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The best hiking watches of 2018

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By Kelly Hodgkins


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When shopping for a hiking watch, there are a number of qualities to look for, whether you want it to track your exercise metrics or act as a navigational co-pilot during your trek. First, it should have a barometer and altimeter, as well as a basic compass to assist with navigation. Since it’ll likely take a beating, you’ll also want an option that’s durable and capable of withstanding various inclement weather scenarios.

Ideally, a good hiking watch also comes equipped with an internal GPS system to help you identify your coordinates. To help make your decision on what to buy easier, we’ve narrowed the sea of available options to five of the absolute best hiking watches currently on the market.

Garmin Fenix 5 Plus Series: Best overall

Fenix 5 Plus
Kelly Hodgkins/Digital Trends

Why you should buy this: If you need maps and navigation in the back country, then the Fenix 5 Plus is your best choice.

Who it’s for: Serious adventurers and hikers who don’t mind paying extra for all the bells and whistles.

How much it will cost: $700-$850

Why we picked the Fenix 5 Plus Series:

Garmin’s Fenix 5 Plus series of GPS watches are a map lover’s dream come true. In our review, the Fenix 5 Plus delivered easy-to-use navigation that was incredibly accurate and comprehensive. Each watch has detailed color topographic maps that load fast and features a simple and intuitive interface. Advanced features like Climb Pro break down the ascents on your route, while Sight ‘N Go allows you to use the watch like a sighting compass.

The watch also generates routes for you and allows you to customize your own. Each map gives you the option to zoom in and out and offers a trackback feature in case you lose your way. If you are traveling at higher elevations, the 5X Plus model has a pulse oximeter to measure blood oxygen levels as you acclimate. Many hiking watches feature heart rate monitors, pacing, distance tracking, and other metrics, but few conquer navigation as well as Garmin’s Fenix 5 Plus Series.

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Garmin B&H Photo

Garmin Instinct: Best budget GPS watch

best hiking watches garmin instinct press photo

Why you should buy this: The Garmin Instinct has everything you need for hiking without costing a fortune.

Who it’s for: People who want a watch to track their hikes, but don’t want to spend a lot of money.

How much it will cost: $300

Why we picked the Garmin Instinct:

From the inside out, the Garmin Instinct is built for the backcountry. The watch is rated to military standard 810G for thermal-, shock- and water-resistance (rated to 100 meters). It’s virtually indestructible. It lacks the color topographic maps of its more expensive cousin — the Fenix 5 Plus series — but it still offers basic breadcrumb navigation and custom routing.

A built-in 3-axis compass, barometric altimeter, and multiple global navigation satellite systems (GPS, GLONASS, and Galileo) help ensure you won’t get lost when the terrain gets rough. If you have an inReach Mini, the Instinct can be used to read incoming messages, send messages, and even initiate an SOS during an emergency.

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Garmin REI

Suunto 9 Baro Black: Best for long-distance hiking

Suunto 9 Smartwatch
Kelly Hodgkins/Digital Trends

Why you should buy this: Outstanding battery life means the Suunto 9 can make it from the trail to town without needing to recharge.

Who it’s for: Long-distance hikers or ultra-runners who want the longest possible battery life in a GPS watch.

How much it will cost: $600

Why we picked the Suunto 9:

On the outside, the Suunto 9 looks like any other GPS watch on the market, but it’s what is underneath the hood that makes the watch so special. Suunto managed to eke out a jaw-dropping 120 hours of continuous exercise tracking thanks to its new FusedTrack technology. Suunto is able to extend battery life significantly by dialing down GPS tracking so it is recording one point every 2 minutes. In this low-power mode, the FusedTrack algorithm kicks in and uses motion sensor data to fill in the gaps in the GPS track. When all is said and done, you get an accurate recording of your hike and outstanding battery life.

The Suunto 9 offers more than just long battery life — it also is a capable outdoors watch. The sapphire screen and stainless steel bezel hold up well in rough terrain. A compass, altimeter, and GPS combine to keep you on the right track. You can load custom routes onto the watch before you hit the woods or create a breadcrumb trail as you hike. Integrated storm alerts, weather data, and sunset/sunrise time help you keep an eye on the weather.

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Suunto REI

Fitbit Versa: Best city-to-mountain watch

fitbit versa full review 17
Brenda Stolyar/Digital Trends

Why you should buy this: The Fitbit Versa is our top pick for a fitness tracker offering everything you need to track your health and your fitness.

Who it’s for: People who want a watch that’ll handle the fast pace of the business world and the rigors of the backcountry.

How much it will cost: $200

Why we picked the Fitbit Versa:

The Fitbit Versa may not be as rugged as your typical outdoors watch, but not everyone wants that “outdoorsy” look all the time. The Fitbit Versa fits the bill as a durable and water-resistant smartwatch that’ll brave the elements without looking like a tank landed on your wrist.

The Versa may not have all the bells and whistles of the Garmin Fenix series, but that’s okay. It’s not meant to be your rugged outdoor companion. It has a sleek design that is equally at home on the trail or in town. It is this flexibility that earned the Versa a spot on our list.

The Versa is a very capable smartwatch and an even better fitness tracker. It counts steps, tracks sleep, and measures your heart rate 24/7. It lacks a dedicated GPS chip, but you can pull down your coordinates using connected GPS. There is no navigation on the device either, but you can use the running or hiking exercise mode to track your activity.

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Fitbit Amazon

Timex T49612 Expedition Trail Series: Best non-GPS

Timex Men's T49612 Expedition

Why you should buy this: It won’t break, won’t lose power, and is always there with the time and a bearing.

Who it’s for: People who prefer a regular watch with a simple compass over GPS.

How much it will cost: $60

Why we picked the Timex Expedition Shock XL:

Although not a smartwatch, Timex’s Expedition Shock XL nevertheless deserves a mention on any list of best hiking watches. First, it’s virtually indestructible — built with survivalist and military personnel in mind — with a band of heavy-duty resin and thick hinges. It has an Indiglo night-light, digital compass, and multiple timers and alarms, including hydration reminders.

Fully shock resistant, it also has a reverse LCD screen and a chronograph stopwatch function that measures time to 1/20th of a second. Despite its digital readout, the Timex watch is constructed with quartz movement and is fully waterproof, capable of functioning at a whopping depth of 200 meters.

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Amazon


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