If you are an avid outdoorsman, then a good GPS watch is more than a luxury gear. Whether you are hiking, backpacking, mountaineering or simply lounging in the backcountry, an outdoor watch can not only tell you the time and date, it can also help you navigate your trek, measure altitudes and weather parameters, even measure your body vitals.
So, which are the best GPS watches for hiking and backpacking?
In this article, we will look at some of the best GPS watches for hiking and other outdoor adventures. All the options we list have excellent features, durability and decent battery life. We will also list some of the major factors to keep in mind before picking the best hiking watches and share our top picks. So, buckle up and read on!
Also check out our article on the best military and tactical watches for some additional outdoor watch options.
Best GPS watch for hiking and backpacking listSome of the best hiking watches available in the market for outdoor adventures are listed below:
|Garmin Fenix 5X GPS Watch||Size: 42, 47 or 51 mm.; 2.4 – 3.5 oz.|
Features: Barometer, Altimeter, Compass, Thermometer, GPS and GLONASS satellite reception
|Suunto Ambit3 Peak HR Watch||Size: 50 mm; 3.2 oz.|
Features: Altimeter, barometer, compass, thermometer, HR monitor and GPS
|Garmin Vivoactive 3 GPS Watch||Size: 43 mm.; 1.5 oz.|
Features: Barometer, Altimeter, Compass, Accelerometer, Thermometer, GPS and GLONASS
|Garmin Forerunner 35 GPS Watch||Size: 40 mm; 1.6 oz. |
Features: Accelerometer, Heart Rate Sensor, GPS
|Suunto Traverse Alpha Watch||Size: 50 mm; 2.65 oz.|
Features: Flashlight, Barometer, Compass, GPS and GLONASS
|Suunto 9 Baro GPS Watch||Size: 50 mm; 2.86 oz.|
Features: Altimeter, barometer, compass, thermometer, HR monitor, GPS and GLONASS Satellite reception
|Casio Pro Trek WSD-F30 Outdoor GPS Watch||Size: 55 mm.; 2.9 oz.|
Features: Barometer, Altimeter, Compass, Microphone, GPS.
|Apple Watch Series 4 (GPS + Cellular)||Size: 40 or 44 mm.; 1.3 – 1.6 oz.|
Features: Cellular, HR monitor, Barometer, Altimeter, GPS and GLONASS
Which are the best GPS watches for hiking and backpacking?
Material: Stainless-steel and aluminum alloy with brass connectors
Size & Weight: 42, 47 or 51 mm.; 2.4 – 3.5 oz.
- Best-selling, top-of-the-line GPS hiking watch with a stainless-steel bezel, polymer casing and silicone or steel strap. Available with or without the sapphire crystal glass lens. Made in Taiwan.
- Features a sunlight-visible, non-touchscreen, transflective memory-in-pixel (MIP) color screen.
- Has a decent battery life of over 32 hours with GPS and up to 20 days without the GPS.
- Equipped with Outdoor sensors, including GPS, GLONASS and Galileo satellite reception and 3-axis compass with gyroscope and barometric altimeter. Best-in-class GPS capabilities.
- Comes with 16 GB internal memory and compatible with iOS and Android smartphones.
- Water resistant for up to 328 feet (100 m.).
- Available in multiple designs, colors and bundles and backed by a one-year warranty by the manufacturer.
When it comes to the best GPS watch for hiking and other outdoor activities, the Garmin Fenix 5X GPS Watch is probably the one of the most versatile choices that combines the convenience and ease-of-use with superior GPS capabilities and performance. Therefore, it is undoubtedly our favorite GPS watch for hiking, backpacking and other outdoor adventures.
The Garmin Fenix 5 series of watches are made in Taiwan and feature a stainless-steel bezel with a fiber-reinforced polymer casing. The casing has a stainless-steel rear cover that does add some additional weight but makes the watch more durable for rugged use. The watch is available with or without the sapphire crystal glass lens, though we recommend opting for the sapphire glass lens to get the best-in-class scratch-resistant surface.
The Fenix 5X watch is available in three dial sizes – 42mm., 47 mm. or 51 mm and weigh in the range of 2.5 oz. – 3.5 oz. The watch is available with suede, silicone or steel straps, so you can pick the best material as per your preference.
The Garmin Fenix 5X has a sunlight-visible, transflective memory-in-pixel (MIP) full-color screen that provides a 240 x 240 pixels display. The screen is not touch-activated which most serious outdoorsmen actually prefer.
