Hiking watches are complicated pieces of equipment, and choosing the perfect one to use in the backcountry can be challenging.
When looking for the best hiking watches for men, you need to find the model that has the features that you need, making it easy enough to use, and without any of the bells and whistles you don’t need.
Even though a smartwatch is a tiny and somewhat delicate computer, it needs to be tough enough to stand up to a punishing wilderness environment, all while looking at least somewhat stylish.
Features Comparison Table
Ease of Use
The Perfect Hiking Watch: Must-Have Features and Buying Tips
To make sure that you buy the best hiking watch for your needs, consider these aspects to make sure you get the right model for you.
The watch should be easy to use
A standard wristwatch is fairly simple, so it might seem unnecessary to point this out, but outdoor watches usually do more than just tell time.
Unlike the calculator watches of the 90s, the best hiking watches that are designed for outdoor recreation have only a few buttons for navigating their many functions.
You don’t want to spend ten minutes setting your alarm clock, so carefully consider how many button pushes are required to use the features you’ll need.
Another factor in ease of use is how easy it is to read the watch face.
A larger face is easier to read, but can also quickly start to look too futuristic, so don’t go overboard with it.
Illumination of the face is also an important consideration for nighttime use, and is affected by both brightness levels and colors.
It’s got to have the right features
The "right" features will differ for everyone depending on the watch’s intended use.
All outdoor watches will perform some basic functions: display the time and date, allow you to set a timer or alarm, and act as a stopwatch.
What sets most outdoor watches apart from standard ones is their navigational capabilities.
GPS is the big one, as it allows you to set up a route to follow (much like a maps app on your smartphone) or track one you’ve taken.
If you’re using this feature, you’ll probably want a hiking watch with GPS, which uses cell tower triangulation to improve accuracy when satellite coverage is poor.
Many of the best hiking watches with GPS pair with downloadable maps to let you see your route in relation to the environment, just like you would on a phone.
Lastly, many smartwatches provide information about the weather, moon phases, sunrise times, and other environmental tidbits.
These features are also great for hunters who can use that information to better scout their prey.
The watch battery should last a really long time
Getting a watch battery replaced is always a pain, but it’s only a minor inconvenience if you just use your watch to tell the time.
But since you might be relying on your outdoor watch for navigation, you’ll want to make sure it never quits at the wrong moment.While a standard watch battery might last for a year or more, smartwatch batteries measure their life in days. A good one will last around 48 hours before needing a charge, and some last even longer.
If you’re going to be in the backcountry for more than a couple days, you’ll need to carry an external battery pack or a solar charging kit.
It needs to be tough as nails!
Before there were ever smartwatches, there were wristwatches designed for the outdoors - ones with hardened glass faces and pressure protections that allowed scuba divers to descend several dozen feet.
Features like these are doubly important when there are sensitive electronics behind the watch face.
The most important durability feature on an outdoor watch is an indestructible watch face.
Additionally, a raised, hardened bevel will protect the face if you happen to swing your wrist straight into a rock wall.
Don’t forget to check the durability of the band, too; if a clasp breaks during a dive or while climbing a rock face, it might be very difficult to retrieve.
The Best Hiking Watches Reviewed
The Suunto Ambit3 is the ultimate sports watch, with second-to-none GPS for accurate route tracking and a design that makes it comfortable to wear, even on long outings.
This is the watch you’ll want if dead-on GPS readings are a priority.
It produces some of the most accurate elevation readings, using barometric pressure with a GPS correction (FusedAlti feature) that ensures it’s never more than 300 feet off when determining your elevation.
Setting the watch up can take some time, as this video shows. Once it’s dialed in though, it’s incredibly accurate.
One of the biggest problems with the Ambit3 is that the accurate GPS is a battery hog.
You can expect to need to charge it every day, so you’ll have to carry an external battery pack for recharges if you’re in the wilderness.
It also doesn’t have the crispest display, but not poor enough to be a problem for most users.
Combining great design with tons of features, it might be the best GPS watch for hiking.
Those who don’t mind a shorter battery life will be very happy with the Ambit3.
Garmin has been a major player in the GPS market for years, so it’s no surprise that they make one of the most popular lines of outdoor watches. The Fenix 5 is the latest in that line, and for the most part, it doesn’t disappoint.
The watch comes in three sizes: 42mm, 47mm, and 51mm. Only the 51mm model can have the map function added, though all can be made with Sapphire glass for a small additional fee.
