Tech for your connected self

Best outdoor GPS watches: Top trackers for hikers and adventurers

Helping you tackle the toughest terrain on land or in the water

Those who love the great outdoors need a GPS sports watch in their life. Whether you're all about hiking, skiing, trail running or wild swimming, the latest multi-sport 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.

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.

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Garmin Fenix 5

Best outdoor GPS watches: Top trackers for adventure seekers

The Garmin Fenix 5 is one of the densest smartwatch operations on the market, and a leading contender when it comes to outdoor watches. The lineup has now also been bolstered by new Plus editions - three extra models which bring premium features (and price) to the fore.

In terms of features on the standard watches, there's little that's changed from the Fenix 3, but you're now able to pick up the smaller 42mm Fenix 5S, which is a lot more female-friendly than the standard 47mm design, and a behemoth, 51mm Fenix 5X variant. You get running, swimming, rowing, skiing, golf and paddle sports once you strap on one of these bad boys.

Like the TomTom (below), you can upload GPX routes using Garmin Basecamp – but you get so much more data than any other outdoor watch option. As well as an electronic compass and route finding, there's also top notch activity tracking, and in high-intensity sports like running and cycling, you get VO2 max data, Training Effect and recovery data.

The Training Load metric also provides a glance at a seven-day picture of EPOC (Excess Post-exercise Oxygen Consumption) that will enable users to examine, monitor and evaluate training programs.

So, what do you get with those Plus editions? Well, as we say, each model has an upgraded version for you to choose from, and the Fenix 5 Plus, 5S Plus and 5X Plus will all come with Garmin Pay support and the ability to stream music straight from the wrist.

A new pulse ox acclimation sensor is also found on the 5X Plus, while the topographical maps previously only found on the original 5X now make their way to the 5 Plus and 5S Plus.

It's complex stuff, from a tip-top outdoor watch with plenty of options to choose from. And it comes with a price tag to match. While not recommended for weekend ramblers, it's the pinnacle of consumer-grade sports tech, and we advise jumping over to our full reviews if you're seriously considering one of these bad boys.

Our Fenix verdicts:

Garmin Fenix 5 review

Garmin Fenix 5S review

Garmin Fenix 5X Plus review

Garmin Fenix 5S Plus review

Fenix 5 – $549.99, garmin.com | Amazon

Fenix 5S – $549.99, garmin.com | Amazon

Fenix 5X – $649.99, garmin.com | Amazon

TomTom Adventurer

Best outdoor GPS watches: Top trackers for hikers and adventurers

Building on its TomTom Spark running range, the Adventurer is still a GPS watch at heart, but throws in some killer outdoor extras, which make it a good pick for fans of the wilderness.

New sport modes mean you can now track hiking, trail running, skiing and snowboarding, and you can quickly upload GPX routes to follow them from the watch. With extra pressure sensors on-board, the Adventurer can track altitude and elevation gain, as well as distance and pace.

Read this: Best altimeter watches

If you're off skiing or snowboarding, a new lift detection mode can recognise when you're going up a lift and give you a summary of the previous session. In terms of battery life, our testing has found about 20 hours of GPS tracking if you turn the heart rate monitor off.

But the best feature for our money is the route exploration. Use a third-party tool like Strava to build a GPX route – or download one from the web – and you can have it displayed on the watch for you to follow – great for when you actually get off the beaten track.

It's a top list of outdoor features with genuine USPs – and the Adventurer is also the cheapest watch in our list by some margin.

We should mention, though, that TomTom has made the decision to back away from building wearables. As the Adventurer plays nice with third-party apps, there should be support for some time yet, but it's certainly worth keeping in mind when exploring this watch.

In-depth look: TomTom Adventurer review

$349.99, tomtom.com | Amazon


Suunto Spartan Sport Wrist HR Baro

Best outdoor GPS watches: Top trackers for hikers and adventurers

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.

The Spartan Sport Wrist HR Baro 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 80 sports with running, cycling and swimming being the core modes. Battery life is also an impressive 20 hours using its optimal GPS mode or a mammoth 40 hours when you adjust the GPS quality.

$549, suunto.com | Amazon

Casio Pro Trek Smart WSD-F20

Best outdoor GPS watches: Top trackers for hikers and adventurers

The Casio WSD-F20 represents the company's second roll at the Android Wear dice, and is finally available for you to take on trips.

