Best outdoor GPS watches for hiking, mapping and navigation

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Best outdoor watches for adventurers
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People who love hiking, trail running and the great outdoors need a reliable GPS watch, which can offer top navigation features and a long battery life set up for multi-day adventures.

Outdoor watches only can it help you enjoy your off-piste adventures, but they can also be great safety tools. And thanks to likes of Garmin, Suunto and Polar, there's a wealth of great devices to choose from.

Whether you're all about endurance sports, such as hiking, ultrarunning, skiing, trail running or wild swimming, outdoor watches can measure the altitude and speed of your downhills, offer GPX guidance on walks and runs and track multi-day jaunts with long battery life.

Buying the right outdoor watch is mostly about not getting sucked into buying features you don't need. The loudest noise will be from ultrarunners involved in multi-stage races, tackling insane elevation – and those will require every iota of battery life and detail. But hobby hikers and trail runners can spend a lot less than devices like the Fenix 6 or Suunto 9.

If that perfectly describes the kind of watch companion you're looking for, we've rounded up our pick of the watches for climbers, hikers, ocean-goers and outdoor dwellers.

Got any questions about our selections below? Let us know in the comments section below.

Garmin Instinct

Price when reviewed: $299.99

Garmin Instinct

The Garmin Instinct packs in a lot of the same features found on the Fenix 6 for less, although the sacrifice of proper mapping may be too much. We'd also reckon on that being the basis of a Garmin Instinct 2, which we're surely due now that the Instinct is getting on for two years old.

However, it's not totally navigation free. You do get the likes of course navigation, uploading of GPX routes, elevation data, storm alerts and TrackBack (for following waypoints back to your starting location).

There's a heart rate monitor on board that should be good enough for your big treks and while it lacks contactless payments and a built-in music player, it does let you view your smartphone notifications.

On the battery life front, you can expect up to 14 days of battery life in smartwatch mode, 16 hours in GPS mode and up to 40 hours in UltraTrac battery saver mode.

There's also a Garmin Instinct Tactical option that adds support for military black ops kit – such as night vision goggles and extra privacy features so military users can stop leaking their training locations, but still get data on workouts.

Wareable verdict: Garmin Instinct review



Polar Grit X

Price when reviewed: $429.99

Polar Grit X

The Grit X is the first outdoor watch from Polar, but it's brought some seriously neat features and is available at a competitive price. Outdoors watches need good battery life, and that's ticked off here with 40 hours of full GPS tracking that can be extended to 100 hours using power saving.

Polar has put a big focus on endurance and recovery, so major features are the FuelWise feature that enables you to plan your adventure, and have Polar work out when you should eat, how much, and remind you on the go. We found it worked really well, but the reminders were a little easy to miss.

There's sleep tracking with a focus on recovery, which we found outstripped Garmin in terms of accuracy – and running stats and VO2 Max are a big part of the feature set, thanks to the 10-LED array heart rate monitor.

A big part of Polar Grit X is navigation – but this is something that falls down compared to the Garmin Fenix 6. It's done with a tie-in with navigation app Komoot, but you need a paid-for account to really get useful navigation and it's a pretty simplistic point-to-point interface. While Garmin's TOPO mapping is hardly detailed, it adds a lot of useful detail.

There's a Hillsplitter feature that tracks your ascents and descents, and tries to tell you whether you're losing time on the slopes.

The Grit X doesn't quite match the Fenix 6 for depth of data and features – especially when you add in that Garmin packs on-wrist music playback from Spotify and Connect IQ apps. However, it resoundingly beats Garmin on price, so unless you're really testing the limits of endurance and sports science, the Polar Grit X comes highly recommended.

Read our full Polar Grit X review.


Garmin Fenix 6 series

Price when reviewed: $699 (Fenix 6 Pro)

Fenix 6S Pro

The Garmin Fenix 6 range is one of the best quality outdoor watches on the market – and offers mapping and GPX waypoint functionality, with absurdly long battery life and a tough build.

The Fenix is essentially the greatest hits of all Garmin's top features. It tracks everything from trail running to XC skiing, and included a hiking mode.

For those that are really into fitness there's heart rate, which feeds into VO2 Max stats for high intensity sports, with Training Effect and recovery data.

But let's stick to why this watch is the best option for outdoors types. You can upload GPX routes using Garmin Basecamp – but you get so much more data than any other outdoor watch option.

The Fenix 6 uses topographic maps, which adds a whole dimension to wrist-based navigation, and you can even find places of interest straight from the watch. They're not the best maps around and navigating your surroundings using the watches five buttons (there's no touchscreen here) is frustrating at best.

And battery life is another huge plus. UltraTrac mode offers 42 hours of GPS tracking. That's a weekend of hiking without charging, which is a big plus for multi-day runners or walkers.

We've done a whole separate article on choosing the right Garmin Fenix 6 for you. The Fenix 6S is a smaller device more suitable for those who don't like 47mm oversized watches, but has less battery life. But you'll need to choose a Pro model to get the mapping features.