When it comes to features and performance, the Garmin Fenix 5X is truly a top-class product. It supports GPS, GLONASS and Galileo navigation tracking platforms and can absolutely pinpoint the geographical coordinates through satellite navigation (it’s a Garmin!). In addition, it is equipped with outdoor sensors including a 3-axis compass with gyroscope and barometric altimeter, thermometer, storm alarm. A 16 GB memory that is accessible to all topographic features and Garmin Connect apps is a big plus.
The Fenix 5X watch has a rechargeable Lithium-Ion battery that uses a specialized cord for recharging. Once charged, it can last for up to 20 days without the GPS and up to 32 hours with GPS capabilities. While this may not be the best battery life, it is still quite reasonable considering the navigational accuracy you get with the watch.
Additional differentiators include the HR monitor, ability to set 10 daily alarms, 10 ATM water protection rating (waterproof up to 100 m or 328 feet.), a rich set of pre-defined modes for hiking, swimming, cycling, fishing and more and Wi-Fi/Bluetooth/ANT+ integration with Android or iOS smartphones. Furthermore, the Fenix 5X model comes preloaded with topographic and cycling maps (not available with Fenix 5 watches).
Like other Garmin products, the Garmin Fenix 5X is a reliable, durable outdoor GPS watch. It is backed by a one-year manufacturer warranty and a lifetime support service. So, you can use it your primary outdoor watch for years.
Material: Stainless-steel bezel, Polyamide casing with sapphire crystal glass lens and silicone strap.
Size & Weight: 50 mm; 3.25 oz.
- Popular mid-range GPS hiking watch with heavy-duty stainless-steel bezel, glass-reinforced polyamide casing and sapphire crystal glass lens. Made in Finland.
- Has a bright matrix-monochrome display with LED backlight. Comes with a silicone resin wrist band that fits wrist sizes varying from 130-220mm.
- Equipped with the Suunto FuseTrack algorithm, that maximizes the battery life to 30 hours with 5-sec GPS accuracy and 200 hours with 1-min accuracy. Up to 30 days without GPS.
- Comes with the ABCs, Thermometer, HR monitor, GPS navigation and weather tracking features. Best-in-class altimeter accuracy.
- Water resistant for up to 328 feet (100 m.).
- Available in two colors and backed by a two-year manufacturer warranty (1-year on battery).
If you are looking for a decent GPS hiking watch and do not want to spend a fortune, then look no further than the Suunto Ambit3 Peak HR Watch. Suunto has been at the forefront of high-quality multi-sport and military watches and the Ambit3 Peak HR is one of their best-selling models. Though priced around 500 dollars, you can almost always get it on sale for around 300 bucks.
The Suunto Ambit3 Peak GPS watch is made in Finland and features a stainless-steel bezel, glass-reinforced polyamide casing and sapphire crystal glass lens. It has a silicone resin wrist band and is available with or without the heart rate monitor strap, though we recommend getting the one with the monitor. The wrist band is big enough to fit wrists varying from 130mm. to 220mm.
With a 50mm. dial size and a weight of 3.25 oz. it is only slightly lighter than the Garmin Fenix 5X sapphire, but somehow feels more comfortable and compact on hand.
The Suunto Ambit3 Peak has a bright matrix-based monochrome display that is equipped with bright LED backlights. It has five dial buttons – 3 on the right side and 2 on the left, to control the operations. The buttons are far apart to allow operation even with gloves on.
One of the best performance features of the Suunto Ambit3 Peak is the accuracy and reliability of its GPS and digital barometric altimeter. It can pinpoint the coordinates to within 5-second to 10-second accuracy in no time. In addition, the weather tracking features and built-in accelerometer, thermometer and water resistance up to 100 m. make it a perfect outdoor wearable.
When it comes to the battery life, the Ambit 3 is equipped with the Suunto FuseTrack algorithm, that maximizes the battery life to 30 hours with 5-second GPS accuracy and 200 hours with 1-minute accuracy. The rechargeable Li-Ion battery can last for up to 30 days without GPS.
The Suunto Ambit3 Peak HR watch is available in two colors and backed by a two-year manufacturer warranty (1-year on battery).
Material: Stainless-steel bezel with composite fiber casing, Gorilla3 glass lens and silicone strap.
Size & Weight: 43 mm.; 1.5 oz.
- Third-generation outdoor GPS watch with a fiber-reinforced polymer casing, Gorilla3 glass lens and replaceable silicone strap (fits wrist size of 127-204 mm.). Made in Taiwan.
- Features a 30 mm. touchscreen color display with a single control button to manage all features. Compatible with Android and iOS.
- Equipped with GPS, ABCs, accelerometer, wrist-based HR monitor, multiple activity modes and an illuminated backlight.
