There are lots of smartwatches that promise the ability to do lots of things with wearable tech. However, when you get out in the field, the prime choices begin to stand out very quickly.
And, for those who think Apple solves everything, the Apple Watch is not among them for real field use, hiking, climbing and being outdoors for extended periods.
Sorry, it might work well in the urban jungle, but in the real one that device is at the low-ranking level among much better choices for hiking and trail work.
Ideally, a good hiking smartwatch should be able to at least provide all the environmental basics one needs to be safe outside.
That includes the barometer to see quick weather changes, compass and altitude metrics to know where you are in relation to a map, and easy time tracking. Many would argue GPS capability is another must-have feature.
While it’s not essential to do good hiking if you know how to use a compass and paper map, it does make things a lot easier.
Finally, extended battery life is another key feature folks frequently overlook. The common habit is to just plug a device in when it needs a charge.
We practically do this without thinking nowadays. However, out in the field, there’s no plug, much less an electrical outlet.
Unless you’re bringing a solar power-up kit with you and have hours to spare sitting around waiting, your smartwatch on a long hike is going to need a good battery for extended use.
So here are the real winners in the hiking smartwatch category that should definitely be considered.
Table of Contents
1. The Garmin Instinct Solar
First off, this watch meets all the essential requirements for outdoor work, hiking and long-term trekking. It includes all the directional tools, placement, GPS capability, and a battery that runs almost a month for regular use and 54 days on a solar recharge.
Oddly, the Garmin Instinct does not provide mapping. That’s not a deal-breaker, but it would have been a nice topping. The watch is water resistant to what most people swim for at least 330 feet deep, and it comes with the standard one-year warranty.
Even better, when you’re not on the trail, the watch is packed full of benefits and tracking for fitness measurements, ranging from heart rate monitoring to oxygen monitoring to distance and movement rates.
Add in the solar feature as recommended here and you’re really working with a technological work of art that can be used and taken anywhere, regardless of the power grid availability.
Power modes are easily adjustable to match how long you want the battery to run down, including a GPS expedition mode which tracks physical position only hourly, avoiding significant battery burn down. It comes in really handy when out on a wilderness trek that’s going to last a few weeks.
The watch also comes with an upgraded polymer body that meets military industry standards, so it can take a solid beating and really keep going.
That’s something that boaters, field personnel, campers and hikers are going to love instead of worrying about banging up their sensitive Apple Watch.
2. The Garmin Fenix 6X Pro
The Fenix series of smartwatches regularly get a lot of praise from different markets and users, and it’s definitely a step up from a basic consumer grade watch.
However, for hiking and serious trekking the given watch needs to be able to perform under harder conditions. The Fenix 6X Pro is the model that stands out even in the Fenix range as the one to go for.
On GPS mode, packing in a 60 hour run on a regular battery charge and then bumping that up to another 68 hours, the Fenix 6X Pro isn’t necessarily the watch to use when packing into the wilderness for four weeks straight, but it will hold up for a weekend camping trip or a hiking excursion for a few days without fail.
When the GPS is turned off, however, the Fenix will easily last up to 24 days, more than enough for a few weeks in the backwoods.
The Fenix 6X Pro includes all the gimme’s folks want with a hiking watch, including altitude, weather and compass tools, as well as a mapping capability too.
The physical weight of this choice is extremely light, under 3.3 ounces, and it comes with a standard one-year warranty. Going swimming?
It will handle fine up to 330 feet underwater. Even better, the Fenix 6X Pro has a color screen with very readable detail that most folks can figure out, even those not wearing their reading glasses right away.
3. The Casio Protek PRG-240
- Includes the altimeter and barometer
- Lighter than other options
- Water resistant well down to at least 330 feet below the water line.
- Include five different alarm settings, a temperature thermometer included, and sunrise or sunset noticing.
Wow. Casio made the list? Believe it or not, yes. Casio has been a long-known name in the digital watch arena since the 1980s. Most folks don’t have it as their first pick because it’s what their grandfather had as a kid when he got his first electronic watch.
However, the company still sticks around because they build watches that last.
In the smartwatch hiking arena, their offering is the Casio Protrek PRG-240, which comes with some notable features and performance.
It gets a lower ranking mainly because the PRG-240 doesn’t include some of the advanced features noted above.
First, there is no GPS. Second, there is no mapping. However, for basic functional and use, the PRG-240 does just fine anyways. That’s because it includes the altimeter and barometer features (the barometer does need configuration though) as well as a compass.
Interestingly, the altimeter is affected by temperature and does lose some accuracy in the cold. All one needs then is a paper map and he or she can figure out the rest with basic field mapping skills.
Physically, the PRG-240 is even lighter than other options, which is nice where cumulative weight is a concern.
It’s also water resistant well down to at least 330 feet below the water line and warranted for the full first year of ownership. More advantageous, the PRG-240 is also solar-powered. That means no charging, no battery limitations, just keep going.
On that reason alone, the PRG-240 can outrank other choices in the field when working for months away from civilization.
Additional benefits include five different alarm settings, a temperature thermometer included, and sunrise or sunset noticing. For the sports-minded, the PRG-240 adds a chronometer and calendaring tools.
4. The Garmin Enduro
As a runner-up to the Fenix 6X, the Enduro hits with a good punch of features that can be attractive for hikers as well.
A key benefit is its very long, long battery life. This one also doesn’t include the luxury premium of mapping, nor does it store any kind of music data that the 6X might offer, but it has all the big benefits one wants in a hiking watch.
That includes GPS capability, location environment tracking with the altimeter and barometer readings as well as a compass, very light physical weight at under 2.86 ounces, and it matches the other choices with water resistance and a one-year warranty.
5. The Suunto 9 Series
As a last mention, the Suunto 9 smartwatch options are appealing to folks who want a decent smartwatch for day-hikes and light field use. It’s stylish enough for regular consumer wear, and it still comes with enough tools to make it useful in the field.
The Suunto 9 Baro is a great choice for the series, all of them designed as sports watches to begin with. The flavor of the Baro is definitely fitness-minded, with lots of tracking for calorie-burning, sleep monitoring and movement tracking.
It also includes a heart monitor. More importantly for the hiking type, it comes with a GPS connection as well as the ability to send data to another device for mapping. However, it doesn’t provide mapping itself directly.
Instead, it uses a Snap to Route tool that helps compare the GPS position to a pre-determined path set at the beginning of the hike.
Battery life on the Suunto series is good for a full day’s work or field excursions. The typical running life is 25 hours with heavy GPS use, which can be extended to 50 hours with less frequent GPS tracking.
The Baro as well as another Suunto option, the Peak, both include standard altimeter, compass and barometer tools as well.
Going With the Top Choice if You Can
Again, the Garmin Instinct Solar just makes one hell of a lot of sense for the best, benefit-packed hiking smartwatch available.
It’s one flaw, no mapping, is overtaken by all the other goodies that come with it.
If you have to be in the boonies for a while, it’s a great choice to have that works just about anywhere with the solar feature for power.
Whether hiking for a day or a month, the Instinct Solar is going to take care of you hands-down.