The larger face is better for runners and cyclists, who can only glance down for a second, but even the smaller sizes have excellent readability.
One of the major complaints with the Fenix 5 is that the GPS just isn’t that accurate, which is really disappointing for a company that prides itself on high-quality GPS units.
It’s not so inaccurate that you’ll get lost, but it won’t track a run very well.
The Fenix 5 also has some problems with ease of use when it comes to the alerts.
When following a route, directional alerts can only be turned off by turning off all alerts, which is particularly annoying for hikers who have a pretty clear idea of their route and only occasionally need to look down to see which way to go.
Is it the best GPS watch for hiking? Probably not, but the Garmin Fenix 5 is a good choice for users who don’t need high precision GPS, just a solid smartwatch with good readability and lots of extra features.
Overall it’s great, it just isn’t that accurate with its GPS tracking.
The Casio G-Shock is the original outdoor watch, designed to be tough, but not to do much else.
Unlike many of the other models on this list, it is not a smartwatch: its only features are time, date, alarm, and stopwatch. For those that don’t need much, it might be the best watch for hiking.
The sole purpose of the G-Shock is to be rugged enough for outdoor activity.
It has a raised bevel to prevent accidental damage to the face and is water resistant to 200 meters (though Casio says it should not be used for scuba diving).
The lack of features means it’s easy to use, with just four buttons and only a few different modes. That kind of simplicity also comes at a very reasonable price of less than $50.
One problem with the G-Shock is that it’s not very easy to read. Only the date illuminates at night, which is really frustrating since you’re probably well aware of what day it is, but aren’t sure of the time.
It also has a rubber wristband that isn’t very durable, though some of the higher-end versions of the G-Shock do come with metal link bands.
With so few features, who does this appeal to?
Mainly hikers who don’t want to worry about keeping their watch battery charged and prefer using an analog map.
Suunto has created an extraordinary hiker’s watch with the Traverse, loading it with features and putting them in a comfortable but tough package.
This watch’s Sapphire glass face makes it nearly scratchproof, and the composite case is almost unbreakable.
The display behind that glass can be a little difficult to read, though, and those with less than 20/20 eyesight might struggle in bad lighting.
Unfortunately, Suunto also failed to make the band as strong as the case, so you might want to buy an extra one if you’ll be embarking on a long trip into the backcountry.
For features, it has a barometer, flashlight, compass, thermometer, altimeter, and a highly accurate GPS system.
One thing to note is that the GPS has three different levels of accuracy, with the highest level burning through the battery very quickly.
It only lasts eight hours in this mode, so you should probably bring an external battery pack along unless you’re just doing some day hiking..
This is a great watch for backcountry hikers so long as you’re aware of its battery-hogging GPS system.
If what you care about is having detailed maps at arm’s length, the beefy Epix is what you’ll want on your wrist.
As would be expected from the premier GPS module company, this watch comes loaded with plenty of maps and has 8 GB of storage for downloading more.
Garmin’s Connect software also allows you to download all your trail stats like elevation profiles and calories burned to your computer.
By pairing it with external accessories like a heart rate monitor, this watch can be your one-stop shop for workout data.
The downside to the Epix is that many users have reported its software to be glitchy, which seems to come from it trying to do too much (there are a lot of menus to navigate through, too).
But if you’re patient and try out the features before they become mission-critical in the wilderness, you’ll probably be fine.
The Epix is probably too large and bulky to be passed off as a fashionable piece of apparel.
As long as you’re willing to deal with the usability issues, it provides an excellent features and some of the best maps available.
Best Fitness Tracker
Epson might not be a household name when it comes to GPS watches or fitness trackers.
But their ProSense line provides many of the features outdoor workout enthusiasts are looking for without all the maps and tracking software to clutter it up.
The Prosense 17 works a little differently than some of the other GPS watches on this list, as it pairs with your smartphone to display a map of your workout, while sensors in the watch keep track of things like step count and acceleration.
This makes it much less complicated than many other outdoor watches – and much easier to navigate.
This watch’s biggest drawback is that the battery only lasts half a day in GPS mode, though this shouldn’t be too problematic since it’s only in this mode during a workout.
It’s also pretty sporty looking and not nearly as minimalist as the FitBit, so you probably won’t wear it for everyday use.
If you’re looking for one of the best outdoor smart watches but don’t need all the mapping software that comes with some of the higher-end GPS watches, the Prosense 17 might be a good choice for you.
