GPS watches have become an essential adventure accessory these days. They are on-trend. Head out on any outdoorsy adventure and you’re sure to see numerous wrists proudly emblazoned with chunky, brightly-coloured timepieces. Hikers, runners and cyclists are all using them – it’s the tech-centric, gadget-loving way of things these days. But why have GPS smartwatches become so popular?
It’s partly about fashion – they looks stylish and contemporary. But ultimately it’s more about functionality. GPS watches are incredibly useful in a practical sense. They can help if you’re hopelessly lost, enabling you to navigate back to safety or pinpoint your exact location. They improve your physical performance by tracking your fitness goals and motivating you to push harder, faster and higher. And they can keep you connected, with social media notifications, Spotify integration and weather alerts.
Most GPS smartwatches enable you to keep a very close eye on your physical performance while out on an adventure, recording enough data to satisfy even the geekiest and most obsessive of fitness fanatics. You can track all the usual stuff: distance travelled, ascent, time and heart rate, choosing one of a myriad of workout modes such as running, cycling, hiking, skiing or whatever else you’re up to. High-end watches also include technical measurements such as blood oxygen levels, barometer pressure and altitude. And then there’s all of the more lifestyle-y, everyday fitness-related features, such daily step counts, calories burnt, stress levels, and even a sleep monitor, which tracks both the length and quality of your sleep.
Not all smartwatches are created equal, however, and it’s common sense to pick one designed with your favourite activities in mind. If you want to use your GPS watch for navigation while cycling and hiking, choose a timepiece with in-built mapping, or one that has integration with a mapping app such as komoot. These will give you turn-by-turn notifications and even allow you to view Ordnance Survey map tiles on-the-go. If you’ll be off-grid for long periods, opt for a smartwatch with good battery life and solar charging, or if fitness tracking is your thing then choose a running-specific smartwatch that’ll give you all the stats you need. But, whatever your priorities, there’s a smartwatch out there for you in our top 10 list of the best outdoor watches for this year.
The Best Outdoor Watches
We’ve scoured the market for the best GPS watches out there, with a wide variety in terms of price, features and styles. Here are our favourites:
- Best Overall GPS Watch: Suunto Vertical Titanium Solar
- Best Value GPS Watch Garmin Instinct 2 Solar
- Best GPS Watch for Durability: Garmin Fenix 6x Pro
- Best GPS Watch for Fitness: Polar Grit X
Best Overall GPS watch
Suunto Vertical Titanium Solar
Best for: Outdoor adventure and activity and general fitness
Key attributes: Very long battery life, excellent mapping
This watch from Suunto is totally unbeatable when it comes to battery life. Using it with all systems go, you’ll get up to 85 hours out of it and you can even get more than a year’s worth of charge out of it if you use it as economically as possible.
During our tests with this out in the Highlands, what also stood out about the Vertical Titanium Solar was just how handy and user-friendly the mapping is. It offers route following and tracking on detailed maps that demonstrate trails, contour lines and important landmarks and it’s highly accurate, with dual-frequency GPS/GNSS satellite connectivity. The mapping software is free and its tiles, along with any pre-planned route you want to follow, can all be downloaded for offline use.
With a built in heart rate monitor and all the training metrics you’d expect from a watch at this price point, you can use this to track and record over 90 different sports and activities, covering everything from hiking, running and cycling to cross-country skiing, cricket and more. We also liked this for its durability; we put it through a demanding few days in the mountains and it ended up without a single scratch.
Selected for our Outdoor 100 23/23. Read our full Suunto Vertical Titanium Solar review.
|BUY NOW: SUUNTO.COM|
Best GPS Watch for Durability
Garmin Fenix 6X Pro
Best for: Multi-sports, mountain pursuits, running, hiking
Key attributes: Long battery life, TOPO mapping, full health & fitness tracking, music storage.
The Garmin Fenix 6X Pro might seem eye-wateringly pricey, but this watch really is an all-singing, all-dancing multi-sport champion with an impressive suite of outdoors tools, bucket loads of premium features and an impressive design. It’s packed full of sensor tech, including built-in heart rate monitoring, GPS/Galileo and GLONASS satellite support, barometric altimeter, compass, gyroscope, blood oxygen sensor and thermometer. And essentially is designed to streamline your life on the trail, be that full-colour Europe-wide TOPO mapping for navigation support or health and fitness insights like Pulse Ox Acclimation to keep tabs on your blood oxygen saturation (SATs) levels while you’re ascending.
At 83g, the 6X is a chunk of a watch with a large 51 mm case size – the largest in the whole Fenix lineup. That’s made up of a large titanium bezel to protect the 280 x 280 pixel Corning® Gorilla® Glass DX or sapphire crystal watch face, depending on which model you go for. Battery life is impressive with 21 days in smartwatch mode, 72 hours of tracking in UltraTrac GPS tracking and up to 56 days of GPS tracking in Expedition Mode that takes a new GPS fix every hour to save juice. Music lovers will enjoy the onboard storage for 2,000 songs storage and it also plays nice with Garmin’s InReach satellite communicators.
It’s worth bearing in mind that there’s now a newer version of this, called the Fenix 7x Pro, and this offers all of the same features but with added training tools and a new touch screen.
