I‘ve worn GPS watches on and off for nearly a decade. Once I was 19 I received a primary FitBit particularly to coach for my first marathon, and since then, I’ve tried a number of iterations of the Garmin Forerunner collection. Total, I’ve been extraordinarily proud of their performance and utility.

Although I didn’t use a GPS watch once I thru-hiked the John Muir Path, each time I prep for my subsequent lengthy journey it’ll completely be one thing I add to my package. Not solely can GPS watches observe distance, tempo, elevation achieve/loss, and time, however in addition they have a wide range of health-tracking options that assist tremendously with coaching and efficiency.

With my present watch, the Garmin Forerunner 955, I’m in a position to see how well-acclimated I’m to particular altitudes and warmth, in addition to assess how my coaching load is impacting my health. It’s been a particularly helpful coaching device as I’ve progressed in my ultra-running endeavors, and would completely be useful for thru-hiking.

So that you need a new watch: What’s subsequent?

When you’ve determined to splurge on a watch, the difficult half is determining which one is greatest suited to your subsequent journey. There are such a lot of choices available on the market, and plenty of the options and comparisons are extremely dense. The aim of this text is to type via and simplify the options of the extra standard watches. We will’t cowl all of them, after all, however it will get you prepped for the class as a complete. So right here we go along with a function overview of my private watch suggestions for long-distance backpacking.

Options to Take into account

I like having a watch with mapping options & an altimeter so I do know I’m staying on the right track when touring off-trail.

  • Battery Life: Should you’re planning to make use of GPS to trace your hike each day, battery life could also be your #1 consideration. A few of these watches include a photo voltaic charging function which extends battery life, however watch out to not overblow the usefulness of this function. For consistency functions, I speak about battery life by way of GPS monitoring hours. Whereas not utilizing GPS monitoring, many of those watches will final for weeks and even months, however let’s use this lively GPS statistic to simplify the comparability.
  • Altimeter: A watch with a pressure-based altimeter will present you your present elevation, whether or not you’re utilizing GPS or not. That is extraordinarily useful for route discovering and figuring out your complete elevation achieve/loss. Some watches will even provide you with an estimated altitude acclimation metric.
  • Maps: A watch with maps preloaded may be extremely useful on much less standard routes. With many fashions, you’ll be able to design a route in your telephone or pc and ship it to your watch. This lets you confirm your course with a twist of the wrist and with out pulling out a telephone, paper map, or emergency GPS gadget.
  • Value Level: The inexpensive watches will nonetheless report step depend, coronary heart price, sleep information, and lots of different baseline metrics even when not utilizing GPS monitoring. Nevertheless, relying on how a lot you’re keen to speculate, the fancier fashions come outfitted with function-adding options like maps, altimeters, and for much longer battery life.

The Huge Three of GPS Watch Manufacturers

There are three main gamers in relation to totally purposeful GPS watches which can be well-suited to backcountry use. Garmin, Coros, and Suunto spherical out what could be referred to as, dare I say it, the Triple Crown of GPS watch manufacturers. Every gives at the very least a couple of totally different fashions with various function units.

Under I break down the variations between every model’s flagship fashions. Which one is best for you will rely upon why you need a watch within the first place. And take into account that all of those choices are stable selections.

Garmin GPS Watches

Beneficial Fashions: Fenix 7 Professional Collection, Forerunner 965, Epix Professional, Intuition 2

Although I haven’t had any sturdiness points with my Forerunner, it will be good to have the Sapphire glass choice for scrambling when the probability of smacking it on a rock is far increased 🙂

Fenix 7 Professional Collection

  • MSRP: $800-$1000
  • Battery Life: As much as 89 hours, or 120 hours with photo voltaic, of GPS monitoring
  • Professionals: Battery life, top-notch mapping options, totally different upgrades out there.
  • Cons: Dear, cumbersome.

To be trustworthy, if I had an additional grand mendacity round I’d completely get the most costly Fenix watch. The mapping is simple to make use of with as much as 30 programmable routes of storage, and you’ll drop as much as 1,000 waypoints. That is seemingly overkill for all however essentially the most data-driven hiker, however there may be nothing else that compares. The brand new “professional” improve to the Fenix 7 collection additionally consists of an LED gentle and brand-new endurance/hill power scores to evaluate your health progress.

Clearly, there are plenty of totally different choices within the collection. Merely, there are three out there upgrades in any mixture:

  1. Dimension: The Fenix is offered in three sizes, the 7s, 7, and 7X — small, normal, and huge, respectively. The 7s and seven  have the identical battery life. The 7X comes with boosted battery life and a corresponding value bump.
  2. Glass: Subsequent, there’s the Sapphire improve. That is Garmin’s strongest glass, which gives enhanced sturdiness for about $100 further.
  3. Photo voltaic: Any of Garmin’s Fenix watches can be found with a photo voltaic improve. Photo voltaic charging isn’t supposed to be the first energy supply, nevertheless, it’ll assist to high off your watch throughout lengthy days of mountain climbing.