TomTom made a name for themselves as one of the premier vehicle navigation units, and they’ve taken what was great about those and put it in a watch format.
The Adventurer doesn’t have as many features as Garmin’s Fenix, but that actually makes it a little easier to use.
It has a large display that is great for reading in low light or if you don’t have the best eyesight.
The lack of features also brings the cost down a little, putting it towards the low end of the GPS watch price range.
The battery life isn’t the best, but it’s not terrible either with it lasting most of the day in hiking mode and about five hours if you’re using GPS route finding.
You’ll need an external battery to recharge it if you’re spending a couple days in the wilderness.
Some users have also complained about buggy software updates and that these problems are dealt with quickly.
This means it won’t be the most reliable GPS watch and it’s not a good idea to update the software before heading out to the wilderness.
However, the design isn’t that durable either, so it might be best to use this in town under less arduous conditions.
To even call the Foretrex a watch is a bit of a stretch! It’s actually a large, waterproof wrist-mounted GPS system.
It looks nothing like a timepiece, but rather a miniature version of Garmin’s standalone navigation models.
The fact that it’s so large makes the Foretrex one of the easiest to use navigational units.
The screen is clear and the buttons are easier to push, providing a fantastic user experience.
Unlike Garmin’s Fenix, the Foretrex has excellent GPS accuracy too.
One way that it differs greatly from GPS watches is that it runs on AAA batteries.
That is either a huge pain or a lucky break.
You can easily carry extra batteries on your hike, but a power bank for recharging your GPS is much bulkier.
However, you’ll run through batteries quickly, so it’s best to purchase a rechargeable set and then carry alkaline ones for emergencies.
The Foretrex isn’t like most other GPS units that you can attach to your wrist, but if you’re only going to use it on the trail and needs something that’s very accurate, the Foretrex can be an excellent choice.
The Pro Trek is a middle-of-the-road option, perfect for those who want a watch that does a little more than keep the time, but don’t want something with so many features they get confused.
In this sleek little watch, Casio was able to fit an altimeter, compass, and thermometer.
Additionally, the basic timekeeping features are highly accurate (as it receives updates from the U.S. Atomic Clock).
It’s also solar powered, so there’s no need to charge it. Even if you live in a perpetually cloudy environment, it keeps a charge for seven months in the absence of direct sunlight.
The biggest problem with the Pro Trek is that Casio seems to have cut costs with the thin plastic band that is prone to breakage.
It also doesn’t have the clearest display, so it’s not the best choice if you have bad vision.
Many users have noted that the watch resets itself, presumably because it is synchronized to an atomic clock and receives a new reading once a day.
Unfortunately, this sometimes malfunctions and results in a blank time reading, though it can easily be fixed by manually synchronising.
Overall, the Pro Tek is a good watch for users who would like a no-nonsense device that tells them a little bit about where they’re going, but without the battery-depleting feature of GPS.
Most Hard-Wearing & Durable
The Casio Pathfinder watch is very similar to the Pro Trek.
They’re both solar-powered watches with altimeter, compass, and thermometer functions to keep you safely on the trail.
There are a few key differences, though, the first being that the Pathfinder does not receive updates from the atomic clock.
This removes one of the glitches of the Pro Trek, and just means you’ll have to set the time yourself.
It also has a different band, which is made from stainless steel and is far more durable than the plastic version on the Pro Trek.
The Pathfinder has similar design issues as the Pro Trek, with a clunky feel and a screen that isn’t that easy to read.
But it’s a good choice for people who want something more durable and don’t mind setting the clock whenever they switch time zones.
Conclusion: What is the best outdoor watch for you?
Choosing a hiking watch can be difficult given how many different styles and models are available.
Ultimately, though, the best watch for you really depends on what your needs are.
If you’re looking for the best GPS watch for hiking, one that has excellent tracking ability, you’ll probably be happiest with the Ambit3 from Suunto.
It’s more accurate than most GPS tracking watches, and the short battery life, its biggest downside, can easily be solved by packing an external battery and charging it at night.
If you’re looking for more of a fitness tracker without all the mapping software found in GPS watches, the Epson Prosense 17 will be your best bet.
It’s quite affordable for what it does, and pairing it with your smartphone turns it into a highly effective fitness tracker that will record your workouts with ease.
Finally, if what you need most is a really durable watch that has only the most basic navigational aids (compass and altimeter), Casio’s Pathfinder is an excellent choice.
It has a tough watch face and band, is easy to use, and when paired with a good paper topo map, will help you find your way in the woods.