Chosen for our Outdoor 100 2021/22. Read our full Garmin Fenix 6X Pro review.
|BUY NOW: AMAZON.CO.UK|
Best Value GPS Watch
Garmin Instinct 2 Solar
Best for: Off-grid adventures, multi-day adventures
Key attributes: Solar charging, GPS tracking
In a new watch design from Garmin, the Instinct 2 Solar has possibly the most impressive battery we’ve seen. A step up from its previous incarnation, this watch offers unlimited battery life even while using its Smart features (providing you’re able to capture enough sun to provide charge, of course). It’s remarkable how long this thing can last, even without solar charging, you’ll get up to 28 days of full functionality, and as many as 32 with Expedition GPS Activity (again, indefinite with solar). If you’re using the GPS at its most accurate, with frequent satellite positioning, then the charge should last up to 48 hours. That’s over a 50% increase from the original Instinct Solar. These times are all assuming all-day wear with 3 hours per day outside in 50,000 lux (bright) conditions.
The watch is equipped with a GPS device that makes use of GPS, GLONASS and Galileo system of satellites (standard from Garmin), meaning you’ll be able to track all of your activities including trail running, hiking, ski touring, among many others. On top of this, the Instinct 2 Solar is also carrying a wrist-top heart rate monitor (chest heart rate sensor can also be purchased separately for accurate readings) and improved smartphone pairing thanks to the Garmin Connect+ app. You can check the day’s total ascent / descent, view your route fully mapped on your phone, receive texts, notifications, and even stream music from the Garmin. It’s all contained within a rugged shell that’ll withstand pressures equivalent to a depth of 100 metres. Easy to use and navigate even with its arsenal of smart features; the perfect companion for someone who wants to get lost in the wild but stay safe and connected.
Read the full Garmin Instinct 2 Solar review
|BUY NOW: BLACKS.CO.UK|
Best GPS Watch For Fitness
Polar Grit X
Best for: Trail running, hiking
Key attributes: Lightweight, komoot integration, excellent for trail running
Well-suited to hikers and trail runners, the Polar Grit X is, in our opinion, a great looking GPS watch. The screen has lovely clarity and it’s actually brighter and clearer than previous Polar models. You navigate using the touch screen and buttons on the sides. At 64g it’s pretty lightweight and it’s passed a bunch of military-level grades so you can be sure the outdoor durability is there. Its waterproof to 100m too.
Related: Best Trail Running Shoes
With 130 different sports modes, including activities like open water swimming, road cycling and mountain biking, this watch has a bunch of very useful features that help you plan, perform and analyse your exercise. You get altitude measurements, barometric readings, weather forecasts and of course basic stats such as distance and pace. The hill splits feature is nifty too, automatically breaking down your performance going uphill and downhill. The watch also advises you on what you should be drinking and eating after each exercise, like your own personal nutritionist. Integration with navigation app komoot also enables you to follow a route via breadcrumb trails.
Read our full Polar Grit X review
|BUY NOW: AMAZON.CO.UK|
Best of the Rest
Coros Apex 2 Pro
Best for: Outdoor adventure and activity and general fitness
Key attributes: Very long battery life, comfortable strap, komoot and strava compatibility
From our experience using the Coros Apex 2 Pro, we’d say the audience it really suits are runners, hikers and cyclists who want something to be able to track their fitness and training and to navigate with as well. It’ll provide them with pretty much all of the features people expect from a top of the range GPS watch, including heart rate monitoring, in-depth fitness and sleep tracking (including blood oxygen level checks) and in-built training plans too.
The battery life on this is very impressive. In fact, excepting solar powered watches, this is a leader in the field, offering 30 days of regular use from one battery charge. With GPS functions on the go, you’ll still get an impressive 75 hours from it.
The mapping and navigation took us a bit of time to get our heads around, but once we were up and running, it proved to be reliable, functional and very accurate, using a whopping 5 different satellite systems. It’s integration with Strava and komoot is a big boon too.
While we loved using this watch, those who like to use their watch for listening to music might want to look elsewhere as there’s no music app compatibility. You can upload mp3 files to it, but that’s a little old school.
Selected for our Outdoor 100 23/24. Read our full Coros Apex 2 Pro review.
|BUY NOW: AMAZON.CO.UK|
Casio G-Shock GBD-H1000-1 Heart Rate Monitor
Best for: Multi-sports, watersports
Key attributes: Sturdy and rugged build, scuba diving compatibility
Able to survive a lifetime’s worth of abuse in the outdoors, this G-Shock model is not only tough as nails – it’s also packed with everything you’d expect from a modern day smartwatch: GPS, wrist heart rate measurements, training analysis, training data (up to 100 runs), digital compass, altimeter, barometer and a thermometer. You even get ISO 200 water resistance built in – that’s an equivalent of 20bar pressure, or 290.075 psi – more than enough to bring with you on your next scuba diving adventure.
All of these features are powered by a battery that’ll last around 14-hours with continuous smartwatch use (GPS & heart rate tracking), an astonishing 12 months in regular watch mode without battery saving functions enabled, or 34 months with battery saving enabled. These astonishing figures are further boosted by solar power charging when you’re in clear sunlight.
Read our full Casio G-Shock GBD-H1000-1 Heart Rate Monitor review
|BUY NOW: G-SHOCK.CO.UK|