- Water resistant up to 165 ft. (50 m.) and battery life at up to 12-13 hours with GPS (7 days without it) on full recharge.
- Available in 2 designs – standard and music with Verizon support; 6 colors and backed by a one-year manufacturer warranty.
Material: Composite fiber casing with chemically- strengthened glass lens and silicone strap.
Size & Weight: 40 mm.; 1.6 oz.
- Lightweight and slim budget multi-sport watch with a square-shaped composite material casing, chemically-strengthened glass lens and replaceable silicone strap. Made in Taiwan.
- Features a 25 mm. monochrome display with a single control button to manage all features. Compatible with Android and iOS (except music control).
- Equipped with GPS, ABCs, accelerometer, wrist-based HR monitor and an illuminated backlight.
- Water resistant up to 165 ft. (50 m.) and battery life at up to 12-13 hours with GPS (8 days without it) on full recharge.
- Available in 5 colors and backed by a one-year manufacturer warranty.
- Competitively priced at under 200 dollars.
Material: Stainless-steel bezel with composite casing, sapphire crystal glass lens and nylon strap.
Size & Weight: 50 mm.; 2.65 oz.
- Mid-range outdoor GPS watch with a stainless-steel bezel, composite casing and sapphire crystal glass. Made in Finland and tested for military standards.
- Has a nylon strap that fits wrist sizes varying from 130-220mm.
- Equipped with ABCs, HR monitor, GPS navigation and 3 outdoor modes – hiking, fishing and hunting. Comes with weather-features and sunrise/sunset time indicators.
- Decent battery life of 15-25 hours with running GPS. Also equipped with a built-in backlight that can illuminate the surroundings.
- Water resistant for up to 328 feet (100 m.).
- Available in five colors and backed by a two-year manufacturer warranty (1-year on battery).
Material: Stainless-steel bezel, Polyamide casing with sapphire glass lens and silicone strap.
Size & Weight: 50 mm.; 2.86 oz.
- High-end multi-sport GPS watch with heavy-duty stainless-steel bezel, glass-reinforced polyamide casing and sapphire crystal glass. Made in Finland.
- Features a color touchscreen display with multiple control buttons.
- Equipped with 3 intelligent power modes and the Suunto FuseTrack algorithm, that maximizes the battery life to 25 -50 hours even with GPS.
- Has a silicone resin wrist band that fits wrist sizes varying from 130-220mm.
- Equipped with ABCs, HR monitor, GPS navigation and over 80 sports modes. The Baro model has a better barometer than the standard model for precise reading.
- Water resistant for up to 328 feet (100 m.).
- Available in three colors and backed by a two-year manufacturer warranty (1-year on battery).
Material: Stainless-steel bezel with sapphire crystal glass lens and resin band.
Size & Weight: 55 mm.; 2.9 oz.
- Third-generation, 2019 Pro Trek model with improved dual-layer color and monochrome display. Imported and made in Japan.
- Made of stainless steel with a resin band and synthetic sapphire glass.
- Large dial size at 55 mm. with both analog and digital display. Lighter than previous models.
- Features Wear OS by Google and equipped with GPS, digital ABCs, microphone and activity tracker.
- Water resistant up to 165 ft. (50 m.) and improved battery life at over 35 hours with running GPS.
- Available in three unisex color combinations and backed by a one-year Casio warranty.
Material: Stainless-steel or aluminum with sapphire crystal glass lens and silicone strap.
Size & Weight: 40 or 44 mm.; 1.3 – 1.6 oz.
- Latest Apple Smartwatch (GPS + Cellular) with an improved set of features over previous versions.
- Available in two dial sizes with stainless-steel or aluminum casing and ceramic and sapphire crystal back-side. Ultralight at 1.3 -1.6 oz.
- Features 64-bit dual core processor with GPS and GLONASS navigation networks, improved ABC’s, improved accelerometer and gyroscope and 16 GB internal storage.
- Also has electrical and optical heart sensors, better health tracking and a digital crown with haptic feedback.
- Water resistant up to 165 ft. (50 m.) and Improved battery life at up to 18 hours with GPS on full recharge.
- Most suitable for day hikes and short trips with cellular coverage.
- Backed by a 90-day on-call support and a one-year hardware warranty.
Additional options for GPS hiking watches
In addition to the top picks above, there are a few additional models that you can check out if you are looking for alternatives.
If you are looking for premium GPS hiking watch and have the budget, check out the Rangeman model from the Casio “Master of G” series (made in Japan). With prices ranging from 800 dollars to about 2000 dollars, these watches feature both wireless and solar charging options. Battery life is excellent at 33 hours with GPS on full recharge. The Rangeman watches incorporate triple sensors to measure compass bearing, atmospheric pressure/altitude, and temperature, well-supported by the GPS navigation features.
