CAMPING & HIKING

Best GPS Watch For Hiking: Top-Rated Navigation Tools for Outdoor Junkies

Daniel Carraway
Written by Daniel Carraway

When hiking, we think we can all agree that navigation is one of the most important aspects to take into account especially in terms of overall safety and personal enjoyment. You don’t really want to spoil your outdoor adventures by getting lost, do you? Fortunately, there is no shortage of navigation devices that can help make sure you’re on the right track.

It is always best to be prepared when you’re hiking in unfamiliar territory especially if conditions deteriorate. A GPS watch for hiking can help you determine where you are and where you’ve been. It can also prevent you from running into bad weather, help you with visibility and help you find trails in bad weather conditions.

Image showing a man holding the Suunto Traverse GPS watch

Many experienced hikers take “short cuts” after descending a climb on what seems like a good trail only to find out that the trail has petered out or end up in the middle of nowhere. A GPS watch can help you navigate through unexpected conditions and help you find your way home.

However, buying a GPS watch for hikers is easier said than done. There are so many brands and models out there that it can become overwhelming fast. To help you out, we have provided a short guide on how to shop for GPS watches based on their features. Plus, we have thrown in a few recommendations to get you started.

Product NameBattery Life (Average w/GPS)DimensionsPrice
Garmin Foretrex 40117 hours0.9 x 1.7 x 2.9 inCheck price on Amazon
TomTom Adventurer5 hours10.6 x 1.5 x 0.6 inCheck price on Amazon
Suunto Spartan Sport12 hours2 x 0.7 x 2 inCheck price on Amazon
Garmin Fenix15 hours1.9 x 1.9 x 0.7 inCheck price on Amazon
Polar A3605 days5 x 4 x 3 inCheck price on Amazon
TomTom Spark 311 hours9.6 x 1.5 x 0.5 inCheck price on Amazon
Garmin Epix5 hours2 x 0.7 x 2.1 inCheck price on Amazon
Suunto Traverse5-7 days2 x 0.7 x 2 inCheck price on Amazon

Things to Consider Before Buying

Finding the best GPS watch for hiking sounds easy, you just need to find a product that tracks movements, right? In most cases, finding a GPS tracker that monitors distance traveled while showing you where you are is enough for most hikers. However, there are also other features you need to consider that will help you make a better choice. Here are some features you need to think about.

Battery Life

A long battery life is essential for a GPS watch used by hikers and backpackers. These types of outdoor activities usually last for at least a couple of days. This means that you won’t have access to a charging station like a wall socket. Power banks and other similar devices are heavy and can take up precious space. If you don’t plan on bringing these accessories, it’s best to stick to a GPS watch with battery life that is long enough to last the trip.

Image showing the Samsung Gear Fit 2 watch on a man's hand

In most cases, manufacturers advertise their product’s battery life using the average standby time. Shoppers need to be careful because activities like GPS tracking and communicating with satellites can drain batteries faster. This means that you need to take a look at the battery life when the device is on GPS mode.

Water Resistance

Hiking, backpacking and other outdoor activities can take you to many different places including lakes, streams and other water forms. The weather can be sunny one minute and pouring buckets the next. For these instances, a GPS watch with water resistance can offer more protection.

Apple Watch Series 2 in the water

But waterproof features are not just for your device’s protection. A water resistant watch is also more versatile as you can use it while swimming. If you are a triathlete for example, a water resistant GPS watch can be advantageous as it can track distance traveled in land and water.

Altimeter

An altimeter is an instrument that measures the change in elevation. This feature is important for mountaineers because it works with the GPS tracker in the watch. Mountaineers who have this feature on their tracker can make ascends or descends slowly to avoid getting sick.

Image showing an Altimeter GPS Watch For Hiking

This feature is also useful to runners, cyclists and hikers as it will measure how high you climb during your adventures. In most cases, GPS tracking watches with altimeters cost more. Evaluate whether you need this feature before buying a GPS watch.

Price

GPS trackers do not only come with different features, they also have a wide range of prices. Generally speaking, watches with fewer features will cost less while fully loaded GPS watches are more expensive. It is important to know what you need before you buy a tracker. If you want a companion that you can wear while hiking, there are devices that are between $50 and $100 that can provide basic features.

Image showing a GPS watch on a laptop

For hikers that need tracking and mapping, expect to pay a higher price compared to basic models. If you dabble in other activities like running and swimming and you want a top-tier device that can help you track your progress, investing in a top of the line GPS watch will be worth it.

Tracking and Navigation

The main purpose of buying a GPS tracking watch for hiking is to monitor position while keeping track of time. This will allow you to know how far you’ve gone during a specific time period. However, there are devices that provide more accurate data that can be useful for some hikers and backpackers.

