8 Best GPS Watches For Confident High Tech Hiking

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  • One of the biggest game changers in hiking tech are the advances in GPS watch sophistication.
  • Many tech companies have been putting a lot of money into designing watches that can function as a smartphone alternative
  • The main features you want to look for are navigation, tracking, trail breadcrumbs, and the ability to mark locations.

In this article, we highlight the best GPS Hiking Watches available along with features to look out for.

Best GPS WATCHES 2020

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Of all the hiking and camping gadgets available, no piece of outdoor technology stacks the odds of success on the trail in your favor like a GPS watch for hiking.

Constantly pulling out your GPS device for location and weather information can get old and tiresome.

This is true no matter where you are, but maybe more so on the trail than anywhere else.

With your heavy bag strapped around your waist and chest, you find yourself shuffling things around more than actually focusing on the beauty surrounding you.

Having this info right on your wrist may be just what you need to take your adventure to the next level!

 

Backpacking In The Modern Era

In 2020 more and more hikers and backpackers are expected to hit the trails.

A lot of the reason for this is the increasing amount of user-friendly outdoor technology available at affordable prices.

One of the biggest game changers in hiking tech are the advances in GPS watch sophistication.

SUUNTO Ambit3 Peak Running GPS Unit, Sapphire
The Suunto Ambit3 Peak HR Running GPS Unit features app connectivity via Bluetooth to your smartphone .

Nowadays most people in the US have a smartphone that provides supercomputer information right in their pocket.

Consequently, many tech companies have been putting a lot of money into designing watches that can function as a smartphone alternative.

They’ve been able to boil down a lot of the same smartphone functionality into GPS watches for hiking.

And having this technology can provide a lot of valuable information right on your wrist.

Whether you’re new to backpacking or your an experienced camping pro, you’ll find great value in a GPS watch for hiking.

Hiking Watches

A lot of newer backpackers spend time prepping and planning for their adventure, unsure of what to expect in the backcountry.

They’ll go out and get a new rugged backpack along with some new hiking shoes and feel truly ready for the outdoors.

But then use their regular watch on the trail.

This can bring up a few problems.

First off, you might be missing out on a lot of great tracking features that hiking watches specifically offer.

It’s also not a great idea to bring any of your everyday apparel on the trail as it can get damaged.

The last thing you want is to get bummed out because you broke the watch you wear out to the bar and pairs well with your Kenneth Cole shoes.

Epson ProSense 17 GPS Running Watch with Activity Tracking -...
The Epson ProSense 17 GPS Running Watch with Activity Tracking provides GPS info that is downloadable into your phone and desktop.

RELATED: 17 Best Hiking Boots Under $100 For Men And Women

What You Get With a GPS Watch For Hiking

The beauty of most GPS watches on the market is that the GPS is just the tip of the iceberg.

Many come loaded with features that are perfect for backpackers like an altimeter, barometer, thermometer, and a compass.

GPS functionality varies from watch to watch.

But the main features you want to look for are navigation, tracking, trail breadcrumbs, and the ability to mark locations.

Many watches also come loaded with Wi-Fi and Bluetooth sync with other devices.

UWear GPS Smart Watch,Bluetooth IP68 Waterproof Stainless...
The UWEAR GPS Running watch includes fitness and activity trackers.

Imagine the ability to upload your data and really dive into the numbers of your trip.

You can nerd out for hours with this information alone.

But a lot of GPS watches are also specifically built for the fitness crowd as well.

As a result, you can get more cool features like a heart rate monitor, running metrics, swimming metrics, biking metrics and so much more.

Maybe you initially get a GPS watch for hiking, but then start picking up new activities just to get more out of the watch.

You can hit the links and dive into the analytics of your golf swing.

Difference Between GPS Watch and Non-GPS Watch

Having GPS right on your wrist while you hike will provide some of the most important pieces of information you’re going to have on the trail.

A lot of people forgo the watch and try to use their phones for this function.

However, the problem with most phones’ GPS is if the phone doesn’t get service then its GPS is useless.

Garmin Foretrex 401 Waterproof Hiking GPS
The Garmin Foretrex 401 Waterproof Hiking watch provides lots of useful outdoors data like waypoint settings.

Chances are if you’re out in the wild then you’re probably not getting phone service.

And if you are in the wild and getting phone service than you aren’t on the right trail.

There are hiking watches on the market without GPS who boast their compass and stopwatch functions.

But a GPS watch for hiking will give you your current location, navigation, distance traveled and trail breadcrumbs.

You can upload your data, track your performance, find your way back through the trail, and so much more.