Polar is a technology pioneer in portable human vital monitors, and they have brought the same features to the budget Polar M430 GPS running watch. It also features an accelerometer and other standard features and is compatible with almost all major computer operating systems. The display is monochrome, but at its price it is a decent buy (it is priced under $200).
For those who love the square dial, the Garmin epix GPS is an excellent mid-range alternative. It has slightly older hardware, but still reasonable (That is why it is almost always on sale at around 380 dollars). Featuring a 1.4″ sunlight-visible color touchscreen display, the watch is equipped with 8 GB internal memory, altimeter, barometer, compass and comes preloaded with a worldwide base map.
How to pick the best GPS watch for hiking and backpacking?
With some many different hiking watch options available in the market, picking the best GPS watch for hiking, backpacking or other outdoor adventures can be a challenging task.
The first thing you would probably need to consider is the maximum budget that you have. Decent GPS watches range from 200 dollars up to 800 dollars.
Once you have decided on the approximate price range, you can consider the following factors for picking the best GPS watch for your needs:
- Build and material
- Design and style
- Watch features
- Battery life
- Warranty and additional considerations
Build and material
Since an outdoor GPS watch is going to go through some rigorous rugged use, the build material of the watch and straps is an important factor to consider. This includes the building material of the bezel, casing, lens and strap. The building material also governs the overall weight of the watch which can range from 1.5 ounces to as much as 3.5 ounces for the Garmin Fenix 5 metallic model.
Most of the options we listed feature a metallic bezel – stainless-steel or aluminum with a polymer casing. Some options such as the Garmin Fenix 5X do provide a stainless-steel back cover for some extra durability, but even a glass or fiber reinforced polymer case is sturdy enough, without adding too much weight to the watch. The casing is secured with weatherproof screws to provide complete weather and water protection.
The straps of the best GPS watches are made or suede nylon, silicone resin or metal and some models such as the Garmin Fenix 5X offer different options, we prefer the silicone resin or nylon straps because they are lightweight, comfortable and easy to replace and adjust, especially if you have thinner wrists.
The glass lens of the watch is probably its most important part. If you are looking for a light-use wearable then you could go with a standard scratch-resistant glass lens, but if you are going to use your watch frequently, you should opt for a sapphire crystal glass lens. It is more scratch-resistant and durable.
Closely tied with the build of the watch is the weather protection provided by it. Most of the options that we listed are rated at 5 ATM or above, meaning that they are waterproof up to 50 m. and can also be used for swimming etc. You would however not be able to use these watches for snorkeling or diving activities. Our top picks, the Garmin Fenix 5X and Suunto Ambit3 Peak score big in this category as they are rated at 10 ATM and are water resistant up to 100 meters (328 feet).
Check the build and material of the bezel, casing, lens and strap before picking the best GPS watch model for your needs. Also check the water protection rating, especially if you are going to use the watch for water sports and adventures as well.
Design and style
The display design of the watch with respect to the dial shape, display color and resolution is also something to look for before picking the best GPS hiking watch model.
The shape of the dial is more a personal preference, there are a couple of underlying design considerations – square/rectangular dials tend to have a slimmer profile while circular dials have a bigger viewing surface for the same size. Because of the display size, our personal preference is a circular dial, but you can very well pick a square-shaped running GPS watch if you prefer such a design.
Most of the options that we listed have an external dial size of 40 mm to 50 mm., meaning that the display screen would be a tad smaller than that. If you are going to use your watch for navigational features, you should consider a 45+ mm. dial size to get a nice display size.
The hiking GPS watches that we listed all have excellent display resolutions – monochrome or color with sunlight adjusting resolution and backlights for night operations. Watches with color display tend to be costlier and have shorter battery lives. The exception to this is Garmin Fenix 5X, which still provides an excellent battery life with the color display.
Check out the aforementioned design features before picking the most suitable option for your needs.
The best hiking watch is one which not only tells time and date but also provides tools and applications to manage the outdoor adventures. So, the features, internal memory and application modes available with an outdoor watch are probably the most important factors to consider before picking the best watch for hiking.
Some of the main features to look out for in a GPS watch are summarized below:
- GPS and navigational tracking: Navigational tracking and topographic information are extremely important for most outdoor adventures and the best hiking watches provide a rich set of features to empower the users to track distance, speed, location and elevation. Most of the watches we have listed provide excellent GPS information. High-end models also support GLONASS, Galileo and other formats as well, making them useful all across the globe (GLONASS is erstwhile Soviet Union’s competitive technology to the GPS). The more the number of navigational platforms supported, the better the accuracy. Together with the platforms such as Suunto Movescount or Garmin Connect, you can track your whole trip along the trail such as speed, ascent, descent and the distance covered.