There are GPS watches that have more sensitive sensors so GPS position for latitude and longitude is more accurate. Altitude data can also be more precise which can be very useful in steep terrain. These features can make your device more expensive so consider your budget and your needs before buying a GPS watch.

Garmin-Forerunner-230 on the left hand of a man

Narrowing the field down can help make your choice easier. Devices that navigate and track are generally more expensive than those that just track but their utility can be significant.  Smart watch functionality, heart rate monitors and activity monitoring can make a device more complicated but also makes it more versatile.

Now that you have an idea of what features to look for, let’s check out some of the best GPS watches for hiking in the market today.

Best Products in Today’s Market

Reading reviews of products can help give you an idea how the device functions in real life. The experiences of past users can also bridge the distance between expectations and reality. In the case of GPS watches, figuring out what you need and doing a little bit of research can help you choose the best device that meets your requirements without breaking the bank.

Here are reviews of some of the best products today.

Garmin Foretrex 401 Hiking GPS Garmin Foretrex 401 Hiking GPS

Price: Approx. $149

Battery life: 17 hours

Specific features: High-sensitivity GPS receiver, supports dual position readout, trip computer, hunting/fishing information

Best use: Hiking and hunting

Description: The Garmin Foretrex 401 Hiking GPS is a slim wrist-mounted navigator built to withstand the rugged outdoors. This product features a high-sensitivity waterproof GPS receiver, an electronic compass and barometric altimeter so your device is not just for hikers, it can also be used by hunters and mountaineers.

You don’t have to worry about getting lost because the Foretrex can display your track on a dotted trail on the screen. Just turn on the track back feature and you can retrace your steps and wind up where you started.

The Foretrex lets you create and store routes of your favorite trails and provide information like trip computer, sunrise/sunset times and fishing and hunting information. Runners will also like the device’s wireless capabilities since it allows them to connect a heart rate monitor or cadence sensor so you can use it as you exercise.

The device can be connected to a computer so that you can store or analyze your activities. You can also connect your device using Garmin Connect to view activities using Google Earth or explore routes uploaded by over 12 million users and share your experience using Facebook and Twitter.

PROS:

  • Good GPS features
  • Affordable

CONS:

  • Device looks big and bulky on the wrist

Related: There is no need to worry about debris or residue with the EZGuardZ Screen Protector. It is clear, thin and easy to apply so you don’t need to worry about muck and dirt on your Garmin watch when you’re outdoors.

Check the price on Amazon

TomTom Adventurer GPS Watch TomTom Adventurer GPS Watch

Price: Approx. $290

Battery life: 5 hours

Specific features: GPS sports watch and music player, multi-sports mode, heart rate monitor

Best use: Training for running or cycling

Description: Boost your adventures and performance with the TomTom Adventurer GPS Watch. It has a GPS compass & altimeter with multiple sports mode and heart rate monitor all in one device.

This track can track your performance so you can run, cycle, trail run, hike, bike, ski and snowboard all while listening to music through the integrated music player. Users can get real time information on the go like altitude, 3D distance, pace, speed, total ascent and descent, and calories burned.

You can also upload a trail on your watch before your adventure. Use it to follow unfamiliar territory and find your way back using the GPS based trail exploration feature.

But you don’t need to hike in silence because the watch can store up to 500 songs. Use the Bluetooth feature to blast songs while tending to the fire or use headphones and leave your phone behind.

The Adventurer is pricier than basic GPS watches but it has the features to make up for it. Aside from being a good hiking tracker, you can also use it for your fitness goals. You can use it to integrate with your smartphone health app for all-day activity tracking to monitor movements and other useful data like calories burned.

PROS:

  • Versatile
  • 500-song music player
  • Bluetooth connectivity for speakers and headphones

CONS:

  • Expensive
  • Short battery life

Related: You don’t have to worry about your device’s short battery life with Anker PowerCore. It is a 10000 mAh portable charger that is ultra-compact with high-speed charging technology so you’re watch does not run out of juice on the trail.

Check the price on Amazon

Suunto Spartan Sport Wrist Watch Suunto Spartan Sport Wrist Watch

Price: Approx. $499

Battery life: 12 hours

Specific features: Outdoor-grade color touch screen, 100 m water resistance, sport-specific training modes, GPS route navigation

Best use: Training for running or cycling

Description: The Suunto Spartan Sport Wrist Watch is ready for any kind of outdoor activities. The product features Route navigation with POI’s, breadcrumb view and digital compass to guide you through the trail.

It is a lightweight GPS watch with 12 hours of battery life in training mode with GPS. To conserve battery, it has features that allow you to adjust GPS tracking frequency.

Spartan uses state-of-the-art color touch screen so that you can easily access and read the display on the watch face when you’re outdoors. It also features 100 m water resistance so you can use it swimming and don’t have to worry if it gets wet. You can also use it to monitor SWOLF.

