Welcome to the ultimate review of the BEST OUTDOOR WATCHES!
One of the things that we take for granted in the modern era is the importance of a good, rugged watch. Most of us probably tend to use our smartphone and all of the amazing apps available to us in our day to day use.
The modern outdoor lifestyle offers many opportunities to track important data points and the technology is here to integrate that data into our daily routine. Do you want to track your fitness stats are you train for a marathon? Maybe you are keen on keeping tabs of the altitude every time you go out on a hike?
Whether you want access to topo maps in the mountains or to monitor your daily step count – there is a watch on my list for every type of outdoor/fitness enthusiasts.
This isn’t your grandpa’s pocket watch—these outdoor watches can do everything from monitor your heart rate to access global navigation satellite systems to track your every move. With so many options on the market right now, you can choose the perfect watch for your own needs and your budget.
Maybe you already have an outdoor watch, but it isn’t holding up to the wear and tear you put on it, or the battery life isn’t long enough for your purposes. Through years of outdoor experiences, we’ve discovered what is necessary for the makings of a good outdoor watch, and we want to share our expertise with you, as well as give you the low down on how to decide what the best outdoor watch for your personal needs is.
So whether you need a reliable hiking watch for a 2-week excursion on the Annapurna track Nepal, or just a smartwatch with altimeter capabilities for the average weekend warrior camping trip, we’ll show you the best outdoor watch to fit your needs, style, and budget.
Read on amigos…
Quick Answer: These are the Best Outdoor Watches of 2020!
- Garmin Instinct GPS Watch – The Best Overall Outdoor Watch
- Suunto Core Watch – The Best Non-GPS Hiking Watch
- Garmin Fenix 6x Pro – The Best GPS Watch for Hiking
- Suunto 7 GPS Fitness Watch – The Best Fitness Watch Overall
- Garmin Forerunner 645 Music GPS Watch – The Best Fitness Tracker For Men
- Garmin Forerunner 45 GPS Watch – The Best Fitness Tracker For Women
- Fitbit Ionic GPS Heart Rate Monitor Watch – The Best Outdoor Watch Under $200
- Timex Ironman 30-Lap Digital Watch – The Best Outdoor Watch Under $100
- Suunto Core Watch – The Best Barometric Altimeter Watch
- Garmin Forerunner 735 XT Run – The Best Satellite Altimeter Watch
- Casio G Shock Mudmaster GG1000 Watch – The Most Rugged Watch for Backpackers
- Garmin Marq Adventurer Watch – The Best High-End Outdoor Watch for Pros
|Garmin Instinct GPS Watch||Check on AmazonCheck on REI|
|Suunto Core Watch||Check on AmazonCheck on REI|
|Garmin Fenix 6x Pro Multisport GPS||Check on AmazonCheck on REI|
|Suunto 7 GPS Fitness Watch||Check on AmazonCheck on REI|
|Garmin Forerunner 645 Music GPS Watch||Check on AmazonCheck on REI|
|Garmin Forerunner 45 GPS Watch||Check on AmazonCheck on REI|
|Fitbit Ionic GPS Heart Rate Monitor Watch||Check on AmazonCheck on REI|
|Timex Ironman 30-Lap Digital Watch||Check on AmazonCheck on REI|
|Suunto Core Watch||Check on AmazonCheck on REI|
|Garmin Forerunner 735XT Run-Bundle||Check on AmazonCheck on REI|
|Casio G-Shock Mudmaster GG1000||Check on AmazonCheck on REI|
|Garmin Marq Adventurer Watch||Check on REI|
The Best Outdoor Watches of 2020: Performance Breakdown
Whether you’re in the market for a new watch, or just trying to learn more about outdoor watches for when you are ready to buy, this article is the right place to start! With years of outdoor experience, sport/fitness experience, and a taste for technology, we bring all the expertise to you, so you don’t have to do the legwork on researching many individual watches.
Below, I breakdown my top picks based on a variety of factors including price, technological capabilities, best uses, and battery life.
Let’s start with my favorite current watch…
#1 – The Best Overall Outdoor Watch
This watch has every tool you could need as an experienced, health-conscious, tech-savvy traveler. With scratch, shock, thermal, and water-resistance, this watch is extra durable with a breathable, flexible silicone-based wristband. You can wear it anywhere!
Including smartwatch capabilities, fit watch applications, a barometric altimeter, a compass, and 3 different GPS systems, this watch does it all and is best suited for the man (or woman) always on the go. You can track your calories, answer a text message, and check your altitude all in the same breath. And if you are a swimmer, this watch has got you covered—it will track your laps for you (as long as you don’t take it any deeper than 100 meters, of course.)