- ABCs (Altimeter, Barometer and Compass): The ABCs, or triple sensors as they are often called, are a must for a tactical outdoor watch. Most of the options that we listed are equipped with digital barometric altimeter and compass to display direction, altitude or barometric pressure whenever required. This can be helpful in planning your next move in the wilderness. The Suunto Ambit3 Peak has the best-in-class altimeter and hence our favorite picks. Most of the models we listed also have a history feature to save the readings over a period of time.
- Weather features: Many watches are also equipped with weather indicators such as sunrise/sunset times, moon cycles etc. which can be useful for fishing, hunting and other outdoor activities. Moreover, some models also have a thermometer to get a reading of the atmospheric temperature (you would have to take off your watch to get the correct reading). Furthermore, some watches such as the Garmin Fenix 5X also offer storm alerts, making them a perfect tactical wearable for outdoors. Be on the lookout for these weather-related features before picking the best hiking watch.
- Health Monitors: Hiking or backpacking is a physical activity, so the presence of activity trackers and applications can be a big plus. Strap type heart monitors in the wrist bands are always better when compared to the optical heart rate sensors. Many Garmin, Suunto and Casio watches are available with heart rate monitors and step calculators to help you manage your workload better.
- Wi-Fi/Bluetooth/ANT+ Connectivity: The best hiking watches are the ones which can be easily integrated/synced with the smartphone. Most of the options we listed have these connectivity capabilities, so you can pick any of them. The Apple Smartwatch and Garmin models provide the best user interface and platform to sync the phone and the watch.
Closely related with the features mentioned are the pre-programmed activity modes available with the watch. These pre-set modes help in quickly configuring the features of the watch for a specific activity. All the models we listed have multi-sport modes that you can utilize for a specific type of outdoor activity.
Finally, the internal memory to store historical data is also something to look out for. Some budget and mid-range options only offer limited memory to store the navigational breadcrumbs, while high-end options have internal memory up to 16 GB and also provide cloud storage to store your data.
Check out the features, application modes and internal memory available before picking the best GPS hiking watch for your needs.
The maximum battery life in both GPS and non-GPS mode is also an important consideration to check out, especially if you are thru-hiking.
All the options that we listed come with rechargeable Lithium-Ion batteries that can be recharged using a specialized cord or USB cable. However, the battery life on GPS varies considerably – from 10-12 hours for Apple Watch Series 4 (GPS + Cellular) to as long as 30 hours for Garmin Fenix 5X and Suunto Ambit3 Peak.
You can prolong the battery life by using the GPS and other navigational features only intermittently (you would have less navigational accuracy) and running the watch on power saver mode. For a thru-hike longer than 15-20 days, you would have to carry a solar charger or some other power source to recharge your watch.
Check the battery life of the watch before picking the best GPS watch for hiking and other outdoor adventures. You can generally get the actual stats around the battery life from the Q&A section and reviews by other buyers.
Warranty and additional considerations
In addition to the major factors discussed above, there are some other miscellaneous considerations that can make a particular GPS watch a preferable option over other outdoor watches.
One such consideration is the accessories and apps, if any, that come with the watch. Casio and Garmin watches have the best accessories and applications (such as phone/music integration), along with the Apple Smartwatch off-course, which makes them an attractive choice. Suunto and Polar have made some strides with their applications, but there is still some way to go.
Finally, one of the most important additional consideration is the warranty and after-sales support offered on the watch by the manufacturer. Most of the options that we listed are backed by some excellent one/two-year international warranties, so you can use such watches for a long time without worrying about their durability. We do have a word of appreciation for the Suunto support service as we found their customer care most knowledgeable of the top brands.
You can look at the warranty, after-sales support and all these additional considerations to determine if they make a specific GPS hiking watch a better choice over others.
Final thoughts on the best GPS watch for hiking and backpacking
A good-quality GPS watch can do more than tell you time, date or track your location. It is like a mini-computer on your wrist and can help you with navigation, weather updates, body vitals and even entertainment.
In this article, we looked at some of the best GPS watches available in the market for hiking, backpacking and other outdoor adventures. These hiking watches provide excellent features, performance and durability for rugged use in the wilderness. We also listed some of the main factors to keep in mind while picking the best GPS watch for hiking and backpacking and shared our top picks.
We hope that you found this article useful and it would help you in picking the best hiking watch for your next outdoor adventure. Do let us know your feedback by commenting below. Until next time, happy outdoor exploration!