With all out there upgrades, the Fenix 7X Professional Sapphire Photo voltaic is available in at $1,000 and has as much as 120 hours of GPS monitoring.

Garmin Forerunner 965

  • MSRP: $600
  • Battery Life: As much as 30 hours of GPS monitoring.
  • Professionals: Mapping, superior coaching analytics, up to date LED show.
  • Cons: Battery life.

I’ve been utilizing the Forerunner 955 for over a yr now, so I’m very aware of this watch. The principle distinction between mine and the 965 mannequin is an upgraded AMOLED touchscreen show that’s each brighter and extra aesthetically pleasing. You’re additionally in a position to program as many routes and waypoints because the Fenix collection.

Nevertheless, the primary draw back is the battery life, palms down. This mannequin solely survives about 30 hours of GPS monitoring. The 955 does are available in a photo voltaic model, which bumps it as much as 40 hours or 80 hours in a power-saving mode.

The Forerunner 955 additionally has security options. I lately biffed it on a highway run, and my watch needed to name 911 for me.

Garmin Intuition 2

  • MSRP: $300-$450
  • Battery Life: As much as 22-145 hours GPS monitoring relying on mannequin.
  • Professionals: Battery life, value level, altimeter.
  • Cons: No preloaded maps or touchscreen.

Just like the Fenix collection, the Intuition is available in a variety of sizes and the choice for photo voltaic charging. It’s additionally out there at a way more reasonably priced value level. At simply $300 for the bottom mannequin, it’s one of many cheaper choices available on the market with an altimeter and restricted mapping choices.

It doesn’t embody preloaded maps just like the Fenix or Forerunner, however you possibly can nonetheless program routes and add waypoints. Should you improve to the 2X Photo voltaic, you rise up to 60 hours of GPS battery life for half the worth of the Fenix 7X Photo voltaic. That is additionally one of the vital sturdy watches out there, with a polymer casing and scratch-resistant glass. It’s an incredible choice should you love sports activities like canyoneering, climbing, or scrambling and are persistently tough on gear.

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Coros GPS Watches

Beneficial Fashions: Vertix 2, Apex 2 Professional, Tempo 2

Nope, this Coros isn’t damaged. The Apex’s customizable show retains all that fascinating information inside straightforward look, which is useful on a pre-dawn jaunt throughout Loss of life Valley’s Badwater Basin. Picture: Owen Eigenbrot

Coros Vertix 2

  • MSRP: $700
  • Battery Life: As much as 140 hours of full GPS monitoring.
  • Professionals: Battery life, GPS accuracy, sapphire glass, music, and digital camera connection out there.
  • Cons: Cumbersome, much less preloaded onto watch.

The Vertix 2 is Coros’ backcountry adventure-focused watch. The battery life is the massive story right here, and blows Garmin out of the water with as much as 140 hours of full GPS monitoring. This watch has essentially the most storage out there (32GB) for mapping within the Coros lineup as properly and with its up to date GPS system it’ll even have essentially the most correct monitoring. Constructed with a rugged design that guarantees to outlive the harshest circumstances, the Vertix is as suited to out of doors adventures as every other watch out there.

If there’s any cause to gripe about this über succesful watch, then it’s seemingly the majority issue. In equity, it’s not enormous, however the rugged styling is certainly a ‘look’.

Coros Apex 2 Professional

  • MSRP: $450
  • Battery Life: As much as 150 hours of GPS monitoring
  • Professionals: Battery life, sapphire glass, altimeter & maps, offline music, touchscreen and buttons.
  • Cons: Not as many programmable routes/waypoints out there as Garmin.

The Apex 2 Professional is similar to both the Garmin Forerunner 955 or the Fenix 7 collection. At $450, it’s a extra reasonably priced value level and has a a lot better battery lifetime of as much as 75 hours of full GPS monitoring (double that with the power-saving UltraMax mode). Whereas the Vertix 2 is a extra succesful and rugged choice, the Apex gives all of the options {that a} backpacker would possibly take pleasure in in a streamlined package deal and at an reasonably priced value level. Should you’re searching for a totally succesful GPS watch to your subsequent thru-hike, then preserve the Apex in thoughts. Even with GPS monitoring, the battery will final for properly over every week for many customers.

There aren’t many downsides to this watch, and at safely underneath $500, the Apex 2 Professional gives nice worth for a watch with maps and superior battery life.