With a watch that does everything, you’ll need a battery that is willing to take on challenges as big as you do. In smartwatch mode, one charge will last two weeks straight! But, to be expected, it will need to be charged more often when you’re using the GPS to navigate your way down a mountain.
The best part is that this hiking watch is in the same price range as your average mainstream fitness watch, and less expensive than a name brand smartwatch.
#2 – The Best Non-GPS Watch
This is the perfect watch for the avid hiker, whose main goal is to navigate and record altitude during their trip. The digital watch face is backlit and easy to read, displaying the time, altitude, and compass direction all at the same time for quick reference.
This watch also includes a barometer, which can detect changes in atmospheric pressure and predict harsh weather. If there’s a storm coming, you’ll be the first to know when the storm alarm goes off. But don’t worry, this watch is water-resistant and that’s useful for more than withstanding a downpour. It even has accurate pressure readings up to 30 feet below the water’s surface for our underwater trekkers.
This watch doesn’t just tell you the time of day, it even lets you know how much daylight you have left with sunset and sunrise reminders! A simple watch with extraordinary technology, you have every tool you need to blaze your own trail.
This is another watch that will price you around the same price as a fitness watch, but luckily this watch battery will last for a year, so no need to worry about trying to find a place to charge it when you’re hiking through the middle of nowhere! Just replace the battery on your own about once a year.
#3 – The Best GPS Watch for Hiking
This high-end watch comes with a high-end price tag, but what good investment doesn’t? If you like to ski, swim, hike, run, walk, sleep, or have a heartbeat… this watch can track it for you. And while you’re doing it, this watch will play your favorite song for you, too. Pair it with your smartphone to check your notifications quickly and conveniently.
This watch can seamlessly transition from a fitness watch with compatible apps and smartwatch capabilities to a rugged hiking watch with the push of a button and look good while doing it. Don’t let the looks fool you, however. This watch will hold up in the roughest conditions with a gorilla glass face and water resistance up to 100 meters below the surface.
Satellite navigation, a 3-axis compass, multiple global navigation systems, road maps, and topographical maps are all easily accessible– with this outdoor watch, you’ll never get lost!
#4 – The Best Fitness Watch Overall
With more than 70 pre-configured sports modes, this watch is every health nuts dream. Take it swimming, running, or (of course) on a good, long hike! The wrist heart sensor will keep your heart rate in check while the GPS tracks your every move.
This Google-based watch is already hooked up with Google Wear OS, Google Fit, and Google Pay, for a quick, convenient payment swipe on an after-run pick me up. If you already have a beloved fitness app of choice, no problem! You can download different apps to sync up with this smartwatch and record your workouts.
Whether you’re 50 meters underwater, climbing a rock wall, or anywhere in between, this rugged watch has got you covered with a gorilla glass face and water-, dirt-, and shock-proof exterior. So no matter how you like to get your body moving, this watch can definitely keep up with your pace!
The watch will automatically download local maps when connected to wi-fi and save maps for offline use, as well as the GPS function. But be sure to charge this fitness watch every day to make sure you have enough juice to record your next workout!
This watch isn’t the most inexpensive on our list, but if you are a fitness guru obsessed with tracking and logging your every step, with the added convenience and style of top smartwatches, this one is a game-changer.
#5 – The Best Fitness Tracker for Men (Runners)
Are you a big runner? Do you strive to achieve better form, balance, and vertical ratio? Have you ever wanted to record your ground contact time? This is the watch for you! It’s basically a personal trainer on your wrist.
With a heart-rate monitor located on the band, a triple-axis digital accelerometer, and a GPS, this watch can track your run down to the last drop of sweat (and it is water-resistant, so sweat away!)
Sync it up to your favorite streaming service to save tunes for when you’re offline and on the go, or download up to 500 songs with in-watch storage! The Garmin Pay feature allows an easily accessible way to pay when out and about.
With a battery life of up to 7 days when in smartwatch mode, this watch is great for the everyday fitness user. It’s worth mentioning if you do like to go out for a hike here and there, of course this watch is equipped with GPS, compass, and altimeter as well; but the battery won’t last as long in GPS mode, which is why this is better suited as a fitness watch mainly.
#6 – The Best Fitness Tracker for Women (Runners)
If you’re a fitness lover and don’t have a workout buddy, this might just be the solution for you. This watch will not only track your calories, heart rate, sleep patterns, runs, workouts, and all that, but it even has built-in safety features to ensure your safety is a priority.