The fresher sibling of the Casio Smart Outdoor WSD-F10 falls under the company's Pro Trek Smart Series banner, while also delivering the one feature that users of the original sorely missed: built-in GPS.

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

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, making this somewhat of a difficult watch to recommend.

Interestingly, the company recently relaunched the device under the WSD-F20A name, too. The features are all the same, though it now comes in a different colour and is $100 cheaper.

Check out our Casio Pro Trek Smart WSD-F20 review for a full run-down.

$500, casio.com | Amazon


Suunto Traverse Alpha

Best outdoor GPS watches: Top trackers for hikers and adventurers

The Traverse may feel a little old next to the the Spartan Sport collection, 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.

$499, suunto.com | Amazon


Garmin Quatix 5

Best outdoor GPS watches: Top trackers for hikers and adventurers

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 Android Wear smartwatch delivers real-time surf conditions to help you catch those killer waves.

$549.99, garmin.com | Amazon

Amazfit Stratos

Best outdoor GPS watches: Top trackers for hikers and adventurers

As you'll have already noticed, the amount of truly budget watches for the outdoors is pretty slim. However, the Amazfit Stratos looks to plug that gap by providing an ample impression of high-tier devices from the likes of Garmin.

Like the other hitters on this list, the crux here is in its built-in tracking modes, which is also backed up by GPS/GLONASS support and a heart rate monitor. Thanks to a partnership with Firstbeat, more advanced metrics, such as VO2 Max and Training Load, are also on board.

The rugged, 46mm design is outdoor friendly, and you'll get around 20 hours of battery life GPS mode and five days in smartwatch mode. Naturally, that'll vary if you also decide to take advantage of the 4GB of built-in music storage.

Given the price, this has to be a consideration if you don't have the capital to launch a bid for the more expensive outdoor watches on this list. But for the full details on its tracking chops, jump over to our Amazfit Stratos review.

$199.99, amazfit.com | Amazon

Incoming...

Best outdoor GPS watches: Top trackers for hikers and adventurers

If those outdoor watches above don't take your fancy, there's some new options on the way that may worth holding out for instead.

Casio's GPR-B1000 from its Rangeman series features the company's Triple Sensor tech to bring compass bearing, atmospheric pressure, altitude data and temperature information. It's also packing solar power charging and offers 33 hours of GPS navigation.

Best outdoor GPS watches: Top trackers for hikers and adventurers

The Alpina AlpinerX is a sensor-packed hybrid from the Swiss watch brand that features a small LCD screen to display environmental data including altitude and UV index. It also doubles as a compass, using the watch hands to point you in the right direction. There's no built-in GPS support unfortunately, so you'll have to rely on your smartphone for navigation. The AlpinerX raised big bucks on Kickstarter and is set to launch in the coming months.


7 comments

  • Ajaywayfarer says:

    Great article. Well written and informative. Thank you.

  • Ajaywayfarer says:

    Great article. Well written and informative. Thank you!

  • Snaps says:

    Suunto watch bands are only good for 10-11months. Price for something so disposable is deplorable is over the top. Suunto customer support is lacking.

  • AlexDwight says:

    This is a great article and I'll definitely look into some of these to add to my current collection. I currently own a Momentum Watch VS-3 Altimeter Trek Watch with a barometer and compass and I absolutely love it. Would recommend it to anyone as well. 

  • DonGo says:

    You comment  "Thanks to built-in topographic maps the watch can offer at a glance location in relation to trails anywhere".   Can you please tell me how you access these in the watch as you said.

  • teddyfinn says:

    Can you please inform me about the following -

    I want to be able to track my cumulative ascent when trekking. Do any of these watches record this info. daily/weekly etc.

    Thanks.

  • pavelito says:

    Been using the TomTom Adventurer for a month now and I absolutely love it! I needed a watch for the mountains (summer and winter) and the adventurer is just perfect if you are looking for the following -

    1. Accurate GPS with 10 hours of battery life while hiking

    2. Ability to upload GPX files (and download your trails as GPX files)

    3. Tracks Snowboard runs (gradient, speed, number of runs, etc)

    Honestly, for under 300 euros this watch is a steal!

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