Why You Want GPS On The Trail

Simply put, knowledge is power.

Having GPS on the trail can be a lifesaver, especially for the less experienced backpacker.

GPS Hiking Smart Watch,Outdoor Adventurer Explore Sports...
The Reabeam GPS Hiking Smart Watch utilizes 3 GPS systems from 3 different sources.

The fear of getting lost in the outdoors is real so why trust your safety to a map or a phone that gets no service.

By empowering you with navigation, you can spend more time enjoying the outdoors and less time panicking about remembering certain landmarks and tearing crinkled maps in your pocket.

GPS Watch Features to Look Out For

  • ABC’s (Altimeter, Barometer, Compass)
  • Design
  • Thermometer
  • Wifi/Bluetooth
  • Water Resistance
  • Battery

Altimeter 

Having access to an altimeter can be extremely important for the backpacker traversing mountainous terrain.

For those without GPS, an altimeter and knowledge of elevation landmarks may be your only indicator as to your location

Knowing how high or low you are relative to sea level can also affect cardiovascular function, and can help you adjust your overall pace.

Also in relation to just relying on a GPS for altimeter info, some GPS’s have been found to be quite inaccurate because of satellite positioning by as much as 400 feet.

This can be life-saving information in many instances.

Garmin fēnix 3, Sapphire
Garmin fēnix 3 Sapphire has a big selection of apps and widgets to add on.

Barometer

Knowing barometric information is as close to having the superpower of weather prediction as any hiker can get.

Knowing this will help you to plan out your next moves.

Whether you will trek for a while or stay back and set up a shelter for potential rain.

What’s worse than dealing with an unexpected storm?

Compass

The compass made its first appearance in 11th century China during the Song dynasty and has been the main navigation tool for explorers for the last 1000 years.

Some think that the GPS has diminished the need for having a reliable compass in your tool belt.

But even the most astute GPS user will fall back on the compass after being rerouted enough times.

Design

GPS watches for hiking are designed for functionality first, but still look good enough to be worn as a compliment to most everyday styles.

SUUNTO Traverse Graphite
The Suunto Traverse uses digital route logging technology.

As the market gets more competitive, some companies are coming out with a variety of different styles of watches including retrofits and different color schemes.

But to get the most out of a good GPS hiking watch you really only need a few things.

Digital display, scratch resistant lens, and a strong strap (metallic or rubber).

Bulkiness varies from watch to watch and can really be more of a personal preference.

Some people like more flat design while some people like the clunkier, thicker frame.

Especially if you’re not used to watches it’s important to find your preferred fit.

Feeling comfortable from head to toe and limb to limb is of the utmost importance while hiking.

Thermometer

The thermometer is probably my number one most referenced feature on any GPS watch or smartphone.

As a self-proclaimed temperature junkie, Im always needing to know how cold or hot it is along with what the temperature is going to be.

Especially in the backcountry, I want to know if I need to shed clothes or layer up.

This helps from having to stop because you need to do a costume change, pull things out of your bag or pack something back inside.

This saves time and frustration.

Not every watch has this feature but is obviously a very important bit of info to know when hitting the trail.

Wifi/Bluetooth

Most GPS watches also come with the ability to connect wirelessly to your other computing devices.

This is a great feature for data nerds who want to analyze trip info.

Be careful because you could lose valuable work time analyzing your hike.

You’ll also be able to load any available updates into the watch to keep it running in top shape.

The ability to upload GPS info into the watch for an upcoming adventure is also possible with this feature

Water Resistant

This is a must for every piece of gear you take onto the trail with you.

You may have the nicest, most technologically advanced GPS watch on the market.

But if it crumbles under a little bit of water, your investment is doomed.

The good news is most GPS watches are either water proof or water resistant.

With all of the unpredictable things that happen in the outdoors at least knowing your watch is protected makes for good piece of mind!

Battery

Different watches have different battery standards.

Some have permanent batteries that will last until they need replacing and some batteries require a charge every few days.

Both have their up and downsides.

If you’re the type of person who can remember to charge a battery like a phone then you’d be happy with a rechargeable watch.

But if you can’t ever remember to charge your battery then get a watch with a permanent battery.

They don’t last as long as normal watches only because of all the functions on GPS watches.

Last update on 2020-04-03 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

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Nick P

Nick spent his mostly unsupervised youth raising hell in the woods and ponds of 16 Acres in Springfield, MA (AKA Hell's Acres). He currently lives in Brooklyn, NY and loves hitting the northeast trails when his schedule allows and camping on his roof deck when it doesn't.