntos. You could always opt for no GPS and choose a solar powered ABC Casio watch with altimeter, Barometer and Compass.

  • Casio Tough Solar – Solar Powered (6 Years+)
  • Casio Pathfinder – Solar Powered (6 Years+)
  • G-Shock – 4 years+
  • Suunto Core – 1 year
  • Lad Weather – Unknown

Water Resistance

water-resistance

Some of the “Smart” watches struggle to keep up with the water resistance of the ABC watches. This is because of the multitude of sensors, charging ports, etc. In particular the new Casio ProTrek has a built-in microphone which makes it the least water resistant GPS option at 50 meters.  The Garmin Fenixes and Suunto Traverses are all water resistant to a depth of 100 meters.

  • G-Shock – 200 meters
  • Casio Tough Solar – 200 meters
  • Garmin Fenix 5x – 100 meters
  • Suunto Traverse – 100 meters
  • Suunto Traverse Alpha – 100 meters
  • Garmin Fenix 3 – 100 meters
  • Casio Pathfinder – 100 meters
  • Casio ProTrek Smart – 50 meters
  • Suunto Core – 30 meters
  • Lad Weather – 30 meters

If real depth is what you’re looking for, the closest thing you’ll find to a waterproof sports watch are the Altimeter, Barometer, Compass watches.

Can You Scuba Dive with these Watches?

Even though the ratings indicate water resistance to 50 or 100 meters, none of the other watches are meant for scuba diving. Those are lab tested limits and for very short submersion intervals.

We do however know people who happily scuba dive the Casio ABC watches and have never had an issue with leaking.


How We Test GPS and Other Features

how we test

We not only review each product personally, but we also speak to people face-to-face who have been using the products in their day-to-day lives.

We can be sure that we’re not only finding each product’s strength and weakness, but also how these affect everyday use.

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Furthermore, we try our damndest to keep up with the frequent firmware updates as well as newer competitive models.

Some of the watches we reviewed (but that didn’t make it onto our list) are:

  • Nixon Mission – Annoying mic latch and not great for navigation. More of a surf watch.
  • Samsung Gear S3 Frontier – Not enough info on the LTE model. Great rotating bezel.

We also try our best to listen carefully to our readers… (It’s for this very reason that we know the Suunto Traverse is the most popular option by far.) If you find any information that doesn’t agree with your personal experience, please let us know.

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. Please leave a comment below!

2 Comments on "10 Best Hiking Watches of 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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