Whether you love hitting the trails, climbing up mountains or getting on your bike for a big ride, an outdoor GPS sports watch is a great addition to your gear.
Buying an outdoor watch can offer brilliant feedback on how far you've trekked, and offer navigation features as well. These can help you explore off the beaten path and prove a useful safety tool with features like "return to start", which you'll find on the latest Garmins.
Fortunately, there‚Äôs a whole host of wristy companions that are built for your outdoor pursuits that will let you do that and much more. These are the watches that will keep you safe on those solo runs, get you to your destination on time and serve up enough battery life to make sure it can go the distance you need it to.
What to look out for
If you‚Äôre looking for a watch built for the outdoors, there‚Äôs some obvious things to look for. A durable design is a must. Many watches describe themselves as rugged, but you want to be looking for those materials that ensure they're built to last. We‚Äôre talking metallic bodies, raised watch bezels and extra protection over the display to protect it against scratches it will inevitably be exposed to. If you care about jumping in the water with it, check that it carries that appropriate waterproof rating to let you do it.
Like running watches will of course have GPS to map out your activities and may carry additional satellite support to offer better mapping coverage for those more obscure locations.
Many watches also come with extras that make them better suited for outdoor use too, like compasses and sensors that monitor important environmental factors like altitude. Look for altimeters or barometers which will offer feedback on the amount of ascent you've tackled.
Then there‚Äôs battery life. Some of the best outdoor watches can provide days of power for those multi-day hikes away from grid.
We‚Äôve picked out the watches we think are going to be a good fit for you on your next adventure whether it‚Äôs on land, in the water or a bit of both. So, let‚Äôs dive in.
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Best outdoor watch
Garmin Fenix 5 Plus series
If you‚Äôre looking for the best, Garmin‚Äôs rugged beast is the one you want on your wrist. Its Fenix watches have been the go-to pick for adventurers for some time now and with its latest watch it‚Äôs even better equipped for tracking your next trail run or trek.
The 5 Plus series comes in three models; the 5, 5S and the 5X. If you‚Äôve got smaller wrists, the slimmer 5S is the one for you. All three models feature stainless steel bodies and titanium buttons to add a much needed layer of protection and make it easier to get to grips with when you have to throw on some gloves.
All models track the same activities including trail running, hiking, climbing and open water swimming, offering dedicated metrics for those outdoor pursuits.
You can upload GPX routes via Garmin Basecamp, and you can follow waypoints on the watch itself, even when the path has faded to nothing. It's hardly Google Maps, but it'll get you heading in the right direction.
And the topographic maps mean you can get a sense of what's around you and even find points of interest. Again, it's a bit basic ‚Äď but fairly unique.
The Fenix has multiple battery modes, including UltraTrac which is aimed at hikers. If you set your watch into this mode you should get around 42 hours of GPS on the Fenix 5 Plus. That should mean you can spend a weekend in the wilderness without needing to charge up.
Another big feature is its ability to navigate you back to the start of your route, which is a useful safety feature. In addition Garmin‚Äôs LiveTrack feature means concerned friends and family can keep an eye on you when you wander further a field. It‚Äôs as complete an outdoor watch you‚Äôre going to find.
Best outdoor watch on a budget
Garmin‚Äôs Fenix range are not cheap, so if you want something similar for a lot less, the Instinct is worth considering too.
Available in a range of colours, the Instinct has military grade durability and can be submerged in water up to 100 metres. It also delivers battery life anywhere from 16 hours up to 40 hours depending on how long you‚Äôre expecting to be out on your adventures.
While you miss out on the ability to follow maps from the watch face, there‚Äôs still plenty of great outdoor features to take advantage of. Like the navigation, the ability to retrace your route to get you safely back to the start of your expedition. It‚Äôll even offer you sun and moon information.
It‚Äôll track activities like mountain biking, open water swimming, hiking, climbing and includes a heart rate monitor just like the Fenix so you can see how hard you‚Äôre pushing in your outdoor workouts. It‚Äôs well priced and while you might miss out on some features offered with the Fenix, it‚Äôs still a solid option to consider.