The Coros Apex matches like a standard watch and is pleasingly not cumbersome regardless of its epic battery life. It’s an incredible alternative for multi-day adventures when battery effectivity is essential. Picture: Owen Eigenbrot

Coros Tempo 2

  • MSRP: $200
  • Battery Life: As much as 60 hours of GPS monitoring.
  • Professionals: Battery life, value level, light-weight, easy to make use of.
  • Cons: No altimeter or maps.

The Coros Tempo 2 is a superb entry-level look ahead to monitoring primary well being information in addition to GPS monitoring actions. At solely $200, it’s one of many extra budget-friendly choices included on this record. Moreover, the battery life is unimaginable for a watch at this value with as much as 30 hours of GPS monitoring or 60 hours in energy saving mode. This can be a fantastic choice for a easy watch that can observe actions and well being statistics with out breaking the financial institution.

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Suunto GPS Watches

Beneficial Fashions: Vertical Titanium Photo voltaic, 9 Peak Titanium, Core

My good friend Sean has had the Suunto Core since 2010 and loves it for its primary navigation options.

Suunto Vertical Titanium Photo voltaic

  • MSRP: $840
  • Battery Life: As much as 85 hours of GPS monitoring.
  • Professionals: Battery life, maps, full health monitoring.
  • Cons: Value, person interface.

Based mostly on value alone, customers ought to anticipate to get rather a lot out of the Suunto Vertical Titanium Photo voltaic watch. That is the model’s flagship mannequin, and so incorporates all of the bells and whistles that one may think. The mapping function is beneficial, as all the time, nevertheless it’s the wonderful battery life, aided by photo voltaic charging, that actually units this watch other than Suunto’s different fashions.

The principle draw back of the Vertical, an in any other case stable GPS watch, is the person interface. The watch face isn’t as flashy or customizable because the competitors, and the related app struggles to match the extremely rated Coros and Garmin equivalents. Nonetheless, this watch is undoubtedly certified to hitch you at some stage in your subsequent backcountry journey.

And should you just like the look of this watch, however wish to avoid wasting money, the ‘common’ Suunto Vertical is offered for $630 and nonetheless boasts a formidable battery lifetime of as much as 60 hours of GPS monitoring.

Suunto 9 Peak Professional Titanium

  • MSRP: $470
  • Battery Life: As much as 40 hours of GPS monitoring.
  • Professionals: Maps, altimeter, up to date show and sturdiness.
  • Cons: GPS information not as dependable as Garmin/Coros.

The Suunto 9 Peak Professional is similar to the Apex Professional or Fenix/Forerunner watches. It has extra programmable mapping routes out there than the Coros watches and you too can drop waypoints. The battery life is common, with as much as 40 hours of GPS monitoring nevertheless it additionally has a power-saving mode. It consists of well being information, like estimated restoration time, VO2 max, and so forth. Coming in at a aggressive value level, the primary draw back is the much less subtle Suunto GPS system. Nevertheless, in observe, this will probably be exhausting to note.

READ NEXT — Suunto 7 GPS Smartwatch Evaluate

Suunto Core

  • MSRP: $200
  • Battery Life: Replaceable battery, lasts about 1 yr.
  • Professionals: Navigation and climate options, battery life, value level.
  • Cons: No GPS monitoring or well being information.

The Suunto Core is the one watch included on this record that doesn’t embody GPS monitoring or total well being information. Nevertheless, it’s nonetheless extremely helpful and value mentioning as a primary ABC (altimeter, barometer, compass) watch. Even with out the options of GPS watches, these instruments are useful for navigating via the backcountry. The included battery is replaceable and is about as worry-free as they arrive. It ought to final a couple of yr whereas all different watches on this record require common recharging. At $199 it’s a superb navigation device, particularly for off-trail adventures.

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GPS Watches for Through-Mountain climbing: Well worth the effort

Should you’re wanting so as to add a GPS watch to your thru-hiking package, the variety of out there choices may be daunting. Nevertheless, the record thins out considerably when you slim down which options you discover most essential.

Although watches are a particularly expensive funding, they’re a worthy addition for a lot of causes. Not solely do they assist with bodily information corresponding to restoration and sleep metrics, however they will additionally function a great tool for navigation and route discovering. Positive, nobody wanted a GPS watch to thru-hike the AT in 1980, however the meteoric rise of navigation apps has proven us that non-essential conveniences are right here to remain as we more and more search for methods to reinforce our wilderness experiences with know-how.

To reiterate, this record simply scratches the floor of the deep pool of accessible watches. Even when your favourite model or mannequin isn’t included right here, evaluating options side-by-side with a few of these hottest watches will assist tremendously in understanding what these technological powerhouses are able to. Options, model — the selection is yours.

Featured Picture: Graphic design by Chris Helm.



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