This product is not just a GPS tracking device. It is also a device that tracks pace, speed, distance, altitude, heart rate and calories, and provides support for running and cycling power and cadence when used together with an external power or bike sensors. The Spartan is a good outdoor watch but it has more features needed by runners and cyclists compared to hikers.

PROS:

  • Versatile
  • 100m water resistance
  • Good GPS tracking

CONS:

  • Very Expensive
  • More suited for fitness

Related: Cycling and running can hurt your eyes. Protect them using the KastKing Gallatin Polarized Sport Sunglasses. It features 99% polarization to protect against UV and HEV when you’re fishing, running, cycling, hiking, driving or doing other sport activities.

Check the price on Amazon

Garmin Fenix Hiking GPS Watch Garmin Fenix Hiking GPS Watch

Price: Approx. $171

Battery life: 15 hours

Specific features: High-sensitivity GPS navigator, easy to use altimeter, barometer, worldwide basemap

Best use: Hiking and backpacking

Description: The Garmin Fenix Hiking GPS Watch is designed specifically for outdoor enthusiasts. The device features a highly sensitive GPS navigator, 3-axis compass with automatic sensor calibration and easy to use altimeter and barometer. You can use this product to mark up to 1,000 waypoints and store up to 10,000 track points and navigate to them.

Hikers will love that the device lets you create and follow routes store up to 10,000 track points and easily navigate through them. Fenix tracks where you’ve been, guides you trough the wilderness and help you back out again.

It records and tracks your activities using bread crumb trail through GPS. You can even use create routes that can be downloaded to the device from BaseCamp, a free trip-planning software; from your computer and follow the navigation arrows. To return to your point of origin, turn on the TracBack feature to show you the way.

Other features include temperature sensor, 50 m water resistance, settings for alarms, chimes and vibration alerts. The product can also be used timer, stopwatch and world clock. Share tracks, waypoints, routes and paperless geocaches wirelessly with other GPS compatible devices and smartphones through wireless unit-to-unit communication.

PROS:

  • Navigator, altimeter and barometer
  • Waypoint and trackpoint storage

CONS:

  • Lots of features which means it can be a bit complicated to program

Related: Protect you screen from debris, mud and dirt with Fenix Screen Protector from Membrane. Made from scratch-resistant PET film, it can resist minor scratches to leave your screen looking perfect.

Check the price on Amazon

Polar A360 Fitness Tracker Polar A360 Fitness Tracker

Price: $111 – $200

Battery life: 5 days

Specific features: Heart rate monitor, workout tracker, calorie counter, waterproof

Best use: Fitness

Description: The Polar A360 Fitness Tracker is an attractive, slim tracker with a modern design. It is a fitness tracker with RGB touch screen that delivers information like step counting, smart notifications, and wrist-based heart rate monitoring.

The heart rate monitor is wrist-based and accurate so you can reach your fitness goals. The silicone strap makes the device comfortable to wear especially when you’re sweaty or when your wrist gets wet.

The A360 is basically a fitness tracker and not a GPS tracker. It is best used by people looking to achieve their fitness goals since it does not have GPS support. If you’re a hiker that does not need navigation or GPS support, you can still use this fitness tracker to monitor steps, estimated distance walked heart rate and sleep.

So long as you are familiar with the terrain, the estimated distance should allow you to return to your place of origin safely. You can also download the app and sync it with your tracker so you can monitor progress on your smartphone.

The wristband of this device is black, but you can buy other colors so that the fitness tracker suits your mood or goes well with your outfit. The product has very good battery life and is easy to charge through USB. Polar advertises standby time to be 10-14 days but usage with notification and 24/7 tracking pegs the device with approximately 5 days of battery.

PROS:

  • Very good battery standby time
  • Affordable

CONS:

  • Tricky to use app

Related: When black gets boring, the Polar A360 Wristband lets you accessorize your tracker with different colored wrist straps. Choose your favorite colors to match your mood or outfit.

Check the price on Amazon

TomTom Spark 3 GPS Watch TomTom Spark 3 GPS Watch's GPS

Price: Approx. $100

Battery life: 11 hours

Specific features: GPS, activity tracker, route exploration, multi-sport mode

Best use: running and cycling

Description: The TomTom Spark 3 GPS Watch tracking provides pace, speed, distance and location data during your outdoor workouts. Download TomTom’s sports app to access all your activities on the map.

Discover new routes and push your boundaries and never run the same route twice by using the GPS-based route exploration. Don’t worry about getting lost because you can upload your trail to the Spark 3 and be confident that you can find your way back.