Full reviews: Garmin Fenix 6 Pro review | Garmin Fenix 6S review



Amazfit T-Rex

Price when reviewed: $140

Amazfit T-Rex

Something from the other end of the price scale, Amazfit's new T-Rex is an outdoor sports watch that does a decent imitation of a Garmin Fenix at a $140 price tag.

At 47mm it's big, there's no doubt of that – but no more of a monster than the Fenix 6 Pro and smaller than the Fenix 6X. It's built to military grade toughness standards and is water resistant to 5ATM.

You get 14 tracked sports, including trekking – although there's no mapping built-into the watch like the Garmin Instinct or Fenix.

However, you will get around 20 hours of GPS tracking, which is none too shabby.

Of course, Amazfit's app experience is no-where near as detailed as Garmin. But actually, it's a clean experience with loads of interesting fitness data. If you're into running, the VO2 Max metrics come from Firstbeat, the same company that handles Garmin's advanced analytics. And you're getting all that goodness for a fraction on the price.

While the Garmin Instinct and Fenix series get our vote for the best outdoor watch, the T-Rex is a top way to spend less. If you're not super serious about your endurance data, this comes highly recommended.

Wareable verdict: Amazfit T-Rex review


Suunto 9 Baro Black

Price when reviewed: $599

Suunto 9

With its range of rugged watches, Suunto is synonymous with sports of the outdoor variety. And with its Ambit GPS range and Spartan Sport collection, the company is all about offering that device that's primed for the outdoors.

To add to that collection is the Suunto 9. The multisport GPS watch built for the outdoors is waterproof up to 100 metres and comes with GPS/GLONASS and an optical heart rate monitor on board. Suunto is also introducing its new FusedAlti technology that combines GPS and barometric data to improve the accuracy of altitude data.

Other outdoor-friendly features include the ability to see sunrise/sunset times on the watch display and receive storm alarms when there's a sudden drop in air pressure. There's also route navigation improvements to help you get to destination safely and with the best route.

Like other Suunto Spartan Sport watches, it'll track over 80 sports with running, cycling and swimming being the core modes. Battery life is anywhere from 25 hours to 120 hours with Suunto's new intelligent battery mode on board to make sure you have enough power for your next expedition.

Wareable verdict: Suunto 9 review


Casio Pro Trek Smart WSD-F30

Price when reviewed: $500

Casio Pro Trek Smart WSD-F30

The Casio WSD-F30 represents the company's third roll at the Wear OS dice, to prove that a good outdoor smartwatch can exist.

The fresher sibling of the Casio Smart Outdoor WSD-F20 falls under the company's Pro Trek Smart Series banner, and most notably slims down the design and adds new outdoor-centric features in its third iteration.

Other than that, it's a pretty similar affair. This is still on the behemoth scale of smartwatches, and you'll be able to take advantage of all the sensors for around a day of adventuring.

The dual display mode also unlocks the ability to use more of its outdoor watch features without hammering the battery life in the process.

Casio has built a host of sensors and baked-in apps, measuring everything from air pressure to altitude – and it also boasts tie-ins with Viewranger and other third party outdoor apps.

However, we've found the performance of these apps to be pretty flakey, and it's not without issues. What's more, battery life can't complete with dedicated GPS watches if you're planning to be out trekking for more than a day or two.

It makes our list for its mapping smarts.

The watch comes with two map options built into the software: Google Maps and Mapbox, and pops up instantly by pressing the top button on the watch.

To rectify this, you can actually download maps of up to 50km via your phone connection. This is obviously a major plus point as the majority of places hikers go to inevitably have very a minimal data signal. Also, Mapbox, as far as we’re concerned, has much nicer topographical detail.

Wareable verdict: Casio Pro Trek Smart WSD-F30 review


Suunto Traverse Alpha

Price when reviewed: $499

Suunto Traverse Alpha

The Traverse may feel a little old next to the the Spartan Sport collection and the Suunto 9, but it's still a great outdoor watch for hikers.

In the Alpha, you're getting a rugged wearable that's suitable for hiking, fishing and even hunting with GPS/GLONASS navigation on board to track distance, speed and altitude.

Thanks to topographic maps support via Suunto's Movescount app, you can plan out routes and preview them right on the watch. There's even weather trends and a storm alarm to make sure you're not caught outside in terrible conditions.

If you're feeling more adventurous and fancy braving the night, the watch has a flashlight mode that allows the backlight to be used as a torch and is compatible with night vision goggles. Very handy for those late night toilet calls.


Garmin Quatix 5

Price when reviewed: $549.99

Garmin Quatix 5

An aqua-lover's delight, the Garmin Quatix 5 is built for the water. Firstly because it's water resistant to 100 metres, and secondly because it's connected to some nautical data.

The device lets you download up-to-date tide data via your smartphone, while also providing an anchor alarm that'll warn you about boat drift. If you need help dropping anchor, a dedicated calculator will also let you know what the proper length of line you should use.

If you happen to be fishing, there's a fish log and competition timer, and if you're sail racing, there's tack assist, race countdown timer, distance to start line and more.

It's essentially a more attractive Fenix 5 with upgraded smarts for the seas, though surfers may want to cast their eyes to Nixon's The Mission. The rugged Wear OS smartwatch delivers real-time surf conditions to help you catch those killer waves.