Best outdoor smartwatch
Casio Pro Trek Smart WSD-F30
The Apple Watch isn‚Äôt really built for withstanding some serious rough and tumble, so if you‚Äôre looking for a smartwatch designed for bouncing against rocks on your hikes and still operating in freezing cold conditions, Casio‚Äôs smartwatch is one to consider.
This is Casio‚Äôs third iteration of its Pro Trek Smart range, which runs on Google‚Äôs smartwatch operating system letting you download apps to add on extra features. It does already come loaded with a bunch of apps designed to up your outdoor tracking game including Viewranger (which features the amazing Ordnance Survey mapping) and Casio‚Äôs own apps - a mixed bag in terms of how useful they are.
There‚Äôs dedicated tracking modes for the likes of hiking, surfing and even fishing with a nice bright touchscreen display to view your progress. The battery life can‚Äôt match some of the other watches on this list though, offering a day and a half of use when putting all of its features to the test.
If you're after a comprehensive outdoor watch but still want the features of a good smartwatch, the Pro Trek ticks a lot of boxes But the sacrifices in terms of battery life and size will put a lot of people off. If you're looking for top outdoor watch features you'd be better served by a Garmin or Suunto watch.
Best for going the distance
Suunto 9 Baro
Suunto‚Äôs watches are never going to win any style awards, but if you want something that‚Äôs built to last and has bags of battery life, this is the one you want on your wrist.
The Baro features a stainless steel bezel and sapphire crystal to protect the display and is waterproof up to 100 metres. All of those important outdoor sensors are on board including a digital compass, an altimeter to measure elevation when you‚Äôre hitting altitude and it can even identify sea level pressure and indicate sunset and sunrise times.
It‚Äôll track over 80 sports including outdoor activities like cycling, trail running and open water swimming. If you‚Äôre an ultra runner, Suunto has included its FusedTrack software that enables you to use the onboard GPS and motion sensors to track your movements all while reducing the hit on the battery life.
That battery life is the killer feature here though letting you track anything from 25 hours to a whopping 120 hours depending on your GPS mode.
You‚Äôll also get smart battery reminders based on the battery you used on a similar activity to make sure you have enough power to get all of your data when you‚Äôre ready to go back home.
However, we found the interface to be pretty confusing and ran into some syncing issues with the app as well ‚Äď and it's not up to the standard of Garmin when it comes to that aspect. So while battery life is second to none, if you feel you can get away with less than 120 hours of tracking, it's worth considering the importance of the ecosystem.
Best for getting up high
Coros might not be as well known as Garmin or Suunto, but the newcomer is quickly growing a reputation for making solid sports watches - the Vertix is the latest to join the family.
With a design that feels very Fenix inspired, the Vertix is built from tough materials featuring a titanium frame and bezel and a sapphire glass to give it that rugged extra layer of protection. It‚Äôs also been tested to work in freezing temperatures and should still function at -4 degrees fahrenheit (-20 degrees centigrade).
It‚Äôs designed to track a whole range of outdoor activities including trail running, hiking and biking, and is also built with mountain climbing in mind adding in sensors to monitor altitude letting you know when it‚Äôs safe to keep on climbing.
Battery life is solid too, offering up to 60 hours when in tracking mode and a whopping 45 days when you‚Äôre just using it in regular watch mode. As we said, it‚Äôs not a big name just yet, but the Vertix is an outdoor watch that really impresses.
Best undercover outdoor watch
Alpina Alpiner X 2019
Buy now: Jura Watches (UK) ¬£795
Most outdoor watches are big, bulky affairs, but if you want something that could comfortably pass as a traditional timepiece you can wear at work and on your next hike, the Alpiner X is a good fit.
The Swiss watchmaker has devised a watch that‚Äôs part traditional watch and part smartwatch, packing in a display on the bottom half of the watch face to display environmental data like temperature, altitude, pressure and UV index. You can also track your outdoor exploits, but it relies on your phone to help your track location.
That watch face is wrapped up in a tough fibre glass and stainless steel body that‚Äôs water resistant up to 100 metres and includes a twisty-compass bezel to add to that adventurer look.
It‚Äôs more expensive than something like the Fenix or the Instinct and offers less features, but if you need a balance of good looks and something that‚Äôs an excellent fit for your outdoor pursuits there‚Äôs still a lot to like about the Alpiner X 2019 edition.
Main image credit: Suunto