As a female runner myself, I have been out in the early morning hours alone on a run. Having a smartwatch to track my run and knowing it could send out an emergency alert with my location in case of a fall, bike-crash, or any other emergency would be life-changing.
Of course, it also has all the fun features as well! From fitness apps to music streaming, this watch is the perfect workout companion. With a battery life lasting up to seven days, don’t stress about it too much if you’re too tired after your workout to plug it in after you climb in bed.
This watch is bringing a lot to the table for a little price tag.
#7 – The Best Outdoor Watch Under $200
If you want to try out an outdoor watch but are on a budget or unsure of if you would enjoy using one so aren’t ready to invest, this one has a little bit of everything included for a steal! From hiking watch capabilities to fitness apps to smartwatch notifications, this watch is up there with the best of them.
Coming with different sized bands, this unisex watch is the perfect fit for anyone who wants a reliable outdoor watch. Fitbits are known for their customizable interfaces and fitness applications, but did you know this watch has 2 different global navigation systems, as well as an altimeter for those of us that like to get off the grid from time to time.
This watch will track your workout, your heart rate, your sleeping patterns, and your laps in the pool. Keep it charged every few days and you’re ready to take it on your next adventure!
#8 – The Best Outdoor Watch Under $100
This watch is the least expensive on the list, and as such, it doesn’t have all the same specs as some of the others. But if you need a reliable watch that can keep up with your fast-paced needs, and aren’t big on smartwatch technology, then this is the perfect watch.
It is waterproof up to 100 meters so you can take it just about anywhere, and with the illuminated backlight and large digital numbers, you can read the face at a glance. So, when you’re taking a few laps around the track or pool, timing a bike ride, or challenging yourself to beat a countdown, this watch can record your times up to 100 hours and recall up to 30 laps.
If a reliable watch is all you need, look no further.
#9 – The Best Barometric Altimeter Watch
You’re not seeing double– this watch is really solid and. our team have been using them for years. As we said above about the Suunto Core, this watch just has amazing barometric technology. The way the watch detects pressure changes based on not only your altitude for the altimeter but also when you’re standing still to detect the weather is incredible.
With precision accuracy up to 29,500 feet, this altimeter can’t really be beaten. And the watch will record your altitude while on your journey to show you your data later. And if you are unsure of your starting height, that’s okay! This hiking watch even has a “start from 0” option to allow you to compile data on your altitude changes anyway.
If you are a die-hard mountaineer, this may just be the watch for you.
#10 – The Best Satellite Altimeter Watch
Being satellite-based, this altimeter isn’t going to be as accurate as a barometric altimeter. But with two separate satellite navigation systems, this is going to be almost as accurate as it can get. Not to mention all the other amazing things this watch is capable of!
This outdoor watch can track your workout, count your calories and steps, and monitor your heart rate through the convenience of the wrist strap or more accurately through a chest strap! Having complete running and cycling metrics allows it to help you improve on your balance and form as well.
The swimming-specific features of this water-resistant watch are very useful in underwater depths up to 50 meters. But if the fitness aspects aren’t enough to convince you, customizable smartwatch features and interface might be.
The satellite altimeter isn’t the only amazing quality of this watch, clearly.
#11 – The Most Rugged Watch for Backpackers
This rugged watch is made for the toughest adventurers whose fears know no bounds. This watch is mud-, shock-, and water-resistant up to an astounding 200 meters underwater! That’s at least twice the depth of any other watch on this list.
The design of this watch itself is made with the adventurer in mind. A large, LED-lit face with digital and analog readings allows one to view the time, temperature, compass direction, and more in just a split second. Not to mention the buttons are designed to resist dirt or mud build-up.
Knowing an outdoorsman is always on the go, the battery lasts about 2 years. This outdoor watch is rugged enough to withstand almost anything.
#12 – The Best High-End Outdoor Watch for Pros
Although all the watches on this list look good, they can’t compete with this classy watch. For the day-to-day wearer who wants to look good and have the convenience of an outdoor watch, smartwatch, and fitness watch capabilities.
Don’t let the sleek looks fool you, however– this high-end watch has incredible features, including a storage capacity for up to 2,000 songs as well as access to streaming services. But that’s not the only apps available on this smartwatch, so customize it however you want.
This watch also comes with 3 different global navigation satellite systems, a barometric altimeter, and the Climbpro ascent planner, which allows every mountaineer to measure their climb’s gradient, distance, and elevation gain. If you are more of a golfer or skier than a climber, this watch has over 41,000 golf courses and 2,000 ski resorts programmed as well as many other sports and fitness-related apps and trackers.