The device is waterproof up to 40 meters so you can explore, workout or swim. It is also sweat-proof so now you don’t have an excuse to do intense workouts. The Spark 3 can also monitor your daily activities. You can use it to count steps, calories burned and track sleep. Use it to monitor workouts and activities to find out how you can get fitter more quickly by reviewing your performance on the TomTom sports app.

The Spark 3 is a decent GPS fitness watch that can give you real-time metrics such as pace, distance, and speed at a glance to your wrist. Explore new trails and routes without worrying about getting lost.

PROS:

  • Affordable
  • Versatile
  • Great companion app

CONS:

  • Limited GPS capabilities for hikers

Related: Finding your way home safely is a relief for hikers but taking care of your feet is also important. The Salomon Men’s X Ultra Prime Hiking-Shoes features breathable mesh and advanced chassis technology stability for mountain propulsion terrain.

Check the price on Amazon

Garmin epix GPS Watch Garmin epix GPS Watch

Price: Approx. $180

Battery life: 5 hours

Specific features: Expanded memory, Connect IQ app, multi-activity tracker

Best use: Hiking, running, mountaineering

Description: Get detailed mapping with the Garmin epix GPS Watch. The touchscreen display gives you fingertip pan/swipe access to vivid, detailed maps, including the built-in worldwide shaded relief basemaps.

It features 8 GB internal memory for intensive mapping support so you have plenty of room to add maps (TOPO U.S. 24K) and access 1 year BirdsEye Satellite Imagery. It also features an altimeter, barometer and 3-axis compass.

The altimeter provides real-time information on elevation data so you can accurately monitor ascent and descent while the barometer monitors changes in the weather by showing short-term trends on air pressure. 3-axis electronic compass keeps your bearing whether you’re moving or not so you know where you are at a given time.

The epix is also a full-featured training watch that you can use for workouts, running, swimming and other fitness activities. It also features Bluetooth so you don’t have to miss a text, email or notification. Use the Garmin Connect and Connect IQ to network with a whole community of outdoor lovers and outdoor app developers. Friends and family can use LiveTrack so they can track your location (within a coverage area).

PROS:

  • Good GPS features
  • Affordable
  • Great for workouts as well

CONS:

  • Bulky and a bit heavy

Related: Sync data or charge more easily with an extra long cable. The Garmin Epix Charger by Tusita is compatible with epix and has a cable length of 3.3 feet.

Check the price on Amazon

Suunto Traverse Watch Suunto Traverse Watch

Price: Approx. $345

Battery life: 5 – 7 days

Specific features: GPS and GLONASS Satellite navigation systems, altitude statistics, barometric trends, sunrise/sunset, incoming calls, text, push notifications

Best use: Hiking and backpacking

Description: Don’t forget to take the Suunto Traverse Watch for your treks in the wild. Plan your route on the Movescount site and access topographic maps and stay on course with the GPS navigation.

Get a real-time bread crumb view of your recorded route. You can also discover new routes with heat maps on Suunto Movescount and Suunto Movescount app.

Track Tracking for speed, distance and altitude and use the barometer for weather trends and storm alarms. Use the sunrise and sunset time features to monitor the amount of day light time.

The Traverse can help you focus on the trail with handy features like marking points of interest with the click of a button. Upload routes on your watch and you’re ready to explore new terrains with the help of GPS and GLONASS Satellite navigation systems.

The Traverse is designed for the outdoors but sports a modern look with versatile functions so you can wear it every day. Aside from hiking you can use it to track daily activity with steps and calories while staying up to date with incoming calls, texts and push notifications from your smartphone to your watch.

PROS:

  • Versatile
  • Lots of features for hiking
  • Attractive modern design

CONS:

  • Very expensive

Related: While the Traverse is durable, wear and tear can sometimes damage part of your watch like the strap. With the Suunto Traverse Replacement Silicone Strap, your watch will look as good as new.

Check the price on Amazon

Wrap Up

Hikers and outdoor lovers need a GPS watch in their life. Whether you are hiking, trail running, snowboarding, skiing or mountaineering; the latest GPS watch that can measure altitude, speed and distance while offering GPS capabilities can be very useful. You can use these features not only to help you track route and return home safely but also to monitor progress.

A man looking at his GPS Watch For Hiking

The best GPS watch is multi-functional so it can do more than point you in the right direction. Some of these devices are loaded with different features so finding the right device can be daunting. However, picking the right product can make your adventures safer and more memorable.

What do you think of our featured products? Do you plan on buying any of them? How is your experience with GPS watches so far? Tell us by leaving your comments below.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Daniel Carraway
Daniel Carraway

Daniel Carraway joined our team last year. He is a gear freak when it comes to hiking, climbing and camping. He went to REI Outdoor School to meet new people and learn best practices. Don’t even try to argue with him about the latest backpack or ice axe, he tried most of them. Daniel’s dream is to climb Mount Everest.

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