Even though this watch looks decorative, it still has all the amazing features of other outdoor watches and is waterproof up to 100 meters underwater. You can still track your heart-rate, steps, calories, or even blood-oxygen saturation; but for this watch and all the high-end features, you’ll be paying the high-end price as well.
More of the Top Outdoor Watches
Another watch that has it all, this watch is an older model of another watch that made our list—the best GPS watch for hiking, the Garmin Fenix 6x Pro. This watch comes with a lot of similar features, such as 3-axis compass, gyroscope, barometric altimeter, built-in GPS and GLONASS navigation systems.
Not only does this watch have color TOPO U.S. mapping, but it also gives you the option to plan a specific distance you would like to run/hike/bike/etc., and it will actually give suggestions of good trails near you!
This is another fitness watch that can function as a smartwatch as well, with the option to customize with your own choice in compatible apps and widgets. Everything you need available at flick of your wrist—er, touch of your wrist(watch).
Grouptrack technology allows you to monitor your group’s individual locations in real-time; Livetrack allows other to track your adventures live! You can also track your calories, your heart rate, and your form and performance in a workout.
This rugged watch is scratch-resistant and water-resistant up to 100 meters below the surface, so wherever you go, it can keep up. Easy to change silicon-based watch bands mean you have the perfect fit and style for every occasion.
This is a great pick with a more modest price tag than it’s newest counter-part.
This watch is more focused on fitness. With pre-loaded apps for about any sport, you’ll be able to track your every movement and calorie burned. The wrist-band heart rate monitor makes it easy and convenient to track your heart rate as well as your blood oxygen levels.
Pre-loaded animated workout instructions make your fitness routine even easier. Whether you’re a beginner or a seasoned fitness pro, you’re sure to find an app to amp up your work out! For runners, there is even a training program to work your way up to running 5k, 10k, or even a marathon which properly paces and pushes you at crucial times and adjusts your plan based on your progress.
With smartphone capabilities, stay connected anywhere you go. The Garmin Pay app also allows you to make purchases with the swipe of your wrist.
All in all, a solid choice for a fitness watch and much less expensive than the average name brand smartwatch.
Another watch coming in at under $200, this Fitbit comes with all the apps, trackers, and widgets these smartwatches are best known for. If you like recognizable tech, this might be the watch for you!
This smartwatch can store 300+ songs or listen to songs via music-streaming platforms. Use Amazon Alexa to help access anything you may need on your watch or within your home (that is Alexa-compatible, of course.)
Some fitness features include 24/7 heart rate monitoring, fitness apps, Sleep Score, and SmartTrack which allows you to track different workouts, like swimming or running, and see your stats. Interchangeable wrist bands allow you to choose between the silicon workout band that you can easily wipe clean, or a jacquard patterned decorative band for everyday wear.
Overall, a great choice for a reasonably-priced, reliable fitness watch.
This watch looks rugged, while maintaining water resistance for outdoor wear, a comfortable cloth wristband, a large display face, and a slim design for daily wear.
The bold face has both analog and a large, digital numeral display that allows the wearer to read immediately while on the go. The mechanical components are highlighted with glow-in-the-dark markers while the digital face is illuminated.
This watch is rechargeable via solar power, making it very convenient for long hikers/campers who don’t have the convenience of electricity as regularly as a smartwatch would need.
The perfect watch for the minimalist who wants a watch to do what watches do best— tell time, set alarms, or use as a stopwatch, while being compatible with the reusable green energy of the great outdoors.
How to Choose the Best Outdoor Watch
#1 – GPS (Satellite) vs. Barometric Altimeters
Altimeters come in handy in many outdoor situations. Whether you’re hiking in high elevations, rock/mountain-climbing, or even skiing, having an accurate altitude reading is not only an interesting conversation piece but an important safety precaution.
Barometric Altimeters use pressure readings to determine altitude. The closer to earth you are, the higher the pressure, so the higher your elevation, the lower the pressure. The only issue is weather also effects pressure; so when there is a storm rolling in or a cold front/heat wave, it may affect your altimeter’s readings.
Some watches may try to combat these discrepancies by utilizing GPS readings as well, to determine if you are currently moving (so the pressure differences are likely due to a rising elevation) or in staying one location (pressure differences likely due to an incoming storm.)
The most surefire way to ensure your barometric altimeter is accurate would be to calibrate it every day (or at least when you need it to be accurate.) This can easily be done if you know your current elevation, which can be found on Google Earth.
An altimeter that uses satellite readings simply determines your elevation by getting a reading of how far you are from Earth much in the same way it determines your position on Earth. This isn’t necessarily accurate, as the satellites position also affects your altimeter reading.
This would mostly be accurate if there is a satellite orbiting basically directly above your position. If a satellite can get a reading, it is usually within 35 to 75 feet of your actual reading (GPS is much more accurate horizontally than vertically.)
But satellite readings aren’t always available, especially when in the deep wilderness. So, it’s hard to get an accurate reading. If accuracy is critical to your purpose, a barometric altimeter might be the best choice for you.
#2 – Performance Features
Another thing that one needs to consider is which performance features are most important for your needs. If your main purpose for wanting a watch is to track your daily health, like sleep tracking, calories burned, and your heart rate, a fitness watch might be right for you.
If your hobbies include hiking, skiing, rock-climbing, or even scuba diving, you might be more interested in a watch that supports GPS mapping– perhaps map download capabilities for when you’re off the grid, as well as an altimeter.
If you enjoy water sports, water resistance is important. Although all the watches on this list are water resistant, depending on how deep you dive, you may need to ensure they are resistant into a greater depth. Some watches even have special functions for underwater operation or are specialized to track you laps in the pool.
If you desperately want to stay connected with your favorite apps, ensuring your watch is compatible and customizable might be the most important aspect when looking to buy! So these are some things to determine before picking the best watch for you.
#3 – Smart Technology
Most people rely on smart technology in our daily lives. Whether it be for business or pleasure, having access to the our favorite apps, media, email, and of course our cell phones has become almost expected of us.
For some, this is a blessing– it makes work, school, and entertainment as easy and convenient as the push of a button. But others may want to escape the hyper-technological world and disconnect for a while. Or maybe some just don’t have a need or desire for smart technology in every aspect of their lives.
For these people, having a watch that connects to the world around them isn’t necessarily that important. Maybe you just want a watch that has a good, solid altimeter and a compass for when you get away and get off grid.
Whatever is the best fit for your lifestyle and needs should be the first priority for picking a watch. Also, watches with smart technology need to be charged on a regular basis. Which brings us to our next point.
#4 – Battery Life
For some people, choosing a watch with a long battery life is of the utmost importance. If we plan on using our outdoor watch on long hiking trips where we won’t have easy access to electrical outlets for charging our watches, then something with a long battery life is very important.
Of course, a watch that doesn’t have a rechargeable battery means the battery will need to be replaced. This could be once a year or two approximately, but when the time comes, you have to consider if the watch can be changed by you personally or if you will have to pay to have it serviced. How convenient is that for you?
If you don’t plan on staying off grid for too long, than the average smart watch or fitness watch might suit your needs. A lot of watches hold a charge for several days, especially if you aren’t using the GPS/mapping/bluetooth music functions. So this can be very functional for the average user.
#5 – Price
Price is always a selling point. Of course we all want to get the most for our money. There are a lot of factors that go into determining the price of a good watch. Most of which are the features we’ve already highlighted, but there are other features, as well.
Some rugged watches are made of really durable material, which may be more expensive than the average watch. There are also high-end watches that are made with quality material, like the best high-end watch on our list which is made with Italian leather.
But all of our budgets are different, and we have to find something that best fits our needs and our wallet. The most expensive watch on the list might not be the best, or even the best for you.
Therefore, once you determine what other features you require in your watch, finding one that hits hopefully all or at least most of your points within your budget should be relatively easy– especially since our list goes over watches within every price range.
Final Thoughts on the Best Outdoor Watches
By now, you are well versed in the world of outdoor watches. In recent years, the technology and capabilities of the once-humble watch has exploded and us outdoor and adventure people are here to reap the benefits.
From heart-rate tracking and step count to email and blood-oxygen level readings, there is not much that some of these watches can’t do. Since I spend a lot of time in the mountains and work as a guide, I love having a watch that gives accurate altitude readings, storm alerts, and tracking points – all vital data points when leading groups in the mountains.
The best watch for your own needs to going to be different. Hone in on what sort of performance you need out of a watch and make your purchase based on that information.
From all of the watches on our list, it may be hard to pick a favorite. If you are looking for a good all a-rounder that will serve you in a variety of settings, go with our top pick: the Garmin Instinct GPS Watch.
Once you get your hands on a badass outdoor watch, there is no going back. You’ll see.
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Chris Lininger is a writer and adventurer from California. His travels have taken him to the far reaches of the globe including Patagonia, New Zealand, Nepal, Central America, Europe, North Africa, South East Asia, Lebanon, and Pakistan. He is an advocate for low budget responsible travel and for the preservation of the worlds wild places. Chris leads expeditions to Pakistan for Epic Backpacker Tours when he is not writing or plotting some outdoor adventure. He is currently based in Portland, Oregon.